An unforgettable image on the printed page: the plummet from 29,002 feet (the exact height of Mount Everest) of a delusional movie star and his sidekick, memorable stereotypes narrated in fabulous realist mode. Yet we remember the scene less for the inaugural moment of stereotyping than for what came after: the falling away from literature toward a larger public culture in which satire took a backseat to cultural betrayal. In the shadow of what became known as the “Satanic Verses Affair,” it was Rushdie, and not his psychotic immigrant characters, who lived on as the deracinated “anti-Muslim South Asian” inhabitant of a world in imminent crisis under pressure from another, culturally different, world to come. As the staging of cultural difference masked realpolitik ambitions (in Iran, Turkey, India), the literary word would morph into sound byte—heard in fragments from the pulpit, on...

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