a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Underestimating the reaction to The Satanic Verses


The Satanic Verses
Peter Mayer Publisher
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

Just before the publication of the book, I read the manuscript on a plane.  I don't know - 20 hours, 26 hours - I've forgotten exactly how long - from New Zealand to London.  I've forgotten how the agent, who will have been either Gillon Aitken or Andrew Wiley, got it to me, or whether they simply sent it to my office.  My office managed to get it to me in New Zealand.  I don't know today, but I did read it.

And one of the other issues that emerged from that reading was how ignorant I was - and I could say that of nearly everybody I know who is not a Muslim - of the Koran, or of Islamic practice.  And, for example, I didn't know, when I, in reading The Satanic Verses, I didn't know that Mahound was a dirty word for Mohammed.  And I certainly didn't know that there was a strict prohibition on the, certainly, visual depiction of Mohammed, which might or might not extend to literary usages of either Mohammed or concepts of Mohammedism.  And I certainly didn't understand what represents blasphemy within the Koranic tradition.  And I certainly didn't realise how powerful mullahs were separately interpreting a book.

And I certainly didn't know that the ayatollah could read English.  Because, in fact, the book was available only in English.  I later found out that he did not know English.  So that, when the ayatollah issued his fatwa, he almost certainly had not read the book.

Peter Mayer (1936-2018) was an American independent publisher who was president of The Overlook Press/Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc, a New York-based publishing company he founded with his father in 1971. At the time of Overlook's founding, Mayer was head of Avon Books, a large New York-based paperback publisher. There, he successfully launched the trade paperback as a viable alternative to mass market and hardcover formats. From 1978 to 1996 he was CEO of Penguin Books, where he introduced a flexible style in editorial, marketing, and production. More recently, Mayer had financially revived both Ardis, a publisher of Russian literature in English, and Duckworth, an independent publishing house in the UK.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: The Satanic Verses, Islam, Mohammed

Duration: 2 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015