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Rousing the ire of the ayatollah


Underestimating the reaction to The Satanic Verses
Peter Mayer Publisher
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Referring backwards to Salman, perhaps.  If Salman had a thought that the book would be incendiary, well, he didn't share that with me.  I did see him before we published the book, and I'm sure he told me that the book would be unpopular, or spoken against, or written against.  Well, that doesn't bother a publisher.  We are always publishing books that someone or other doesn't like.  As I said earlier, I don't think for a moment that Salman thought violence would ensue.

And, at our first meeting, which is after this trip, and probably after we bought the book - at auction, it has to be said - other publishers bid for it, too; we just happened to get it, I guess.  I liked it more than anyone else.  But the sums offered by two or three publishers were all in the same ballpark.  They were rather large sums of money, and everybody who bid for it presumably thought it was a book of interest, commercially speaking.  And when I say commercially speaking, not that the book is commercial, it's that it has a commercial value, insofar as a great many people may want to read it, buy it and may want to read it.

We did get an advice from New Delhi, India, from our literary advisor there, a gentleman named Khushwant Singh.  And he suggested that we not publish the book [there], so he may have had some special insight or not, but he certainly knew something about Muslims and their relationship to Hindus, Christians, and so on.  And, as India has often had what is described very often as communal riots, his advice to us in London was not to publish it there.  And we ceded to that request because there was a history of Hindu-Muslim conflicts.  And the order that we had in hand, Patrick Wright, our sales director, told me was less than 200 copies.  So it didn't seem a very big deal.  And so, we assured Khushwant Singh that we would at least initially not publish it in India.  That's the only knowledge we had of anything, and it seemed as though India was a special situation.

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: India, Salman Rushdie, Khushwant Singh

Duration: 3 minutes, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2014-January 2015

Date story went live: 12 November 2015