Chance to make amends as one of Andersen’s children
The Hans Christian Andersen literature prize may not be the most well-known literary award, sitting as it does in the shadow of the other Hans Christian Andersen awards for children’s literature, but it is certainly one of the most rewarding: half a million kroner and a bronze swan statue by Stine Ring Hansen are up for grabs.
Since 2007 the biennial award has sought to celebrate great writers who follow in Andersen’s footsteps, either in a similar genre or by exhibiting artistic, story-telling qualities. Previous winners include Paulo Coelho, JK Rowling and the Chilean writer Isabel Allende. And this time around, it’s the British-Indian writer Salman Rushdie.
Since his debut in 1975 with ‘Grimus’, Rushdie has expertly applied magical realism to weave mythical and cultural voices into modern social commentary. As the committee charged with bestowing the award stated: “The motivation behind giving Salman Rushdie the prize is he is an incomparable writer who, with a mix of worldly realism and fairy tale-like imagination, depicts the journey and important cultural moments of our time, thus enriching world literature.”
Arguably, his most famous novel in this vein is ‘Midnight’s Children’, which allegorically addresses India’s transition from colonial oppression to independence through the magically-imbued children born on the hour of India’s independence. It is this magical, fairy tale element applied to some of the darkest aspects of reality that connects him with Denmark’s sweetheart, Hans Christian Andersen.
Yet, Rushdie’s relationship with Denmark was notoriously strained by the fallout following the release of his fourth novel, ‘The Satanic Verses’. In February 1988, Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini found the text’s depiction of Mohammed so offensive that he proclaimed a fatwa on Rushdie, which eight years later caused the then prime minister, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, to cancel a visit of Rushdie’s to Denmark, claiming there was a security threat.
Rushdie blamed the decision on Denmark’s desire to protect a lucrative feta cheese export deal between Denmark and Iran, and he felt vindicated when British Intelligence confirmed there was no threat.
But last year Rushdie revealed in his memoirs that there was a threat and that British Intelligence had made its denial to protect an important source.
Rushdie’s trip to Odense on 17 August 2014 will therefore give both parties a chance to make peace and to celebrate his inclusion in a select group of writers that honours the memory of Denmark’s most cherished creative spirit.