Twenty-five years after Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, Vanity Fair writer Paul Elie hears from Rushdie himself and authors including Stephen King, Ian McEwan, E. L. Doctorow, Gay Talese, and Martin Amis, as well as editors from Viking and Penguin, the book's respective U.K. and American publishers, about how the prophetic and provocative book made its author a hunted man and unleashed a fury around the world. Bombs exploded in bookshops in the U.S. and the U.K.; the book's Japanese translator was shot and killed, its Italian translator was stabbed, its Turkish translator was attacked, its Norwegian publisher was shot, and two clerics in Saudi Arabia and Tunisia who spoke out against the fatwa were shot and killed. In total, Elie writes, more than 60 people died in the controversy.
Stephen King went so far as to intervene on Rushdie's behalf when a number of bookstores in the U.S. announced plans not to sell the book or to remove it from their shelves. At the behest of two Viking editors, King called the chief of bookstore chain B. Dalton and gave him an ultimatum: "You don't sell The Satanic Verses, you don't sell Stephen King." The store reversed course. "You can't let intimidation stop books," King now says, recalling the episode. "It's as basic as that. Books are life itself."