Magazine article The New Yorker


Magazine article The New Yorker


Article excerpt

" 'Laughterhouse Five,' " Guest No. 1 said. " 'Romeo and Julie.' "

"No, no, no," Guest No. 2 replied. "That's the ruining-everything-by-changing-one-letter game. Let's do the substitute-'dick'-for-'heart' game."

"All right, then." Two or three seconds went by. "Mel Gibson in 'Bravedick'?"

Dinner was served. Conversation, like the meal, came in courses: a starter of Wodehouse and Python, followed by Iraq, Nicaragua, Tiananmen Square, and Newsweek, finished off with gossip.

Guest No. 1, on Mos Def: "He is insane."

Guest No. 2, on biscotti: "It's on my list of things that are more trouble than they're worth."

Guest No. 1, on knighthood: "When Vidia's agent called to congratulate him, he said, 'People in the village are so happy for one.' "

Here's a game: who were these people? Men of a certain age, British, writers. They knew everything, and they wanted everyone--each other, above all--to know that they knew it. How about Salman Rushdie and Christopher Hitchens? Ding.

Earlier in the evening, at the 92nd Street Y, Rushdie had interviewed Hitchens, whose memoir, "Hitch-22," was published this month by Twelve. It covers, Rushdie said, "this big, strange life of Christopher's, which ranges from getting bikini waxes to trashing Mother Teresa." Rushdie and Hitchens have been close since the nineteen-eighties, when, in London, in the midst of a Notting Hill carnival, they got to talking about Benazir Bhutto. Hitchens put Rushdie up at his apartment, in Washington, D.C., after the fatwa. The men share an interest in arcane wordplay. In a chapter entitled "Salman," Hitchens points out that a character in Arthur Koestler's "Darkness at Noon" has the middle name Salmanovitch. He continues:

"Salmanovitch," I have since learned, was Koestler's rendition into Russian of "Solomonovitch," the surname of an Israeli-Jewish editor he had known, and a great foe of the Jabotinsky-Begin ultranationalists. . . . "Rushdie" itself was derived as a family name by Salman's father, who annexed it from Averroes ibn-Rushd, the great medieval scholar of the Jewish-Christian-Muslim synthesis that flourished in Andalusia before the zealots and dogmatists extinguished that brief candle.

This is a footnote. Still, Rushdie told the crowd, "One of the things that was touching for me, reading the book, was how much of Christopher I didn't know."

Christopher Eric Hitchens (Hitchens: that's Cornish) was born in Portsmouth in 1949, into a "family of Tories who had nothing to be Tory about. …

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