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Leïla Slimani: ‘Salman Rushdie’s books made me feel I could become a writer’

Leïla Slimani: ‘Salman Rushdie’s books made me feel I could become a writer’

My earliest reading memory
Nils Holgersson’s Wonderful Journey Through Sweden by Selma Lagerlöf. My grandmother, who grew up in Germany, read it to me when I was a child and then, when I was eight, she gave me a copy that I still have. I, too, dreamed of travelling and escaping, just like that little boy.

My favourite book growing up
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Because we were three girls, our mother was a doctor and my sisters and I liked to identify with the characters in the book. Of course, I was Jo!

The book that changed me as a teenager
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. It was an erotic and spiritual shock. I didn’t understand everything when I read it – I must have been 16 – but it really moved me physically, as if the words were entering me.

The writer who changed my mind
Simone de Beauvoir, whose The Second Sex I borrowed from the library when I was 16. Suddenly, I realised that there was no point in responding to injustice with anger or violence. The best way to fight, for a woman, was knowledge.

The book that made me want to be a writer
All the books by Marguerite Duras, and Écrire in particular, because her passion for literature, for freedom, for the absolute, matched everything I was looking for in life.

The book or author I came back to
John Steinbeck. I had read him at school and didn’t understand him at all. I reread The Grapes of Wrath a few years ago and it was a shock. It’s a real masterpiece, with a staggeringly modern take on capitalism, social violence and migration.

The book I reread
The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I read it every year and I always find something different. It’s an unclassifiable book: part novel, part treatise on philosophy and music, part essay. I don’t think a lifetime will be enough to unravel its mystery.

The book I could never read again
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. I don’t know why, but this book terrified me and I’ve never been able to open it again.

The book I discovered later in life
Le Cahier Interdit (The Forbidden Notebook) by Alba de Céspedes. I read it recently and it moved me enormously. It’s the story of an Italian housewife who buys herself a notebook in which she writes down her thoughts and is terrified at the thought of it being found. From the moment she starts writing, she yearns more and more for freedom.

The book I am currently reading
Knife by Salman Rushdie. I’ve admired him ever since I was a child, and his books have carried me along, giving me the feeling that maybe one day I too could become a writer.

Source: theguardian.com