Salman Rushdie’s “Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella Consummate their Relationship”

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(Nine of diamonds picture credit: http://eprints.utas.edu.au/6867/ )

Week 43 of my annual Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge produced the nine of diamonds which led me to the story. “Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella Consummate their Relationship” by Salman Rushdie. Originally published in the June 17, 1991 issue of the New Yorker magazine, I “own” it via my digital subscription, which allows access to the vast short story archive of that fine publication. (Deal Me In fodder for years to come!) This story was recommended to me for DMI2014 by my blogging colleague and trusted reading advisor, Dale, whose work you may read at his excellent blog “Mirror with Clouds” coincidentally, Dale also had this story on his DMI roster and drew his card last week, just missing a “strange coincidence.”

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This very short story contains the author’s speculation on what the “relationship” between two famous historical figures might have been like. Once again I was amazed at how a skilled author can pack so much into just a few pages – how a story of such brevity can feel so complete and not leave the reader wanting to read more. The story follows the multiple petitionings of Columbus at Isabella’s court and their initial lack of success. The ups and down of Columbus’s emotions as he despairs of ever being accepted or even heard. After one failure, Rushdie writes of Columbus: “Invisibility claims him. He surrenders to its will.” At one point though, the later-to-be-famous explorer muses that “The search for money and patronage is not so different from the search for love.” and somewhat changes his approach.

What finally wins over the queen to patronage is her own epiphany – albeit prompted by external events: “Isabella…is shaken by the realization that she will never, never, NEVER! be satisfied by the possession of the known. Only the unknown, perhaps only the unknowable will satisfy her.” She then agrees to finance Columbus’s travels into an unknown that she may hopefully possess.

As a former history major, I must somewhat red-facedly admit that I don’t know very much about the preliminaries surrounding Columbus’s initial voyage (other than what every school kid in America learns, right or wrong. I do remember that Isabella was a quite powerful and effective monarch, who would likely make most lists like “top ten monarchs,” etc. (There’s a good bit of homework for you- who else would you put on that list?) Reading this story makes me want to read more about her and this period in history. And how appropriate that Deal Me In’s “hand of fate” led me to draw this card during the week of the “Columbus Day” holiday here in the U.S…

(Below: author Salman Rushdie)

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What are your reading experiences with Salman Rushdie? Any recommendations? This story is worth seeking out at your library or via the New Yorker archives if you have access.

(Below: Columbus pleads his case before the monarchs)

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