Went South, 1980
Separate Checks, 1984
John Dollar, 1989
Eveless Eden, 1995
Almost Heaven, 1998
Evidence of Things Unseen, 2003
Herself in Love, and Other Stories, 1987
Learning Urdu, 1990
Bet They’ll Miss Us When We’re Gone, 1991
Of Scottish and Greek ancestry, Marianne Wiggins was born to John Wiggins and Mary Klonis. Her father was a grocer and preacher. She married Brian Porzak, a film distributor, on June 6, 1965, but divorced him in 1970. They had a daughter, Lara Porzak. Wiggins’s second marriage, to the Indian-born British writer Salman Rushdie on January 23, 1988, led to a few years of fame and controversy, not because of the marriage itself but for the religious edict issued by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini condemning Rushdie to death. Rushdie and Wiggins’s marriage ended in 1992.
Wiggins worked as a stockbroker in the early 1970’s. Before being known for marrying Rushdie, she had begun writing. Her first book, Babe, concerns a single mother raising a child and the challenges of single motherhood. This novel reflected Wiggins’s personal experience after her divorce, having to work and raise her daughter, Lara. Her debut was not widely reviewed.
After the novel’s publication, she and Lara lived in Martha’s Vineyard, where Wiggins wrote her next two novels, Went South and Separate Checks, and a collection of short stories titled Herself in Love. All of these deal with modern-day single women, mothers in love, and divorce. Again, some of the core issues of these works are reminiscent of Wiggins’s life circumstances. While the second novel did not receive much notice, the third book, Separate Checks, gained her considerable attention and critical acclaim.
Before experiencing the controversy surrounding Rushdie, Wiggins lived through her own cultural turmoil during her childhood in the United States. Growing up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, she had a conservative and religious father who preached in a Protestant church (founded by her grandfather) every Sunday. At age nine, she was baptized into the Greek Orthodox religion of her mother. Her father later committed suicide. Wiggins harbored an aversion to all organized religion throughout her adulthood; these cultural concerns prevail in some of her works, in which organized religion is sometimes depicted as evil.
Wiggins moved to England and, about five years later, married Rushdie. After they had been married a year, the publication of Rushdie’s controversial book The Satanic Verses (1989) caused the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran to issue a fatwa to his Shiite followers. This decree offered a reward of more than one million dollars for Rushdie’s death. The death sentence was imposed because Rushdie’s book was deemed offensive, blasphemous, and irreverent to Islam and to the world’s Muslim community. Wiggins and Rushdie were thereafter forced to live under the protection of the British government.
Wiggins was hardly mentioned in public statements at the many rallies in support of her husband. While the international attention made Rushdie and his book even more famous, Wiggins’s identity was somewhat subordinated during her husband’s debacle. As an author with feminist concerns, she decided that she had to continue her writing career, even without Rushdie by her side. After five months of residing underground and changing locations at a moment’s notice, Wiggins left hiding and went to live apart from her husband. A book tour to promote the publication of her novel John Dollar took her to the United States.
John Dollar is set against the backdrop of Burma (now Myanmar) in the early twentieth century, at the time of British colonial rule. Lost love, the failure of American imperialism, cannibalism, and savagery figure in this novel, and the protagonist, John Dollar, is reminiscent of those in works by Daniel Defoe and William Golding. Wiggins promoted John Dollar, which was more widely reviewed than her previous books, and also worked on a number of new books and short-story collections. Although she received critical acclaim for the novel and her literary career was beginning to regain its momentum, life and marriage were strained for Wiggins. One short story, “Croeso I Gymru” in the collection Bet They’ll Miss Us When We’re Gone, was based on her experience living in hiding with Rushdie. The short story deals with restraint, constricted actions, secrecy, fear of discovery, and the rarity of privacy. Though fictional, the story reveals a great part of what life was like while living in hiding with her husband. After she came out of hiding, Wiggins became much more interested and concerned with world and political events and their ramifications.
Despite Khomeini’s death in June, 1989, Rushdie’s death sentence remained in place until the Iranian government ended the fatwa in 1998. Wiggins and Rushdie’s marriage, strained by the fatwa, had ended in 1992. Wiggins continued to produce works. Her sixth novel, Almost Heaven, deals with breakneck love, loss, the millennial United States, and two people drawn to each other in an erotic frenzy. The narrator of the novel is named Holden and is often compared to the protagonist of the same name in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951). Though the book met mixed reviews, it was a fair success.
In many of her works, Wiggins is concerned with snapshots of human relationships. With her skill as a storyteller and creative energy to make impossible events and story lines into believable plots, Wiggins has had her share of success as a writer. There is increasing literary attention paid to her body of works, which is becoming important to American literature.