Excerpt from Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Joseph Anton

A Memoir

By Salman Rushdie

Joseph Anton
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2012,
    656 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2013,
    656 pages.

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There was much about her that was locked away beneath the brightness; she didn't like people to see the shadows in her and when melancholy struck she would go into her room and shut the door. Maybe she felt her father's sadness in her then and feared it might propel her off a building as it had him, so she sealed herself off until it passed. She bore the name of Samuel Richardson's tragic heroine and had been educated, in part, at Harlow Tech. Clarissa from Harlow, strange echo of Clarissa Harlowe, another suicide in her ambit, this one fictional; another echo to be feared and blotted out by the dazzle of her smile. Her mother, Lavinia Luard, also bore an embarrassing nickname, Lavvy-Loo, and stirred family tragedy into a glass of gin and dissolved it there so that she could play the merry widow with men who took advantage of her. At first there had been a married ex-Guards officer called Colonel Ken Sweeting, who came down from the Isle of Man to romance her, but he never left his wife, never intended to. Later, when she emigrated to the village of Mijas in Andalusia, there was a string of European wastrels ready to live off her and spend too much of her money. Lavinia had been strongly opposed to her daughter's determination first to live with and then marry a strange longhaired Indian writer of whose family background she was uncertain, and who didn't seem to have much money. She was friendly with the Leworthy family of Westerham in Kent and the plan was for the Leworthys' accountant son Richard, a pale, bony fellow with Warholesque white-blond hair, to marry her beautiful daughter. Clarissa and Richard dated but she also began to see the long-haired Indian writer in secret, and it took her two years to decide between them, but one night in January 1972 when he threw a housewarming party at his newly rented flat in Cambridge Gardens, Ladbroke Grove, she arrived with her mind made up, and after that they were inseparable. It was always women who did the choosing, and men's place was to be grateful if they were lucky enough to be the chosen ones.

All their years of desire, love, marriage, parenthood, infidelity (mostly his), divorce, and friendship were in the hug she gave him that night. The event had flooded over the pain between them and washed it away, and beneath the pain was something old and deep that had not been destroyed. And also of course they were the parents of this beautiful boy and as parents they had always been united and in agreement. Zafar had been born in June 1979 just as Midnight's Children was getting close to being finished. "Keep your legs crossed," he told her, "I'm writing as fast as I can." One afternoon there was a false alarm and he had thought, The child is going to be born at midnight, but that didn't happen, he was born on Sunday, June 17, at 2:15 p.m. He put that in the dedication of his novel. For Zafar Rushdie who, contrary to all expectations, was born in the afternoon. And who was now nine and a half years old and asking, anxiously, What's going on.

"We need to know," the police officer was saying, "what your immediate plans might be." He thought before replying. "I'll probably go home," he finally said, and the stiffening postures of the men in uniform confirmed his suspicions. "No, sir, I wouldn't recommend that." Then he told them, as he had known all along he would, about the Lonsdale Square basement where Marianne was waiting. "It's not generally known as a place you frequent, sir?" No, officer, it is not. "That's good. When you do get back, sir, don't go out again tonight, if that's all right. There are meetings taking place, and you will be advised of their outcome tomorrow, as early as possible. Until then you should stay indoors."

He talked to his son, holding him close, deciding at that moment that he would tell the boy as much as possible, giving what was happening the most positive coloring he could; that the way to help Zafar deal with the event was to make him feel on the inside of it, to give him a parental version he could trust and hold on to while he was being bombarded with other versions, in the school playground, or on television. The school was being terrific, Clarissa said, holding off photographers and a TV crew who wanted to film the threatened man's son, and the boys too had been great. Without discussion they had closed ranks around Zafar and allowed him to have a normal, or an almost normal, day at school. Almost all the parents had been supportive, and the one or two who had demanded that Zafar be withdrawn from school, because his continued presence there might endanger their children, had been scolded by the headmaster and had beaten a shamefaced retreat. It was heartening to see courage, solidarity and principle at work on that day, the best of human values setting themselves against violence and bigotry—the human race's dark side— in the very hour when the rising tide of darkness seemed so difficult to resist. What had been unthinkable until that day was becoming thinkable. But in Hampstead, at the Hall School, the resistance had already begun.

Excerpted from Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie. Copyright © 2012 by Salman Rushdie. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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