On February 14, 1989, Valentine's Day, Salman Rushdie was telephoned by a BBC journalist and told that he had been "sentenced to death" by the Ayatollah Khomeini. For the first time he heard the word fatwa. His crime? To have written a novel called The Satanic Verses, which was accused of being "against Islam, the Prophet and the Quran."
So begins the extraordinary story of how a writer was forced underground, moving from house to house, with the constant presence of an armed police protection team. He was asked to choose an alias that the police could call him by. He thought of writers he loved and combinations of their names; then it came to him: Conrad and Chekhov - Joseph Anton.
How do a writer and his family live with the threat of murder for more than nine years? How does he go on working? How does he fall in and out of love? How does despair shape his thoughts and actions, how and why does he stumble, how does he learn to fight back? In this remarkable memoir Rushdie tells that story for the first time; the story of one of the crucial battles, in our time, for freedom of speech. He talks about the sometimes grim, sometimes comic realities of living with armed policemen, and of the close bonds he formed with his protectors; of his struggle for support and understanding from governments, intelligence chiefs, publishers, journalists, and fellow writers; and of how he regained his freedom.
It is a book of exceptional frankness and honesty, compelling, provocative, moving, and of vital importance. Because what happened to Salman Rushdie was the first act of a drama that is still unfolding somewhere in the world every day.
Rushdie's memoir puts me in the position of greatly admiring the life but lamenting its literary representation. I couldn't put Joseph Anton down, despite all of the ways it let me down. This is a deeply flawed memoir by someone with a fascinating and immensely important story to tell. I recommend it with many qualifications....
One cannot help but wonder what Rushdie's work would look like had the fatwa not pushed him to straight, literal chronology of one detail plodding after another, had he not partly renounced his weapon of choice to shape the terms in which we regard the fatwa, had he evinced a bit more self-consciousness about his own literary reaction to political persecution. (Reviewed by Amy Reading).
The Wall Street Journal, Michael C Moynihan Joseph Anton is hardly a conventional memoir. It is written in the third person, a conceit that works well enough as a way of recounting the alienating experience of living under cover while hearing one's real name condemned by Muslim leaders world-wide. The author covers his life before the fatwa, including a moving account of the death of his father, a brilliant secularist and a brutish drunk. He also savagely recapitulates his marriage to the American novelist Marianne Wiggins (to whom The Satanic Verses was dedicated) and provides a brief but revealing accounting of married life with model and TV star Padma Lakshmi, whom he took up with after he came out of hiding. But the bulk of the book deals with the death sentence, the point when The Satanic Verses left the realm of literature and was "denied the ordinary life of a novel," instead becoming "something smaller and uglier: an insult." Joseph Anton demonstrates Mr. Rushdie's ability as a stylist and storyteller. It also serves as an important moral balance sheet.
New York Times, Michiko Kakutani
Although this volume can be long-winded and self-important at times, it is also a harrowing, deeply felt and revealing document: an autobiographical mirror of the big, philosophical preoccupations that have animated Mr. Rushdie's work throughout his career, from the collision of the private and the political in today's interconnected world to the permeable boundaries between life and art, reality and the imagination.
There's preening self-dramatization by the celebrity author-- but a persistent edge of real drama, and fear, makes Rushdie's story absorbing.
Starred Review. Aspects of a spy novel, a writer's autobiography and a victim’s affidavit pulsing with resentment and fear combine to reveal a man's dawning awareness of the primacy of freedom.
The Telegraph, A.N. Wilson
It is an artless ramble, and every few pages it gives off the sour rancour of a man who can never forget insults or spats. It seems undignified, somehow, when he has lived with such a momentous threat for so many years, still to nurse grudges against journalists who have written unflatteringly decades ago. The need to get back at his second wife also leaves a nasty aftertaste.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Cloggie Downunder a fascinating insight Joseph Anton is the memoir of controversial Indian author, Salman Rushdie and concentrates on the time in his life during which he was under threat of the fatwa imposed by the Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini for his novel, The Satanic Verses. From this... Read More
Before there was the fatwa, there were protests, bans, and deaths. The first inkling of controversy came just before the book's publication, when an Indian journalist broke the publishing embargo on writing about a book before it is available for sale. Madhu Jain's article, "An Unequivocal Attack on Religious Fundamentalism," was published in the magazine India Today in September 1988, and three weeks later The Satanic Verses was banned in India, Rushdie's homeland. Three days after that, he received his first death threat. Jain has recently responded to Rushdie's accusation that her review was "the match that lit the fire."
Not long after being passed over for the Booker Prize that fall, which went to Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda, Rushdie was scheduled to appear in Johannesburg at a conference about apartheid and, ironically enough, censorship. That week, the South African government also banned his novel, and the conference organizers were forced to withdraw their invitation to Rushdie, despite a very public debate...
A spellbinding tale of disparate yearnings for love, art, power, and God set in a remote Turkish town, where stirrings of political Islamism threaten to unravel the secular order; by the winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature.
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