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Joseph Anton

A Memoir

by Salman Rushdie

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie X
Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2012, 656 pages
    Sep 2013, 656 pages


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It was midafternoon and on this day their private difficulties felt irrelevant. On this day there were crowds marching down the streets of Tehran carrying posters of his face with the eyes poked out, making him look like one of the corpses in The Birds, with their blackened, bloodied, bird-pecked eye sockets. That was the subject today: his unfunny Valentine from those bearded men, those shrouded women, and the lethal old man dying in his room, making his last bid for some sort of dark, murderous glory. After he came to power the imam murdered many of those who brought him there and everyone else he disliked. Unionists, feminists, socialists, Communists, homosexuals, whores, and his own former lieutenants as well. There was a portrait of an imam like him in The Satanic Verses, an imam grown monstrous, his gigantic mouth eating his own revolution. The real imam had taken his country into a useless war with its neighbor, and a generation of young people had died, hundreds of thousands of his country's young, before the old man called a halt. He said that accepting peace with Iraq was like eating poison, but he had eaten it. After that the dead cried out against the imam and his revolution became unpopular. He needed a way to rally the faithful and he found it in the form of a book and its author. The book was the devil's work and the author was the devil and that gave him the enemy he needed. This author in this basement flat in Islington huddling with the wife from whom he was half estranged. This was the necessary devil of the dying imam.

Now that the school day was over he had to see Zafar. He called Pauline Melville and asked her to keep Marianne company while he made his visit. She had been his neighbor in Highbury Hill in the early 1980s, a bright-eyed, flamboyantly gesticulating, warmhearted, mixedrace actress full of stories, about Guyana, where one of her Melville ancestors had met Evelyn Waugh and shown him around and was probably, she thought, the model for Mr. Todd, the crazy old coot who captured Tony Last in the rain forest and forced him to read Dickens aloud forever in A Handful of Dust; and about rescuing her husband, Angus, from the Foreign Legion by standing at the gates of the fort and yelling until they let him out; and about playing Adrian Edmondson's mum in the hit TV comedy series The Young Ones. She did stand-up comedy and had invented a male character who "became so dangerous and frightening that I had to stop playing him," she said. She wrote down several of her Guyana stories and showed them to him. They were very, very good, and when they were published in her first book, Shape-Shifter, were widely praised. She was tough, shrewd and loyal, and he trusted her completely. She came over at once without any discussion even though it was her birthday, and in spite of her reservations about Marianne. He felt relieved to be leaving Marianne behind in the Lonsdale Square basement and driv ing by himself to Burma Road. The beautiful sunny day, whose astonishing wintry radiance had been like a rebuke to the unbeautiful news, was over. London in February was dark as the children made their way home. When he got to Clarissa and Zafar's house the police were already there. "There you are," said a police officer. "We've been wondering where you'd gone."

"What's going on, Dad?" His son had a look on his face that should never visit the face of a nine-year-old boy. "I've been telling him," Clarissa brightly said, "that you'll be properly looked after until this blows over, and it's going to be just fine." Then she hugged him as she had not hugged him in five years, since their marriage ended. She was the first woman he had ever loved. He met her on December 26, 1969, five days before the end of the sixties, when he was twenty-two and she was twenty-one. Clarissa Mary Luard. She had long legs and green eyes and that day she wore a hippie sheepskin coat and a headband around her tightly curled russet hair, and there flowed from her a radiance that lightened every heart. She had friends in the world of pop music who called her Happily (though, also happily, that name perished with the fey decade that spawned it) and had a mother who drank too much, and a father who came home shell-shocked from the war, in which he had been a Pathfinder pilot, and who leaped off the top of a building when she was fifteen years old. She had a beagle called Bauble who pissed on her bed.

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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