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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 memoir, the reader gains an understanding of the roots of Rushdie’s atheism, as well as the inspiration for and circumstances surrounding the writing of his novels. It is certainly interesting to see how events in his life are linked to his novels: I was especially gratified to learn about the genesis of my favourite Rushdie novel, Haroun and the Sea of Stories. The mechanics of being in hiding, protection by Special Branch, risk and threat are intriguing and occasionally quite amusing. The loyalty and generosity of his true friends (“Friends Without Whom Life Would Have Been Impossible”) was nothing short of remarkable; the lack of support and criticism from certain literary figures, politicians and governments was surprising. Well into his years of hiding, he says “I have been given a lesson, in these years, in the worst of human nature, but also the best of it..” While the details of the many trips, dinners, meetings, press conferences and politicking verged on tedious, it is apparent that Rushdie’s journals must have been extremely detailed. The matter-of-fact manner in which he describes his infidelity is breathtaking. The soup of famous names began to smack of name dropping yet the funniest part, the interlude in Australia, involved no celebrities, just a bunch of ordinary people helping out: I also loved that because it mentioned my home town and lots of familiar places. His “unsent” letters were clever and often very funny. His strong stand on freedom of speech and imagination is well presented and his comments on what he was battling, “popular irrationalism”, succinct: “The unreasoning mind, driven by doubt-free absolutes, could not be convinced by reason.” As with most of his major works, Rushdie never uses two words where three will do, more evidence of those detailed journals. Bizarrely, Rushdie has written this memoir in the third person, perhaps because he was writing about his alias, Joseph Anton: mostly, this works, but occasionally it gives rise to some ambiguity: which “he” said or did that? This is a fascinating insight (even if is it rather one-eyed) into this fine writer.