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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.
Praise for Joseph Anton
“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.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“A splendid book, the finest . . . memoir to cross my desk in many a year.”—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
“Thoughtful and astute . . . an important book.”—USA Today
“Compelling, affecting . . . demonstrates Mr. Rushdie’s ability as a stylist and storytelle. . . . [He] reacted with great bravery and even heroism.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Gripping, moving and entertaining . . . nothing like it has ever been written.”—The Independent (UK)
“A thriller, an epic, a political essay, a love story, an ode to liberty.”—Le Point (France)
“Action-packed . . . in a literary class by itself . . . Like Isherwood, Rushdie’s eye is a camera lens —firmly placed in one perspective and never out of focus.”—Los Angeles Review of Books
“Unflinchingly honest . . . an engrossing, exciting, revealing and often shocking book.”—de Volkskrant (The Netherlands)
“One of the best memoirs you may ever read.”—DNA (India)
“Extraordinary . . . Joseph Anton beautifully modulates between . . . moments of accidental hilarity, and the higher purpose Rushdie saw in opposing—at all costs—any curtailment on a writer’s freedom.”—The Boston Globe
Hailed as a literary martyr and derided as a prima donna, Rushdie emerges as both inspiring and insufferable in this memoir of his life following the 1989 fatwa issued against him by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. The British-Indian novelist's third-person account of the firestorm surrounding The Satanic Verses is harrowing as he's hounded, under the pseudonym "Joseph Anton," and moved from one hiding place to another under constant police guard while Islamists everywhere call for his death, and the British government treats him as an undeserving troublemaker. (Bookstore bombings and murderous attacks on a publisher and translators, he notes, show how serious the threat was.) But once Rushdie regains his nerve, his fetters accommodate much jet-setting lionization as he travels the world, collects awards and ovations, and parties with glitterati at the Playboy Mansion. Rushdie mixes stirring defenses of free speech with piquant observations on the subculture of maniacal high-level security, ripostes to detractors and ex-wives "when he mentioned a pre-nup, the conversation became a quarrel" sex gossip and incessant name-dropping ("Willie Nelson was there! And Matthew Modine!"). There's preening self-dramatization by the celebrity author but a persistent edge of real drama, and fear, makes Rushdie's story absorbing.
Joseph Anton: A Memoir
Thumps up to Salman Rushdie and to Freedom of Speech!
The man in the center of the cyclone
I preferred the shorter New Yorker version, because it was so compelling, but for just that reason I had to read the longer book. This is a story that belongs to all of us: we all read the awful stories of the fatwa, and the reactions to it... How the publishers wouldn't print the paperback and what a horrible morality tale this had become. I too felt a pang of guilt reading this and recalling how I sympathized at the time with the publishers. And how, a few years later a Pakistani colleague I thought a thoroughly modern contemporary calmly said that Rushdie deserved to die. For what? I asked. His reply -- he knew full well the offense he committed when he did it. So I too tasted this venom.
I too, as did we all, had a bit part in its horrible unfolding.
There are too many details, but they have the effect of convincing the reader that he is Everyman, full of faults, and just as deserving of the love of the god he bravely doesn't believe in as any of us.