118 of 130 people found the following review helpful
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Joseph Anton was the alias that Salman Rushdie chose (a combination taken from Conrad and Chekhov) when he was in hiding, after being 'sentenced to death' after publication of "The Satanic Verses". On a sunny morning in London in 1989, a few months after the book had been published, a call from a BBC reporter changed his life. "How does it feel to know that you have been sentenced to death by the Ayatollah Khomeini?" she asked. With those few words, everything changed for him forever. In his Islington house, Salman Rushdie, understandably, shuttered the windows and locked the door. When he later left for an interview, he had no idea that he would not sit foot in the house again for many years...
This memoir is always totally honest and never less than gripping, especially in the first half of this enormous book. The author discusses his education, family, relationships and his behaviour during those incredibly stressful years with immense openness. During the first two or three years of the fatwa, Rushdie was constantly on the move, reliant on his friends for places to stay. His second marriage was less than a year old at the time and already in trouble, so the stress and intrusion certainly did not help that situation either. The author was criticised, even at the time his life was in danger, by press articles claiming he was costing the country huge amounts of money, the government were imposing limits on what he was allowed to do (including how and when he could see his beloved son) and he was accused of selfishness for wanting to publish a paperback version of "The Satanic Verses" when the lives of hostages, such as Terry Waite, hung in the balance. Eventually, he would almost be blamed for being an author, for writing, for opening his mouth or putting pen to paper.
Salman Rushdie admits frankly that many people saw him as arrogant and unrepentent during that time. He also allows that his need to be loved made him make misguided attempts at conciliation, which he later regretted. He knew little of what was going on - there were vague rumours or threats of hit squads, contracts and assassins, but he was told few details. He was simply moved again - and again and again. His freedom limited and, when he rebelled, he was told simply, "If you want to live, you will move." Much changed for the author, and the world, during that time. There were major world events and huge social changes. Rushdie tells how he wrote his first book on a computer, instead of a typewriter, during those years.
As a book, it has to be admitted, that the first half is certainly the most interesting. I certainly enjoyed reading about his early years and how he strived to become a successful author. The news of the death sentence and how the author reacted to it is certainly both shocking and gripping to read about. This is a very important book for those who recall the furore caused, so long ago, by a novel. I was quite young in 1989, in my first job, and I recall the huge outpouring of rage and hate that swept the country at the time. There was a real threat - bookshops were firebombed around the world and those who had translated the book were attacked (in one case killed). I did doing something I never did then, which was to buy a hardback copy of a book (too expensive on my low wage at that time) and that book was, of course, "The Satanic Verses". As the author says, "The freedom to write is closely related to the freedom to read". As we do not wish to be told what we can read - as we, as readers, feel we have the right to read whatever we want, then authors have to have the freedom to write those books for us. As a reader I am grateful for the stand this author took, which took immense bravery and which he tells with a great deal of humour (his brief attempt at using a wig as a disguise is priceless) and humility. This is a book you will be glad that you have read and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
75 of 82 people found the following review helpful
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At a Salman Rushdie lecture that I attended a couple of years ago, a well-intentioned member of the audience asked him to contrast his life during the years when the Iranian fatwa loomed over his head and his now time of freedom. If I recall Mr. Rushdie's words , there were only two: "bad" and "good." This author, beloved by many and still hated by others, has finally told us what his life was like during the decade or so-- the Ayatollah Khomeini issued the fatwa on February 14, 1989 for Rushdie having published THE SATANIC VERSES-- when there was a price on his head by Islamic fundamentalists in his memoir JOSEPH ANTON. (Forced to live in hiding, he chose the two first names of two of his favorite authors Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov for his pseudonym.) His one word answer has stretched to over six hundred pages. He has a lot to say.
Mr. Rushdie seems to omit nothing. At times he is angry-- although from where I sit he usually shows remarkable control-- but always honest (about both himself and others, even telling the reader about some of the most intimate details of his marriages) and he never loses his sense of humor, as anyone who has had the pleasure of hearing him speak knows. But what Mr. Rushdie says over and over and what makes his story so important is that freedom of speech, i.e., the freedom both to write and to read is something worth dying for. In his own instance Professor Hitoshi Igarashi, the translator of THE SATANIC VERSES into Japanese was murdered and did pay the ultimate price. Dr. Ettore Capriolo was stabbed; William Nygaard, THE SATANIC VERSES Norwegian publisher, was shot. Both these men survived. While heads of government in the western world were not always so brave, often putting politics over the freedom of writers to publish and publishers caved in to fear-- it was years after the initial publication of THE SATANIC VERSES that a major company in the U. S. would come out with the paperback edition-- writers around the world came to Mr. Rushdie's defense: "I have been given a lesson, in these years, in the worst of human nature, but also in the best of it, a lesson in courage, principle, selflessness, determination and honor, and in the end that's what I want to remember: that I was at the center of a group of people behaving as well, as nobly, as human beings can behave." Practically every major writer spoke out for him. The list is long. Two who did not were Roald Dahl, who called Rushdie "a dangerous opportunist" in print, and John le Carre, who also spoke out against him early on. He and Mr. Rushdie exchanged fire in a series of letters to THE GUARDIAN in November, 1997 after Mr. le Carre complained that he had been called anti-Semitic in the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW by Norman Rush. "He (Rushdie uses the third person for his memoir) should have kept his feelings to himself, of course, but he couldn't resist replying." Then Christopher Hitchens "joined the fray unbidden" and you can imagine how that fire got fanned. My favorite essayist compared the writer of THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD to someone who urinates in his hat and then wears it-- a bit of comic relief in a very serious book.
Mr. Rushdie, during much of the 1990's lived as a virtual prisoner in the many places he lived with members of the British secret police, whom almost to a person he praises, twenty-four hours a day. He looked forward, however, to his trips to the U. S. where he could move about with more freedom. He was well received here as a celebrity of sorts and met many famous people. One of my favorite stories among many is his account of meeting Meg Ryan when she went into rhapsodies over visiting India, and her love of what Mr. Rushdie calls the "guru industry." He reminded her that if you grew up in India, it was easy to conclude that those people were fakes-- a real conversation stopper. He does describe with great emotion his visit with his son Zafar to the land of his birth after he was finally given a visa after not being allowed to go to India for so many years. When in Mexico City he spoke to Gabriel Garcia Marquez on a telephone call arranged by Carlos Fuentes. Marquez paid him what he says is the greatest compliment he ever received when he said that the only two writers he followed outside the Spanish language were J. M. Coetzee and Rushdie.
Even though Mr. Rushdie lived as a hunted man for so long, he worked diligently to have as normal a life as possible, trying sometimes unsuccessfully to keep writing and spending as much time as possible with his son Zafar whose mother was his first wife Clarissa and with his second son Milan by his third wife Elizabeth. Some of the most poignant passages in the entire book have to do with his descriptions of these two sons. He loves them dearly and it shows. Rushdie has a lot to say about love. When he writes of his beloved mother who would not seek out her first love, her first husband, after the death of Rushdie's father although she lived for sixteen more years alone and never responded to any of her first husband's letters, this brilliant writer reminds us that "sometimes love is not enough."
In conclusion, has anyone described literature and its importance better than Mr. Rushdie? "Literature tried to open the universe, to increase, even if only slightly, the sum total of what it was possible for human beings to perceive, understand, and so, finally, to be. Great literature went to the edges of the known and pushed against the boundaries of language, form, and possibility, to make the world feel larger, wider than before. . . Literature's view of human nature encouraged understanding, sympathy, and identification with people not like oneself, but the world was pushing everyone in the opposite direction, toward narrowness, bigotry, tribalism, cultism and war." He reminds us his fight had been about something important.
We in Atlanta are so fortunate to have this fine writer, whose novel MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN was chosen as the Best of the Bookers of all the Booker Prizes, from time to time pitch his tent amongst us.
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2012
In 1989 I was in the last year of high school in Tehran. After a break and before the "religion study" (of course), a student wrote in English "Satanic Verses" on the blackboard, since that was the news the night before, and since the phrase sounded cool. I still remember the handwriting. For weeks to come, he wet his pants why he did that. For entering university in Iran, you needed to be cleared by the school that you have pure thoughts and strong islamic belief (definitely not satanic).
Fast forward to 1998, I was a student in Europe enjoying a scholarship to study Science. I started reading the Satanic Verses, just to find out why the grand Ayatollah and the Iranian regime is so keen to kill its author. It took me one non-interrupted year for the first reading (thanks to my full scholarship to do Science). For a science conference I needed to get a visa to Britain (having Iranian passport, you are only qualified to enter Heaven, but pretty much no place in Earth). I am sitting in the British consulate reading my book. I turned back and saw two Pakistanis with long beard (an old and a young guy) sitting behind me. The type who wanted to kill the author. I freaked out having the book Satanic Verses in my hand. I changed my seat so that they can't see what I am reading. Then I realised the British behind the counter now can see an Iranian guy reading the book, wanting to enter the United Kingdom (and probably is familiarising himself with his target).
That was my thought: if a student in Iran wetting his pants for just writing the name of the book and an average guy wetting his pants (both ways) by just having the book in his hand, what would the writer himself must go through?
The book Joseph Anton answers that. It is a brutally honest account of 10 years of hiding. Rushdie writes of the confusion the event created "he realised,..., that he no longer understood his life". He writes about his shame, "While all this and much more was happening (referring to publishers and bookshops bravely continuing the publication) the author of the Satanic Verses was crouching in shame behind a kitchen worktop to avoid being seen by a sheep farmer". And here is why "...the working of Muslin 'honour culture' at the poles of whose moral axis were honour and shame, very different from Christian narrative of guilt and redemption. He came from that culture even though he was not religious, had been raised to care deeply about questions of pride. To skulk and hide was to lead to dishonourable life. He felt, very often in those years, profoundly ashamed. Both shamed and ashamed".
The book is an account of tremendous pressure and assault from all fronts. From his wife, from the British police, tabloids and not to mention the faithfuls and Iranian. "His biggest problem, he thought in his most bitter moments, was that he wasn't dead...He was supposed to be dead, but he obviously hadn't understood that. That was the headline everyone has set up, just waiting to run"... "two shots to the head and one to the chest"...
But the book, 630 pages, is also an account of how he put on a fight. Along the way, how literature and his passion for literature kept him sane, "The greatest danger of the growing menace was that good men would commit intellectual suicide and call it peace. Good men would give in to fear and call it respect."
Throughout the work, Rushdie's humour is present, something he always complained people missed in his work:
A woman asking, "Mr. Rushdie, I have read your novel, Midnight's Children. It's a very long novel, but never mind, I read it through. And my question for you is this: Fundamentally, what's your point?". In a letter to his mother "...an imam wants to ban the 'blasphemous' Barbie doll. Would you ever have thought that poor Barbie and I would be guilty of the same offence?"
The book is long and very detailed. This could become a bit frustrating as one feels giving too much details (nights with friends, going for take away food, etc) could hide the bigger picture. This was accurately noted in a review by Kenan Malik:
"it is in exploring the wider issues of the Rushdie affair that Joseph Anton is, perhaps surprisingly, at its weakest. The memoir is extraordinarily rich in detail. It provides a blow-by-blow account of the meetings, the arguments, the feuds, the emotions. And yet that detail is rarely used to illuminate the big picture, to explore the bigger social, cultural, political and intellectual changes that the Rushdie affair has wrought, or at least symbolised. It was through the Rushdie affair that many of the issues that now dominate political debate - multiculturalism, free speech, radical Islam, terrorism - first came to the surface. It was also through the Rushdie affair that our thinking about these issues began to change. Few people are better placed than Rushdie himself to talk about these changes and to link the details to the historical shifts. Yet, that broader frame is largely missing in Joseph Anton. And without a frame the richness of detail can appear as a case of `one damn event after another'."
I enjoyed reading through the book. One thing is clear: This book is not in the same league as his masterpieces Midnight's Children and the Satanic Verses. There one has a brilliant author who worked on each of the books for 5 years. There, one can feel each paragraph has been worked on, thought about, and researched.
Despite that "he told his friends...his life has turn to a bad novel", Rushdie manages to write a good book out of that!
44 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on December 8, 2012
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I can not understand how this book got so many brilliant reviews from critics.
Yes, Salman Rushdie (S.R.) and the Satanic Verses have been and still are a very important stand about freedom of speech and have also served to point out the rise of extreme islamism. That can not be denied. But this book, written from his journal, is not in any way a good read. It also will not make you like it's author, be warned.
1) There is no guiding thread to the story except chronology, as if he has been sitting at his desk looking each page at its turn and then telling us: "today this happened", and the following day "today this happened"... it is quite boring.
2) There is so much name dropping it is impossible to know which are the names you should pay attention to (who will turn out to be important characters to follow up in the development of the story, which ones are just passing by?) I started to get the feeling he mentioned them so that-you-know-that-he-knows-all-these-more-or-less-famous-people-that-you-poor normal-reader-don't-know, argh....
3) Why write your own story with the "he" pronoun? Kings and Napoleon-sorts used to speak about themselves like this... I found that deliberate choice profoundly unpleasant.
3) Somehow the idea of fear, secrecy, the weight of having to live as a recluse was quite poorly conveyed: I could read the words he writes about it, but the feeling were not carried to me, I could not even feel sorry nor worry for him, even though I do not side in anyway with anyone who would say he deserved it, far from it . I would have expected more from an acclaimed writer.
4) And about his relationships? S.R. writes about them in a way that puts him in a light of glory when he has to help ex-wives/girlfriends but he seems to be unable to be other than selfish and spoilt when he is within the relationship. I guess he is probably honest about this... Who would want to paint oneself in that way..? I would suggest anyone considering being in a relationship with him to read his book and think twice, one might be disposed of.
To me this book gave the idea that S.R. became a defender of free speech completely by accident, but the person behind the role is, after all, quite small.
What a disappointment.
31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on October 8, 2012
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I like Salman Rushdie as a cultural figure more than I have ever liked his writing. I had forgotten about him over the last decade so when the chance to catch up with this memoir I jumped at it and was largely transfixed by the tale despite its repetitions, its occasional whininess, occasional bad taste (did we really need comic book versions of Thai and French accents?), and lack of nuance in his portraits of not a few world historical figures.
To be fair, most people who went through what Rushdie did would probably be in an insane asylum...not continuing to write literature. His dedication to writing is awe inspiring. He deserves all the accolades he has received even though he was less than honorable towards the women in his life...even if they were flawed a gentleman would have gotten his revenge in a more fictional frame, not by taking us into his succession of depressed bedrooms.
Also, his account of his affair/marriage with the Indian bimbo Padma Lakshmi turns him into a caricature of himself...pudgy, nerdy little scribbler throws over his faithful but boring english hausfrau for a sub-continental curvaceous cutie only to be dumped when she turns out to be just as shallow as he suspected...but oh, those legs. Oh those curves! "Anybody would make the same choice, right boys?"
Sorry Salman...even though your private hell has since become ours you still lose points for judgment and your self righteousness. A little more English stiff upper lip (and discretion for the women who were never your real enemy even though you would want us to believe otherwise) would have been more inspirational.
In any event, I for one am glad you got your life back and wish you well and thank you for letting us know what it was like. A horror story to be sure.
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
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I had never read any of Salman Rushdie's books, although I had certainly heard of them (How could one not?). However, I recently did listen to a reading of "Joseph Anton" on BBC Radio 4 in five fifteen-minute snippets that prompted me to contact Amazon.com so that I could read the entire book, which focuses on the writing of Mr Rushdie's novel, "The Satanic Verses", and the shattering aftermath of its publication.
I am especially fascinated in reading an author's account of the creative process of writing and the production of a book. And the prose of Salman Rushdie, whose account of his real life blends so seamlessly with that of his fictional tales, is mesmerising. Written in the third person, "Joseph Anton" reads like a novel. Occasionally I had to jog my memory as to the identity of the narrator, and to remind myself that I was reading an autobiography. I also found it curious that even though the book is entitled "Joseph Anton"--Mr Rushdie's chosen cryptonym for a decade--he rarely writes the name, but refers to himself continually with the pronoun 'He'. Gradually, however, I realised that namelessness reflects the author's invisibility during the terrible years of his 'hiding in plain sight'. Joseph Anton is a name that 'He' cannot bear to utter.
Salman Rushdie's engrossing memoir is larded with keen wit, as his dry observations on the fickleness of politicians under the stress of shifting public opinion and his remarks about his thankless stint as a reviewer of other authors' books illustrate. One of the most arresting aspects of the book, however, is Mr Rushdie's commentary on the written word and how it can become so easily distorted, and how this distortion can escalate and result in acrimonious censorship.
It takes no leap of credibility to imagine that every professional writer would like his book to top the bestseller list. The subtext of "Joseph Anton," however, contains a warning with mythological overtones--"Be careful what you wish for"--because the author's realisation of 'Best-Sellerdom' has been granted at a terrible price. Imagine waking up one morning and discovering that one's just-published novel, has, like the genie escaping from the bottle, been transmogrified into a worldwide event with the most frightening consequences. And all this occurred before advent of the computer technology to which we have become accustomed. Considering that "Joseph Anton" concerns events of the late 1980s, the book is especially apt in the context of today's globalised society, with its mercurial advancements of technology in respect not only to the written word but also to the visual image, as recent global events have demonstrated.
"Joseph Anton" is a riveting read, all six-hundred-and-thirty-six pages of it. I recommend it for anyone interested in the process of writing and certainly for anyone interested in literature within the framework of gripping historical events.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2013
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I admit that this is the first Rushdie book I have read. I never was attracted to his novels, especially. I am about 400 pages into "Joseph Anton" and am thoroughly bored. I will stick it out to the end, as I do always, but it will be a hard slog. With no disrespect to the author, and to the difficult situation of his life for 10 years, I find him insufferably long-winded and totally self-indulgent. Right off the bat I was put off by Rushdie's use of the third person - not only because it seems pompous, but also since when he brings in other characters (names which swarm all over every page) it becomes confusing as to which "he" is the person being described - is it Rushdie or the other guy? The horror of living under the fatwa notwithstanding, Rushdie repeats and repeats himself, ad nauseam, on the subjects of personal and literary freedom, his (supremely failed) marriages and relationships, and the humdrum-ness of his daily existence. Yes, we get the point - but Rushdie beats this drum incessantly - enough to fill 600 or so pages with lots of word-spinning. I have the feeling that the fatwa brought undue celebrity to Rushdie, even given the fact that he, earlier, had won the Booker Prize. I have the feeling that, if it were not for the fatwa, his books would not be so widely read. I have the feeling that I, for one, fatwa or no fatwa, will not read any more Rushdie. Approach this long and tedious memoir with caution.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2013
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All I can say, is that a book is a very personal experience, so I'm not going to complain about the writing skills of Rushdie. For me, Rushdie writing this book in the third person, just ruined it for me. I believe I understand the experiment. His life often reads like a Detective / Murder mystery novel, typically done in the third person. But it's not a detective novel or murder mystery, it's autobiographical, and the third person reads ridiculous, when "he" should be "I" and that's that. I kept wanting to put myself in Rushdie's place, as he unfolds his story, but that's pretty hard to do, when he is referring to himself as "he". Preposterous writing style for the venue. I'm off to read the next book on my list, I'm actually sorry to say. 600+ pages of unreadable stuff for me. Shame really. I wanted to like this book very much.
31 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2012
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I was very eager to read this book, but was left disappointed for two reasons. First, that the book is poorly written. It's less a memoir than Rushdie just copying from his journals. There isn't really a narrative to string it all together. There are way too many details that do not move the story forward. The name-dropping is ridiculous - it's as if he promised everyone he ever met that they would appear in his book.
The second, and bigger, source of disappointment is how selfish and oblivious Rushdie comes across in this memoir. I was a fan of his work, and it was sad to see what a self-centered, petty old fool he is. He is self-congratulatory about helping one of his myriad ex-wives get a job by dealing behind the scenes without her knowing, claps himself on the back for this anonymous act of selflessness, and then mentions it three times in the book. He details several of his affairs in the book, but pushes off responsibility to other people, and it comes across as though he's just pleased with himself for being able to bed women that most men who look like him would not. When he laments that Padma Lakshmi has dumped him for some creepy old guy with a lot of money, he is completely oblivious to the fact that he, himself, is a creepy old guy with a lot of money. I felt embarrassed for him, reading this book.
He complains throughout the book about his perceived lack of "freedom" when he was under protection from the government. I would guess that the men who died and the men who were attacked because of his book would have gladly welcomed the lack of "freedom" in exchange for some safety. If there is any central theme to this memoir (and it's a stretch) it's that Rushdie felt like the whole world should have been up in arms, outraged at the threats and censorship related to his book. He wanted to be protected, but resented the fact that he had to coordinate his activities with a security team. He paints several airlines as the villains, when they were reluctant to let him fly aboard regular commercial passenger flights. It's as though he felt like he had a right to do whatever he wanted, without regard to the risk to others. He plays the role of victim without a trace of irony, and shows no gratitude for the team of people working around the clock to protect him and his family, for which he had so little regard that he sacrificed them to get his ego (among other things) stroked by younger women. I trudged through this ridiculously long crazy-person's journal to the end, just in case there was a redemption arc at the end, where he has a moment of clarity or perspective, but it never comes. It was like watching a reality TV show, where the central character never realizes she is the fool, and everyone else is laughing at her. I can't believe I'm about to compare Salman Rushdie to Honey Boo-Boo, but I had the same uncomfortable feeling reading his book. I just wanted to pull him aside and say "You need to stop. You think it's clever, but everyone is laughing at you. This is not how normal people act. Normal people take responsibility for their actions. Normal people show loyalty and gratitude. Normal people don't air their dirty laundry in public."
This was a very long book with no redeeming value, other than some "what not to dos" in case you're ever under government protection, or under the delusion that supermodels like you for your mind.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2013
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Josehn Anton is the story of the war going on between enlightenment and the fundamentalist desire to return to the dark ages it reveals the fussy thinking of the left and lack of willingness to stand firm on basic I rights of free speech. Tom s