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"It had been about something important",
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This review is from: Joseph Anton: A Memoir (Hardcover)
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.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 21, 2012 7:11:40 PM PDT
Marsha Coupe says:
Best book review I've read on Amazon. Thank You. How can we resist?
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 21, 2012 8:14:21 PM PDT
H. F. Corbin says:
Ms. Coupe, you certainly made my day. Thanks, Foster Corbin
Posted on Sep 23, 2012 1:25:03 PM PDT
Foster...yours is one of the most cogent and fair reviews that I have read on this site for a long time. Thank you for taking the time and making the effort. Bravo.
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 23, 2012 5:31:31 PM PDT
H. F. Corbin says:
Thank you for thanking me.
Posted on Oct 29, 2012 6:02:44 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 30, 2012 4:35:25 PM PDT
C. J. Singh says:
Dear H. F. Corbin
Your review does not address what
led Salman Rushdie to write "The Satanic Verses"
in the first place. This memoir reveals the roots and rise of his
secular humanistic thinking that led him to do so.
Please comment on my review
"The Roots of Salman Rushdie's Secular Humanism."
Posted on Nov 8, 2012 8:15:23 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 8, 2012 8:16:08 AM PST
Daniel G. Schaeffer says:
Fine review. Sooner or later the world, infidel and Muslim alike, will have to recognize that Rushdie, Ibn Warraq, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Taslima Nasreen, Irshad Manji, Naguib Mahfouz, and a host of others, are the Pasternaks of our time, and that Islam's death-for-apostasy-and-blasphemy rulings, that definitely DO go back to the beginnings of the religion, are the New Inquisition -- and the bane of Islam.
Until "moderate' Muslims confront this issue honestly, and decide whether to formally reform Islam or abandon it, the chances for a conclusion to this "clash of civilizations" are nil. For all practical purposes Hitch said it. I believe it. That settles it.
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