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Joseph Anton: A Memoir Hardcover – September 18, 2012
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“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
- Publisher : Random House; 1st edition (September 18, 2012)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 656 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0812992784
- ISBN-13 : 978-0812992786
- Item Weight : 2.42 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #691,151 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Ultimately, the pressure on him was reduced and he was able to resume a somewhat more normal life—and has continued to produce remarkable books. His is a story of resistance despite many of his supposed supporters urging him to compromise. He found that to do so, even to a small degree, was seen as a sign of weakness and simply invigorated his foes. While all of this certainly took a personal toll on Rushdie, he stands as an icon of refusal to bend to the fascist tactics of those who seek to repress free thought.
For some readers, I am sure that Mr. Rushdie’s third person approach to writing this autobiography highlighted his arrogance; however, I understood his desire to tell his story in this way. Dealing, as it does, primarily with the years he was under the fatwa, I am sure that he feels disconnected from that person now. The third person writing is simply a reinforcement of the understanding that Salman Rushdie is not truly “Joseph Anton”, a name he chose from Conrad and Chekhov as his security code name. It is a tragedy when anyone has to hide behind a fake name out of fear. For someone like Rushdie, whose persona is built upon the name that appears on his books, it is a double tragedy that he is all too happy to leave behind when he is finally freed from the threats on his life.
As one of the earliest victims of radical Islam, Rushdie’s situation is a small version of what has played out in New York, Paris, Brussels, and elsewhere. His surprise at being placed under a death sentence by Islamic clerics for a book published in England is real. The years he spent moving from place to place, hiding under police protection, is a terrible story, compounded by a section of public opinion that wanted him left to his own devices. As a part of the public that supported his fight for freedom of speech and literal freedom during these years, I was sympathetic to his plight and its inherent difficulties.
The two most revealing things to me in this story are how he dealt with the various relationships in his life and how he tried to keep writing. I liked how Rushdie maintained good relationships with his guards even as he pushed back against his handlers higher up the command chain. I was happy to see how he tried to maintain a relationship with his children, particularly his older son, who was old enough to be seriously affected by the fatwa. On the other hand, I was disappointed by his ability to go through wives. His rationalizations as he entered into affairs and broke up marriages were not very convincing, even to himself, I think. Of course, even at the time he published his follow-up novels to The Satanic Verses, I was impressed at his ability to create so well under such stress. This book gives a clearer view of what that struggle was really like.
I feel in love with Rushdie’s writing in college, around the time that the furor over The Satanic Verses broke and I’ve followed him ever since. Rushdie is at his best when he writes big books. Midnight’s Children, The Satanic Verses, The Moor’s Last Sigh (my personal favorite), and The Ground Beneath Her Feet are magnificent, Dickensesque achievements. As a rule his shorter novels, though often decent, do not have the power of his other stories. With its novelistic style this book, though nonfiction, is reminiscent of his best novels and is, without a doubt, the best book he’s written in the past 15 years.
Top reviews from other countries
This is very much the style of Joseph Anton: the philosophical/theological/literary asides, the intrusions of PC Plod as the attractive if clumsy mechanics, the initially, at least, quite exciting chase story, the almost autistic descriptions of other people and that constant guarding of honour, at different points including threats of verbal fisticuffs with Arundhati Roy and actual ones with Louis de Bernieres for their daring to dis the Great Indian Literary Authority. But, above all, what Joseph Anton provides is hundreds and hundreds of pages of grade-A celebrity gossip featuring everyone from Bill Clinton and Warren Beatty to Bono and Harold Pinter. It's the print version of those horribly addictive side stories on dailymail.com: an unputdownable guilty pleasure; naughty but nice. One does wonder at times, though. Can a writer really be quite so lacking in self awareness that after 600 odd pages of literary self congratulation he's the one gasping at his fourth wife's `majestic narcissism' or putting down Delia Smith for talking in the third person when this entire book is written in it or railing at the mullahs for depriving him of his growing son's company when it's actually rather more the consequence of his having deserted the boy's mother when she wasn't providing our hero with enough sex. And mustn't someone who constantly reminds us of his historical knowledge be trying to trick us when he describes his early nineteenth century hideaway as Queen Anne, or his High Victorian school chapel as having been designed by a late 20th century historian? Are we on the receiving end of some sort of literary game? Perhaps the seeming indignation at the shortening of his name is actually a fable of the down to earth cops knowingly pricking the balloon of his literary pretensions and part of the same game? Who knows? But perhaps not, given the immense seriousness with which Rushdie treats himself.
1. How deceitful the tabloids were - i.e. a character reference was always provided by the newspapers that actually seemed to the absolute opposite of the author himself.
2. How much abstract 'crap' was written in the newspapers and their reluctance to approach and accept the fact that the author actually lived in a democracy and performed a normal act of only writing a novel.
3. How utterly incompetent and deceitful the particular government at that time was in dealing with the fact that a foreign state had decided to pass a decision whereby a citizen of another country could be 'rightfully' murdered.
4. To clarify in detail the utter hell the author and his family had to endure for several years.
5. Finally, to emphasise the true value of friendship and humanity in assisting him through such a terrible time.
To all those who at the time had the audacity to cry out, 'he brought it upon himself', please read, how much it costs to preserve freedom in today's world and what a limited luxury it is.
Though I lived through the period described in the book I was shocked by how few supported Rushdie, who advocated his death, who blamed him for his woeful position, who disregarded him as he was "ugly"; how both conservative and labour politicians sided with the hate-filled as their constituencies had large Muslim population; how airlines refused to carry him; who was killed or attacked because of the book; and much much more.
It is a wonderful example of the strength of human spirit.
Rushdie (justifiably) settles a number of scores. While fulsome in his praise of the rank and file protection officers who kept him safe, he is outspoken about the behaviour of their seniors who insisted on his virtual imprisonment as the price for continuing to protect him. All the while, of course, we all assumed (assisted by a mendacious and hostile press) that it was his own faint-heartedness that kept him in hiding.
He is highly critical of politicians, both Tory (Douglas Hurd, as I think was no secret anyway, wouldn't recognise a principle if it hit him in the face) and many on the left, who were already starting their hideous love affair with far-right Islamism. Also of religious leaders of all persuasions, who closed ranks against a secular writer who had the temerity to offend some of their number.
He is also unsparing of his own behaviour, and this gives credibility to the book.
There are heroes too, however. Michael Foot and Jill Craigie, Neil Kinnock (all representing an older, more principled leftism), and many of Rushdie's fellow writers (though with some sad exceptions, such as Roald Dahl and John Le Carre).
Mainly, however, this is a beautifully-written and gripping story, whose overall impression is one of the eventual triumph of art over bigotry. Read it.