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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
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.