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Joseph Anton: A Memoir Hardcover – September 18, 2012
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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On 14 February 1989, Salman Rushdie was sentenced to death by the Ayatollah Khomeini, guilty of having written The Satanic Verses, a book 'against Islam'. In this memoir he tells the story of the nine years that followed, describing his life as a writer forced underground, moving from house to house, always with an armed police protection team, struggling to be free of the fatwa and living under another name - Joseph Anton.
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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.
The memoir is a full account of this struggle. The spokesmen for the religious duty to kill are named. Government officials, Christian church leaders, newspaper editors, and writers who blamed Rushdie for causing trouble are named and answered. During this ordeal Rushdie made friends, and strengthened friendships, with dozens of writers and intellectuals and police protectors. These experiences are gratefully narrated -- they helped keep him alive and able to continue his work. Rushdie says he was "given a lesson, in these years, in the worst of human nature, but also in the best of it" and honors a group of people determined "not to allow the darkness to prevail." (453)
Does an individual have a right to expect government to preserve his life and liberty when officials tell him the nation has higher priorities, like protecting oil supplies? Did western timidity embolden fanatics to think death threats and hostage-taking were effective?
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Duration: 26 hours, 59 minutes
Read by Sam Dastor
For most people, Salman Rushdie is, and will always...Read more