Spring Deals Automotive HPC Children of Blood and Bone New-season heels nav_sap_plcc_ascpsc Stream your favorites. Amazon music Unlimited. Learn more. GNO for Samsung S9 Starting at $39.99 Grocery Handmade Personalized Jewelry Home and Garden Book a house cleaner for 2 or more hours on Amazon Pitch Perfect 3 available to buy Pitch Perfect 3 available to buy Pitch Perfect 3 available to buy  Echo Dot Fire 7, starting at $49.99 Kindle Paperwhite GNO Shop now TG18PP_gno

on March 13, 2016
When Rushdie was sentenced to death by Khomeini for his crime of writing THE SATANIC VERSES, I argued with a Unitarian clergyman about the case. He thought Rushdie was wrong to write a book that offended some Muslims. I asked if he should stop preaching Unitarianism because it offended some Christian fundamentalists. Or would silence be in order only if he were threatened with death. A form of this argument took place all over the world for many years as Rushdie struggled to live under threat of religiously motivated murder. This is one of the most powerful case studies in a century in the question of freedom of speech. It compelled the attention of governments, religious leaders, writers and publishers. The reluctance of many leaders to boldly defend Rushdie's life and liberty is shameful. Despite some failures of will, the British government did protect Rushdie for 13 stressful years, and gradually mobilized international condemnation of Iran. Iran backed down to some extent, but the fatwa is still in effect for some Muslims.

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?
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
Up front: I am a huge fan of Salman Rushdie’s writing. You know that question that’s asked every year, which writer who hasn’t yet won should be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature? Rushdie is one of the writers on my list. That said, having heard Mr. Rushdie speak and/or be interviewed on a number of occasions, for what it’s worth, I can’t say that I’m a fan of the persona he presents. He often comes across as arrogant and small-minded. Though this autobiography did not change that opinion significantly, it did make me appreciate much more how difficult his life has been.

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.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on February 24, 2013
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.
11 comment| 9 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on January 11, 2016
What to say? A political and religious fanatic orders the murder of a renowned author. How do the institutions the author's government respond? Why, of course, they blame the victim. But they reluctantly accept their regrettable duty to protect the author's safety, even though protection regrettably requires the author to live in close confinement for years. And how does the author react? With gratitude to start, then with increasing ill-temper. And how do his publishers and friends behave? With shock, then with distance.
The many implications of Rushdie's saga are pretty clearly laid out and deeply troubling. Realpolitik is often responsible for a multiplication of its own problems. Appeasement does not fix a problem, but confrontation has its limits also. Reality is complex and contrary. Artists exist to warn us of these things.
All of that being said, this is a swell read.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on February 15, 2015
I've been a fan of Rushdie's fiction forever, but not that impressed by his nonfiction. Using 'The Jaguar's Smile' as typical, his insights are rather predictable right-of-center British-American self-justifying drivel. I read this one anyway, because I wanted to hear the inside story of being under the fatwa. Yes, he's awfully sure he's been unfairly persecuted (which he has, arguably) and at times quite full of himself, indignant that not everyone sees him as worth the trouble he's brought upon them. Understandable that he would frame this all in terms of defending free speech, because there is certainly a strong element of that in this drama, but he could help his case by being less of a pompous wanker when it comes to seeing his own motivations; a bit of humble pie would go a long way. I liked the view it gives of the whole thing in the context of what was going on on the world stage at the time, and when he stopped trying to make everyone view him as a persecuted, blameless everyman, he did a good job. I was happy for the pseudonymous Joseph Anton when he was released from bondage, as it were. (How about that guy -- choosing a name that shows his ego, hmmm?)
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on March 31, 2013
I have remarks to make about love, which is not Salman Rushdie's strength, and hate, which is his area of refined expertise. They, love and hate, share the concept of "intolerance". So above all he can write his quarter of a million words on that word "intolerance". When near the end of the memoir he is introduced to Meg Ryan, her fascination with celebrity Eastern avatarism is a total turnoff; he can't tolerate a religious woman. At the same time this vixen succubus of a woman, Padma, is a woman he "loves". Not that any marriage to Meg Ryan would have worked either, but Salman Rushdie is a guru of gurus in the artistic expression sphere, to include at least 100 other writers he dines with throughout the book, friends most of them, and a complete novice when it comes to loving the one you are with. Unfortunately, the second association I always have to make with Salman Rushdie is that of a little boy on the experimental side of puberty. Every time he discusses his marriages, his literature sinks to something I would have written in my early twenties.
But the first association is head and shoulders above the second, and head and shoulders above the common writer's inspirational methods. I greatly enjoyed reading about the moments, such as mountain climbing in Australia in 1984, that became a piece of the The Satanic Verses puzzle. Plus the actual hijacking of a plane in 1985, a plane that then exploded just like the one that begins the novel. Pamela Lovelace is Clarissa. There is a family connection to South America, just like the one I vaguely remember from the novel. But I also remember the police brutality of the British police force. "Joe" Anton does have to reconcile that treatment with the protection Scotland Yard afforded him for about nine years after that Valentine's Day of 1989. His biggest complaints about that pseudonym experience involve over-protection, that his British security force was somehow to blame for doing its job when Rushdie wanted to dine with Harold Pinter or accept an award in Vienna. Rushdie does not fully recognize the scapegoat he's made of the efforts that were costing the nation a fortune because the nation itself did not immediately go on record. In fact Tony Blair appears only slightly more literate than George Bush would have, and Margaret Thatcher is a dumb Ronald Reagan.
Roald Dahl, for the record, is a writer critical of Rushdie. Another critic was the author of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Susan Sontag comes to his aid. And then there is Christopher Hitchens, a man killed by cancer after the book's timeline, in a book of friends already killed by cancer, including Clarissa. William Styron is immortalized as a creepy old man at Martha's Vineyard, not to mention as Bill Clinton's crony, and Philip Roth gets more mentions than anybody could have without ever physically appearing in a scene.
He is not alone, but the nugget of Cat Stevens could be the most interesting character in the memoir. On page 178 "Yusuf Islam" is on TV "hoping for [Rushdie's] death and stating that he would be prepared to call in the hit squads if he learned of the blasphemer's whereabouts". Stevens must be part of Shalimar the Clown, a study of violent and sudden brainwashing. Later it is noted that the Ayatollah Sanei issued the fatwa, not the more famous Khomeini. At its highest point, the reward was $3.5 million. I would now like to read If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, referenced on page 351. Thomas Pynchon is a "God" for Rushdie, and Gravity's Rainbow would be His word. U2's place in the memoir belongs only to Bono, admirer of The Jaguar Smile, who did not have groupies at concerts and introduced Rushdie at Earl's Court and then again at Wembley (events I would never forget, but also not remember exactly as they happened).
On page 609, Joseph Anton has no good answer to the question, "Who have you ever made happy?" We need his sequel. Instead of a man whose driving purpose is to make people think about how to be tolerant enough to escape third world oppression, we now need a writer who can make his personal life big enough not just to protest Medieval methods of hate, but a writer who can teach us the finer points beyond those of protest.
11 comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on October 15, 2016
A powerful story told in detail of a highly creative writer under the threat of death from fundamentalist authoritarian religious leaders. It is a story worth reading carefully in our times as we grapple with the interactions of world cultural and religious communities. That said, I found it a long and time consuming read. Rushdie's style is to use lots of words following every thread of events. In this case "he" is at the center of the long winding story (anytime you see the word "he" you know it is referring to Rushdie). I came away with real dislike for the way he interacts with women, but his story of trying to be a truly gifted and productive creative writer in a world of hateful, controlling institutions is very relevant. The last chapter particularly made the case that living cultures needs creative artists who poke, prod, rephrase, respin, and re-express all their supposedly solid and unchanging aspects, if only for us to see anew their deeper character.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on May 11, 2015
One of the Amazon reviewers says he likes Rushdie as a cultural figure but not as a writer. I'm in the opposite camp; I love Rushdie as a novelist but not as the fatwa victim he is in his memoir.

He's been accused of arrogance, ungratefulness, and of simply being a whiner, all accusations that ring true throughout this endless mundane description of what it's like to live in hiding. Yes, he does examine (too briefly, in my opinion) his reaction to being castigated on a global stage for his views, and being forced to defend freedom of speech instead of taking it for granted as most of us can, and fighting with people who lack the courage to stand up for him, but his reaction at every turn is simplistic and predictable: righteous indignation and more righteous indignation.

Instead of unraveling a beautiful, complicated, (or heaven forbid conflicted) insight from all of these experiences as I expected him to do, he spends little time on Satanic Verses, the book that caused the uproar, and even less on introspection. 40% finished, I forget exactly what it was in the Satanic Verses that catalyzed the hatred of Islamic leaders, other than a few vague descriptions of certain characters and events in the novel that were interpreted as allegorical criticism of Islam. Come on! People were lighting this book on fire! They wanted to kill him for it! A book as powerful as that deserves some dissection, a few theories at least! All he says is that while he was aware of the connections he was making in the book, he didn't think they'd cause such a stir. That's true, I'm sure, but when your head went on a wanted poster for it, might you take a step back and really analyze what it was in the book, in the global atmosphere, in the butterfly wing reactions of world events that caused the pot to boil over? Might you put the book into its complicated context, and yourself and your own history as a migrant between cultures at the heart of this firestorm, and really paint a bigger picture for us? He talks so much about the shame of hiding in the countryside with a bevy of police protectors, so much about various friends who lent him places to stay, so much about the chronic frustration engendered by such a lifestyle, so much about the sordid problems with his publishers and his women.

It's smooth reading, as you'd expect from Rushdie, but you get to know the man very little. Or maybe I'm finding (can it really be true?) that this literary genius is, in real life, a shallow man not worth getting to know? The other astonishing hole in the book is the lack of substance about how such a life in hiding and a global uproar might change him as a person, might unearth strengths and insecurities, might cause him to reflect. Nope. Zero humility, faltering, guilt, imperfection, or self-examination. He focused instead upon the "crazy" women who pursued him, on how expensive it was to keep finding new houses to rent.

2 stars because in spite of all this I'm enjoying the read, for Rushdie's style and for the glimpse, however limited, into that period in time. I just wish someone other than Rushdie had written this book. Then, his arrogance might have been portrayed alongside some loveable stumbling. We might have watched the whole world light on fire with the omniscient perspective of history, the same exhilarating view you're awarded when you read Rushdie's novels. The stories he tells are marvelous, so long as they're not his own.
0Comment| 6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on March 15, 2013
Josef Anton was the name Rushdie went by in the years he was hiding from Islamist assassins. His police minders called him ‘Joe’.
The tale he tells is gripping. It was a new situation and there was a general tendency not to want to ‘offend’ Muslims and to feel that he had brought his woes on himself. Over the years this attitude changed as people began to see the true nature of Islamist fascism. Rushdie increasingly came to put extra value on the stand he had been forced into as time and again offers to find a solution were rejected by fanaticism.
He quotes a young man who told him that in 1989 he had been leader of demonstrations in the West Midlands against the Satanic Verses. ‘Recently, I read your book and I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about.’ ‘That’s good’, said Rushdie’ but I should point out that you, who hadn’t read the book, were the person organising the fuss’.
Rushdie writes: 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, towards narrowness, bigotry, tribalism, cultism and war. There were plenty of people who didn’t want the universe opened, who would, in fact, prefer it to be shut down quite a bit, and so when artists went to the frontier and pushed they often found powerful forces pushing back.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse
on January 12, 2013
I recommend this book even though it is in some ways a bit disappointing. I am a devoted reader of Salman Rushdie's amazing fiction and a passionate supporter of the battle he has fought for the right to free speech. The reprehensible fatwa declared against him by the Ayatollah Khomeini on Valentine's Day 1989 for the so-called offenses against Muslims committed in "The Satanic Verses" would keep Rushdie under cover and dependent upon police protection for thirteen years. This book deserves to be read to understand and honor the sacrifices Rushdie was forced to endure and to recognize those who stood with him. (More people than Rushdie were affected, not least the Japanese translator of his book, who was murdered; the Italian translator and Norwegian publisher, who were both seriously wounded; and numerous booksellers whose shops were firebombed.)

I say the book is a bit disappointing for two reasons. First, it is not like his fiction. It sounds obvious and even silly to say but in writing about a real life - even a life that could be described as stranger than fiction - Rushdie does not, perhaps can not, deliver the magical imagery, the enchanting wordplay, the unforgettable characters that we find in his novels. To be fair, we do get some interesting portraits: the eccentric but devoted members of the police detail guarding him, some of his friends and family. But these are generally shallow and occur only in the context of events. The only `character' who is with us from beginning to end is Salman Rushdie.

In some ways the book reads like a compilation of diary entries, except they are written in the third person. (Which I found a little off-putting. I do not know if Rushdie has explained why he wrote his own memoir in the third person. It could be because, as a writer of fiction, it is his comfort zone. It could be that it helped him avoid some of the pain of reliving the experience. But it also could be that it allowed him to create some distance between himself and some of his actions, particularly regarding his relationships with women, which are, to put it mildly, inconsistent.) No doubt Rushdie keeps a detailed journal which allowed him to be precise with names, dates and locations. Still, there are numerous long passages describing mundane facts such as where he went, who he saw, what kind of wine they drank, and so on. Rather than add richness to the story they induce drowsiness. Worse, he will then inform us that he spent a weekend with the brilliant Mario Vargas Llosa but we don't get a word about what they discussed.

Second, if there was a prize for name dropping, this book would get first, second and third place. We read about his trip to the beach with Australian writer Peter Carey; partying in New York with Toni Morrison, Susan Sontag, Annie Leibovitz and Paul Simon; staying at Bono's "place" in Killiney; dinner with Jay McInerney ("Willie Nelson was there! And Matthew Modine!"); dinner with Eric ("and Tania") Idle, Steve Martin and Garry Shandling (who provides the funniest line in the book); something else with Bono; and so on.

That said, however, I keep reminding myself that associating with Salman Rushdie in those days was potentially dangerous; public appearances with Rushdie were actually important statements of support, both for him and his cause. So in the end I am glad to know who stood with him and who ran the other way.

There are also some fascinating sections describing how the authorities go about protecting someone with a fatwa on his head. We can judge by the results how effective they were. According to Rushdie there were perpetual inconveniences but very few if any close calls. Rushdie also brings us behind the scenes to the "Secret Policeman's Ball," the annual shindig where both the protectors and the protected mingle; Margaret Thatcher (to drop a name) is one of the guests.

If you're going to read one thing by Rushdie, don't start here, start with one of his novels. ("The Satanic Verses" is a good choice but also consider "Midnight's Children," which is amazing.) If you're a fan, if you want some insight into the author, if you are interested in the struggle to maintain freedom of speech, "Joseph Anton" isn't perfect but is worth a read.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Report abuse

Questions? Get fast answers from reviewers

Please make sure that you are posting in the form of a question.
Please enter a question.

Need customer service? Click here