Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie
Random House • $30 • ISBN 9780812992786
In stores September 18, 2012
On February 14, 1989, Salman Rushdie (Midnight's Children) received a call from a BBC reporter telling him that Ayatollah Khomeini put out a fatwa on him for the publication of his 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses. Rushdie's new memoir, Joseph Anton, tells the story of how that moment transformed his life forever, as he was forced underground with an armed police protection team, permanently in fear of the Muslim extremists literally out to kill him.
My reason for starting this book was simple: Rushdie is one of my all-time favorite writers. However, I rarely commit myself to nonfiction—I'm a novel and short story girl by nature—but I inhaled this one. The character of Joseph Anton (Rushdie's alias while in hiding) is written in the third-person he, allowing the present-day Rushdie some distance from his targeted former self, and giving the story a sense of fiction (because how could something like a novelist-directed fatwa be real life?).
The memoir is not limited to Rushdie's experiences living under the threat of murder, as he looks back upon all the elements that led him to write The Satanic Verses in the first place: life with his father, his schoolboy days, his simultaneous fascination and unbelief in God and, more specifically, Islam. There's also a certain juiciness to the whole thing, especially for those in the publishing industry, as Rushdie uses this book to lay bare every opinion he's ever had of anyone, as well as their opinions of him.
Catch a glimpse of Rushdie's consistently fabulous prose in the opener:
Afterwards, when the world was exploding around him and lethal blackbirds were massing on the climbing frame in the school playground, he felt annoyed with himself for forgetting the name of the BBC reporter, a woman, who had told him that his old life was over and a new, darker existence was about to begin. She had called him at home on his private line without explaining how she got the number. "How does it feel," she asked him, "to know that you have just been sentenced to death by the Ayatollah Khomeini?" It was a sunny Tuesday in London but the question shut out the light. This is what he said, without really knowing what he was saying: "It doesn't feel good." This is what he thought: I'm a dead man. He wondered how many days he had left to live and thought the answer was probably a single-digit number. He put down the telephone and ran down the stairs from his workroom at the top of the narrow Islington row house where he lived. The living room windows had wooden shutters and, absurdly, he closed and barred them. Then he locked the front door.
Joseph Anton is already out. Will you pick it up?