Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie – Book Review


Joseph Anton is the assumed name that Salman Rushdie took to conceal his identity during the time he was facing the Fatwa from Muslim clerics across the world for writing the book Satanic Verses. The memoir talks about the long period that the author was living in hiding, protected by British security. He begins by narrating the genesis of the book that leads to the Fatwa and hence his living in hiding. He recollects the various incidents that when woven through his imagination lead to the story. Interestingly he says his surname is inspired by the name of 12th CE philosopher Ibn Rush who was also the one to question the basic tenets of the religion? And his father adopted this surname. Is this a mere coincidence?

He vividly narrates the first few days after the Fatwa was issued against him. He narrates every small detail while also trying to give background to people around him and his relationship with them. After a while, it becomes a series of running away from one house to another, from one team of security personnel to another, from one fear to another.

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He was at security level 2 just below the security of the queen. So if you can do some corollary drawing, you can imagine the security of the Queen of the United Kingdom.

As a common citizen of the world, you would be amazed at the amount of time, effort and resources spent to save one man from another and the unnamed lives that actually get lost in the process. You question the risk the security guys take for no reason except the call of duty.

The book Joseph Anton is too huge. I constantly kept asking ‘How much can a man write about himself?’ ‘Did he just convert his daily journal into this bulky memoir?’ ‘Did he really think his work was worth more than the lives lost – on whichever side those people were?’ Why was the government giving him such huge support at the cost of the taxpayer?’ Well, there are no black and white answers.

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You do agree with him that he has the right to free speech and to question the basics of religion. Those who do not agree can answer, argue, write against, and express themselves. But I, of course, do not see the point of killing someone for what he has written. I do not know what I think of his being adamant about not saying sorry for his work. I am with him and I also question him.

One aspect that he talks extensively about is his friends and family who stood by him. He throws so many names on every page that I was completely lost in who is who. Who died of what disease, who served what for dinner, who wore that to which party. Perhaps this was important to him then, as he could not come out in public for a long time. The only people he could see were his friends at their homes. Or, perhaps this is his way of telling all those people ‘Thank You’ or ‘No, Thank You. He talks about his relationship with all his four wives. How it began, how it ended, and everything in between.

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His marital season with Padma Lakshmi is quite a read. You wonder who was using whom or they both knew their utility to each other. The only people he always talks lovingly about are his two sons, even when they do not behave, he remains an indulgent parent.

He talks in detail about his publishers – the past, present, and future. His account can be a primer on the European and American publishing industry. All through the period, he never gave up his idea of getting out the paperback edition of Satanic Verses. You would surely admire that perseverance, fighting for the idea that the whole world is against. You feel for the publishers as they are under as much threat as he is. But without the security cover, he got.

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You feel for the translators who got attacked and died but nothing changes his mind – he wants the paperback edition to be out. He raises funds to create a consortium of publishers to put through the paperback edition. He talks about getting involved in politics to get rid of the situation he was in.  It obviously impacted his core competency – writing. He talks about the books he wrote during this time and is not sure if they reflect his state of mind.

Parts of the book that I liked the best are when he speaks of his mental states like the loss of freedom and privacy, on being stuck inside the house. Not having a permanent place to live, on being surrounded by people who were entirely different from him. On losing his spontaneity, on living under an assumed name. That is some brilliant writing.

He writes some mental letters to people in reply to what they have to say to him, or what they are denying him, and they are again brilliant. The whole mental agony, the whole reasoning comes beautifully in words. He recreates his claustrophobia for the reader. I hope they bring out the abridged version of this book with only these parts, and that would be a treasure to read.

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Read Joseph Anton to understand how the world of politics, international relations, publishing and high-profile writers work. Read it to understand how it feels to lose all your independence in the name of protecting your life or living in the fear of losing a loved one because of you. Do read it if you are a Die Hard Rushdie fan. Read Joseph Anton when you have lots of time, as this is a huge book.

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie

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    • It is cumbersome for sure, but not too much. There are lot of his personal rants that go on and on and become too much sometimes.

  1. Anu life is simple and can be better understood by wondering across the busy streets in village, town, and in city. Rushdie has the art of complicating facts and features never straight in what he said ever….


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