Joseph Anton was the alias that Salman Rushdie chose (a combination taken from Conrad and Chekhov) when he was in hiding, after being 'sentenced to death' after publication of "The Satanic Verses". On a sunny morning in London in 1989, a few months after the book had been published, a call from a BBC reporter changed his life. "How does it feel to know that you have been sentenced to death by the Ayatollah Khomeini?" she asked. With those few words, everything changed for him forever. In his Islington house, Salman Rushdie, understandably, shuttered the windows and locked the door. When he later left for an interview, he had no idea that he would not sit foot in the house again for many years...
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 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.