19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Courageous and Cowardly
Joseph Anton is a gargantuan memoir that reads like a novel. There are goodies and baddies, and the final prize is the most coveted one of all: freedom of speech. But this structure of extremes isn't the only novelistic flourish. Curiously, it is narrated in the third person, a distancing technique employed to give a little objectivity to the account, a way of having it...
Published 23 months ago by s k
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars overlong and uneven
I can see why some reviewers took SR to task for his approach in this memoir; he often verges on the narcissistic, and there is too much whining about the many people who disapproved of him, or failed to give wholehearted support during his dark years of fatwa. He can be pretty ugly in his assessment of ex-wives and friends who fell short of his expectations. Way too...
Published 19 months ago by Kernowdog
Most Helpful First | Newest First
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Courageous and Cowardly,
Joseph Anton is a gargantuan memoir that reads like a novel. There are goodies and baddies, and the final prize is the most coveted one of all: freedom of speech. But this structure of extremes isn't the only novelistic flourish. Curiously, it is narrated in the third person, a distancing technique employed to give a little objectivity to the account, a way of having it function as a historical and unbiased document. But it doesn't work, and it's not long before Salman Rushdie's boiling anger explodes at the fatwa's pernicious aftermath. And why shouldn't it?
The book's early pages quickly retrace the years leading up to Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa of 14 February 1989. It is a vibrant account, and one that documents his colourful journey from India to England, Rugby School to Cambridge University, ad work to literary fame. Brutally candid, Rushdie admits his past infidelities and lapses into arrogance, his atheism and Enlightenment values. He investigates his post-fatwa motivations and wavering thoughts with an exemplary ruthlessness, the low point being his ill-conceived affirmation of Islamic faith. This, he insists, may have been his easily avoidable nadir, but it was also the catalyst that brought about his intellectual rebirth.
During this time he still managed to write and undergo love's confusing fluctuations. The gestations of his novels during the fatwa years make for intriguing reading, his admittance to being emotionally and intellectually stumped revealing a fallible side to his perfect poise. His public persona and assured voice may have seemed undimmed, but this was due to a torturous rebuilding of the self. But what of love during these years? Well, who knows what Marianne Wiggins, Rushdie's second wife, will make of her portrayal in this book? She is painted as a mendacious hypochondriac who compromised Rushdie's safety and even, it is insinuated, faked cancer. Lady Macbeth seems a friendlier acquaintance to have. Is Rushdie being fair? We have only his word.
Overall, though, Joseph Anton is an engrossing book, necessary and brave, and one that should never have to be written again. Always compelling, it is a journey throughout the world of the famous and fatuous, the courageous and cowardly. It will attract trouble, there's no doubt about that, but that seems to be the cost attached to honesty nowadays. And Rushdie, if anyone, has paid the price for that.
[For those buying the hardback edition, be sure to check for the 'Erratum' slip placed between pages 616-7, as it carries a paragraph missing from page 617. But if your edition has a paragraph beginning 'They did break up...' after the third line then you have the correct printing and don't need to worry.]
34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Joseph Anton,
This review is from: Joseph Anton (Kindle Edition)
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars overlong and uneven,
I can see why some reviewers took SR to task for his approach in this memoir; he often verges on the narcissistic, and there is too much whining about the many people who disapproved of him, or failed to give wholehearted support during his dark years of fatwa. He can be pretty ugly in his assessment of ex-wives and friends who fell short of his expectations. Way too long, too.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Triumph,
First let me say that this is engrossing and reads like a magnificent saga, spanning continents. It might look like something of a dauntingly hefty tome (I had to read with a cushion under it!) and yet it's totally riveting - encompassing as it does such a sobering period of our history. Yes, you can trace a line from the fatwah on Rushdie to the atrocity of 9/11 - and the inexorable rise of Islamofascism. It's very, very chilling. To be honest, reading Joseph Anton made me feel slightly ashamed - that at the time I was not more angry at what this man has to endure just because he wrote a book. Ashamed too at the number of people in the British establishment who said he had it coming to him. Come to think of that - many of the same people said that of the Americans, post 9/11. Disgraceful on all fronts.
I think Rushdie deserves heartfelt congratulation on this achievement. The memoir will last, as his novels will last. He emerges with dignity, despite what the tabloids say about him. His accounts of his protection officers are as affectionate as they are entertaining, and his humour shines through, as well as a shining, intellectually honest, righteous anger. There is a gossipy fascination in the cast of characters which populates the memoir - and the whole things is (no surprise) beautifully written. It's a triumph.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The conundrum of Rushdie - Gripping,
Salman Rushdie's memoir of, predominantly, the fatwa years is completely gripping - albeit not necessarily in the way the author intended I suspect. For any lover of literature it's a fascinating insight into the man. People write memoirs largely to put their side of the story. Rushdie is of course supremely intelligent and a gifted wordsmith and yet while aspects of the story remain shocking and induce both anger and incredulity that the situation was allowed to go as far as it did and for so long, it's probably not a book that will change your views of Rushdie the man, not least as he displays many of the traits that the press ascribed to him. Oh why do our heroes always have to be so imperfect?
Usually people referring to themselves in the third person is guaranteed to irritate me, although here the story is told entirely in the third person. The title "Joseph Anton" is the name he chose when asked to provide a pseudonym for the security services. As a result the book reads as much more like a novel and it works well.
To try to impose some structure on this review of what is a lengthy tome, let's look at three key elements: the "crime", the "punishment" and the "perpetrator".
He fails to address any intent or otherwise in the apparently inflammatory content of "The Satanic Verses". If you have read the book in question, you'll know that the allegedly offending content is minimal to the overall book's structure. It's not much more than a dream sequence. Certainly it would be hard to argue that the book as a whole is an attack on Islam. And yet of course, this is exactly what happened. Did he know what sort of reaction this might evoke? Perhaps as that oxymoronic thing, a secular Muslim, he ought to have done but we never really get to the bottom of this. He even complains later in the book when the media continue to ask the questions about intent. Yes, that's because you never answered the question. Once accused, he goes straight into Voltaire mode to defend his right to say it.
The sense I got from reading it is that he was as surprised as anyone by the reaction, and his point that if a work of literary fiction such as "The Satanic Verses" is deemed that threatening to a major religion, then it has fundamental problems is well made. In my memory, it was Ayatollah Khomeini who started the problem with the fatwa but here he explains that there were Islamic protests before that. Khomeini admitted to not having read the book and it's hard to imagine that any of the protesters really had either. If he isn't going to address motive or otherwise in this lengthy memoir then I guess we'll never know.
In the "punishment" content of the book, Rushdie is at his eloquent best. It's clear that to a great extent he was a victim of political posturing. Khomeini himself was probably using it as a political cause, but more difficult to reconcile is the lack of support from the British government to state sponsored terrorism who were probably slow to respond for fear of derailing hostage negotiations over the likes of Terry Waite. There's something of a "James Bond" fascination to learn about the inner working of the security "prot" team who mostly come over as the good guys in all of this. While you could argue that the freedom of expression arguments are not difficult to make, Rushdie makes them powerfully and given his situation, movingly. There are also superb moments of typically Rushdie-esque black humour such as his first trip to the US during the fatwa period.
What makes the book so compelling though are the sometimes jaw dropping revelations about Rushdie the man. Rushdie repeatedly laments that his image remains unsympathetic certainly amongst the British press (who he terms "The Daily Insult"), and often expresses frustration that he just wants to be loved. In fairness, there's probably much of the migrant's wish to be accepted as much as loved. And this is at the heart of things: whatever you think of Rushdie's work or indeed Rushdie the man, to Western eyes the Iranian fatwa was wholly unacceptable. The British like nothing better than an underdog, and yet despite both these things, public sympathy for his plight has been surprisingly antagonistic. You'd expect his memoir to alter this view. This remember is a man who once worked in advertising. It doesn't.
He cites many good friends who indeed go to extraordinary lengths to help him out but there's a difference between how those who know him respond to him and those who don't. He attributes much of his lack of sympathetic image to the press, both the tabloids and the "Independent" who seem to have it in for him. And yet, he displays many of the characteristics that probably belie this image. He can be arrogant, he can be extremely hypocritical and is quite spiteful to anyone who crosses his path. He also comes over as extremely sensitive to criticism but is quick to hand it out. To illustrate this, at one point he reviews books, gets shocked that writers who are his friends object to his analysis of their books, and swears off doing any further reviews. A few pages later, he's back reviewing again.
The reader can always tell who is going to be on his side because they are always, always introduced with the adjectivally limited term "great". This lack of descriptive range is surprising for a man of Rushdie's descriptive powers and gets, frankly unintentionally comic. He comes over as something of a literary luvee. This might be due to the sad restrictions placed on his movements by the fatwa, but probably not.
And then we come to his relationships with women. At the start of the fatwa, he had only one ex-wife. By the end of the book, he had increased this to four, at least two of which are presented as madly dysfunctional. It's hard to believe the fault is all on one side though and to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to marry one bonkers person is unfortunate, two looks like carelessness. Consider for example that his first contact with what was to become his third wife was on the telephone discussing watering a parrot, on the basis of which he went out and bought three bottles of wine for their first face to face encounter. That's not normal.
These then are the conundrums of Rushdie: a man whose fiction is about inclusion and cultural integration has his creative and personal life disrupted by cultural conflict; and a man who has a supreme understanding of personality in his fiction can be so divisive in his own interactions in ways he does not recognize. That aspects of his character are flawed seems clear, but of course that doesn't make any of the things that happened to him any more just. They do though make for a gripping memoir.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book,
This review is from: Joseph Anton (Kindle Edition)
I have a confession, I haven't yet read any of Rushdie's other books, although I do have 'Midnight's Children' on my Kindle waiting for me, so I cannot be counted a fan. However, the fatwah and his ten years of hiding makes for a fascinating, if uncomfortable, story.
He writes very well but there is an annoying affectation in how he has written the book, it is in the third party as if Josef Anton were someone else. I can understand Rushdie wanting it to be so but it wasn't and at times, for instance when he is relaying conversations, it can be difficult to work out which 'he' or 'him' is meant.
It is an important tale and I would recommend everyone read this.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genie Out of the Bottle,
I had never read any of Salman Rushdie's books, although I had certainly heard of them (How could one not?). However, I recently did listen to a reading of "Joseph Anton" on BBC Radio 4 in five fifteen-minute snippets that prompted me to contact Amazon.com so that I could read the entire book, which focuses on the writing of Mr Rushdie's novel, "The Satanic Verses", and the shattering aftermath of its publication.
I am especially fascinated in reading an author's account of the creative process of writing and the production of a book. And the prose of Salman Rushdie, whose account of his real life blends so seamlessly with that of his fictional tales, is mesmerising. Written in the third person, "Joseph Anton" reads like a novel. Occasionally I had to jog my memory as to the identity of the narrator, and to remind myself that I was reading an autobiography. I also found it curious that even though the book is entitled "Joseph Anton"--Mr Rushdie's chosen cryptonym for a decade--he rarely writes the name, but refers to himself continually with the pronoun 'He'. Gradually, however, I realised that namelessness reflects the author's invisibility during the terrible years of his 'hiding in plain sight'. Joseph Anton is a name that 'He' cannot bear to utter.
Salman Rushdie's engrossing memoir is larded with keen wit, as his dry observations on the fickleness of politicians under the stress of shifting public opinion and his remarks about his thankless stint as a reviewer of other authors' books illustrate. One of the most arresting aspects of the book, however, is Mr Rushdie's commentary on the written word and how it can become so easily distorted, and how this distortion can escalate and result in acrimonious censorship.
It takes no leap of credibility to imagine that every professional writer would like his book to top the bestseller list. The subtext of "Joseph Anton," however, contains a warning with mythological overtones--"Be careful what you wish for"--because the author's realisation of 'Best-Sellerdom' has been granted at a terrible price. Imagine waking up one morning and discovering that one's just-published novel, has, like the genie escaping from the bottle, been transmogrified into a worldwide event with the most frightening consequences. And all this occurred before advent of the computer technology to which we have become accustomed. Considering that "Joseph Anton" concerns events of the late 1980s, the book is especially apt in the context of today's globalised society, with its mercurial advancements of technology in respect not only to the written word but also to the visual image, as recent global events have demonstrated.
"Joseph Anton" is a riveting read, all six-hundred-and-thirty-six pages of it. I recommend it for anyone interested in the process of writing and certainly for anyone interested in literature within the framework of gripping historical events.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An important book that makes for dull reading,
I am an admirer of Salman Rushdie's work; having read all of his fiction he is of course an excellent writer and Midnight's Children is a masterpiece. As such, I had been waiting with eager anticipation for the publication of Joesph Anton, a detailed account of his life during the appalling fatwa, and along with many thousands, pre-ordered my copy. However, I have given up reading it (an act that I normally regard as unforgiveable) because, I am afraid to say, I found it dull.
Despite the importance of the events being described and my admiration for Mr Rushdie himself, the narrative rambles on with a cast of thousands and the same points are repeated over and over again. I really didn't like the way people appear to be divided into either 'for me" or "against me" camps and the latter always being dismissed as either unintelligent, bigotted or with low motives. For a book all about free speach it is ironic that everyone with a different point of view seems to be castigated! I found this quite irritating.
I can't imagine how awful living such a restricted life for years must be and perhaps this is reflected in the style of writing- so I may be being unfair. Nonetheless I did give up and decided to move on to something else.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An exhaustive 633-page epic,
The promotions for this book seemed to indicate that it was solely about Rushdie's period of being in hiding from the death sentence issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini.
The first 140 pages of this detailed memoir, however, cover Rushdie's entire life leading up to The Satanic Verses. So it's not about just the Joseph Anton period.
Rushdie's writing is languorous, dreamlike, digressive, reflective, recursive. It's written in third person and moves fairly slowly, with internal ruminations, flashbacks, and changes of time and place.
If you were looking for a fast-paced drama about being a wanted man, this may not be exactly what you were expecting. In that respect, I suspect this book may possibly appeal mainly (but not exclusively) to Salman Rushdie fans, who are familiar with his quite literary and creative voice, and who are interested not only in the Joseph Anton period but also in the rest of his life preceding it, in very detailed form.
If that interests you, then go for it.
If, on the other hand, a very heavy, 633-page languorous epic about 55 years of a man's life may not interest you as much, you may perhaps want to consider waiting till it's less expensive, or more available in paperback, or get it on Kindle where it doesn't weigh as much.
All that said, the book is very enjoyable and well written and intriguing. Eloquent, magisterial, and quite enlightening. A masterpiece in its own right. A most impressive work.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well-written but extremely annoying,
For starters, I am a great fan of Salman Rushdie's books (with the exception of Fury). They have always dragged me into different worlds where in amazing ways a myriad of storylines that seems to constantly diverge in the end harmoniously converge.
Therefore, I was also very much interested in what Rushdie had to go through during the years he has been in hiding because of Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa. This book gives some insight into it and provides a look into Rushdie's private life as well. The most interesting part I found the autobiography of everything that led up to him writing The Satanic Verses.
However, in what followed, there was simply too much name dropping: one "brilliant author" hasn't left the story yet and the next "eminent writer" shows up. After 250 pages or so I promised myself that if another literary hero would be mentioned, I'd give up.
And I did give up. Not only because of the continual name dropping, but also because of the way in which Rushdie describes his experiences. All the minute details of his life in hiding are just not interesting enough to fill six hundred pages. Worse, it seems that the only way of dealing with the events, no matter how gruesome it must have been to live through them, was to rationalise them to the extreme. Never ever do we hear about what he feels, about the fear that he must have experienced. Instead, he seems to be more concerned about whether Penguin will release the paperback version of the book or not and where to publish his next book.
Finally, he seems to have a complete lack of empathy: everyone who does not defend him publicly is a coward and no sympathy can be given to those who have come under attack because of his book, such as bookshopkeepers.
This is a well-written book, because Rushdie is simply one of the greatest English authors alive, but the contents make this book hard to get through and eventually simply extremely annoying to read.
Most Helpful First | Newest First
Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie