Joseph Anton: A Memoir, by Salman Rushdie was an exceptionally fascinating, gripping and compelling memoir. The title, itself, was a necessary alias that Rushdie created from the given names of two of his favorite authors: Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov.
When Rushdie was sentenced to death by the Ayatollah Khomeini after writing The Satanic Verses, it was necessary for him to go into hiding, and therefore, for him to change his name. He changed it on everything, from bank accounts to all important documentation.
From the moment I began reading Joseph Anton, I could not put it down. It was one of those reads where I was completely involved in the events and circumstances of Rushdie’s life in hiding.
He left no stone unturned in his relaying his ordeal. He was extremely concerned for his family members. He had a son named Zafar from his marriage with his first wife, Clarissa. He wanted to be able to spend as much time as possible with Zafar, and he and the British Secret Service were able to figure out ways to make it happen. Years later, he had a son named Milan with his third wife, Elizabeth. His public image was one of mixed feelings. People either supported him, or they decried him. They decried him over his book, they decried him over his choice to go into hiding, they decried him over the monetary expense it was costing England to protect him.
If it wasn’t for his some extremely close friends, friends of friends and other supporters, it would have been impossible for him to continue to hide for as long as he did. And, stay hidden he did, whether it was for one night, one week, one month or longer, he became the prey, and his life was no longer the life he knew or had control over. It involved a web of places to hide from his would-be perpetrators. His protectors became his life line, including the British Secret Police, who were with him through every step he took.
Rushdie’s life was no longer his to control. He was a prisoner, literally, within his confines. He was controlled by time and place, by police and constant hiding, by his refusal to apologize for his book. Some say, an apology could have avoided the circumstances he lived under, but who knows for sure whether it could have. And, the issue was far greater than an apology.
Rushdie felt, that as a writer, he should have freedom of expression. That was at the core of his thinking. That is what kept him going, kept his emotional state strong, and how he strove for freedom, freedom within the literary pages. He believed that writing was the bridge to cultural understanding, the bridge to empathy and sympathy for others outside their own boundaries. He felt that through his writing he could somehow contribute to the turning around of the mindset of bigotry and narrow minded perceptions. If his writing touched one person in a positive manner, than it served its purpose.
Rushdie wrote while in hiding, it didn’t deter his literary endeavors. In fact it heightened his commitment to write and kept him sane. He was in hiding for over a decade, and wrote throughout that time.
Throughout the pages one gains a sense of the man through his descriptions. He writes of pride, of anger, of arguments with police, friends and non supporters, he writes of his frustration in letters to editors of newspapers (often angry letters), he writes with humor, here and there, he writes in minute detail of his life, beginning in the land of his birth…Bombay, India. The reader learns about his parents, Muslims of Kashmiri descent. He, himself, is an atheist. But, his background and upbringing are constant visuals within the pages of his books.
One thing is evident within Rushdie’s memoir: He believed in himself, he fought for the freedom of written expression, he tried to evoke tolerance towards others in his writing-those not affiliated within one’s own religious boundaries or cultural borders. That he loved his family beyond words, is also clear.
I can’t say enough about Joseph Anton: A Memoir, by Salman Rushdie. It is extremely detailed, intense, fascinating, and written with honesty. It is intriguing, masterfully written with vivid word imagery. I highly recommend it to everyone.
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December 17, 2012 – 4 Tevet, 5773