Joseph Anton: A Memoir [NOOK Book]


On February 14, 1989, Valentine?s Day, Salman Rushdie was telephoned by a BBC journalist and told that he had been ?sentenced to death? by the Ayatollah Khomeini. For the first time he heard the word fatwa. His crime? To have written a novel called The Satanic Verses, which was accused of being ?against Islam, the Prophet and the Quran.?
So begins the extraordinary story of how a writer was forced underground, moving from house to house,...
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Joseph Anton: A Memoir

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On February 14, 1989, Valentine’s Day, Salman Rushdie was telephoned by a BBC journalist and told that he had been “sentenced to death” by the Ayatollah Khomeini. For the first time he heard the word fatwa. His crime? To have written a novel called The Satanic Verses, which was accused of being “against Islam, the Prophet and the Quran.”
So begins the extraordinary story of how a writer was forced underground, moving from house to house, with the constant presence of an armed police protection team. He was asked to choose an alias that the police could call him by. He thought of writers he loved and combinations of their names; then it came to him: Conrad and Chekhov—Joseph Anton.
How do a writer and his family live with the threat of murder for more than nine years? How does he go on working? How does he fall in and out of love? How does despair shape his thoughts and actions, how and why does he stumble, how does he learn to fight back? In this remarkable memoir Rushdie tells that story for the first time; the story of one of the crucial battles, in our time, for freedom of speech. He talks about the sometimes grim, sometimes comic realities of living with armed policemen, and of the close bonds he formed with his protectors; of his struggle for support and understanding from governments, intelligence chiefs, publishers, journalists, and fellow writers; and of how he regained his freedom.
It is a book of exceptional frankness and honesty, compelling, provocative, moving, and of vital importance. Because what happened to Salman Rushdie was the first act of a drama that is still unfolding somewhere in the world every day.

Praise for Salman Rushdie
“In Salman Rushdie . . . India has produced a glittering novelist—one with startling imaginative and intellectual resources, a master of perpetual storytelling.”—The New Yorker
“Salman Rushdie has earned the right to be called one of our great storytellers.”—The Observer
“Our most exhilaratingly inventive prose stylist, a writer of breathtaking originality.”—Financial Times

From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

The name in the title was created originally to befuddle. In February 1989, Salman Rushdie receives word that he had been sentenced to death by Ayatollah Khomeini. Forced to go underground, he created a portmanteau alias that conjoined the first names of two favorite authors (Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov). For more than nine years, he and his family lived in hiding, moving from place to place, guarded by an ever-present contingent of armed policemen. During that time, his marriage dissolved and his life changed drastically in most other ways as well. Joseph Anton: A Memoir recounts a stormy period lived in enforced isolation. Definitely more mesmerizing than Satanic Verses. Now in trade paperback and NOOK Book.

The New York Times
…reminds us of [Rushdie's] fecund gift for language and his talent for explicating the psychological complexities of family and identity…a harrowing, deeply felt and revealing document: an autobiographical mirror of the big, philosophical preoccupations that have animated Mr. Rushdie's work throughout his career, from the collision of the private and the political in today's interconnected world to the permeable boundaries between life and art, reality and the imagination.
—Michiko Kakutani
The Washington Post
Joseph Anton is a splendid book, the finest new memoir to cross my desk in many a year. Some may complain that, at more than 600 pages, it is too long, but it never seemed so to me…To the contrary, the length of the book, and its wealth of quotidian detail, serve to draw the reader into the life that Rushdie was forced to lead, to make his isolation and fear palpable.
—Jonathan Yardley
Publishers Weekly
Hailed as a literary martyr and derided as a prima donna, Rushdie emerges as both inspiring and insufferable in this memoir of his life following the 1989 fatwa issued against him by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. The British-Indian novelist's third-person account of the firestorm surrounding The Satanic Verses is harrowing as he's hounded, under the pseudonym "Joseph Anton," and moved from one hiding place to another under constant police guard while Islamists everywhere call for his death, and the British government treats him as an undeserving troublemaker. (Bookstore bombings and murderous attacks on a publisher and translators, he notes, show how serious the threat was.) But once Rushdie regains his nerve, his fetters accommodate much jet-setting lionization as he travels the world, collects awards and ovations, and parties with glitterati at the Playboy Mansion. Rushdie mixes stirring defenses of free speech with piquant observations on the subculture of maniacal high-level security, ripostes to detractors and ex-wives—"when he mentioned a pre-nup, the conversation became a quarrel"—sex gossip and incessant name-dropping ("Willie Nelson was there! And Matthew Modine!"). There's preening self-dramatization by the celebrity author— but a persistent edge of real drama, and fear, makes Rushdie's story absorbing. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
“A harrowing, deeply felt and revealing document: an autobiographical mirror of the big, philosophical preoccupations that have animated Mr. Rushdie’s work throughout his career.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“A splendid book, the finest . . . memoir to cross my desk in many a year.”—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
“Thoughtful and astute . . . an important book.”—USA Today
“Compelling, affecting . . . demonstrates Mr. Rushdie’s ability as a stylist and storytelle. . . . [He] reacted with great bravery and even heroism.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Gripping, moving and entertaining . . . nothing like it has ever been written.”—The Independent (UK)
“A thriller, an epic, a political essay, a love story, an ode to liberty.”—Le Point (France)
“Action-packed . . . in a literary class by itself . . . Like Isherwood, Rushdie’s eye is a camera lens —firmly placed in one perspective and never out of focus.”—Los Angeles Review of Books
“Unflinchingly honest . . . an engrossing, exciting, revealing and often shocking book.”de Volkskrant (The Netherlands)
“One of the best memoirs you may ever read.”DNA (India)
“Extraordinary . . . Joseph Anton beautifully modulates between . . . moments of accidental hilarity, and the higher purpose Rushdie saw in opposing—at all costs—any curtailment on a writer’s freedom.”The Boston Globe

From the Hardcover edition.

Kirkus Reviews
The frightening, illuminating and disturbing memoir by the author of The Satanic Verses, the book that provoked a death sentence from the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. Rushdie (Luka and the Fire of Life, 2008, etc.) chose for his cover name (and for the title) the first names of Conrad and Chekhov--appropriate, for the author seemed caught in a tangled novel filled with ominous (and some cowardly) characters driven by an inscrutable fate toward a probable sanguinary climax. The author uses third person throughout, a decision that allows him a novelist's distance but denies some of the intimacy of the first person. Perhaps he viewed himself during those 13 years (the duration of his protection by British security forces) more as a character than a free agent. He returns continually to an image from Hitchcock's The Birds: the black birds gradually filling up a jungle gym on a school playground (these represent the threats to personal freedom presented by fundamentalists). Rushdie also includes unmailed letters to actual people (Tony Blair) and to ideas (the millennium). The organization is unremarkable: The author begins with his learning of the fatwa, retreats to tell about his life before 1989, then marches steadily toward the present with only a few returns (a section about his mother's love life). Bluntly, he tells about his wives, divorces, affairs, successes and failures of pen and heart and character; his various security guards; and, very affectingly, about his two sons. He tells about his travels, many awards and celebrity friends. Emerging as heroic is the United States, where Rushdie realized he could live more freely than anywhere else. Aspects of a spy novel, a writer's autobiography and a victim's affidavit pulsing with resentment and fear combine to reveal a man's dawning awareness of the primacy of freedom.
The Barnes & Noble Review

The prospect of a hanging may, per Dr. Johnson, "concentrate the mind wonderfully," but the prospect of ritual execution by an Iranian death squad evidently has the opposite effect. On the morning of February 14, 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini announced Salman Rushdie's death sentence for The Satanic Verses, and Rushdie made his final public appearance for years. At the funeral of the travel writer Bruce Chatwin in London, he listened to Greek Orthodox monks groan out their liturgy while swinging thuribles of incense. Already he was stunned, his mind preparing to unravel. Paul Theroux — an exemplary defender of Rushdie over the next several years — at the time hissed unhelpfully from the pew behind him, "I suppose next week we'll be here for you, Salman."

Rushdie has taken over a decade to tell the full story of his subsequent descent into mental vertigo, panic, fear, paralysis, and depression. His memoir Joseph Anton — which touches briefly on his pre-fatwa years before he was whisked away by British cops and sheltered by a network of literary luminaries — derives its title from Rushdie's fugitive alias, a combination of the first names of Conrad and Chekhov. (It perhaps has an echo, too, of Kafka's Joseph K., that other victim of interminable persecution.) His British police bodyguards, provided somewhat controversially at public expense, referred to him on daily basis as "Joe."

Joseph Anton is a book written from the security the present day, but it rattles with the terror of the moment and is unique among literary memoirs, if only because its author is unique among authors. Others have incurred death threats ("a most extreme form of literary criticism," said V. S. Naipaul at the time, archly and also unhelpfully), but Rushdie's came from an especially dangerous source. And it reached him at a time before the world was well acquainted with tempers of Islam's most fanatical representatives. The grisly novelty of this mafia hit, ordered from a cleric's deathbed a continent away, hit with a Sputnik-like shock, suddenly making what seemed like a far-off threat present and real.

Among the many virtues of the memoir is its ability to conjure both the stress and mechanics of the author's own flight to safety, as well as the ignorance and cowardice of much of the world at the time. It's easy to forget how readily the public — especially the vast demographic of people who don't read fiction but do watch the news and do bristle instinctively at the word "satanic" — conceded that Rushdie was surely at least an evil man. And then there were public figures, some of whom (like Yusuf Islam, the cretinous singer formerly known as Cat Stevens) who actually endorsed his murder, and to whom it then seemed plausible that the Devil himself walked the earth in Booker Prize-winning form.

From London, Rushdie fled to various bucolic settings in rural Britain, including cottages owned or rented by the novelist Margaret Drabble and Granta editor Bill Buford. There he had to dodge not only Iranian assassins, should they show up (they never did), but also curious local shepherds and neighbors, who if they saw his distinctive droopy lids and bodyguard detail could not be trusted to refrain from tipping off the tabloids. Rushdie says a Daily Mail reporter had checked into the hotel where he spent his first days on the run, but since the reporter was there purely for an assignation with his mistress, he never left his room and missed the scoop.

What follows is a horror: frightening revelations that Iranians had a task force set up solely to exterminate him and a harrowing episode in which his nine-year-old son Zafar and ex-wife Clarissa went missing for an hour, during which Rushdie expected to hear of their "brightly lit rag-doll corpses" chopped to bits on the floor of their London home (they were out at a play and hadn't let him know). Worse, non-hypothetical terror soon manifested itself through the murder of his Japanese translator (stabbed in the head next to an elevator shaft), and attempts on the lives of his Italian translator (beaten and stabbed at home) and Norwegian publisher (shot three times outside his office).

This emotional torture takes turns for the even-worse when his then-wife, the distinguished American novelist Marianne Wiggins, goes from "courageous[ly]" supportive to frankly crazy, with delusions of CIA plots and hysterical accusations of torture-by-lit- cigarette against Rushdie himself. Among villains in this story she ranks somewhere just below Kalim Siddiqui — the preeminent British campaigner for Rushdie's execution — and Hashem Essawy, the Egyptian dentist who reneged on a promise to win Rushdie forgiveness from an all-star panel of clerics (or Star Chamber?), in exchange for a degrading affirmation of return to Islam.

The "Paradise Regained" section of the book goes on a little long, and consists largely of Rushdie's (quite rightly) haranguing airline executives into letting him fly on their planes, and more generally asserting for himself the rights of free travel and speech that no one had any right to deny him in the first place. He transforms from a pre-fatwa novelist, laureled but largely unknown, to the best- known writer anywhere, and finally — upon settling in the United States and the effective lifting of the fatwa — the only literary figure since Arthur Miller to date supermodels, and the first ever to have his real estate acquisitions examined in the tabloids.

There's much here to love: a marvelous writer who finds his freedom again, and who gets to watch his dead tormentor become a widely hated figure in his own country; a tale well-told, with humor (after an expert wig-fitting, he goes outside cautiously, only to hear the first person who sees him say "Look, there's that bastard Rushdie in a wig"); and a reminder, now that Muslim mobs are baying after filmmakers, that in the face of previous threats to freedom of expression, those who have espoused free-speech absolutism have won out, because they have been made of sterner stuff than their opponents.

There's also some to dislike. The trick of using "he" instead of "I" throughout is perhaps a stylistic choice, and one must be allowed an idiosyncrasy here and there. But since the author uses "he," and never "Rushdie," or the title's "Anton," every scene that involves another male character threatens to be a bit of an antecedent jumble.

And more seriously, one wishes Rushdie said a little more about the fatwa's toll on his literary work. His last great novel was The Moor's Last Sigh, and even it did not match the greatness of The Satanic Verses or Midnight's Children before that. (I am setting a high bar here. But still.) At one point in this memoir, Rushdie quotes a Yeats poem, "The Choice," about being forced to decide whether to focus on one's work or one's life. Rushdie himself, after so much drama during the fatwa years, has lived a life that is in many ways enviable, containing as it does plenty of partygoing, lunches with Warren Beatty, and endless demand for paid writing and speaking. I don?t begrudge him the good times, but I do wonder to what extent he thinks serious literary work is compatible with living a public life - - whether by choice or not.

Graeme Wood is a staff editor at The Atlantic. His articles and reviews have appeared in many publications, including The New Yorker, Good magazine, andThe American.

Reviewer: Graeme Wood

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679643883
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/18/2012
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 656
  • Sales rank: 174,956
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie is the author of eleven novels—Grimus, Midnight’s Children (for which he won the Booker Prize and the Best of the Booker), Shame, The Satanic Verses, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Moor’s Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Fury, Shalimar the Clown, The Enchantress of Florence, and Luka and the Fire of Life—and one collection of short stories: East, West. He has also published three works of nonfiction: The Jaguar Smile, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981–1991, and Step Across This Line, and coedited two anthologies, Mirrorwork and Best American Short Stories 2008. He is a former president of American PEN.


Born in Mumbai, India, and educated in the U.K., multi-award-winning novelist Salman Rushdie is considered one of the most important and influential writers of contemporary English-language fiction.

Rushdie freelanced for two London advertising firms before turning to a full-time writing career. He made his literary debut in 1975 with Grimus, a sci-fi fantasy that made a very small splash in publishing circles. However, he hit the jackpot with his second novel, Midnight's Children, an ambitious allegory that parallels the turbulent history of India before and after partition. Widely considered Rushdie's magnum opus, Midnight's Children was awarded the Booker Prize in 1981. (Twelve years later, a panel of judges named it the best overall novel to have won the Booker Prize since the award's inception in 1975; and in 2005, Time included it on a list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.)

Undoubtedly, though, the book that put Rushdie squarely on the cultural radar screen was The Satanic Verses. Published in 1988 and partially inspired by the life of the prophet Muhammad, this erudite study of good and evil won the Whitbread Book Award, but achieved far more notoriety when Muslim fundamentalists condemned it for its blasphemous portrayal of Islam. The book was banned in many Muslim countries, a fatwa was issued by the Iranian Ayatollah, and a multimillion dollar bounty was placed on Rushdie's head. The novelist spent much of the 1990s in hiding, under the protection of the British government. (In 1998, Iran officially lifted the fatwa, but threats against Rushdie's life still reverberate throughout the Muslim world.)

Even without the controversy inspired by The Satanic Verses, Rushdie's literary fame would be assured. His novels comprise a unique body of work that draws from fantasy, mythology, religion, and magic realism, blending them all with staggering imagination and comic brilliance. He has created his own idiom, pushing the boundaries of language with dazzling wordplay and a widely admired "chutnification" of history. His books have won most major awards in Europe and the U.K. and have garnered praise from critics around the world. Britain's Financial Times called him "Our most exhilaratingly inventive prose stylist." Time magazine raved, "No novelist currently writing in English does so with more energy, intelligence and allusiveness than Rushdie." And the writer Christopher Hitchens lamented in the Progressive that were it not for the death threats against him, Rushdie would surely be a Nobel laureate by now.

In addition to his bestselling novels, Rushdie has also produced essays, criticism, and a book of children's fiction. In 2007, Rushdie was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. The citation reads: "Ahmed Salman Rushdie -- author, for services to literature."

Good To Know

Rushdie was short-listed for The Literary Review's Bad Sex Award in 1995 for The Moor's Last Sigh, which included such verses as "For ever they sweated pepper ‘n' spices sweat."

Rushdie participated in a two-day, U.S. State Department conference entitled "Why Do They Hate Us?" for 50 diplomats in the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001.

Rushdie's first novel was a literate sci-fi fantasy entitled Grimus. Although it made only a very small splash in publishing circles, the book was deemed outstanding enough to be selected by a panel of distinguished writers (including Brian Aldiss, Kingsley Amis, and Arthur C. Clarke) as the best science fiction novel of 1975. However, at the last minute, his publishers withdrew the book from consideration, fearing that, if he won, Rushdie would never be able to shake the label of "genre writer."

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    1. Also Known As:
      Ahmed Salman Rushdie
    2. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 19, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Bombay, Maharashtra, India
    1. Education:
      M.A. in History, King's College, University of Cambridge

Table of Contents

Prologue The First Blackbird 1

I A Faustian Contract in Reverse 17

II "Manuscripts Don't Burn" 93

III Year Zero 137

IV The Trap of Wanting to Be Loved 221

V "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me" 279

VI Why It's Impossible to Photograph the Pampas 335

VII A Truckload of Dung 413

VIII Mr. Morning and Mr. Afternoon 479

IX His Millenarian Illusion 563

X At the Halcyon Hotel 611

Acknowledgments 635

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 22 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 22 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 18, 2012

    Moments ago, I turned the last page of Salman Rushdie's memoir,

    Moments ago, I turned the last page of Salman Rushdie's memoir, Joseph Anton. I started it around September 20th and it took me until December 17th, to finish (investing, on average, about an hour-and-a-half of reading per day). Some will consider this a long book (656 pages), but at no point in my journey did it seem overwritten or garrulous. Some memoirs tend to indulge in dull personal matters or mundane reminiscences, but not this one (Martin Amis wrote a particularly boring memoir that I found hard to finish; it turned out to be an 'experience' I could have done without). By the very nature of his circumstances, Rushdie's is a harrowing and riveting tale, and this made it all the more exciting to read.

    Please ignore the low-starred reviewers below; I doubt they have the ability to read any long book. Most people also seem to forget the purpose of a memoir when they describe its author as name-dropping, self-aggrandizing solipsists. In a memoir, YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO NAME NAMES. I want to know about Rushdie's literary friends, the movie stars he dated (Meg Ryan), and the places he has been to. What else do you expect? It's a memoir! At no point did Rushdie sound overly self-serving or whiny. He went through absolute hell for more than ten years of his life, all for writing a book that was perceived to be an insult to a ghastly and tyrannical religion. I think he has a right to complain a bit about the way he was treated by both the extremists abroad and the feeble British government at home. Despite this, he gives great credit to his protectors, the members of A Squad, and to all those to reached out to help during these troubling times. But he also shines a bright light on the toadies who attempted to cast him as a despicable devil in this whole ordeal. The British Press, Cat Stevens, John le Carre, Penguin Group; all of their positions were given a fair review and presented so that the reader can reach his/her own conclusions about who was in the wrong. Rushdie does not shy away from his own personal failings, nor does he try to sugarcoat anything. He reveals his personal faults that led to the end of his four marriages, but he also presents his side of the story effectively.

    If you don't want to hear about personal stories, literary jet-set circles, or someone's opinions on various issues, than don't read their memoir. If you are looking to learn more about one of the greatest authors of the 20th and 21 centuries, than check out Joseph Anton.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2012


    This lengthy book varies from engrossing to tedious at times. Its message, that freedom of speech and writing is important and should be more important than fear of offending, is compelling.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2012

    Too long and self-indulgent

    Rushdie's book is too long by at least one third. Do we really need to read the guest list at every party he attended, especially since most of the folks he mentions are from England and hardly known in this country. Too much repetition about the security that helped him survive. Not enough information about his marriages, which is perhaps the only really interesting material in the book.
    It is also seriously marred by his use of the third person rather than the first person.
    This is a good book to skim so you can skip the considerable uninteresting portions. .

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2012

    Excellent Biography

    A fascinating biography of the arduous ordeal Mr. Rushdie faced for too many years. What a struggle for freedom!!!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 11, 2013

    Surprisingly readable

    Having tried to read and understand "The Satanic Verses" I did not expect to finish "Joseph Anton" but was delighted to find Salman Rushdies memoir fascinating reading; and a trove of background information to help me to understand his writing. I will try "Verses" again from a new perspective.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2012

    Read it

    I've seldom had time to read fiction, and so have yet to read any of Salman Rushdie's other work. Based on the beautiful writing in this book, I will get right to it. I was interested in his story because of the ordeal he lived through when he was under threat of death, and found his lessons about life valuable and inspiring. I am glad he survived, and grateful that he and his supportive friends work for freedom for writers around the world.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2012


    BEST BOOK EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted May 18, 2014



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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2013

    Over long but well worth the read

    An inspiring and at times reflective and indulgent memoir.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2013



    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2012

    500 + pages of whining. Book describes a shallow person who thro

    500 + pages of whining. Book describes a shallow person who throws away wives & blames all his problems on others.

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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