Title: Joseph Anton
Author: Salman Rushdie
Release Date: September 18, 2012
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 out of 5
The Satanic Verses was a novel quietly published in 1988 by Salman Rushdie. Most expected it would do what his previous novels had done—achieve respectable sales, be critically acclaimed, and win a prestigious prize or two. Few could predict what actually happened—widespread banning, controversy, and the issuance of a fatwa, or virtual sentence of death, against the author. This is Salman Rushdie’s account of the ten years he spent in hiding as a result of that fatwa and his struggles for The Satanic Verses to be accepted.
Joseph Anton is a beautifully written memoir that spans Rushdie’s entire life. Though it focuses on the aftermath of The Satanic Verses, it chronicles Rushdie’s upbringing, his years at university, and his struggles to become a novelist. Once he achieves that dream, only then does it turn to focus on his dark years, when he couldn’t show his face in public without fear of violence. It’s an intensely personal memoir; Rushdie chronicles his highs and lows and isn’t afraid to deliver his true opinion. He isn’t stingy with his praise, especially for those who protected him over the years, but also makes sure to indict those who stood by and did nothing, content to let the fundamentalists take away his right to free speech.
In some ways, Joseph Anton is a shocking memoir. The scandal surrounding The Satanic Verses has faded, but it’s no less relevant now than it was twenty years ago. With a religiously charged world and the constant fear of fundamentalist violence, it’s easy to imagine the same thing happening all over again, which is absolutely tragic. Free speech is an easy casualty when you only have to silence one man; it’s something that will haunt readers long after this book is finished.
This memoir also provides a glimpse into Rushdie’s head, a peek into his thoughts and writing processes. For a Salman Rushdie fan, the deep personal nature of this memoir is absolutely thrilling. Readers can see their favorite novels come into being, understand where Rushdie’s ideas came from and what he was trying to accomplish with books such as Haroun and the Sea of Stories and The Moor’s Last Sigh. This aspect of the book may be lost on those who aren’t avid fans of the author, but it’s a real treat for those who have followed his career.
Additionally, Joseph Anton contains an interesting look inside the politics of the publishing world. The struggles that Rushdie went through to publish the paperback version of The Satanic Verses are extraordinary; eventually, he had to settle on a form of self-publishing. It’s interesting to think about the role a publisher takes when confronted with a controversial novel; though sales are all-but guaranteed, that sometimes isn’t enough for the publisher to take the risk.
If you’re looking for an intellectual, thought-provoking memoir that’s not only beautifully written but is absolutely gripping, Joseph Anton is a great choice. It’s definitely long, but the subject matter is very interesting. If you’re not a fan of Rushdie’s, this memoir could still appeal to you if you’re interested in reading about the quagmire surrounding The Satanic Verses, though it’s really a gem for those who love this author. If you’re a Rushdie fan, RUN to your nearest bookstore and pick this memoir up immediately. You will be blown away by the breadth and depth of this memoir, as well as the honest emotion that leaps off of every page.
Other books by Salman Rushdie: