Sunday, December 2, 2012

Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie

Afterwards, when the world was exploding around him and the lethal blackbirds were massing on the climbing frame in the school playground, he felt annoyed with himself for forgetting the name of the BBC reporter, a woman, who told him that his old life was over and a new, darker existence was about to begin.

Joseph Anton is Salman Rushdie's latest book, a memoir, recounting the fatwa that was issued after the publication of The Satanic Verses. It also talks about his life before and afterwards. I really enjoyed the writing; it was much better than in The Satanic Verses and The Enchantress of Florence, both of which, looking back, were rather dense. The writing here may not have been dense, but the actual book was. I was really enjoying it about 200 pages in, but the whole book is over 600 pages, and I just couldn't see where it was going to develop. It is a bit plodding, but I still liked it, though it probably could have been trimmed down a lot in the middle.

It was really interesting to read more in-depth about the fatwa, though. A lot of the fanatics hadn't even read the book, and they were still calling it heretic and evil. It was interesting to see the two people: Salman, how he thought of himself, and Rushdie, the public persona revered and despised by so many.

Some might find the literary and publishing politics detailed in the book a bit tedious, but I enjoyed reading about what the negotiations were like. Penguin/Viking had published The Satanic Verses, but they were reluctant to publish Haroun and the Sea of Stories at first, because of the controversy.

As I said, the writing here was really compelling, and distinctive too. Rushdie wrote about himself in the third person as "he" or "the writer". It was totally different from most memoirs, and once you got used to it, had a certain flow. The title refers to the alias he developed for himself, from two of his favorite writers, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. Rushdie drops a lot of big names casually: Graham Greene, Saul Bellow, Dorris Lessing, Norman Mailer and many more, all of whom he met. And Colin Firth. Let me repeat that: Colin Firth. At any rate, I realized again how much I really love his crazy, rambling style. I want to read Midnight's Children now, and reread Luka and the Fire of Life, as well as Haroun and the Sea of Stories. 

I liked this memoir, despite its length, and would recommend it to anyone who loves Salman Rushdie's work. Stick through the middle sections.

Read Joseph Anton:
  • if you like Salman Rushdie
  • if you like memoir
  • if you are interested in the fatwa 
633 pages.
Very Good! I would recommend this book!
(Maybe 3.75 stars?)

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