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Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie
Joseph Anton

Jean Clarkin, January 1, 2013

An adventure story. A political thriller. A compendium of deep thought about freedom and morality, politics and religion, parenthood and death. A resource of opinions on writers and writing. This memoir by Salman Rushdie has it all.

I hadn't really paid much attention to Rushdie's career since the fatwa was cancelled, but during the time when his life was being threatened, I followed the news pretty closely - but of course, one never knows the full extent of the threats, the background day-to-day happenings during such a time of crisis. Joseph Anton is the pseudonym Rushdie adopted while under the protection of Scotland Yard's finest. It was a name he thought he could live with until the matter was cleared up, not realizing that it would be a ten-year struggle.

In the memoir, master story teller Rushdie weaves the distant past with the recent past and the present. He explicates the impact of the fatwa on his family, his friends, and his fans; on his work, his struggles to be published, his travels. He discusses at length the courage and kindness of his minders, his friends and his acquaintances. He gratefully marvels at the closed mouth British public, who kept his whereabouts and other personal details secret; he rails at some of the media figures who stirred up trouble and exacerbated the tensions between his minders and the British Islamic community.

This story is not a white-wash, Rushdie points out his own blind-spots, bad decisions, hurtful behaviors. He is unforgivingly candid about his own flaws, (almost) completely forgiving of the flaws of his supporters and friends, and acerbically caustic about the prevarications of governments. I came away from this memoir with an admiration for Rushdie, and with gratitude for his willingness to defend his (and our) rights to think and write anything we wish without censorship, without threats, without death.

On a practical note, I also came away from Joseph Anton with a terrifically good to-be-read list derived from Rushdie's wide ranging tastes in world literature.
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