Christina's Reviews > Joseph Anton: A Memoir

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie
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Dec 03, 2013

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction, biography, 2013
Read from January 28 to February 07, 2013 — I own a copy , read count: 1

As you are fighting a battle that may cost you your life, is the thing for which you are fighting worth loosing your life for? (p. 285)

So why is it that I feel I have to defend liking this book? Almost all reviews I’ve read – from New York Times to Goodreads – have been rather negative, attacking and blaming Rushdie. So I will just come right out and say that I really liked this book. Yes, he namedrops on every page. Yes, he of course paints a (mostly) positive picture of himself (but who wouldn’t?). Yes he knows his own worth and uses this opportunity to settle a few scores. But still, I enjoyed every page of this and read and read and read.

This of course is the story of the famous fatwa. On February 14th, 1989, Rushdie receives a phone call, informing him that Ayatollah Khomeini has sentenced him to death because of his novel, The Satanic Verses . This book details then his life for the next 12 years, trying to live as normal as possible while being under constant police protection, moving from house to house, relying on the kindness of his friends, driving bulletproof cars and trying to survive, both mentally and physically.

He writes about his private life, his childhood, his years in school, his marriages, his children, his attempt to be a father in these most extraordinary circumstances. He constantly struggles against people – both official people and the public – believing he doesn’t deserve to be protected because he has brought this on himself. He doesn’t agree with this – and neither do I. A leader of a state does not have to right to condemn the citizen of another state to death. So Rushdie struggles with Government officials, ministers and the leaders of his protection service to get them to continue to protect him and to allow him to live as free a life as possible so he can be a father, be a man and a writer, and do the publicity necessary to promote his books.

A strange thing with this book is that even though it is a memoir, it is written in the third person. Rushdie never writes I but writes he, even when writing about his own thoughts. I actually really liked this because for me, it felt like Rushdie was standing outside his life, looking in, trying to make sense of what happened to him. For me, it worked! He is also juggling with various identities through this – there’s Salman, the private man his friends knows; there’s Rushdie, the hated man, the demonstrators are renouncing on the streets; and there’s Joseph Anton, his alias, created out of the names of his two favorite writers, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. So in some ways, it must be hard to see these years living like this, split into three, as his life instead of someone else’s life, a fictional life.

The book really shows what kind of man he is. Intelligent, well-read, knowledgeable about both the classics and modern (pop) culture (JK Rowling, Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings, Super Mario, various sci-fi etc). He writes about his process when writing books, about getting ideas and using things from his real life experience in his books. And he writes about all his books in a way which makes me want to read them. And I love that while he shares all the famous writers, actors, politicians etc he meets, he also writes about how proud he is to complete his Super Mario game and how he thinks Birkenstocks is the uncoolest footwear, except for Crocs (p. 342). I really enjoyed how he shows his humor throughout the book even though he battles depression throughout these years, living with a constant death sentence over his head.

‘Who shall have control over the story? Who has, who should have, the power not only to tell the stories within which, we all lived, but also to say in what manner those stories may be told? For everyone lived by and inside stories, the so-called grand narratives. The nation was a story, and the family was another, and religion was a third. As a creative artist he knew that the only answer to the question was: Everyone and anyone has, or should have that power.’ (p. 360)

Of particular interest to me, was of course the times he mentioned Denmark and the Danish reaction to the fatwa. Overall, it seems his Danish publisher wasn’t afraid and not only published the paperback – which was a big deal – but also compared the risk of publishing it to crossing the street. It is sobering to read about how hard it was for him to get the paperback published in UK and US because if that paperback hadn’t come out, his attackers would have won.

When I began reading this novel, I had to come to terms with something. I was 12 years old when the fatwa was issued and I don’t remember anything about it from back then. But I’ve always believed that he was in the right to publish that book and that no one had the right to attack him for that. But at the same time, I was against the so called ‘Danish Cartoons’, the caricatures of Muhammad posted by Jyllands-Posten back in 2005. Of course I didn’t want anyone attacking Kurt Westergaard, one of the drawers, but I didn’t like the idea of these drawings. Now, how could I reconcile supporting Rushdie and believing him to be in the right while not supporting these drawings? I thought about that for a while and for me, the answer is, that Jyllands-Posten did it intentionally to cause a disturbance while Rushdie didn’t set out to do anything but write a novel. Whether you agree or disagree with someone, they should always be allowed to talk, to say their mind. You have to use words to defeat words, not guns or bombs or knives.

In Denmark, we have just had another case of a journalist known for criticizing Islam being attacked and attempted assassinated. Now I disagree with this man but you can’t go around shooting at people you disagree with. But what this shows is that Rushdie’s case is still current. We still have to fight for freedom of speech. Rushdie survived the fatwa and lived to see it being put to rest. He views his case as a prologue to all that happened after 9-11 and even though we all should have become wiser, we haven’t really. Unfortunately.

The value of art lies in the love it engenders, not the hatred. It is love that makes books last. (p. 316)
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Reading Progress

01/28/2013 page 7
1.0% "There's something fascinating about the way this is written, in third person. Like he's standing on the outside looking in, trying to make sense if it all."
01/28/2013 page 22
3.0% "Rushdie - named for Ihn Rushd, Averroes, the translator of Aristotle."
01/28/2013 page 27
4.0% "LOTR"
01/28/2013 page 31
4.0% "Sci-fi."
01/29/2013 page 43
6.0% "The story of the satanic verses."
01/29/2013 page 55
8.0% "Midnight's Children"
01/29/2013 page 60
9.0% "Shame."
01/29/2013 page 72
10.0% "Interesting to read about the process behind The Satanic Verses."
01/30/2013 page 103
15.0% "Jo Rowling."
01/30/2013 page 109
16.0% "Doctor Who :-)"
01/30/2013 page 114
17.0% "The whores taking on the names of the Prophet's wives."
01/30/2013 page 143
21.0% "This is so fascinating!"
01/31/2013 page 164
25.0% "Joseph Anton"
01/31/2013 page 167
25.0% "Bath-time stories"
01/31/2013 page 181
27.0% "Cell phoned"
02/01/2013 page 204
31.0% "The struggle over the paperback."
02/01/2013 page 246
37.0% "I love that he plays Super Mario - and is proud to finish it."
02/02/2013 page 285
43.0% "'As you are fighting a battle that may cost you your life, is the thing for which you are fighting worth loosing your life for?'"
02/02/2013 page 291
44.0% "Paperback edition in Denmark etc"
02/02/2013 page 296
45.0% "If we can't get the writer, we take out the translators instead."
02/02/2013 page 301
45.0% "'I stopped being afraid because, if my time on earth was limited, I didn't have seconds to spare for funk.' (The Moor's Last Sigh)"
02/03/2013 page 316
48.0% "'The value of art lies in the love it engenders, not the hatred. It's love that makes books last.'"
02/03/2013 page 342
52.0% "'/.../ Birkenstocks, the uncoolest of all possible footwear, except for Crocs.'"
02/03/2013 page 347
52.0% "Denmark - and feta!"
02/03/2013 page 357
54.0% "U2 & Bono."
02/03/2013 page 360
54.0% "'Who shall have control over the story? Who has, who should have, the power not only to tell the stories with which, and within which, we all lived, but also to say in what manner those stories may be told? For everyone lived by and inside stories, the so-called grand narratives. The nation was a story, and the family was another, and religion was a third. As a creative artist he knew that the only answer to the..,'"
02/04/2013 page 397
60.0% "Johannes Riis, DK."
02/04/2013 page 435
66.0% "John Irving and his bears."
02/05/2013 page 452
68.0% "In Denmark, Tivoli ..."
02/05/2013 page 475
72.0% "... the day when ..."
02/05/2013 page 493
75.0% "Denmark refuses him to attend an award ceremony"
02/06/2013 page 529
80.0% "Rushdie argues with le Carre and support from Hitchens"
02/06/2013 page 549
86.0% "What he/they were fighting for"
02/06/2013 page 577
90.0% "Padma"
02/06/2013 page 590
92.0% "Wow he's bitter at Padma!"
02/06/2013 page 616
96.0% "Being set up with Meg Ryan by Carrie Fisher..."
02/07/2013 page 619
97.0% "'Like all writers, he was going on an intellectual, linguist, formal, and emotional journey; the books were messages from that journey, and he hoped readers would enjoy traveling with him.'"
02/07/2013 page 620
97.0% "Fury's U.S. publication date - September 11, 2001...! A book about New York..."
02/07/2013 page 625
98.0% "Arab Spring"
02/07/2013 page 626
98.0% "His battle the prologue to the main event 9-11"
02/07/2013 page 627
98.0% "And next pages: the power of literature. Great quotes!"
02/07/2013 page 629
98.0% "The Danish cartoons. Kurt Westergaard. Abolut the battle over The Satanic Verses."
02/02/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Lisa (last edited Mar 22, 2013 02:01PM) (new)

Lisa Vegan Christina, Great review. But I think you meant to put just that first quote in italics and the whole review is in italics. Perhaps the end italics formatting has a typo? Oh and the last quote you probably want in italics too. So both sets formatting probably need editing??


Christina Yikes. Excessive italics corrected ;-)
And I really enjoyed the book :-)


message 3: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan Yes, now it looks as you meant it to look. I love the quotes. I think I might add the book, though I'm not sure if I'll ever get to it. Thanks for alerting me to it, Christina.


message 4: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan Actually, I'm not going to add it now. I've always had such a hard time enjoying Rushdie. I might suggest it for me book club though; if we read it, I'll add it.


Christina I think this one was very accessible. He can be a tough one to read but this one was an easy one.


message 6: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Vegan Christina Stind wrote: "I think this one was very accessible. He can be a tough one to read but this one was an easy one."

Oh, that is so good to know! Thanks, Christina.


message 7: by Ami (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ami First, great review. I think you elucidate very well my own train of thought as I read this book. Second, you make a valid distinction between Rushdie, the writer who never intended to spark controversy, and the cartoonist who drew an inflammatory picture. Like you, I agree that words must be contended with through words. However, on that grain, I am surprised that Rushdie only briefly alluded to Heinrich Heine's quote that when you begin by burning books, you end by burning men. There is a lot of art and literature produced that makes many of us uncomfortable, but censorship can be just as uncomfortable. Finally, I think in your quote at the top of your review, you mean to say "losing" and not "loosing"! :)


message 8: by Tony (new)

Tony I finished the book yesterday, and I agree with you. I'm not going to add more, but would point you to the review by contributor Petra X which garnered no fewer than 58 likes. I was so incensed by her tone and allegations of intent on Rushdie's part to cause notoriety, that I posted a message. You might care to read it.


Christina I think I read that review back when I read the book and that I felt that it would be better to ignore it, that I couldn't write a comment to her review without writing something very unkind. I remember feeling the review was very far from my impression of the book...


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