Moira Russell's Reviews > Joseph Anton: A Memoir

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie
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Sep 17, 2012

bookshelves: ebook, on-the-kindle, 2012-50-new-books-challenge

I don't even know what to think about this thing. About the first half is really great - even written in the Bob Dole-ish autobiographical third person - gripping, suspenseful, detailed. But the book just dies about halfway through - he starts eliding weeks, months and years, and then disastrously starts flashing forward at the same time as if he thinks he's writing a late Lost episode (near the very end he calls attention to "his Dickensian, let's-tie-up-the-loose-strings seat in the future" which is obviously 2011, when he's writing the book, except its action ends pretty much in 2001) so it just becomes really hard to tell what's even happening when. And he turns terribly sexist, shallow and obsessed with celebrities to boot. You would think, since his own ordeal essentially was (as he calls it) "prologue" to the changed world after 9/11, and this memoir was written not only at the ten-year anniversary of that event but also after both the Arab Spring and a resurgence of protests, these chronological markers would help him organize his thoughts or at least his narrative somewhat, even if only emotionally. But no, we wind up hearing a lot about Bono and Hitchens and Padma. (Oh, do we ever hear about Padma. Eight years of relationship are compressed into an insultingly small number of pages, and yet the second-hand embarrassment -- dare I say, shame? -- I felt on reading his vengeful invective dragged out the subjective mental reading-time horribly.)

It's obvious he feels people got sick of his story (even while it was still happening to him, his family, his friends and protectors), and that it's been told and retold so many times in such distorted ways that this fancy-ass attempt at depicting himself unstuck in time is how he's trying to make it new. (And, possibly, describe the great disconnected swathe of time in his life when he was really not himself.) But the best parts of the book are when he simply and directly presents his own emotions. When he writes about literature, his thoughts aren't that novel (and at times teeter on cliche) but are given force and power by his actual lived experience; when he writes about politics it's just disastrous. Usually when a book is this thin it's because the author's tried to write it too quickly after the actual events; but he's had ten years since the willed happy ending, when his protection is removed by mutual consent and he hails a cab, and it's hard to think any more time would deepen his reflections. Perhaps the unintentional point is that some experiences are so huge and shattering you don't ever really move on past them, digest them, contain them. When people go nuts or get addicted or suffer some other near-unendurable trauma of the spirit, what they, and their families and loved ones, always want is my old life back. I want him back. I want her back. I want what we had. But you don't get to go back; if you're lucky, you get to go forward, but it's really not at all the same thing.

-- Just go read this review, it's great. Just remember: 'And William Styron's genitalia are unexpectedly on display one convivial evening at Martha's Vineyard.'
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Quotes Moira Liked

Salman Rushdie
“The night in Lonsdale Square was cold, dark, and clear. There were two policemen in the square. When he got out of his car, they pretended not to notice him. They were on short patrol, watching the street near the flat for a hundred yards in each direction, and he could hear their footsteps even when he was indoors. He realized, in that footstep-haunted space, that he no longer understood his life, or what it might become, and he thought, for the second time that day, that there might not be very much more of life to understand.”
Salman Rushdie, Joseph Anton: A Memoir

Reading Progress

September 17, 2012 – Shelved
September 17, 2012 – Shelved as: ebook
September 17, 2012 – Shelved as: on-the-kindle
September 19, 2012 – Started Reading
September 19, 2012 –
0.0% "Absolutely gripping, despite the weird third-person Dolespeak, some questionable remarks on faith, and a weird personal opinion the guy is a bit of a dick. Had at least three other books lined up to dip into, but this one grabbed my retinas first."
September 19, 2012 –
15.0% ", Naipaul is becoming just about as repugnant to me as Roth or Mailer. ugh."
September 19, 2012 –
15.0% "'To him, it was the least political book of the three.' Oh man. I can believe that he thought that."
September 19, 2012 –
15.0% "'John Updike delivered a quietist paean (at the 1986 PEN conference) to the little blue mailboxes of America, those everyday symbols of the free exchange of ideas, to a considerably bewildered audience of world writers.' AHAHAHA. <3"
September 19, 2012 –
15.0% "'His favourite moments (on tour for The Jaguar Smile) came when he was being interviewed by Bianca Jagger', I thought the glitzy starfucking came later in the book than this"
September 19, 2012 –
27.0% "Slip: 'his aunt told my mother' ....wonder how that happened."
September 19, 2012 –
32.0% "I like the parts about the security officers a lot - much cop humour."
September 19, 2012 –
53.0% "A sudden and dreadful drop in quality, not coincidentally just as he stops narrating the day-to-day details and starts to summarize, speaking in awful bland generalities. Oh dear."
September 19, 2012 –
54.0% ", dude, seriously, a religion is not 'an idea'"
September 19, 2012 –
54.0% "You mean FANATICISM, not Islam. Islam didn't change, a bunch of FANATICS came into power. - Yes yes, the Taliban. sigh."
September 19, 2012 –
54.0% "A political critique of the US support for the House of Saud which spread fanaticism throughout the Arab world, yes! Which has....nothing to do with Islam. Also OMG stop saying "Islam" is doing this or that. It's a religion, not a giant homogenized mass movement."
September 19, 2012 –
54.0% "'he would fall in love with the Nordic peoples because of their adherence to the highest principles of freedom' wtf"
September 19, 2012 –
56.0% "'Actually existing Islam had become its own poison' yeah, now I'm not so happy about having bought this anymore. SIGH."
September 19, 2012 –
56.0% "OMG surprise Bono"
September 19, 2012 –
56.0% "Oh dude you seriously thought you were going to be BFFs Forever with Thomas Pynchon? Seriously?"
September 19, 2012 –
57.0% "'What was he, after all, but a huddled mass yearning to breathe free?' ..............."
September 19, 2012 –
58.0% ", this has turned into Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous. Literary name-dropping galore. It's like the good book ended and all of a sudden a really terrible one started in its place."
September 19, 2012 –
58.0% "Nicolas Sarkozy and Elie Wiesel 'rubbing shoulders' in your honour? Oy...."
September 19, 2012 –
65.0% "//flip flip flip //sigh"
September 19, 2012 –
69.0% "'They went out to eat with Jay McInerney and Erroll McDonald of Random House. Everything felt intensely exciting. Willie Nelson was there! And Matthew Modine!' wtffffffff"
September 19, 2012 –
72.0% "'His main memory of that trip would be of William Styron's genitalia.' A SENTENCE I DID NOT EVER WISH TO READ"
September 19, 2012 –
79.0% "'But a few days later Elizabeth did what people always did and read his journal when he wasn't there and found out about his day in Paris with Caroline Lang' You're in hiding, FOUR cops are in your house night and day, and you can't keep your journal in a locked goddamn drawer away from your wives? (The one before Elizabeth also found it.)"
September 19, 2012 –
85.0% "Wow, Harold Pinter sounds like an utter prick."
September 19, 2012 –
87.0% "Well, this is just dull, at this point. WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED. The first half of this book was amazing. Then it just fucking died."
September 19, 2012 –
87.0% "Aww, the deal going through - that is v moving. And -- well holy shit, whoops"
September 19, 2012 –
87.0% "'Cook agreed with him that there could, should, be a positive result by Christmas: in three months' time.\n \n 'More than three years would elapse before Mr. Morning and Mr. Afternoon (security heads) started feeling positive.'\n \n Jesus. Poor bastard. That would drive anyone batshit."
September 19, 2012 –
87.0% ""Bono adapted my lyrics!!!1111" look, did I buy a book called JOSEPH BONO? NO."
September 19, 2012 –
88.0% "'He found himself at a table with Damon Albarn and Alex James of Blur, who had heard about his collaboration with Bono' AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH"
September 19, 2012 –
88.0% "'IX: His Millenarian Illusion' FFFFFFUUUUUUUU this is the chapter about Padma. Need Nutella to get through this bit."
September 19, 2012 –
89.0% "'Yes, I could do that' - maybe this was originally written in 1P? Heh."
September 19, 2012 –
90.0% "'while he was in L.A. he was invited to the Playboy Mansion' HUGH HEFNER'S JUNK BETTER NOT APPEAR, SALMAN"
September 19, 2012 –
91.0% "aaaaaaand there's Madonna. And Zadie. And Padma. And it's a shame I don't drink anymore."
September 19, 2012 –
91.0% "'the Illusion herself, an American of Indian origin who had grand ambitions and secret plans that had nothing to do with the fulfillment of his deepest needs'....OK, not going to throw my Kindle against the wall here"
September 19, 2012 –
91.0% "'in the end, inevitably, she broke his heart as he had broken Elizabeth's. In the end she would be Elizabeth's best revenge.' skdjflkasjldfoasidfjlfjk"
September 19, 2012 –
93.0% "'After eight years during which she had told him once a week on average that he was too old for her she ended up with Scrooge McDuck who was two hundred years older'.....who the fuck did Padma marry then? Sonny Mehta? Billy Joel? Bono? No, probably not Bono."
September 19, 2012 –
93.0% "man, the book is just falling apart here, it's hard to even tell when shit is happening in what decade anymore"
September 19, 2012 –
93.0% "'He came to think of padma's family as the best part of her, the Indian part in which he wanted so much to believe' WELL THAT'S LOVELY"
September 19, 2012 –
93.0% "if this book were a trap I would be gnawing off my own foot at this point"
September 19, 2012 –
97.0% "'there was a panel discussion of her extraordinary looks by four salivating critics' Dude, you are burning through your sympathy cred for living under a decade-long DEATH THREAT here"
September 19, 2012 –
97.0% "'having a coffee with Werner Herzog here, a chat with Faye Dunaway there'"
September 19, 2012 –
97.0% ".....wait, Agnieszka Holland directed Shot in the Heart? kind of sucked."
September 19, 2012 –
97.0% "he really is going to end this book on 9/11, isn't he"
September 19, 2012 –
97.0% "oh, and his BOOK, Fury, about NYC, was published on 9/11. Oh boy"
September 19, 2012 – Shelved as: 2012-50-new-books-challenge
September 19, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Simon (new)

Simon Great review!

message 2: by Ben (new)

Ben Winch Good link too. God, I hate Rushdie's late, supermodel-obsessed defensive/self-righteous phase.

message 3: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Simon wrote: "Great review!"

Thank you!


message 4: by Moira (last edited Sep 20, 2012 09:16AM) (new) - added it

Moira Russell Ben wrote: "Good link too. God, I hate Rushdie's late, supermodel-obsessed defensive/self-righteous phase."

Yeah, that review was fantastic. I want that guy's books, now.

There were some interesting questions about the nature of Rushdie's protection, period - how the newspapers/public got so worked up about how expensive it was, and they wouldn't "allow" or "permit" him to do this or that - I think someone even remarks that he might not have even needed to go into hiding at all, which does seem stupid, given that the high-ranking security office gets intel about actual plots to kill him. And he's very affectionate and grateful to his protectors on the detail. But at the same time - one of his first safehouses is blown because an officer gets drunk and mouths off in a bar, he has the worst day of his life when his son and second wife are late checking in and the detail goes to the wrong house, when his third wife is pregnant another officer is cleaning a gun in the house and it discharges into the wall....

I was also intrigued by some aspects of the paperback publication. Penguin kept refusing to bring it out in the UK, after it had been published (sometimes by consortiums) everywhere else and imported into Britain, and he broke with the publishers about it and there was this immense tug-of-war and it finally came out officially (Penguin warehoused the consortium paperbacks) something like nine years later. And I can see his point of view, that he didn't want to be silenced, and the police were the ones saying everything should go along naturally, including the release of paperbacks, and it gets turned into this Ich Kann Nicht Anders and so on. But....he was publishing, he was writing and publishing new books, and it wasn't like he was completely silenced. I don't know.

It became this Symbol, like he became a Symbol, both to the fanatics and the intelligentsia - the blasphemous mocker, the oppressed writer, the bone of contention. Which is actually part of what the book is about, but he doesn't really portray it very well. (I remember a lot of people being openly derisive of the Twin Towers before they fell -- calling them ugly was the least of it -- and yet, once they were bombed and the people in them murdered, they were turned into Symbols of America, like the Pentagon and the White House.) How far do you go for a Symbol, on either side? And the Symbol of the protests calling for his death, flag-burnings and so on, that wasn't all Muslims, that wasn't Islam, either, no matter how much he wants to think it is.

message 5: by Ben (last edited Sep 20, 2012 05:24AM) (new)

Ben Winch It all sounds interesting, and I did take a look at the memoir when it arrived in the bookshop where I work today, which was what led me to your review. But, God, it also looks so bloated, and I hate the idea of him writing it in the 3rd person - did that work for you? It's funny, he is kind of the writer I love to hate: I'm curious because of how he became this focal point, but to me it looks as though ever since The Satanic Verses he's lost his nerve, and the Guardian review did nothing to dispel that impression. Also I have a prejudice against writers like Rushdie who are rich and live in the west but who earn prizes on the back of supposedly having something to say about 'the third world'. I mean, fair enough, you can write about your homeland from another land, but how come we hear so little from the people actually living it rough, who haven't had the benefits of western educations and don't write in English? (I think I just answered my own question: they don't write in English.)

As to the Twin Towers, hell, that's a bag of worms. If they were a symbol of anything I'd say money. When they came down the (conservative) Australian prime minister of the time claimed it was 'an attack on a way of life we hold sacred'. I mean, speaking for himself and his corporate cronies he was no doubt telling the truth, but to me that was utterly tasteless.

How far do you go for a symbol? I don't know if I still believe it now, but my immediate feeling after 2001 was that both sides would go very far: 100 years holy war seemed not out of the question.

message 6: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Ben wrote: "But, God, it also looks so bloated,

It's way too long, yeah, but the second half of it is also very summary-like -- my Kindle is absolutely fucked at the moment (it froze, I did a hard reset, and the last four or five books I bought disappeared, including this one), so I can't check, but at least the first 40% is devoted to a very close narrative of the first couple of years in hiding. If he'd kept up like that, it would have been 2 or 3 volumes.

and I hate the idea of him writing it in the 3rd person - did that work for you?

I was able to ignore it for that first 40% or so, like I said in my review, because the story is so gripping, but once the book's structure goes downhill it just becomes painfully irritating.

Christine Palau I think I enjoyed your reading progress along the way as much as the review--talk about gripping! Though your comments about the second half have tempered my expectations, I still look forward to reading it. Gonna see Rushdie in person on Monday!

message 8: by Ben (new)

Ben Winch Ha! Yeah I just read your reading progress comments. Bono Bono Bono! Matthew Modine?! All I can say is thanks for soldiering through: it's a dirty job but...

message 9: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell I hope you enjoy it! (also hope he doesn't read the part about William Styron's treasures)

message 10: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Pankaj Mishra put it oh, so much better:

However, Joseph Anton describes more accurately, if inadvertently, how Rushdie re-emerged, after the strangest ever writerly journey, in the gossip pages, aureoled by the wealth, power and glamour of the western world.

Understandably, proximity to doting US senators in the "heart of American power" would prove exhilarating for someone miserably on the run from a murderous regime; and it is one of the grotesque ironies of Rushdie's situation that freedom for him should become synonymous with a private plane with a "Ralph Lauren interior", and a nine-car motorcade with motorcycle outriders. But the moral autonomy of literature, or the dignity of the individual artist, is not affirmed when a celebrated writer exults over being in the same "mighty room" as Bernard-Henri Lévy and Nicolas Sarkozy.

A naive beguilement rather than sly irony frames Rushdie's accounts of hanging out with such very famous people as Jerry Seinfeld and Calista Flockhart.

message 11: by Lizzie (new)

Lizzie Sounds like there's a zillion things to say about this, and I only know This One Thing about Rushdie so I don't have a lot of them. But your review was so good and it made me think, it sounds like it would've been incredibly interesting for his story if he'd come to different conclusions about Islam and religion. And not just to be inoffensive, but to become a different "Symbol," who could use his expression as a writer to understand and communicate strength, and knowledge and acceptance, that only this experience could have honed. If it were fiction that's what I would wish for.

He really does sound like a character in a novel, an anti-hero who fails his test and ends in weakness. People want to love him, but can't because of who he is after the fall.

message 12: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Lizzie wrote: "it sounds like it would've been incredibly interesting for his story if he'd come to different conclusions about Islam and religion. And not just to be inoffensive, but to become a different "Symbol," who could use his expression as a writer to understand and communicate strength, and knowledge and acceptance, that only this experience could have honed. If it were fiction that's what I would wish for."

Oh, that's a great way to put it. Yeah.

I think that might have happened, intellectually at least, if he hadn't felt so pressured to declare he was a Muslim - in the book he makes it sound really weird, like he was "anaesthetized" or drugged or whatever by "the dentist" (how he keeps referring to the guy who was in the negotiations). I can understand how he might've felt in shock enough to felt pushed into doing that, but I think it really poisoned how he felt about Islam.

Also this is a HILARIOUS photo:

message 13: by Naomi (new)

Naomi Baker I just started this book, and in the first 100 pages found it rather slow. After reading much of your comments, I think I shall move on. So many books, so little time.

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