Joseph Anton (A Memoir) by Salman Rushdie

Where to start with a review of this book? I was a young man at the time of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and never had anything but sympathy for the author. I have to say, I was totally unaware of the negativity and blame that was attributed to him for the whole situation. It seems inconceivable now that an author could be thought responsible for the issuing of a death sentence against him. How could he possibly be at fault? Surely no one deserves to be killed over words. In my opinion no one deserves to be killed for anything.

This is a memoir, but mainly concentrates on the years of isolation and hiding during the fatwa. But it begins during Salman Rushdie’s formative years, so you get an idea of his family situation and school years. As well as a fast forward through his early professional life. I don’t know about you, but I love reading about creative people’s careers and lives. It can be an invaluable insight. For instance, I had no idea that this author began in advertising and created some very familiar slogans.

But when the success comes, the author has very little time to revel in it. While reading this book, you get an incredible insight into the terror that you would feel, if you were in this situation. But in some ways there is a calmness there, which I think some people mistake for arrogance. I don’t believe this is arrogance, on the author’s part, but bravery. I don’t know if I could handle the situation like he did. While he was protected, his family was not. This must have been excruciating. One of the great insights of this book is the effect of the fatwa on his family. Can you imagine being a young boy and not being allowed to be with your father? And if you were allowed, it would be with police protection and surveillance.

Eventually, as we know, his protection is lifted and some kind of normality resumes. But, before this, the world was shaken by the events of 11th September 2001. This is when the world came to realise what fundamentalism can do to people, and I hope that some people somewhere came to realise what this author had been hiding from.

Overall, I found this book to be a gripping tale of life in hiding. But it also includes many stories of the high and mighty of the literary world. I will certainly be looking for more memoirs of this kind in the future.

© Neil Hayes and neilsworldofenglish