Joseph Anton

Joseph Anton

A Memoir

Book - 2012
Average Rating:
Rate this:
San Francisco Chronicle * Newsweek/The Daily Beast * The Seattle Times * The Economist * Kansas City Star * BookPage

On February 14, 1989, Valentine's Day, Salman Rushdie was telephoned by a BBC journalist and told that he had been "sentenced to death" by the Ayatollah Khomeini. For the first time he heard the word fatwa . His crime? To have written a novel called The Satanic Verses, which was accused of being "against Islam, the Prophet and the Quran."
So begins the extraordinary story of how a writer was forced underground, moving from house to house, with the constant presence of an armed police protection team. He was asked to choose an alias that the police could call him by. He thought of writers he loved and combinations of their names; then it came to him: Conrad and Chekhov-- Joseph Anton.
How do a writer and his family live with the threat of murder for more than nine years? How does he go on working? How does he fall in and out of love? How does despair shape his thoughts and actions, how and why does he stumble, how does he learn to fight back? In this remarkable memoir Rushdie tells that story for the first time; the story of one of the crucial battles, in our time, for freedom of speech. He talks about the sometimes grim, sometimes comic realities of living with armed policemen, and of the close bonds he formed with his protectors; of his struggle for support and understanding from governments, intelligence chiefs, publishers, journalists, and fellow writers; and of how he regained his freedom.
It is a book of exceptional frankness and honesty, compelling, provocative, moving, and of vital importance. Because what happened to Salman Rushdie was the first act of a drama that is still unfolding somewhere in the world every day.

Praise for Joseph Anton
"A harrowing, deeply felt and revealing document: an autobiographical mirror of the big, philosophical preoccupations that have animated Mr. Rushdie's work throughout his career." --Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"A splendid book, the finest . . . memoir to cross my desk in many a year." --Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
"Thoughtful and astute . . . an important book." --USA Today
"Compelling, affecting . . . demonstrates Mr. Rushdie's ability as a stylist and storytelle. . . . [He] reacted with great bravery and even heroism." --The Wall Street Journal
"Gripping, moving and entertaining . . . nothing like it has ever been written." --The Independent (UK)
"A thriller, an epic, a political essay, a love story, an ode to liberty." --Le Point (France)
"Action-packed . . . in a literary class by itself . . . Like Isherwood, Rushdie's eye is a camera lens --firmly placed in one perspective and never out of focus." --Los Angeles Review of Books
"Unflinchingly honest . . . an engrossing, exciting, revealing and often shocking book." -- de Volkskrant (The Netherlands)
"One of the best memoirs you may ever read." -- DNA (India)
"Extraordinary . . . Joseph Anton beautifully modulates between . . . moments of accidental hilarity, and the higher purpose Rushdie saw in opposing--at all costs--any curtailment on a writer's freedom." -- The Boston Globe
Publisher: New York : Random House, c2012.
ISBN: 9780812992786
Characteristics: xii, 636 p. ; 25 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

Mar 17, 2018

There was never before, as far as I know, a writer threatened with a fatwa, an assassination, for one book that he wrote, which was "The Satanic Verses". "Joseph Anton" is a detailed memoir of Rushdie's life during those years. Now much 0f the furor has died down (although there is still someone fairly high on the Google search who claims the current Salman Rushdie is not the real person). Others look back and say that the threat was exaggerated. They seem to forget that not just the author, but publishers and bookstores were also threatened, while translators were seriously wounded and killed. The moving security box in which Rushdie had to live his personal, social, and professional lives is brought to life. In the first few hundred pages I could not put down this unique chronicle. The beginning is a memoir of the writer's early life, including many inspirations that became elements of the book. That portion is especially intriguing. However, when the fatwa is reached, it of course dominates events, and is so detailed and the events often become oppressive and repetitive. The last third of the book took me a while to finish. The details of the fatwa no doubt made the time a long grind for the author. However, we also get detailed gossip of the literary scene at the time. In addition, Rushdie is self-admittedly excited by media stars, especially from music and film. Add to that he is a bit of a name dropper, and we get a chronicle of many of the famous from those years. This includes political figures because the fatwa pushed his life into politics. This book really needs an index, which would be long and amazing, running from Duckburg to Edith Wharton and everything in between. It is helpful but not necessary to read "Satanic Verses" as well. Of course the irony exists that probably only those in literary reading circles would have taken much notice of the book without the fatwa. Many of the angriest attackers of the work would have probably been bewildered if they had just sat down and read it. So, even though it slammed his life, it also made him much more famous than he would have been. He has his attackers because of this, and he takes those on, always pointing out particularly those from the world of writing that slammed him, as well as those who supported him. He does say himself, "Were there no limits to the shamelessness of the literary imagination? No. There were no limits." The time period covered in the memoir includes the beginning of the significant changes the Internet brought with it. He wrote of himself (in third person as he sometimes does), "If "Google" had existed in 1989 the attack on him would have spread so much faster and wider that he would not have stood a chance." Rushdie is very human so we see the ups-and-down of his family life, which of course was affected by the fatwa. We now know how singularly beautiful one of his wives was. But we also read what his mother said about a new book he was working on: "This time, write a nice book." I love that line, but Mr. Rushdie does not play that game. Not nice, because as he writes, "freedom was always taken, never given." He gains his freedom through practicing his art, so he can write: "The value of art lies in the love it engenders, not the hatred. It's love that makes books last. Please keep reading." My personal favorite of his is "The Ground Beneath Her Feet", but this is an amazing primary source of history. Just the same - it really needs a complete index.

athompson10 Jul 22, 2015

Wow. It's long and wordy in places, but Rushdie draws well the fear, boredom, frustration and claustrophobia experienced during the fatwa years. The book is replete with what makes Rushdie a great writer: thoughtfulness, beautiful use of words, penetrating and incisive insights, black comedy and some true cutting wit. He's pretty brutal in his treatment of Wives #2 and 4, both in the relationships and in print, but pretty brutal in his dissection of himself as well.

Jul 22, 2015

I am so glad Rushdie wrote this memoir of his years in hiding. All those years I (among millions no doubt) felt real sympathy for his predicament. The reality of living like that was way beyond anything I could have imagined. Some commenters have criticized his soft-pedaling of some of his own behavior. I'd like to see an autobiography or memoir that *doesn't* do that to some extent, and I think Rushdie was fairly honest compared to many. I love his non-fiction writing and this was a treat.

Aug 29, 2013

Complex, tediously detailed, thrillingly complete; you must read this for insight into the concept of personal freedom and freedom of expression.

Salman I am so glad you explained your character on screen in Bridget Jones.

Jun 13, 2013

Engaging tale of Rushdie's life, including the 9 years he spent under Special Branch protection and hiding from Iranian assassins because of a book he wrote. A testament to the importance of standing up for our freedom to think, speak and write independently and creatively, and in uniting against terrorism in any form. Rushdie is an excellent storyteller, portrays himself in the 3rd person (perhaps to get some distance?) which seems odd at first, and is at times unflinchingly honest in his self-portrait. He also seems to be settling some scores with those who made his years under the fatwa even more difficult, yet after having others who don't necessarily like, know, or understand you define who you are in the media, it's understandable that he'd want to have his say, at last. Most powerful are his words on the power of literature to help us find common ground with one another, even when we may disagree politically, religiously, artistically.

Nov 30, 2012

I want to cancel a hold on Joseph Anton. I'm asked if I really want to cancel. I do. Please help me cancel it.


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Subject Headings


Find it at PDL

To Top