Joseph Anton (Rushdie)

Joseph Anton
Salman Rushdie, 2012
Random House
656 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780812992786



Summary
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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—June 19, 1947 
Where—Bombay, Maharashtra, India
Education—M.A., King's College, Cambridge, UK
Awards—Booker Prize, 1981 (named the best novel to win
   the Booker Prize in its first twenty-five years in 1993);
   Whitbread Prize, 1988 and 1995
Currently—lives in New York, New York


Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie is a British Indian novelist and essayist. His second novel, Midnight's Children (1981), won the Booker Prize in 1981. Much of his fiction is set on the Indian subcontinent. He is said to combine magical realism with historical fiction; his work is concerned with the many connections, disruptions and migrations between East and West.

His fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988), was the centre of a major controversy, provoking protests from Muslims in several countries, some violent. Death threats were made against him, including a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on February 14, 1989.

Rushdie was appointed Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France in January 1999. In June 2007, Queen Elizabeth II knighted him for his services to literature. In 2008, The Times ranked him thirteenth on its list of the fifty greatest British writers since 1945.

Since 2000, Rushdie has lived in the United States, where he has worked at the Emory University and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His most recent book is Joseph Anton: A Memoir, an account of his life in the wake of the Satanic Verses controversy.

Career
Rushdie's first career was as a copywriter, working for the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather, where he came up with "irresistibubble" for Aero and "Naughty but Nice" for cream cakes, and for the agency Ayer Barker, for whom he wrote the memorable line "That'll do nicely" for American Express. It was while he was at Ogilvy that he wrote Midnight's Children, before becoming a full-time writer. John Hegarty of Bartle Bogle Hegarty has criticised Rushdie for not referring to his copywriting past frequently enough, although conceding: "He did write crap ads...admittedly."

His first novel, Grimus, a part-science fiction tale, was generally ignored by the public and literary critics. His next novel, Midnight's Children, catapulted him to literary notability. This work won the 1981 Booker Prize and, in 1993 and 2008, was awarded the Best of the Bookers as the best novel to have received the prize during its first 25 and 40 years. Midnight's Children follows the life of a child, born at the stroke of midnight as India gained its independence, who is endowed with special powers and a connection to other children born at the dawn of a new and tumultuous age in the history of the Indian sub-continent and the birth of the modern nation of India. The character of Saleem Sinai has been compared to Rushdie. However, the author has refuted the idea of having written any of his characters as autobiographical, stating...

People assume that because certain things in the character are drawn from your own experience, it just becomes you. In that sense, I’ve never felt that I’ve written an autobiographical character.

After Midnight's Children, Rushdie wrote Shame, in which he depicts the political turmoil in Pakistan, basing his characters on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Shame won France's Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (Best Foreign Book) and was a close runner-up for the Booker Prize. Both these works of postcolonial literature are characterised by a style of magic realism and the immigrant outlook that Rushdie is very conscious of as a member of the Indian diaspora.

Rushdie wrote a non-fiction book about Nicaragua in 1987 called The Jaguar Smile. This book has a political focus and is based on his first-hand experiences and research at the scene of Sandinista political experiments.

His most controversial work, The Satanic Verses, was published in 1988 (see below). Rushdie has published many short stories, including those collected in East, West (1994). The Moor's Last Sigh, a family epic ranging over some 100 years of India's history was published in 1995. The Ground Beneath Her Feet presents an alternative history of modern rock music. The song of the same name by U2 is one of many song lyrics included in the book, hence Rushdie is credited as the lyricist. He also wrote Haroun and the Sea of Stories in 1990.

Rushdie has had a string of commercially successful and critically acclaimed novels. His 2005 novel Shalimar the Clown received, in India, the prestigious Hutch Crossword Book Award, and was, in Britain, a finalist for the Whitbread Book Awards. It was shortlisted for the 2007 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

In his 2002 non-fiction collection Step Across This Line, he professes his admiration for the Italian writer Italo Calvino and the American writer Thomas Pynchon, among others. His early influences included James Joyce, Günter Grass, Jorge Luis Borges, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Lewis Carroll. Rushdie was a personal friend of Angela Carter and praised her highly in the foreword for her collection Burning your Boats.

His latest novel is Luka and the Fire of Life, published in November 2010. Earlier in the same year, he announced that he was writing his memoirs, entitled Joseph Anton: A Memoir, which was published in September 2012.

In 2012, Salman Rushdie became one of the first major authors to embrace Booktrack (a company that synchronises ebooks with customised soundtracks) when he published his short story "In the South" on the platform.

Other Activities
Rushdie has quietly mentored younger Indian (and ethnic-Indian) writers, influenced an entire generation of Indo-Anglian writers, and is an influential writer in postcolonial literature in general. He has received many plaudits for his writings, including the European Union's Aristeion Prize for Literature, the Premio Grinzane Cavour (Italy), and the Writer of the Year Award in Germany and many of literature's highest honours. Rushdie was the President of PEN American Center from 2004 to 2006 and founder of the PEN World Voices Festival.

He opposed the British government's introduction of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act, something he writes about in his contribution to Free Expression Is No Offence, a collection of essays by several writers.

In 2007 he began a five-year term as Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where he has also deposited his archives.

In May 2008 he was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Though he enjoys writing, Salman Rushdie says that he would have become an actor if his writing career had not been successful. Even from early childhood, he dreamed of appearing in Hollywood movies (which he later realised in his frequent cameo appearances).

Rushdie includes fictional television and movie characters in some of his writings. He had a cameo appearance in the film Bridget Jones's Diary based on the book of the same name, which is itself full of literary in-jokes. On May 12, 2006, Rushdie was a guest host on The Charlie Rose Show, where he interviewed Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, whose 2005 film, Water, faced violent protests. He appears in the role of Helen Hunt's obstetrician-gynecologist in the film adaptation of Elinor Lipman's novel Then She Found Me. In September 2008, and again in March 2009, he appeared as a panellist on the HBO program Real Time with Bill Maher.

Rushdie is currently collaborating on the screenplay for the cinematic adaptation of his novel Midnight's Children with director Deepa Mehta. The film will be released in October, 2012.

Rushdie is a member of the advisory board of The Lunchbox Fund, a non-profit organisation which provides daily meals to students of township schools in Soweto of South Africa. He is also a member of the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America, an advocacy group representing the interests of atheistic and humanistic Americans in Washington, D.C. In November 2010 he became a founding patron of Ralston College, a new liberal arts college that has adopted as its motto a Latin translation of a phrase ("free speech is life itself") from an address he gave at Columbia University in 1991 to mark the two-hundredth anniversary of the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The Satanic Verses and the fatwa

The publication of The Satanic Verses in September 1988 caused immediate controversy in the Islamic world because of what was perceived as an irreverent depiction of the prophet Muhammad. The title refers to a disputed Muslim tradition that is related in the book. According to this tradition, Muhammad (Mahound in the book) added verses (sura) to the Qur'an accepting three goddesses who used to be worshipped in Mecca as divine beings. According to the legend, Muhammad later revoked the verses, saying the devil tempted him to utter these lines to appease the Meccans (hence the "Satanic" verses). However, the narrator reveals to the reader that these disputed verses were actually from the mouth of the Archangel Gibreel. The book was banned in many countries with large Muslim communities.

On February 14, 1989, a fatwa requiring Rushdie's execution was proclaimed on Radio Tehran by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of Iran at the time, calling the book "blasphemous against Islam." A bounty was offered for Rushdie's death, and he was thus forced to live under police protection for several years. On March 7, 1989, the United Kingdom and Iran broke diplomatic relations over the Rushdie controversy.

The publication of the book and the fatwa sparked violence around the world, with bookstores firebombed. Muslim communities in several nations in the West held public rallies, burning copies of the book. Several people associated with translating or publishing the book were attacked and even killed.

On September 24, 1998, as a precondition to the restoration of diplomatic relations with Britain, the Iranian government gave a public commitment that it would "neither support nor hinder assassination operations on Rushdie."

Hardliners in Iran have continued to reaffirm the death sentence. In early 2005, Khomeini's fatwa was reaffirmed by Iran's current spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message to Muslim pilgrims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Additionally, the Revolutionary Guards have declared that the death sentence on him is still valid. Iran has rejected requests to withdraw the fatwa on the basis that only the person who issued it may withdraw it, and the person who issued it – Ayatollah Khomeini – has been dead since 1989.

Rushdie has reported that he still receives a "sort of Valentine's card" from Iran each year on February 14 letting him know the country has not forgotten the vow to kill him. He said, "It's reached the point where it's a piece of rhetoric rather than a real threat."

A memoir of his years of hiding, Joseph Anton, was published in 2012. Joseph Anton was Rushdie's secret alias.

In 2012, following uprisings over an anonymously posted YouTube video denigrating Muslims, a semi-official religious foundation in Iran increased the reward it had offered for the killing of Rushdie from $2.8 million to $3.3 million dollars. Their stated reason: "If the [1989] fatwa had been carried out, later insults in the form of caricature, articles and films that have continued would have not happened."

Knighthood
Rushdie was knighted for services to literature in the Queen's Birthday Honours on June 16, 2007. He remarked, "I am thrilled and humbled to receive this great honour, and am very grateful that my work has been recognised in this way." In response to his knighthood, many nations with Muslim majorities protested. Several called publicly for his death. Some non-Muslims expressed disappointment at Rushdie's knighthood, claiming that the writer did not merit such an honour and there were several other writers who deserved the knighthood more than Rushdie.

Al-Qaeda has condemned the Rushdie honour. The Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is quoted as saying in an audio recording that Britain's award for Indian-born Rushdie was "an insult to Islam", and it was planning "a very precise response."

Religious Beliefs
Rushdie came from a Muslim family though he is an atheist now. In 1990, in the "hope that it would reduce the threat of Muslims acting on the fatwa to kill him," he issued a statement claiming he had renewed his Muslim faith, had repudiated the attacks on Islam in his novel and was committed to working for better understanding of the religion across the world. However, Rushdie later said that he was only "pretending".

Personal Life
Rushdie has been married four times. He was married to his first wife Clarissa Luard from 1976 to 1987 and fathered a son, Zafar (born 1980). His second wife was the American novelist Marianne Wiggins; they were married in 1988 and divorced in 1993. His third wife, from 1997 to 2004, was Elizabeth West; they have a son, Milan (born 1999). In 2004, he married the Indian American actress and model Padma Lakshmi, the host of the American reality-television show Top Chef. The marriage ended on July 2, 2007, with Lakshmi indicating that it was her desire to end the marriage.

In 1999 Rushdie had an operation to correct ptosis, a tendon condition that causes drooping eyelids and that, according to him, was making it increasingly difficult for him to open his eyes. "If I hadn't had an operation, in a couple of years from now I wouldn't have been able to open my eyes at all," he said.

Since 2000, Rushdie has "lived mostly near Union Square" in New York City. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
[Joseph Anton] reminds us of [Rushdie's] fecund gift for language and his talent for explicating the psychological complexities of family and identity... [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, from the collision of the private and the political in today's interconnected world to the permeable boundaries between life and art, reality and the imagination.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times


Joseph Anton is a splendid book, the finest new memoir to cross my desk in many a year. Some may complain that, at more than 600 pages, it is too long, but it never seemed so to me…To the contrary, the length of the book, and its wealth of quotidian detail, serve to draw the reader into the life that Rushdie was forced to lead, to make his isolation and fear palpable.
Jonathan Yardley - Washington Post


Rushdie’s ideas—about society, about culture, about politics—are embedded in his stories and in the interlocking momentum with which he tells them.... All of Rushdie’s synthesizing energy, the way he brings together ancient myth and old story, contemporary incident and archetypal emotion, transfigures reason into a waking dream.
Los Angeles Times Book Review
 

Everywhere [Rushdie] takes us there is both love and war, in strange and terrifying combinations, painted in swaying, swirling, world-eating prose that annihilates the borders between East and West, love and hate, private lives and the history they make.
Time
 

Swift in Gulliver’s Travels, Voltaire in Candide, Sterne in Tristram Shandy.... Salman Rushdie, it seems to me, is very much a latter-day member of their company.
New York Times Book Review


Hailed as a literary martyr and derided as a prima donna, Rushdie emerges as both inspiring and insufferable in this memoir of his life following the 1989 fatwa issued against him by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini. The British-Indian novelist's third-person account of the firestorm surrounding The Satanic Verses is harrowing as he's hounded, under the pseudonym "Joseph Anton," and moved from one hiding place to another under constant police guard while Islamists everywhere call for his death, and the British government treats him as an undeserving troublemaker. (Bookstore bombings and murderous attacks on a publisher and translators, he notes, show how serious the threat was.) But once Rushdie regains his nerve, his fetters accommodate much jet-setting lionization as he travels the world, collects awards and ovations, and parties with glitterati at the Playboy Mansion. Rushdie mixes stirring defenses of free speech with piquant observations on the subculture of maniacal high-level security, ripostes to detractors and ex-wives—"when he mentioned a pre-nup, the conversation became a quarrel"—sex gossip and incessant name-dropping ("Willie Nelson was there! And Matthew Modine!"). There's preening self-dramatization by the celebrity author— but a persistent edge of real drama, and fear, makes Rushdie's story absorbing.
Publishers Weekly



Discussion Questions
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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Joseph Anton:

1. How would you describe Salman Rushdie's personality in this memoir? Do you find him self-effacing...grandiose...self-pitying...or refreshingly honest? How do you see him?

2. The memoir is written in the third-person, an unusual perspective for memoirs, which are usually first-person accounts. Why might Rushdie have used this point-of-view?

3. In the first few pages, Rushdie compares the fatwa against him to the first bird that appears in Alfred Hitchcock's film, The Birds. He sees the fatwa as a harbinger of more violence to come—even a precursor to 9/11. Do you agree? Or is he overstating his case? Was the fatwa against Rushdie the leading edge of Islamic anger at the West...or did violence exist prior to The Satanic Verses?

4. Talk about the extreme security precautions Rushdie had to take and what it was like for him. How well would you have coped under such pressure? What did he find most difficult? What would you have found most difficult?

5. Trace the psychological toll the fatwa took on Rushdie—his fear, anger, despair. What does he mean when he talks about "the divide between what 'Rushdie' needed to do and how 'Salman' wanted to live"? How did the fatwa bring to the surface Rushdie's need for coming to terms with the past, his need for love, his basic assumptions about life?

6. Talk about Rushdie's complicated relationship with his father. How did his father influence the man Salman Rushdie became?

7. What are Rushdie's views on religion? How do his religious view dovetail with—or differ from—your own?

8. How does the Islamic world view The Satanic Verses? Why is it considered blasphemous? What is Rushdie's own view of the book? In what way does he say that the work is a "much more personal, interior exploration" than, say, Midnight's Children?

9. Rushdie considers the fatwa, as "a terrorist act that had to be confronted." He believes the world's leaders had and have an obligation to "defend his right to be a troublemaker." Do you agree?

10. (Follow-up to Question 9) In September, 2012, the very month that Jospeh Anton was published, a film derogatory to Islam and Mohammed, produced by a small group in California, was released on Youtube. Considered blasphemous, the film inflamed Muslim anger throughout the Middle East. Should there be limits to the freedom of artistic speech? Criticism of religions is illegal in Germany, for instance. In the U.S. and other Western countries, however, free speech is granted almost absolute protection. Is it a government's responsibility to protect authors like Rushdie, cartoonists in the Netherlands, or film producers in California, who allegedly blaspheme religions? What do you think?

11. (Follow-up to Questions 3, 9 and 10 ) On September 16, 2012,  a semi-official Iranian religious foundation announced it was re-instating the fatwa on Rushdie, offering $3.3 million reward to whoever would assassinate him. Their reasoning for doing so is as follows:

As long as the exalted Imam Khomeini's historical fatwa against apostate Rushdie is not carried out, it won't be the last insult. If the [1989] fatwa had been carried out, later insults in the form of caricature, articles and films that have continued would have not happened.

Did the fact that Rushdie escaped death under the fatwa—and that the fatwa was later rescinded—embolden others to insult Islam?

12. Talk about Salman Rushdie's understanding of the power of literature and its place in the world. Why does he see literature as vital for global peace? Does that place too great a burden on literature?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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