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A Life on the Run


Shane Joseph

JOSEPH ANTON: A MEMOIR
By Salman Rushdie
Random House, Delhi, India, 2012, pp. 636, $30.00

VOLUME XXXVIII NUMBER 12 December 2014

‘To gain immortality, you ruin your actual daily life,’ says Rushdie, and so begins the drama with a  book that shook the world and changed his life forever. A call by the police on Valentine’s Day in 1989 alerts the British-Indian author that his life is in danger due to a fatwa declared on him by the dying Ayatollah Khomeini over his ‘blasphemous’ novel The Satanic Verses. He takes on the alias Joseph Anton (after Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekov), goes into hiding under protection of the British Secret Service, and emerges nine years later, alive, more famous, richer in many ways, poorer in others, an icon in a world divided between those who blindly follow and those who question, between religion and secularism. The early chapters of this rather long book provide background on the emerging writer: from his youth in India living with a wealthy but alcoholic father, to his public school years in England where he committed the sins of being foreign, being clever and being bad at sports, to his struggle as an emerging writer seeing contemporaries like Ian McEwan and Martin Amis make it while he struggled, until Midnight’s Children won the Booker. Though conforming to the rules of society, he is a closet rebel even during his formative years; humorous anecdotes about The Gravy Bomber and the Vetoed Footwear colour his university graduation ceremony, where he displays his passive-aggression. History studies at Cambridge and his marginalized life in England lead him to write The Satanic Verses. Satan, according to Rushdie, was the quintessential immigrant, expelled from Heaven and trying to find his place. ‘Migration plus Metamorphosis equals Immigrant!’ But the disclosure of his version of the reality behind the real people in his novel (the role of he-who-questions-the-status-quo) runs afoul of those-who-do-not-want-their-bedrock-disturbed.  The rest of the book covers his years in hiding and resembles a daily diary of events, musing, name dropping, justifying and philosophizing. It’s tedious and repetitive, just as his long days in captivity (he claims it was captivity of a sort) with four Secret Service agents living in the next room must have been. It appears as if Rushdie wants us to feel his pain, his isolation, his need for validation, and nothing and no one is to be spared their privacy in order for him to achieve that, least of all those close to him, like his four ...


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