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Joseph Anton: A Memoir Paperback – 10 Sep 2013
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“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
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Salman Rushdie is the author of eleven novels—Grimus, Midnight’s Children (for which he won the Booker Prize and the Best of the Booker), Shame, The Satanic Verses, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Moor’s Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Fury, Shalimar the Clown, The Enchantress of Florence, and Luka and the Fire of Life—and one collection of short stories: East, West. He has also published three works of nonfiction: The Jaguar Smile, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981–1991, and Step Across This Line, and coedited two anthologies, Mirrorwork and Best American Short Stories 2008. He is a former president of American PEN.
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Primarily a memoir about the almost decade long siege Salman Rushdie was under due to the Fatwa, it is also an eloquent treatise for free speech and its value to the world where it has increasingly come under attack. It also elaborates on the author-publisher relationship and provides insights into the goings on in the publishing industry.Finally to spice things up he also adds details from his personal life and in the process excoriating two of his ex-wives!
Rushdie purportedly kept a diary during the Fatwa years and that would explain his detailed day-on-day account of those days. Although rich in detail it also tends to get monotonous after the first few years what with innumerable parties, home shifts and speaking engagements. This makes the book 100-pages too long but this is a minor criticism of a brilliant book.
It is written in the third person which gives it a novelistic feel with the author himself being the prime actor. There are cameos from the who's who of the literary world and Rushdie always remembers to drop in a good word for someone who helped him or stood up for his cause. On the other hand he dishes out opprobrium to those who let him down during the time.
It also provides wonderful insights into what went on in the author's mind when he wrote his novels, explaining the points of conception of the idea, the way he worked out key characters and their inspirations from real life. The conception of the 'The Satanic Verses' based on a course he took in university is one of the best passages in the book which provides a historical context to the novel and is a fitting reply to those who accused him of coming up with an 'insult' for a novel. As he rightly points out why would he spend five years of his life working tediously on as he says a literary exploration of 'revelation from the standpoint of an unbeliever' if he wanted to come up with a mere 'insult'.
His defences of free speech are among the most passionate passages in the book where he argues for a free society with a cacophony of varied opinions where everyone has a right to express his/her opinion without fear. He also emphatically points out the importance of 'stories' in our society and warns us against the pernicious attempt by religious extremists to monopolize them. In the process he attacks both the left and the right on letting down the principle at various times and urges the general public
to hold steadfast to the principle.
His personal life too is opened up in a frank manner. His relationship with his first wife Clarissa and their son Zafar beautifully done, especially moving is his moments with a dying Clarissa. The relationship with his second wife - and wife at the time of the Fatwa - Marianne Wiggins is the most frantic and he frankly writes about the the strains in their marriage and how it fell apart, their quarrels do provide comic relief at times! Also funny and revealing are his comments about his last wife the model and TV persona Padma Lakshmi whom he calls the 'illusion' who comes across as a self seeking and ambitious. To be fair Rushdie too confesses to being selfish at times in his relationships especially with his third wife Elizabeth who was left stranded after the Padma Lakshmi 'thunderbolt'struck him.
What came as a surprise are accounts of the author as a boy and young man growing up in post-independence Bombay and his journey to boarding school and college in England. His encounters with England rather than making him lose his Indian roots instead provided him with as he says a 'multi-rooted' existence.His love for India shines through, evident in the fact that all his novels had their inspiration from Indian stories. His disappointments with India too come through when at times India rejected him and as he wryly says 'the wounds inflicted by India were the deepest'.
All in all it is a brilliant, moving memoir where the reader will come away much the richer!
I have always found reading Salman Rushdie a herculean task, however this is a pleasant departure from his style of writing. The language is simple and although it is a memoir, it reads like a good fiction. On the downside, there are just too many people in the book that the author talks about....becomes difficult to keep track. Overall a must read!!!
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