Words by Stephanie Savva
On 14 February 1989, British India novelist and essayist Salman Rushdie heard the word fatwā for the first time. In a telephone conversation with a BBC journalist, the writer was told that he was sentenced to death by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran for the crime of writing a novel. The Satanic Verses, published in 1988, caused a major controversy in the Muslim community around the world and was accused of being against Islam, the prophet and the Quran.
Salman Rushdie’s latest book, Joseph Anton: A Memoir, is an auto-biographical work. It narrates the story of a writer who was forced underground, his struggle from one safe house to another, the fear, the confusion and the endless negotiations for security. The title of the book is a homage to the writers Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekov and was the codename used by Rushdie during his time in hiding.
Pankaj Mishra, comments in the Guardian on Salman Rushdie’s memoir, that “at 650 pages, [it] often feels too long, over-dependent on Rushdie’s journals, and unquickened by hindsight, or its prose. Ostensibly deployed as a distancing device, the third-person narration frequently makes for awkward self-regard.”
Regardless of the above, Joseph Anton – A Memoir, is an interesting read for those who are concerned with free expression, censorship and the politics of literature, since it gives inside information about the life of the man who went on to become the president of the PEN American Center and is the founder of the PEN World Voices Festival.