Joseph Anton: A Memoir

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Joseph Anton: A Memoir

It’s easy to imagine that Rushdie would find this story, and most of his others, less interesting if it wasn’t about him.

Powerful and thought-provoking, Joseph Anton celebrates the First Amendment and a devotee's determination that censorship will neither crush nor kill him or his family.

Salman Rushdie's account of surviving a fatwa is brutally honest and profound.

That is why Joseph Anton, both the man and the book, are so important. They are vital reminders of the continuing importance of an unswerving defence, in Rushdie’s words, “of debate, of dispute, of dissent.”

Joseph Anton is overlong and too richly endowed with famed authors and starry events: Rushdie, as he writes, loves to be loved. But as a story of refusal to be cowed the book speaks to the heart, and to conscience.

"Joseph Anton" captures the career of a fallible writer who struggled to sustain the fragile life of the imagination.

The memoir is inordinately long, and the drama of the fatwa, and the obvious hell of living in its shadow, gets swamped by a sort of literary luvvie-dom, with dinners and launch parties, interlaced with incredibly boring accounts of various deals hatched by agents and publishers.

The story of Rushdie's time in hiding is one of excessive anxiety, constant security and trying desperately to figure out how to fight your way out. In many ways, he lived the post-Sept. 11 story before it even happened.

Joseph Anton, obscuring these stumbles, presents Rushdie as confidently in step with the march of history.

He writes about the bitterness he felt at darker moments, thinking that his biggest problem “was that he wasn’t dead”: “if he were dead, nobody in England would have to fuss about the cost of his security and whether or not he merited such special treatment for so long.”

This is an important book not only because of what it has to say about a man of principle who, under the threat of violence and death, stood firm for freedom of speech and freedom of religion, but also because of its implications about our times and fanatical religious intolerance in a frighteningly fragile world.

“Joseph Anton” is a splendid book, the finest new memoir to cross my desk in many a year.