Shortlisted for: Biography/Autobiography of the Year - Specsavers National Book Awards 2012
On 14 February 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 over 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.
©2012 Salman Rushdie (P)2012 Random House Audiobooks
Like many of Rushdie's books I'm not sure I'm supposed to get it. Personally I feel that this is an important case for the human right of free speech. But parts did have me scratching my head.
I have heard critics attack this book for it's thinly veiled anger towards the media, politicians and Iran which I think they exaggerate. But honestly I can't blame him, I'm sure being vilified and threatened aren't key ingredients to a happy biography. However, some parts of the book came across rushed while others plodded at a glacial pace. It's bizarre how hours are spent explaining sitting in houses with police men wondering how he wished people would consider him a writer again yet the post 2001 period of the book, where he essentially became a writer again, is perhaps only 40 minuets long.
Rushdie is at least very honest and open about a great number of topics be it cancer, love, fear, anger and politics all of which appear to have had a deep effect on him. I have only just finished this book and I'm still struggling to sum it up. Rushdie is not to everybody's taste and my feeling is that if you don't like him before you read this he is unlikely to convert you. He addresses the attacks the media made on him during the early fatwa years but never really seems to dispel them all in my opinion. Perhaps I am biased but either way this book is an important one if you value free speech as we all should.
I remember the announcement of the fatwa many years ago (when I was about 15 years old) and I really felt for Mr Rushdie at that time. Although I have never managed to read any of his other books, I was very interested in this one (having come across a few reviews). It gripped me from the start and so I decided to go for the audiobook (as I spend nearly >1 hour plus a day driving to and from work.) It's a real insight into Mr Rushdie's life during this time as a lot of his words are also from memoirs he written at that time. So many emotions throughout from heartbreaks to misery and laughing and joy. I was kind of dreading approaching the end as i didn't want it to finish...The narration and the accents are superb.
"Fascinating story, great narration"
Definitely, in a few years' time! I'm sure there were many subtle gems of wisdom that I missed on the first listen.
The crash with the truck and the aftermath thereof. Really brought home how much Rushdie's life had moved into alien territory.
It's a long book and a detailed story that could have become tedious with a less skilled reader. Dastor's performance kept me engaged and worked so well with Rushdie's prose rhythm.
I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed this book... for 27 hours! Makes you look for opportunities to listen.
Even someone who is not a Rushdie fan will enjoy this tale of a life that few of us has imagined; the story of a life lived in hiding, under a pseudonym, in full view of constant surveillance and protection, all the while knowing that thousands of people would kill you on sight if they had the chance. It seems too unreal to be true and yet it is.
"Beware the Ayatollah!"
It's immediacy.And it's sadness.In doing what was his passion and his purpose, Salman Rushdie was condemned, not just by the fatwa, but by many colleagues and countrymen who accused him of doing it for the publicity!
The decision to have a baby and then the birth of that baby - Milan. It spoke of hope in a very hopeless place. A place that then grew more hopeless as the marriage that produced Milan broke down. Yet Rushdie expresses an eternal hope in the love that he bears for both his sons.
Salman Rushdie himself. Resenting being called Joseph Anton and yet thinking how clever he was to have devised it- too clever for his minders, who then called him Jim!
His patience with his situation and the occasional outbreak of frustration. His bewilderment as other people seemed to misunderstand and to resent what was happening to him and how much it was costing to maintain 24 hour protection for him.
His personality glows softly in every word.
Both. But neither in an extreme way.
I certainly felt outrage towards those who condemned him for The Satanic Verses without reading it - and that included Ayatollah Khomeini.
I was also very annoyed by the attitude of the Iranian government who prevaricated about removing the fatwa, even going so far as to say that because Khomeini was dead, it could never be removed. It reinforced my opinion of that regime.
This is a long and very interesting book.
It has to be as the fatwa lasted from 14 February 1989 to a nominal withdrawal 24 September 1998.
Rushdie still receives cards on the 14 February every year from hardliners who declare their intention to carry out the fatwa. He describes this rhetoric rather than a real threat.
"Rushdie's spellbinding and entertaining memoir"
Salman Rushdie is a writer of great talent and a fantastic teller of stories. "Midnight's Children" remains one of my favourite books. When he uses his gifts to tell his own story, the result is fascinating.
"Joseph Anton" is in parts a thrilling tale of escape and hiding, in parts a meditation and treatise on the process of writing, in parts a journal about a man's own personal emotional journal and in parts a great glimpse into the literary world. It is always interesting and fascinating - the details are what makes this book sing. Did you know that Roald Dahl had long strangler's fingers? Did you know how complicated it can be to protect someone around the clock?
Salman Rushdie is brutally honest about many things - including his own reflections on his failed marriages. Sections of the book read like revenge literature for previous slights and criticism. Parts of this book are immensely moving - especially the passages of loss when Rushdie buries his father. Others will make you laugh out loud - my favourite is when Rushdie scores a role in "Bridget Jone's Diary".
Whilst it could have been more tightly edited, it nevertheless feels coherent. It is a story that needed to be told, and by a master story-teller. In the end, I felt immense respect and admiration - for the man, for his honesty and the hellish journey that he had to go through.
"A journey through a dark time"
Really the only thing I'd really known about Salman Rushdie prior to purchasing this book was of course that he was the author of the Satanic Verses. This book chronicles his life up until the time of the release of that novel, and through that time in detail.
As a listener, I found the third person narrative off putting at times - 1. there are instances where more than one person are being discussed, and you often realise that the "he" who the author is talking about is now the writer, where as ten seconds earlier, the "he" in question was someone else, and 2. the third person style can come across as pompous. I am sure the author had his reason for choosing this style, most likely because the events in this memoir are indeed important, and perhaps he wished to distance himself somewhat from their importance, in other words, an attempt at humility.
The narrator insists on inserting accents for all the other people in the book, and these accents all fall into cliche. In addition to this, he also adds accents when he is simply quoting people - one of the most ridiculous instances when he quotes lyrics from Michael Jackson's song "Black & White" in a hilariously bad American accent - I nearly crashed my car laughing.....
The story however rescues this audiobook from the off putting performance.
I found myself to have a rather schizophrenic reaction to Salman Rushdie's story as I listened. There were times I found myself wondering why sometimes he needs so many words to simply say it was morning, but other times where he charmed me as he faced a horribly unfair sentence on both his life and character.
This poor man suffered through a long barrage of mindless religious zealotry and sentences of condemnation on both his life and his character, and was used countless times as a political pawn, and had no option but to roll with the punches. The revelations he makes in this book describing the cowardly way his government, the publishing industry, some fellow writers, and of course the media are an indictment on our society's bizarre views on religious tolerance. On top of this, the poor man had to deal with an undoubtedly psychopathic wife during this time. This was no man sealed off in an ivory tower - he was a man with no control over where he lived, where he went and how he lived for a very long time.
The memoir seems fairly balanced - Salman Rushdie seems quite prepared to admit his shortcomings and mistakes, and he describes his crazy and manipulative wife with far more grace than she deserved. He takes plenty of pot shots at politicians, religious clerics and others whose behaviour was abominable, but you can't blame him, and I certainly felt like he used an admirable amount of restraint. I finished the book with admiration for him and a hope that he goes on to write without the need to look over his shoulder or second guess his motives.
This is a story that needed to be told. Unfortunately, religious fanaticism is still a powerful force in these time, as we all saw only 10 years ago in New York. Somewhere down the line, I have a feeling a similar story will sadly need to be told by some other poor unfortunate victim who inadvertently offends the barbaric and superstitious.
"A valuable lesson in the power of words"
Having not read the print version I would still say the audio version is better due to the fact Joseph Anton opens this book with his own voice.
Reminds me of another book, 'My Enemy, My Self' by Yoram Binur an Israeli Journalist who passes for a Palestinian for a period of time living daily as a Palestinian always in fear of being caught and killed. by both sides This is an opposite to Mr Rushdie's whosename change and actions was forced on him but I liked the similarity of comparisons
I enjoyed both speakers, Sam Dastor's ability to pronounce some very tricky names was down well and with out a pause. Salman's voice always came over as calm and clearly well spoken I enjoy listening to him
Then pen is mightier than the sword but fear the revenge of the sword.
This was long, but entertaining and relevant to all especially today in our modern word of the Internet, blogs and twitter. Mr. Rushdie makes comment of if he had written that book today and I for one believe him to be right. This book has value in helping us understand how today's words can turn the sword to be mightier than the pen if we are not careful - but should we?Thought provoking, Well done Joseph or should I say Salman?
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