28. August 2014


It is rare to read a book and the book speaks to something that’s inside you, you didn’t even know existed.

Salman Rushdie’s autobiography “Joseph Anton”, whose name is derived from his fake name the police protection officers called him all these years he hid under the threat of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa because of his book "The Satanic Verses", is not only a very detailed and candid account of his life, but also sparks the reader’s enthusiasm to fight for free speech in whatever form it will present itself.

It’s astonishing how a man can live and fight and love as fully as it is possible under such dire circumstances. He had to hide for almost a decade, received constant protection, death threats, setbacks in forms of political disregard from his own British government and the overwhelming support of his friends. And it’s even more astonishing that he can weave this all together in some 630 pages without losing credibility, authenticity, excitement, fear for the protagonist, empathy for the protagonist’s failing marriages, for the birth of his son or a newfound love and sorrow for the many friends he lost while fighting his own battle for life. Falling in and out of love, marrying and fathering children factors hugely in this book, a little unexpectedly, yes, but it gives great credit to the man Rushdie is, to how much he fights the forces that vilify him. Rushdie writes the novel in third person and even though it seems strange at first, it feels like one can be even closer to the “he” as Rushdie himself recounts his memories in retrospect, distanced from the protagonist himself. And maybe that is quite a good protective mechanism, too, a sort of helpful displacement of the actual lives in danger. I do think it gave the author the freedom to be very honest with himself, without being too attached to his own life, as contradicting as it may sound.

It’s also a very captivating account of how one of the most brilliant authors I know became the author he is known for. There was struggle, writer’s block, and stories that transformed themselves into something completely different and the constant longing for his India whose government had forbidden him during the fatwa years to return to the country of his birth.
While reading I could find myself in many of Rushdie’s sentences, of his realizations about writing, authorship and the unconditional trust in one’s stories.

On concentrating on being and becoming a writer:

On how he became the writer he would become:

On finishing a book:

On exile and writing about the country one is not allowed to see nonetheless:

On the problems that ail the world, of fear and repression:

Practical advice on writing:

And finally, by the end of the book, he writes a passage on the importance of literature. On why it is essential to fight for the freedom of speech, to stand threats down, to live and die for the written word:

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