Joseph Anton: A Memoir, Salman Rushdie

November 7, 2012 // Book Reviews

I was about 10 years old when the fatwa was placed on Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. I remember hearing about it and not quite grasping what was going on. I think at that point in my life I didn’t even realize there were religions other than Christianity and Judaism. I’m pretty sure I just heard “The Satanic Verses” and assumed some man wrote a book about devil worship and made a lot of people mad.

Joseph Anton was the first Salman Rushdie book I’ve read. As I got older, I understood the fatwa and his situation a little better, and I’d see his books on the shelf in the bookstore and think I should read one, but I never did. Honestly, I was intimidated. I think I believed he was too highbrow and intellectual for me. Anyone who could write something so powerful that his life was threatened because of it had to be out my league.

The synopsis of Joseph Anton is fairly simple and straightforward. Salman Rushdie tells what his life was like during the years when he was under police protection due to the fatwa. He tells the story in the third person, which I think helps keep the whole thing form becoming too “Woe is me!” It’s well written and while nonfiction runs the risk of being dry, that isn’t the case here.

My favorite thing about the book is the fact that it took me two weeks to read it. I know that sounds inane, but I’m a fast reader. Most books usually take me a week or less to finish and that’s only because work and life get in the way and keep me from reading continuously. Occasionally there’s a book that takes me a bit longer because it’s unbelievably tedious and boring and I find it hard to want to get back to it.

Not so with Joseph Anton. I read it on the bus to and from work, on my lunch break, at home before I’d go to bed. And when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it, anxious to get back. Mr. Rushdie’s talent as a writer and the story itself are compelling. But more than that, it gives you a lot to think about. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, a man’s freedom to live his life the way he chooses, in spite of a threat to his life. It also deals with friendship and love and family.

But what really struck me—the part that has stayed with me and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around—is the power of books. Salman Rushdie is not a political leader. He’s not a president or a prime minister or government official. He’s a novelist. He’s a man who wrote a book, a work of fiction, and it not only changed his life completely, but it also changed the lives of others as well as the whole world. A story that he created in his mind nearly cost him his life. Other people did die as a result of it. That’s a powerful thing.

I’m a person who loves books, who has lived her life around them, and even I struggle with the idea that a simple book, a story, could have that much impact on the world. It’s something that simultaneously scares me and fills me with hope.

I choose to focus more on the hope. I think that ultimately is the message of Joseph Anton. In spite of the anger and the violence of this world, there will always be hope.

About the author

Elise just can't quit you.

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