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Joseph Anton, A Memoir by Salman Rushdie (review)
|Date:|| Sun, 11-Nov-2012 12:57:27 PM PST |
|Where:||SoapZone Community Message Board|
|In reply to:|| ~ * ~ Lets talk books! What are you reading, SZ? ~ * ~ posted by OnAnAlanisJAG|
Salman Rushdie is, first and foremost, a writer. And in this, his memoir (primarily of the fatwa years), he makes a very important point. He insists that if you, as a reader, value the freedom you possess to read whatever you like, you must then perforce stand up for the freedom of the writer to write about whatever he chooses. Active censorship of the author devolves quite directly into passive censorship of the reader, and so Mr. Rushdie's plight - as distant and relatively obscure as it may seem to the idler at the Buy 2 Get One Free table of the local Barnes & Noble - does in fact effect what he or she has the option to purchase, read and be, of any given evening, literarily sated by. Rob him of his voice and that's one less voice you have to choose from. How many voices are you willing to lose to placate the sensitivities of others?
A delicate insistence here that we pay attention.
Now turn the page and learn of the town of Iranian men who vowed, en masse, to donate their kidneys in order to beef up the bounty on this writer's head. (One million dollars should an Iranian citizen kill him, three million dollars should a non-Iranian manage to succeed. Have no fear; your out-of-pocket expenses will be covered as well!) Learn what it's like to live under police protection in Great Britain - a situation that requires round-the-clock bodyguards and constant threat assessment. While it is true the government pays the salaries of the men who must now live with you, it is apparently your responsibility to foot the bill for the residence you're calling home. Should the protection detail determine the location has been "blown," it's up to you to find another dwelling (that meets the police standard, no less), buy, borrow or lease it and decamp in very short order - eating whatever you've already outlayed on the property you currently inhabit. Learn also of the blowback of fear. Countries would not have him. Airlines would not fly him. Publishers would not fulfill the contractual obligation to release his novel, The Satanic Verses, in paperback and looked at all future proposals with an exceedingly anxious eye. Two of his translators were ambushed by fundamentalist thugs. The Italian lived. The Japanese did not. Bookstores were bombed. And then, of course, there's the toll all of this begins to take on one's personal relationships.
Salman Rushdie, as it turns out, on his very best day, is not going to win any awards for his achievements as a friend, lover or mate. I couldn't tell you whether he selects insane women, drives the women he selects insane, or simply views the women he's finished with as a wee bit bonkers. He plays the Poor Me card with more than a little abandon, and it might work if he were a faithful sort of chap (which he's the first to admit he's not). Mr. Rushdie also holds grudges like a champ and is not above a nasty dig toward whomever he feels has abused or misused him. Countless such digs appear in these pages. And as much as he resents the charge of arrogance, the fact is he can be one arrogant s.o.b. when he puts his mind to it. Again, though, all we have to do is turn the page to find the man who was forced to give up his name in all documents, records and everyday interaction - choosing the alias Joseph (Conrad) Anton (Chekhov) as his hopefully fatwa-proof designation and wondering, in passages that sing with despair, whether he has not become fictional in the process. The distance from self haunts him and hunts him almost as fully as the death squads his government day-by-day, year-by-year, labors to outwit. It takes not very much page-turning at all to understand his motive in referring to himself throughout this work in the third person.
"In the photographs that survived of that time, assiduously preserved in large albums by Elizabeth, Mr. Joseph Anton was not well-dressed. His habitual daily attire was tracksuit trousers and a sweatshirt. The trousers were often green and the sweatshirt maroon. His hair was too long and his beard too shaggy. To dress like this was to say, I am letting myself go. I am not a person to take seriously. I am just some slob. He should have shaved daily and worn crisp, cleanly pressed clothes, Savile Row suits, perhaps, or at least a smart shirt and slacks. He should have sat at his desk like Scott Fitzgerald in his Brooks Brothers suit, or Borges, nattily turned out in a stiff collar and cuff-linked shirt. Maybe his sentences would have been better if he had taken more care of his appearance. Though Hemingway in his cotton shorts and sandals wasn't so bad. He would like to have seen fancy shoes on his feet in those photographs, possibly two-tone oxfords, or white leather. Instead he slouched around the house in Birkenstocks, the uncoolest of all possible footwear, except for Crocs. He looked at himself in the mirror and loathed what he saw..."
This the same self who would write, who could write:
"On the day they burned his book he took his American wife to see Stonehenge. He had heard about the proposed stunt in Bradford and something in him rebelled violently. He didn't want to wait around all day to see what happened and then field the inevitable press inquiries, as if he had nothing better to do than be the servant of the day's ugliness. Under a leaden sky they headed for the ancient stones..."
The material is by no measure exciting. This is, however, one of the most richly-textured, multi-dimensional and intellectually sonorant memoirs I have read in a very, very long time. Six hundred and thirty-three pages, and he keeps them turning. How better to triumph than that?
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