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A Literarea Preview: 'Joseph Anton: A Memoir'

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Joseph Anton: A Memoir
By Salman Rushdie

Joseph Anton is Salman Rushdie’s long-awaited autobiography that begins with the life-changing day of February 14, 1989. That was the day when many of us in the Western World first learned the meaning of the word fatwa. On that day the Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced Rushdie to death for his novel The Satanic Verses, which was accused of being against Islam, the Prophet and the Quran.

antonThe memoir begins with Rushdie being forced to go underground, moving from house to house, with the constant protection of an armed police protection team. The title of the book is the alias he was asked to give the police and is the combination of the first names of two writers he loves: Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. So the man known around the world as “Salman” was known to his police protectors as “Joe.” This constant state of fear – along with moving at a moment’s notice – lasted for over a decade, even though it abated a bit as time went on.


This is a frank memoir in which Rushdie grapples with trying to live his life under constant threat, along with the grim and sometimes comic realities. For instance, the official report from the Control Risks Information Services Limited of London on Rushdie in all its coded glory was entitled “Assessment of Strength and Potential of Dotterel Protest against Godwit of Arctic Tern’s Pigeon and Implications for Golden Plover.” Dotterel was the Muslims, Godwit was the publisher (Viking Penquin), Golden Plover was the parent company (Pearson Group), Pigeon was the book he wrote and Arctic Tern, the author himself.

The book is an astonishing look into what was the first act of a drama that is still unfolding somewhere in the world every day. And the fact that Rushdie has regained his freedom and continues to write great novels is a testament of his will and those who supported him including the British government, his publishers, journalists and fellow writers. It seems like Rushdie is setting some scores straight as well, especially regarding his multiple marriages and the way he was portrayed by many in the media as someone undeserving of state protection because he "only wrote a book" and "knew what he was doing."


About the Author
A Juilliard-trained writer, Kevin Kizer has fought against numerous world-champion writers during his career, besting the reigning middle weight writing champion in an exhibition bout in Helsinki in 1976. He also played a crucial role on the U.S. gold-medal winning writing team during the 1984 Pan-Am games, where he came off the bench in dramatic fashion to write the winning prepositional phrase just as time expired.