Book Review: Joseph Anton

I was looking forward to reading this book. I enjoyed Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight Children” and “ Harun and The Sea of Stories,” and I expected a lot from his memoir, which centered on his years under Khomenei’s fatwa, in hiding. But the book left me disappointed.

The title, Joseph Anton, stands for Salman Rushdie’s code name of choice (first names of his favourite writers, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov) that he chose while being protected by the UK government. It also stands for the author’s way of living, trying to define and protect his self. And so the story starts with his boyish enfatuation with stories.

I read the memoir till about halfway, and I loved it! The writing was witty and engaging, and I couldn’t put the book down. I could even wave off my irritation with the 3rd person narrative, which constantly jolted me out of the story. But then something happened with the book’s structure, and the story became clogged up with factual material, repetitions and a constant stream of Rushdie’s complaints. The events started looking similar to each other – the banquets he visited, the famous people he met, the speeches he made, the publishers he contacted, etc, and what is more important, all those events became sketchy, brief, like notes from someone’s planner. The story lost its personality and became tired and drooping.

 

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie

If I try hard, I could justify the deterioration of the structure – to the author every day might have looked the same during those years of fatwa, he was tired of it all too. But I wanted something more personal from this book, and I was getting it, until that train ran out of steam.

What irritated me about the memoir was the atmosphere of gossip and complaint. Despite the author’s claim that he didn’t want to be seen as a victim, he really portrayed himself like one, setting old scores, sharing unsavoury details about his friends and lovers. I got bored and tired of it all, so I just skimmed through the last third of the book and quit. At least one person between a writer and a reader could, so why not use the chance.

Despite the fact that the memoir disappointed me in the end, I would still recommend it, at least the first half of it.

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