A First Look at Salman Rushdie’s Autobiography

Salman Rushdie‘s new book Joseph Anton: A Memoir is an autobiographical account of what happened before, during, and after the infamous fatwa that was put on his life. (According to the Ayatollah Khomeini, Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses was blasphemous, “against Islam, the Prophet and the Quran.”)

The book’s title refers to the pseudonym Rushdie used while in hiding.

This week’s New Yorker features a lengthy excerpt from the new book:

1989

Afterward, when the world was exploding around him, he felt annoyed with himself for having forgotten the name of the BBC reporter who told him that his old life was over and a new, darker existence was about to begin. She called him at home, on his private line, without explaining how she got the number. “How does it feel,” she asked him, “to know that you have just been sentenced to death by Ayatollah Khomeini?” It was a sunny Tuesday in London, but the question shut out the light. This is what he said, without really knowing what he was saying: “It doesn’t feel good.” This is what he thought: I’m a dead man. He wondered how many days he had left, and guessed that the answer was probably a single-digit number. He hung up the telephone and ran down the stairs from his workroom, at the top of the narrow Islington row house where he lived. The living-room windows had wooden shutters and, absurdly, he closed and barred them. Then he locked the front door.

He was a new self now. He was the person in the eye of the storm, no longer the Salman his friends knew but the Rushdie who was the author of “Satanic Verses,” a title that had been subtly distorted by the omission of the initial “The.” “The Satanic Verses” was a novel. “Satanic Verses” were verses that were satanic, and he was their satanic author. How easy it was to erase a man’s past and to construct a new version of him, an overwhelming version, against which it seemed impossible to fight.

Interesting to see the story written in third person.

Anyway, I can’t wait to read this. You want to see the miserable depths religious fanatics will go to when their beliefs are criticized? Look no further than this. Rushdie experienced it all, against his will.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • asonge

    A BBC Documentary re: Rushdie…a warning, though, they interviewed people who agreed with the fatwa and was frankly hard for me to listen to.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-71XyNMzHY

  • http://twitter.com/mywall mywall

    Might read this at some point. Currently, I’m partway through The Satanic Verses. I haven’t found whatever horrifying thing is supposed to be in there yet though. anyone have any ideas where I might find it?

    • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

      Well, there’s one dream sequence where Mohammed’s scribe decides to test whether Mohammed is actually proofreading the work the scribe does each day.  So he begins inserting mistakes on purpose, to see if Mohammed will notice.  Mohammed never does.  It’s been awhile since I read it, so that’s the only potentially objectionable bit I remember.

    • Bryan

      There’s a lot of frank talk about religion and philosophy in it. Gabriel (arch angel in the Bible, not sure his role in the Quran, but it’s equally if not more important) is portrayed as a possibly delusional Indian actor. Rushdie kind of re-writes the mythical history of Islam. There’s a lot for a fundamentalist to hate, but it’s a damn good book.


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