Joseph Anton Lived Too Long


Book: Joseph Anton

Author: Salman Rushdie

Publisher: Jonathan Cape

Price: Rs. 799

Pages: 636

Through Saleem Sinai, Saladin Chamcha, even a bit of Malik Solanka and several other protagonists in his fascinating novels, Salman Rushdie has always been generous, letting the reader peep inside his head and glimpse at what makes him tick. His readers have always been privy to vignettes of his personality, roots, influences and shadows. In the course of the sordid events following the declaration of the fatwa by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeni (not quite authenticated, oddly enough — unsigned and typewritten, as Rushdie informs us in his latest literary offering) his readers know Rushdie from the pages of newspapers as much as from his books.

But the full Monty — Salman Rushdie's 636-page memoir titled Joseph Anton — still reveals an author in very special circumstances. This could have been a shorter account. But Rushdie has produced a third person narrative almost as compelling as his other big ventures, which have effectively employed all kinds of techniques — straight storyline, autobiographical elements, magic realism and history. Joseph Anton, the pseudonym he chose in his underground years in the UK, borrows from the names of his favourite writers, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekov. Carrying on the tradition of po-co and po-mo – post-colonial and post-modern — Rushdie has coined a term to demarcate his life after the fatwa: 'po-fa'. His memoir is in part his own story, from Warden Road in Mumbai to Rugby School in England, along with the story of his loves and horrors — sometimes, he alleges, they were the same thing. But most significantly, it is a biography of the ideas that he has developed in his books.

The most fascinating is his account of how Satanic Verses came into being in his mind. He was able to conceive this book because of his fascination with God despite being godless, a fascination for a major religion whose founder is not myth but historical, of recorded times, not just legend. His scholarship helped, as did stories that his father had told him in his childhood. He was moved to look at stories and storytelling, stretched across cultures, symbols and beliefs, as artefacts almost as sacred as the thing the Rushdie-haters say they are anxious to protect.

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