Monday, January 14, 2013

Salman Rushdie's "Joseph Anton: A Memoir"

Finished reading Salman Rushdie's autobiography "Joseph Anton: A Memoir". Rushdie recounts his life (especially the extraordinary life under the threat of fatwa) in this tome that is more than 600 pages long. In 1989, after the publication of his notorious novel "The Satanic Verses", Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued the murderous fatwa against Rushdie charging the novel to be blasphemous of Prophet Mohammad. Now, I don't know whether the novel hurt Muslims' religious feelings or not because it was such a difficult and boring book that even after reading it twice I could not comprehend many things. But the faithful got hurt and Rushdie defended his attack against the faith on the basis of free speech. I, for one, don't subscribe to this defense as art has no right to attack the faith. (Rushdie takes arguments from that new global religion, "human rights", for his defense.) But Muslim response was equally deplorable as a person cannot be killed just because he wrote something unpalatable. The raising of the bounty money for Rushdie's head every year as shown in the memoir comes across as gross. Rushdie loves flowery language and likes to show off his command over vocabulary in his novels (calls his works, instances of pyrotechnics) and this is seen in the memoir as well. He puts French phrases in plenty. But the book overall is easy to read unlike some of his novels. He flaunts his egoism in the memoir to epic proportions and gives boring details of everyday life at times but at the same time comes across as a brilliant writer that he is by depicting interesting incidents and writing some killer lines. He quotes surrealists at one point by saying that the world itself is extraordinary but we are so habituated to it that we feel it's ordinary. The artist's duty is to wipe off the patina of ordinariness of the world and show all its true extraordinary nature. These lines pleased me a lot. And Rushdie's unconditional affection for his son Zafar is also laudable and at point he forgoes his atheism in describing his son as "god". His moments with his dying father Anis are warmly described. His description of India is also full of his love towards his birth nation. His life under the protection team with many "cloak and dagger" moments, his feeling of freedom in the US, his assumption of a new identity ("Joseph Anton" in honor of Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov), his bittersweet relationship with his ex-wives, death by diseases of his close friends (wing-beating sounds of death angels), his defense by many prominent writers and politicians—all these get ample of space in the book. Assuming a new name and forgoing his old identity reflects the themes of his own novels which portray migrants' uprooted life in cosmopolitan cities. Rushdie is a good humorist and he has used his talent in the memoir as well. His description of a Pakistani film that made him the chief villain is very funny. His love for movies is expressed here and there as the threats to his life are compared with apocalyptic blackbirds in Alfred Hitchcock's great movie "The Birds". Brian Grazer, a successful Hollywood movie producer, asks him whether he is interested in making a movie out of his life. Anyway, I liked Rushdie's memoir but felt that it could have been edited and shortened. 

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