Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Joseph Anton" by Salman Rushdie, reviewed by Ken O’Connor


I went to hear Salman Rushdie speak in Hamilton, Ontario. Besides having heard he’s a great writer, I particularly wanted to know how he stood up to Ayatollah Khomeini’s 1989 fatwa calling for his death.
The price of admission ($45.00) included a signed copy (no personal dedications allowed) of his book Joseph Anton (2012). Mr. Rushdie is a very knowledgeable, personable man whose sense of humor pervades his character and characters. 
I had not read anything of his, nor had I seen the book or the movie Midnight’s Children, for which he wrote the screenplay and narrated the story. I did see the movie after seeing Rushdie and reading Joseph Anton, which in my opinion is an extraordinary book. 
At the event in Hamilton, Mr. Rushdie started by reading from his book. Not good. I can do that myself, at my own pace, in a relaxed atmosphere, with dictionaries for company. My mind paints better pictures and gives me the pleasure of cursing when appropriate as I sip my jungle juice. No matter how good the reading, usually something doesn’t click the same as reading it. Plus, the sound system had a mind of its own and made the place feel like amateur night in the school gym.
I wanted to hear the author’s words for me, the audience. Talk to me, Mr. Author, with your welcome gems of wisdom, insights, and humor. I went to a lot of trouble to be in your presence. No such luck.
The moderator for the evening, an excellent choice, was Charles Foran, author of a biography of Mordecai Richler, Mordecai: the Life and Times, and much more. The talk between the two authors was most enjoyable. However, only four or five (excellent) questions were answered before we were shoved out the exit. We were told there were many more written questions, but goodbye. I was disappointed.
And we were discouraged from talking to Rushdie. For security? In case we took too long?  
Was I expecting too much? I thought we deserved more.
Thank goodness my reading of Joseph Anton overshadowed its presentation.  
Joseph Anton is a pseudonym for Salman Rushdie. It is a memoir. Rushdie chose to change his name for awhile due to the need for security. Following the writing of The Satanic Verses, many people in various parts of the world were killed or harmed by others who do not want free speech. We find out who, where, and why.
We also discover the normal lies, fears, hardships, and craziness of the writing business. This book would help new writers find out a lot about the realities of the writing game.  
As for the book, since Anton is Rushdie, he decided to write about himself in the third person as “he.” So we have a memoir without “I” and mostly without a name at all.  For example, a sentence “They slept as far apart as they could…” really means Rushdie and a woman. How would you like to read the whole book like that? Unique, perhaps, at least for me. But I found it disturbing.
Also, there are long paragraphs of seven or so conversations (as on page 215) that could have been more clearly laid out in separate paragraphs. This would have added many more pages to the 640 already in the book, far too many for those of us who prefer less unnecessary detail.
He names names and repeats opinions endlessly. He describes details of travels I don’t care about, with descriptions I skipped over to get to the meat of his text. Rushdie’s daily habits of writing notes, along with a prodigious memory, and a satisfying sense of humor…do serve him well, though.
Rushdie mentions at the end of the book that some names were changed. I don’t know which ones, so I don’t know if a particular lover’s name is real. He had an affair while having difficulties with a regular partner. He says he knew his notes would be read by his partner. I suggest his written description of that particular affair lacked discretion.
Rushdie has won many awards, deservedly so. The writing in Joseph Anton is exceptional, an example for all of us.
This is a book that will sell many fiction and non-fiction books by Rushdie. He writes extensively about the where, why, and how he did his work. Despite hardships few of us would ever have in our own lives, he accomplished extraordinary successes.
If any of you ask, “How can I write with all that’s going on in my life? I suggest that after reading Rushdie you’ll have no excuses. The man is a hero. His fight for freedom surpasses most of those I know of. His judgment wavers only a few times; however, he admits where he went wrong in some cases, and explains how he sometimes recovered.
His comments on world events, fights with his home country (the UK), experiences in America, family relationships, his quest for acceptance in India – all make for exciting reading. I doubt a writer has ever moved from one location to another as many times as Rushdie.
I also doubt very many writers had to make such tough decisions:  He had to decide whether he is responsible for bombs that follow his writing. And whether or not to continue writing, knowing the possible deadly consequences. Other writers would have shied away from fears such as being killed, having no friends, no publishers, and many more. 
He wears a bulletproof vest. He sometimes drives a car with bulletproof doors so heavy that a passenger can hardly close them. He describes what happens when he has a car accident. He has to hide when an ordinary delivery man or repair man comes to the door. Only the police can open his mail. He gives us a great sense of what it all means. I laughed, I felt sad.
One of the biggest questions is how can he carry on a normal life? What will happen to love of family? Who will stay with him under the circumstances? In other words, how can he get through life doing what we want under the most extreme conditions?
This is the accomplishment of Joseph Anton:  It demonstrates that the human spirit lives no matter what.
We owe you, Salman Rushdie. 

Ken O’Connor graduated from Ryerson in Toronto. He worked in radio and television before becoming a copywriter. He had his own advertising agency in the pharmaceutical field. As a director, editor, and photographer he produced over one hundred short films. He now writes fiction, non-fiction, films, humor, and book reviews. His review of Joseph Anton is specifically intended for writers.

Quick Brown Fox welcomes book reviews and other book related pieces. I also welcomes reviews of plays, movies, restaurants and anything else that catches your fancy. Reviews may be straight up or tongue in cheek. You might review restaurants you can’t afford, based on what you see peering through the window. Or you might review the patrons of some event, rather than the event itself. Or you might otherwise use your imagination to get up to some mischief. Please keep reviews short and as free of long paragraphs, clumsy prose and grammatical mistakes as possible. Email your review to me at: brianhenry@sympatico.ca

See Brian Henry's schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Kingston, Peterborough, Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Georgetown, Milton, Oakville, Burlington, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Dundas, Kitchener, Guelph, London, Woodstock, Orangeville, Newmarke, Barrie, Orillia, Gravenhurst, Sudbury, Muskoka, Peel, Halton, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

2 comments:

  1. Actually, I think Rushdie owes the British taxpayer for the tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money spent on this vain man's security over many years.

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  2. I saw him give a terrific speech at the Festival Theater in Niagara on the Lake a few years ago.... I had not read him but was curious... he gave a fantastic talk that I still think about almost every day... later I read Midnight's Children and it is in my top 5 of all time...BUT BUT he is unbelievably arrogant... one young woman in the audience asked (during question time) what advice he would give to a young beginner writer and he said, "Give up and do something else. You are doomed to fail." It was not said in a nice or encouraging way. Everyone in the audience went silent and with that he left the stage. As a person, he is a total Ass****e.

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