Joseph Anton

Salman Rushdie

Recounting nine years of living in protective custody after the Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced him to death, Rushdie’s memoir is befittingly hefty at over 630 pages. About three-quarters of the way into it, the tediousness of his ongoing fight to live freely comes through all too clear. In addition to describing the particulars of living constantly with a team of security personnel and the various meetings to try to force Iran to overturn the fatwa, Rushdie also covers general life stories including his several marriages and infidelities as well as his writing process and various parties he attended and celebrities he met, despite the restrictions to his personal freedom.

Though I’ve only read Midnight’s Children years and years ago, it was his writing process talk that I found the most interesting, despite being unfamiliar with most of those works. He describes pulling characters through from earlier drafts of different projects and struggling to get the tone of a new book right until he strikes upon the opening sentence. His attempts to put his anxieties aside and keep writing seem understandably tough.

While overall I enjoyed the book, the last 200 pages were a struggle, even though, again, it felt appropriate that way. I appreciated Rushdie’s use of the third person, especially as the title refers to the name he used as a cover, making this, in a way, a story about an entirely different person. Zoë Heller’s review for The New York Review of Books is apparently the harshest take, yet I can’t say it feels overly strong, even with my overall appreciation:

A man living under threat of death for nine years is not to be blamed for occasionally characterizing his plight in grandiloquent terms. But one would hope that when recollecting his emotions in freedom and safety, he might bring some ironic detachment to bear on his own bombast. Hindsight, alas, has had no sobering effect on Rushdie’s magisterial amour propre. An unembarrassed sense of what he is owed as an embattled, literary immortal-in-waiting pervades his book.