I finished The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie with enjoyment. The elements of what I think is called magic realism in it didn’t bother me, as I had thought they might. It’s full of allusions to Indian history and culture, about which I am woefully ignorant, so I am sure I missed a lot of them, but I found the book fascinating and full of big ideas treated thoughtfully and with fun. What’s to not like, never mind get outraged at.
Joseph Anton, the book Rushdie wrote about his years under protection because of the (misnamed) fatwa that put his life at risk because of The Satanic Verses is another large book. I read it over three days; even though I knew (more or less) the ending it was a page-turner.
One of the things that makes the book gripping is that he—unless there is a good reason not to—uses people’s real names. I’m sure there are things left out in consideration of people’s lives and feelings, but there’s plenty left in, so the whole tale has a specificity that gives it a sense of being a real telling of Rushdie’s experiences of living under a death threat. He writes of being shamed and being ashamed of himself and, rousing himself to fight,
“…against the view that people could be killed for their ideas, and against the ability of any religion to palce a limiting point on thought. But he needed, now, to be clear of what he was fighting for. Freedom of speech, freedom of the imagination, freedom from fear, and the beautiful, ancient art of which he was privileged to be a practitioner. Also, scepticism, irreverence, doubt, satire, comedy and unholy glee.”
There are also his gratitude to friends, his love and concern for his son, the domestic details of having four policemen living in his house and much more. Actually, there was nothing in this book I didn’t like reading. I haven’t come away with a picture of Salman Rushdie as necessarily an easy person to get along with, but I do admire him.
The edition of Joseph Anton on sale in New Zealand has an ugly cover. Who did that? The Random House hardback cover is much better. I can only show the ugly one from my copy.
It’s unusual for me to stop reading a book in the middle, but that’s what I did with Gary Shteyngart’s The Russian Debutante’s Handbook. I didn’t like the characters (except for the old man who talked to his fan) or the story. I guess plenty of other people did, it’s well reviewed.