There are time when you inhabit a book and there are times when a book inhabits you. Salman Rushdie's Joseph Anton was a little bit of both for me. All last week I'd go to sleep with what I'd read going around in circles in my mind. That was far preferable to the events of last week being there. I don't really know how to explain it but there was something comforting about reading Joseph Anton last week. I've never read Rushdie's books and I didn't really know what to expect when I started his autobiography.
I have a suspicion that you read his novels them much the same way you read this book -- you read them slowly. You read them thoughtfully. And at times you read them deeply. It was a book that I had to focus on and pay attention to. I couldn't skim. I couldn't read it with one eye on the news. No, in order to read this I had to shut everything off and focus.
There was a certain amount of relief in that.
There was also an amount of relief in knowing that someone was personally threatened, who lived every day with a threat hanging over his head, came out ok on the other side. I needed that last week.
If you read reviews you'll read plenty about how Rushdie has an ego larger than Greenland. That he thinks very well of himself and that he name drops. You'll read how he doesn't apologize even though other people think he should. You'll read that he's arrogant and often not very kind to others in his narrative.
It's true. He is egotistical and arrogant. He's not always kind. He doesn't apologize for writing a novel that made many people angry. He stands by his claim that it was never his intention for that to happen. Do I personally believe him? For the most part, yes. I think every novelist knows that some people will not like their book. I think there are novels that are written with the knowledge that they may make people angry. I don't think any novelist expects to be subjected to a fatwa or strives to live their life under constant protection and threat. No apology he could have made -- had he wanted to, which he did not and I understand that -- would have made it go away. It wouldn't have made it better. It may have made some of his critics feel better for a moment, but overall I doubt it would have changed much.
People also don't like that he wrote the biography in the third-person but I also understand why he did that. Those years of his life... he wasn't allowed to be him. He could not be called by his own name. He had to choose another name and he chose Joseph Anton. It was then shortened to Joe. His protectors called him Joe. His friends called him Joe. He wasn't Salman, not even in his own home. He was not Joe and Joe was not him. Joe was a character he was forced to play. Third-person makes sense to me.
Salman Rushdie isn't always likeable. That's ok, too. I didn't read Joseph Anton to like him. I read it because I didn't really know much about the The Satanic Verses and why everything happened. I was too young when the fatwa was pronounced to really understand it. I didn't really know what it meant. I do now.