Placed under a fatwa by the Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1989, distinguished author Rushdie was forced underground to save his life. He needed an alias for use by the armed police assigned to protect him and so chose Joseph Anton, which blended the first names of two writers he loved, Conrad and Chekhov. Here he recounts over nine years of moving from safe house to safe house, mastering despair, fighting back, bonding with his protectors, and enlisting the support of governments, journalists, and fellow writers worldwide. His memoir matters not simply because of startling personal detail but because his experience presaged a global battle over freedom of speech that continues today. With a six-city tour; the extensive publicity includes an NPR campaign.
On February 14, 1989, Valentine’s Day, Salman Rushdie was telephoned by a BBC journalist and told that he had been “sentenced to death” by the Ayatollah Khomeini. For the first time he heard the wordfatwa. His crime? To have written a novel calledThe Satanic Verses,which was accused of being “against Islam, the Prophet and the Quran.”
So begins the extraordinary story of how a writer was forced underground, moving from house to house, with the constant presence of an armed police protection team. He was asked to choose an alias that the police could call him by. He thought of writers he loved and combinations of their names; then it came to him: Conrad and Chekhov—Joseph Anton.
How do a writer and his family live with the threat of murder for more than nine years? How does he go on working? How does he fall in and out of love? How does despair shape his thoughts and actions, how and why does he stumble, how does he learn to fight back? In this remarkable memoir Rushdie tells that story for the first time; the story of one of the crucial battles, in our time, for freedom of speech. He talks about the sometimes grim, sometimes comic realities of living with armed policemen, and of the close bonds he formed with his protectors; of his struggle for support and understanding from governments, intelligence chiefs, publishers, journalists, and fellow writers; and of how he regained his freedom.
It is a book of exceptional frankness and honesty, compelling, provocative, moving, and of vital importance. Because what happened to Salman Rushdie was the first act of a drama that is still unfolding somewhere in the world every day.
Praise for Salman Rushdie
“In Salman Rushdie . . . India has produced a glittering novelist—one with startling imaginative and intellectual resources, a master of perpetual storytelling.”—The New Yorker
“Salman Rushdie has earned the right to be called one of our great storytellers.”—The Observer
“Our most exhilaratingly inventive prose stylist, a writer of breathtaking originality.”—Financial Times
From the Hardcover edition.