What struck me most about this memoir is not Rushdie’s experience (life under police protection is predictably quite dull), but how the process is shown of Rushdie becoming a symbolic figure for a turning point in recent modern politics. Now often looked back on as ‘The Rushdie Affair’, it signals the clash between secularism and Islamic fundamentalism, highlighting the debate of ‘freedom of speech’ that centres this clash. The memoir brings together the culmination of opinion, through newspapers, phone calls, tv, etc., on the whole affair. Obviously this will have been carefully selected by Rushdie, but it does provide an enlightening record of what it was like at the time and how public opinion has shifted from the point of view of the person who heard and saw it all. It seems evident that the charges brought against Rushdie by Iran were unfair and took the form of censorship and terrorism, which makes the questions raised by the detailed events in Joseph Anton all the more disturbing. For example, why does the (conservative) British government not defend Rushdie and criticise the fatwa straight away? Why does it take until the labour government comes into power for this to happen? Why does The Daily Insult, as Rushdie calls the British tabloids, continually imply that Rushdie somehow ‘brought it on himself’?

The key premise that the fatwa, as well as The Daily Insult and other journalists, gets wrong is the complete misinterpretation of the distance in literature between narrator and author. An author does not endorse every opinion expressed by characters of a novel just because they are included. Maybe attendance to Literary Theory 1A should be mandatory for all journalists. This distance seems to be acknowledged in most literature, most of the time, which makes me wonder whether the specific attack on Rushdie may have been down to his status as an in-between figure. Born in India, he cannot write negatively about India or its major religions without seeming to betray his roots and people. As an Indian migrant living in Britain, he could never be fully exempt from suspicion (notably certain newspapers that lean to the right). The clichéd peril of the migrant writer.

Whilst reading, I was torn between sympathy and irritation. Sympathy because Rushdie’s experience was undoubtedly horrific and he seems to be continually misunderstood by people around him. Irritation due to the somewhat endless listing of famous writers and journalists which make up his friends who helped him during the ordeal. The middle part of the book seems to be made up of the same situations – my good friends *famous author and wife* asked me to stay at their house for the week, I have to move house again, the police treat me badly/thanks to the police for helping me. Of course, what this serves to do is undermine any tendency to glamorise the fatwa (Rushdie comments that his friends often are excited more by the police operation surrounding his visits than Rushdie as a guest) and show that in actual fact it is mostly boring and tedious. This is an anti-climax to the interesting narrative of his youth and the beginning of the threat of the fatwa, as it almost turns into a week-by-week diary.

I wonder why Rushdie paints himself as an unlikeable character. The third-person narrative of the memoir gives a distance that could be exploited to invoke more sympathy, but Rushdie instead uses it to make snide remarks about people. For example, commenting on his wife Elizabeth’s birth of their son with detail of her bad temper as well as increasingly painting her as crazy whilst he remains aloof and guilt-free for his infidelity. The effect is that overall one can be sympathetic but not too sympathetic, which helps us to keep a critical eye and stay focused on the consequences of the issues surrounding the fatwa. Overall then, we have a memoir both about personal experience and about enduring modern issues of free speech, censorship and terrorism.