Mark Antony says well in Julius Caesar-“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Shakespeare’s aphorism has become more important to remember in today’s time, as lives getting increasingly involved in a never-ending present. In categorical explanation, writers live with their own prejudices and a balancing amount of fairness to judge the conditions, shaped mostly through the imaginative processes.
Popular trend allows a writer to have ‘one or two’ writer in mind… but unlike Pico Iyer (he adopts Graham Greene as an alternative paternal figure), Rushdie seems using Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov more for punch mark than for personal affection. Joseph Anton, an extraordinary fictitious name chosen by Rushdie for a compelled autobiography narrates in essence, how the Islamic world has returned to the fever of violence, and how a section is turning violent on surpassable issues.
In introspection, he seems right till he follows the right quest, but lately Rushdie fails to set the limit of tone, with a faith or community should be targeted. Though beyond the book, he appears in a position to give us some actual reflections on the unusual condition of the Islamic world, but his memoir doesn’t meet the level seriousness, generally expected to deal with a concerned sensitive theme like this. On personal level, rather he has much to offer in opening his life and that feeds well the Rushdiophile.
The book is packed with details and Rushdie seems to have hyperactive memory for petty incidents. Sadly, as the book progresses, it leads for only a shocking purposelessness. Even after one and half decades a Muslim cleric condemned his to death for interpreting Islam on his own terms (read recklessly), The Satanic Verses remains the central drama of the book, as the no other books of Rushdie written after that could fetch either renewal of fatwa or extraordinary attention.
Following his own trend, thickness is very much alive in this memoir, even though the memoir is brutally long, and heaves no sigh of relief in recounting the dramatic pain and luxury came with the fatwa, and lateral complexities of living in its shadow. Those odd circumstances were totally idle, as one could think only before reading this over informing memoir, which generously talks on dinners, glimmering launch parties and boring accounts of various deals hatched by agents and publishers. He also recall quite often than not, the pain of finding and losing his girlfriends in graying years and under fatwa.
Against the current trend, one could not simply overlook the ever dominant role, religious politics plays in all sorts of systems that command the government and lastly mould the geo-strategic scenario and bigger picture of world order. Solely relying on the western wisdom (as Rushdie does invariable), for pondering over the myths and realities of East adamantly places towards inaccurate finding. Religions including of Islam are in living state and faces the ugly absorption of malicious elements more frequently than Rushdie anticipates. He appears acerbic in criticism, so only he secures the ‘hype’, constructive critics lack regularly.
It surprises, when Rushdie tells the tale with a generic choice of the third person and in ambiguity. The narratives, he has used in the book is not of standard he used to known for creating the Midnight Children’s phenomenon, neither the facts are as astute and well informed, as it should have for his autobiography. Still one could strive to read this book carefully in search of covert brilliancy, struck down somewhere in midway.
Joseph Anton is a book that comes with a writer’s endemic isolation, an inner state about reader would be not able to understand even when the all accounts would be thrown out without any second thought. It’s not a book that has to be read because it was written by someone with seven big bestsellers to his credit, but for knowing a different writer.
The writers of a historic generation are entwining with varied choices, so are true with the readers of present time. Still assimilation of thought and responses are essential, this way Joseph Anton deserves reading, not matter if not on mass scale!
Book Review: Autobiography/Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Cape-Random House, 633 pp; Rs799 (Hardback)