Joseph Anton

The title of this book is the alias Salman Rushdie—the author of The Satanic Verses— adopted in 1989, shortly after he went into hiding to avoid being killed by assassins following Ayatollah Khomeini’s issuance of a fatwa, or death sentence, because of his book’s supposed blasphemy. (It comes from the names of two of Rushdie’s favorite authors, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov.) The book is a memoir of the nine years Rushdie spent underground, moving from house to house, never knowing when death would come. His insistence on having something akin to a normal life—to care for his son, to fall in and out of love, to spend time with friends, to continue writing—while locked in an invisible prison of police protection was heroic. His story describes an epic battle for freedom of speech that illuminates not only the dangers liberal societies face from religious zealots, but also the importance of the values of tolerance and openness we hold dear. The book also gives Rushdie an opportunity to acknowledge the many people, writers especially, who helped him, and to pay back—sometimes almost gleefully—those craven Western intellectuals who blamed him for the fatwa and the trouble it caused.