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Book Diva Review – Joseph Anton: A Memoir

josephanton Joseph Anton: A Memoir, by Salman Rushdie was an exceptionally fascinating, gripping and compelling memoir. The title, itself, was a necessary alias that Rushdie created from the given names of two of his favorite authors: Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov.

When Rushdie was sentenced to death by the Ayatollah Khomeini after writing The Satanic Verses, it was necessary for him to go into hiding, and therefore, for him to change his name. He changed it on everything, from bank accounts to all important documentation.

From the moment I began reading Joseph Anton, I could not put it down. It was one of those reads where I was completely involved in the events and circumstances of Rushdie’s life in hiding.

He left no stone unturned in his relaying his ordeal. He was extremely concerned for his family members. He had a son named Zafar from his marriage with his first wife, Clarissa. He wanted to be able to spend as much time as possible with Zafar, and he and the British Secret Service were able to figure out ways to make it happen. Years later, he had a son named Milan with his third wife, Elizabeth. His public image was one of mixed feelings. People either supported him, or they decried him. They decried him over his book, they decried him over his choice to go into hiding, they decried him over the monetary expense it was costing England to protect him.

If it wasn’t for his some extremely close friends, friends of friends and other supporters, it would have been impossible for him to continue to hide for as long as he did. And, stay hidden he did, whether it was for one night, one week, one month or longer, he became the prey, and his life was no longer the life he knew or had control over. It involved a web of places to hide from his would-be perpetrators. His protectors became his life line, including the British Secret Police, who were with him through every step he took.

Rushdie’s life was no longer his to control. He was a prisoner, literally, within his confines. He was controlled by time and place, by police and constant hiding, by his refusal to apologize for his book. Some say, an apology could have avoided the circumstances he lived under, but who knows for sure whether it could have. And, the issue was far greater than an apology.

Rushdie felt, that as a writer, he should have freedom of expression. That was at the core of his thinking. That is what kept him going, kept his emotional state strong, and how he strove for freedom, freedom within the literary pages. He believed that writing was the bridge to cultural understanding, the bridge to empathy and sympathy for others outside their own boundaries. He felt that through his writing he could somehow contribute to the turning around of the mindset of bigotry and narrow minded perceptions. If his writing touched one person in a positive manner, than it served its purpose.

Rushdie wrote while in hiding, it didn’t deter his literary endeavors. In fact it heightened his commitment to write and kept him sane. He was in hiding for over a decade, and wrote throughout that time.

Throughout the pages one gains a sense of the man through his descriptions. He writes of pride, of anger, of arguments with police, friends and non supporters, he writes of his frustration in letters to editors of newspapers (often angry letters), he writes with humor, here and there, he writes in minute detail of his life, beginning in the land of his birth…Bombay, India. The reader learns about his parents, Muslims of Kashmiri descent. He, himself, is an atheist. But, his background and upbringing are constant visuals within the pages of his books.

One thing is evident within Rushdie’s memoir: He believed in himself, he fought for the freedom of written expression, he tried to evoke tolerance towards others in his writing-those not affiliated within one’s own religious boundaries or cultural borders. That he loved his family beyond words, is also clear.

I can’t say enough about Joseph Anton: A Memoir, by Salman Rushdie. It is extremely detailed, intense, fascinating, and written with honesty. It is intriguing, masterfully written with vivid word imagery. I highly recommend it to everyone.

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Filed under Authors, Autobiography, Memoirs, Non-Fiction

Review – The Polish Boxer

   The Polish Boxer, by Eduardo Halfon, ( Translated from the Spanish by Daniel Hahn, Ollie Brock, Lisa Dillman, Thomas Bunstead and Anne McLeanuite) is the fictional compilation of stories of one man’s search for identity and substance through his encounters with other individuals.  I say fictional, but after a bit of research regarding the author, the book also seems to border on a non-fiction accounting, or even a memoir.

Eduardo Halfon, the narrator of the volume of stories has the same name as the author.  He is a Literature Professor, who opens the book in a classroom setting, searching for answers from his students to his presented questions.  He doesn’t quite understand their lack of comprehension, boredom or feigned interest.

One student stands out from all of the rest, a brilliant young man who seems to have insight into the answers Halfon is seeking.  Through no fault of his own, he must drop out of class.  His priorities are with a family situation, and he doesn’t hesitate to do what is expected of him, and doesn’t take the steps out of guilt, but out of survival.

The narrator’s grandfather has a story that resonates on the Holocaust, although he hides it from his grandson until the grandson finds out otherwise.  That is a secret within the pages, a secret held until his grandfather reveals the truth.  The truth being he was saved and taught survival skills through a Polish Boxer.  Once the narrator is explained the truth of decades past, his outlook changes.  What he once thought was reality is shattered by the revelations.  The illusions presented to him throughout his life take on new meaning in his journey of discovery..

And, so go the other stories, each one significant to the whole, each one a portion of the entirety, each one filled with mystery, revelation, while Halfon, the author, brilliantly plays life against itself, almost in oxymoron fashion.  What we see depicted is not necessarily the reality of the situation.  Secrets inhabit the stories, reality can be distorted, and one’s sense of self is not necessarily the actuality of their thinking.

I found Eduardo Halfon to be masterful and quite remarkable in his word visuals.  He left this reader with a lot to ponder within the slim volume.  Although slim, it is compelling reading, infused with sensitivity, humor, touching moments, magical prose, and illuminating stories.

I highly recommend The Polish Boxer to everyone.  There is a story within the pages for everyone.

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Filed under Blogrolls, General, Literature/Fiction