At one point while reading Salman Rushdie’s brilliant narrative about what happened after he published The Satanic Verses and the Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced him to death, I became stranded in a hotel when the city of New Orleans was put on lock-down because of freezing rain. I could walk around, but nothing was open (except, mercifully, the restaurant in my hotel). My situation was in no way like Rushdie’s: I had not written a book that angered an Iranian leader; no one was plotting to kill me; I did not have to try to convince political leaders to help me, not knowing if they ever would…. In fact, I had complete confidence that my situation would be resolved soon. It was supposed to warm up by Thursday and I could then resume my business.
Nevertheless, being frozen in place gave me a tiny little taste of the lack of freedom that Rushdie endured for more than a decade. And even though I read his whole memoir, I still don’t know how he did it. I mean, the book explains what he did—and how the Special Branch (and others) protected him day and night, and how his friends went to enormous lengths to help him—but what he (and his family, friends, and colleagues) went through is almost unfathomable.
Joseph Anton (his cover name while in hiding) is more than 600 pages long, and it is perhaps inevitable that at times while reading it, you just want it to be over. As did Rushdie. But his story is remarkable and the immersion in it reveals the insights and experiences of a powerful writer. In short, it is time well spent.