* Salman Rushdie publishes memoir of fatwa years
* Anger over "The Satanic Verses" echoed today
* Reviews of 633-page "Joseph Anton" mixed
By Mike Collett-White
LONDON, Sept 18 British author Salman Rushdie's
memoir of more than nine years in hiding after Iran's supreme
leader issued a death sentence against him hits the shelves on
Tuesday, ending the wait for his account of a furore that has
echoes across the world today.
"Joseph Anton: A Memoir" opens with the moment when Rushdie,
already a member of London's literary elite, received a call
from a journalist asking for his reaction to Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini's 1989 fatwa, or religious edict, calling for his head.
"It doesn't feel good" was his understated reply, but at the
time he recalled thinking to himself: "I'm a dead man."
What followed was nearly a decade of life on the run,
fearing for his own safety and that of his family.
The fatwa, in response to the 1988 novel "The Satanic
Verses", turned Rushdie into a household name that will forever
be linked with the tussle between the right to freedom of
expression and the need to respect religious sensitivities.
The topic is back in the headlines after violent protests
spread across the Muslim world in response to a U.S.-made video
mocking the Prophet Mohammad.
"I always said that what happened to me was a prologue and
there will be many, many more episodes like it," Rushdie told
the Daily Telegraph at the launch of his memoir.
"Clearly, (the film is) a piece of crap, is very poorly done
and is malevolent. To react to it with this kind of violence is
just ludicrously inappropriate. People are being attacked who
had nothing to do with it and that is not right."
On the weekend, a state-linked Iranian religious foundation
increased the bounty on his head to $3.3 million. Its leader
argued that had Rushdie been killed, later cases of Islam being
insulted would have been avoided.
English PEN, a branch of the international group promoting
free expression in literature, defended Rushdie.
"The film that has caused this round of unrest is an insult
to everyone's intelligence, but the means of combatting that is
more intelligence, not threats of reinstated fatwas and
killings," said author and campaigner Lisa Appignanesi.
The 633-page Joseph Anton, written in the third person
singular, recalls Rushdie's days as a student at Cambridge and
his early literary career, including the day he won the coveted
Booker Prize for "Midnight's Children" in 1981.
Seven years later The Satanic Verses appeared, and for a few
weeks it was, he fondly remembered, "only a novel".
Then it was banned in India and South Africa, copies were
burned in the streets of northern England, fellow authors turned
against him, his first wife Clarissa received threatening calls
and book stores were firebombed.
Rushdie found himself at the eye of a storm which grew
fiercer still on Valentine's Day, 1989, the day the fatwa was
issued, forcing on him nearly a decade of fear, frustration and
guilt living under armed guard and moving from house to house.
He was asked to change his name for security reasons and
Rushdie chose a combination of the first names of two of his
favourite authors, Conrad and Chekhov, and, for 11 years, was
known as Joseph Anton.
Outside the "prisons" he inhabited with his protection
officers, violent protests raged, the novel's Japanese
translator was stabbed to death and a Muslim leader in Belgium
who criticised the fatwa was slain.
Early reviews posted online on Tuesday were mixed.
"Joseph Anton demonstrates Mr. Rushdie's ability as a
stylist and storyteller," wrote Michael C. Moynihan in The Wall
Street Journal. "It also serves as an important moral balance
But in the Guardian, Pankaj Mishra was less impressed with
what he called "failures of analysis."
"A peevish righteousness comes to pervade the memoir as
Rushdie routinely and often repetitively censures those who
criticised or disagreed with him," he said.
Much of the content of the memoir, published by Jonathan
Cape of the Random House Group, is deeply personal.
In one passage, Rushdie feared the worst when his son Zafar,
whom he was able to see only occasionally, failed to answer the
telephone at the appointed time. He also recounted the breakdown
of his second marriage to American novelist Marianne Wiggins and
the death of Clarissa in 1999.
Rushdie survived by engaging in the literary world - writing
novels, newspaper articles and reviews and receiving awards. He
travelled where he could and lobbied for his freedom, and
ironically became an international celebrity.
But in the dark early days, his frustration was clear and
friends who saw him then said he looked "a beaten man".
"I am gagged and imprisoned," he wrote in his journal. "I
can't even speak. I want to kick a football in a park with my
son. Ordinary, banal life: my impossible dream."