Afterward, when the world was exploding around him, he felt annoyed with himself for having forgotten the name of the BBC reporter who told him that his old life was over and a new, darker existence was about to begin. She called him at home, on his private line, without explaining how she got the number. “How does it feel,” she asked him, “to know that you have just been sentenced to death by Ayatollah Khomeini?” It was a sunny Tuesday in London, but the question shut out the light. This is what he said, without really knowing what he was saying: “It doesn’t feel good.” This is what he thought: I’m a dead man. He wondered how many days he had left, and guessed that the answer was probably a single-digit number. He hung up the telephone and ran down the stairs from his workroom, at the top of the narrow Islington row house where he lived. The living-room windows had wooden shutters and, absurdly, he closed and barred them. Then he locked the front door.
Pankaj Mishra finds this memoir lacking in significant ways. His review resonated with my own assessment of Rushdie's life and work:
Certainly, Rushdie's neat oppositions between the secular and the religious, the light and the dark, and rational literary elites and irrational masses do not clarify the great disorder of the contemporary world. They belong to an intellectually simpler time, when non-western societies, politically insignificant and little-known, could be judged solely by their success or failure in following the great example of the secular-humanist west; and writing literary fiction could seem enough to make one feel, as Tim Parks wrote in a review of Rushdie's novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet, "engaged on the right side of some global moral and political battle".
Indeed, such complacencies of imperial intellectual cultures were what Rushdie had bravely attacked in his brilliant early phase. "Works of art, even works of entertainment," he had pointed out in 1984, "do not come into being in a social and political vacuum; and … the way they operate in a society cannot be separated from politics, from history. For every text, a context." No text in our time has had contexts more various and illuminating than The Satanic Verses, or mixed politics and literature more inextricably, and with deeper consequences for so many. In Joseph Anton, however, Rushdie continues to reveal an unwillingness or inability to grasp them, or to abandon the conceit, useful in fiction but misleading outside it, that the personal is the geopolitical.