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Culture

Heart of Darkness



Heart of Darkness: Salman Rushdie's fatwa memoir Joseph Anton will be out next week. The New Yorker carried a lengthy extract, which was both moving and riveting. When he was in hiding, the British Secret Service asked him to choose an alibi, a fake name. In his book, written in the third person, Rushdie tells us why he chose Joseph Anton. "He thought of writers he loved and tried combinations of their names. Vladimir Joyce. Marcel Beckett. Franz Sterne. He made lists of such combinations, but all of them sounded ridiculous. Then he found one that did not. He wrote down, side by side, the first names of Conrad and Chekhov, and there it was, his name for the next eleven years. Joseph Anton. . .  He had spent his life naming fictional characters. Now, by naming himself, he had turned himself into a sort of fictional character as well. Conrad Chekhov wouldn't have worked. But Joseph Anton was someone who might exist. Who now did exist. Conrad, the translingual creator of wanderers, of voyagers into the heart of darkness, of secret agents in a world of killers and bombs, and of at least one immortal coward, hiding from his shame;and Chekhov, the master of loneliness and of melancholy, of the beauty of an old world destroyed, like the trees in a cherry orchard, by the brutality of the new, Chekhov, whose Three Sisters believed that real life was elsewhere and yearned eternally for a Moscow to which they could not return : these were his godfathers now. It was Conrad who gave him the motto to which he clung, as if to a lifeline, in the long years that followed. In the now unacceptably titled The Nigger of the Narcissus, the hero, a sailor named James Wait, stricken with tuberculosis on a long sea voyage, is asked by a fellow-sailor why he came aboard, knowing that he was unwell. "I must live till I die - mustn't I?" Wait replies. In his present circumstances, the question felt like a command. "Joseph Anton, " he told himself, "you must live till you die. "

Salman Rushdie’s fatwa memoir Joseph Anton will be out next week.
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