The lights dimmed and mood music began to play as Salman Rushdie walked to the stage at PowerHouse Arena in Dumbo the other night as part of a week of events to launch his new memoir, Joseph Anton.
The title of the book is the pseudonym that Mr. Rushdie used while he was in hiding after Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for the author’s death following the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1989. The book, which is written in the third person, focuses mostly on the period when Mr. Rushdie was in hiding before the fatwa was lifted in 2002.
Mr. Rushdie stood at the microphone in a slightly baggy, somewhat wrinkled gray suit and a blue shirt unbuttoned at the neck.
“This is more less the beginning,” he said, before mumbling “a little repetitive now.” He appeared to read a printout of the excerpt from the memoir that appeared a few weeks ago in The New Yorker. Since we had read the piece in the magazine, and then read the slightly different, longer version that begins the book, we couldn’t help but agree with the author.
It was odd to watch somebody talk about himself and his life in the third person. But somehow, with Mr. Rushdie, it seemed fitting. As he eased into his performance, lines that did not seem funny when we read them in The New Yorker or in the actual book got laughs. Maybe the third time is the charm for finding the humor in a book about being targeted by fundamentalists.
“Why now?” asked The New Yorker’s fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, during a Q & A.
“Why not?” said Mr. Rushdie. The audience chuckled. Mr. Rushdie admitted that during the years in hiding, despite himself, there was a “disgusting little writerly voice saying ‘good story.’”
“Oh gosh, I’ve never been asked that question before,” Mr. Rushdie said, after someone in the audience asked how the West looks at Islam.
Mr. Rushdie’s publicist had promised us a few minutes to talk with the author—provided we only asked about the book and didn’t ask “random” questions about the Middle East or the author’s personal life.
Since the book is about the author’s personal life—and deals with the Middle East—we were unsure what was left. It turned out not to be a problem, as Mr. Rushdie rushed away before we could ask him for deep textual analysis.
But between the 633-page memoir in our bag, Ms. Treisman’s questions and questions from the audience (not to mention the fact that, post-fatwa, Mr. Rushdie is hardly a hermit in the New York literary scene), we felt pretty sure we’d heard plenty.