Several writers have been sentenced to death and reprieved: Dostoyevsky, for example, Arthur Koestler, and the greatest of all South African writers, Herman Charles Bosman. The first participated at a time of revolution in a circle that read subversive literature, the second was a political conspirator, and the third shot his stepbrother dead in a quarrel. But none lived under the shadow of the executioner for a fraction as long as Salman Rushdie—if the Ayatollah Khomeini’s thuggish fatwa can properly be called a death sentence rather than a Mafia-like contract.

Joseph Anton is a memoir of Rushdie’s post-fatwa existence.1 Its title is the false name that he took when he went into police-protected hiding, and consists of the first names of two authors whom Rushdie admires...