First Sentence: 'Joseph Anton'
As Bonasera in “The Godfather” believed in America, I believe in first sentences. At bookstores I still pick up books that might interest and buy them based on their first sentence. I did that recently with “Joseph Anton,” Salman Rushdie's memoir of his post-fatwa existence. Here's how it begins:
Afterwards, when the world was exploding around him and the lethal blackbirds were massing on the climbing frame in the school playground, he felt annoyed with himself for forgetting the name of the BBC reporter, a woman, who had told him that his old life was over and a new, darker existence was about to begin.
I liked the rhythm of it, and the roundabout way of beginnning at the major moment, but through memory and annoyance rather than momentousness. On first reading I didn't even pick up on the Hitchcock reference, but two pages later, Rushdie names and expands upon the metaphor. He writes about the scene outside the schoolhouse in “The Birds”: the children chanting, Tippi Hedren smoking, and the single black bird alighting on the jungle gym. He writes about how that first bird is singular, individual. No theory is needed to explain it. The theories are necessary only when the mass of birds gather and attack.
He equates his experience with radical Islam with that first black bird alighting on the jungle gym.
Before the fatwa.