Rushdie used "Joseph Anton" as a pseudonym while in hiding following the fatwa that had been issued by Ayatollah Khomeini, the spiritual and political leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the midst of criticism by some Muslims and a widespread controversy over Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses (1988). He chose the name to honor the writers Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. Rushdie was annoyed when police officers called him by the more casual nickname, "Joe." The memoir is an account of his life under the fatwa, which lasted for ten years until 1998.
The book was announced as one of the 14 titles in the longlist for the 2012 Samuel Johnson Prize on 18 September 2012.