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.
It also discusses other aspects of his personal life, such as his friendship with other writers such as Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux, Bill Buford and Martin Amis and other public figures such as Alan Yentob. It also includes the story of the break-up of his relationship with his second wife, Marianne Wiggins, and the acrimonious nature of their split, and his third and fourth marriages (and break-ups) to Elizabeth West and Padma Lakshmi.
The memoir is unusual in the sense that Rushdie writes about his life as 'Joseph Anton' in the third person rather than the first person.
The book was announced as one of the 14 titles in the longlist for the 2012 Samuel Johnson Prize on 18 September 2012.