Author: Salman Rushdie
Publisher: Random House
Publishing Date: 2017
Number of Pages: 380
“On the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration, an enigmatic billionaire from foreign shores takes up residence in the architectural jewel of “the Gardens”, a cloistered community in New York’s Greenwich Village. The neighborhood is a bubble within a bubble, and the residents are immediately intrigued by the eccentric newcomer and his family. Along with his improbable name, untraceable accent, and unmistakable whiff of danger, Nero Golden has brought along his three adult sons: agoraphobic, alcoholic Petya, a brilliant recluse with a tortured mind; Apu, the flamboyant artist, sexually and spiritually omnivorous, famous on twenty blocks; and D, at twenty-two the baby of the family, harboring an explosive secret even from himself. There is no mother, no wife; at least not until Vasilisa, a sleek Russian expat, snags the septuagenarian Nero, a becoming the queen to his king – a queen in want of an heir.
Our guide to the Golden’s world is their neighbor Rene, an ambitious young filmmaker. Researching a movie about the Goldens, he ingratiates himself into their household. Seduced by their mystique, he is inevitably implicated in their quarrels, their infidelities, and, indeed, their crimes. Meanwhile, like a bad joke, a certain comic-book villain embarks upon a crass presidential run that turns New York upside-down.
Salman Rushdie is a highly decorated author who has developed quite a reputation with his magical portrayal of reality through his works like The Satanic Verses, The Moor’s Last Sigh, and the Booker of all Bookers, Midnight’s Children. However, it was only of late that I have barely heard of him and his works. His works are something that I can honestly say are a deviation from what I usually read but his colorful prose is something that has arrested my interested.
It was quite a pleasant surprise when Rushdie opted to take a step back into more realistic themes with his latest work, The Golden House. Rushdie also featured prominently in a Times Magazine piece promoting his latest work, piquing my curiosity even though I originally didn’t plan on availing a copy of the book. Given the circus-like state of events in the American political arena, I am quite interested on how Rushdie will portray it in his latest work.
The Golden House places the literary microscope on Nero Golden and his family. Shrouded in mystery, he, along with his three sons, moved to New York City’s Gardens. While residing in the Gardens, ambitious filmmaker Rene resolved to relate the family’s story. Rene immediately got caught up in the whirlwind of events that took place at the Golden’s residence, becoming every bit involved in the family’s drama, and inevitably, their history. Who are they? What brought them in the Gardens? Where did they come from? What secrets do they keep?
On the surface, The Golden House is a quintessence of the American Dream through the perspective of a wealthy migrant family. The Goldens, just like most protagonist in Rushdie’s other works, belong to the high society. They live in opulence but the origins of their wealth cannot be traced. It is one of the mysteries that baffled Rene, drawing him closer to the heart of the family’s secret. In this aspect, the book echoes similarities with Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.
Just as promised by Rushdie during his Times interview, his book took swipes at the state of the American politics, going as far back as Barack Obama’s term as president when the Goldens moved to the Big Apple. Rushdie also expressed his distaste at the current administration, equating Donald Trump with the “Joker” while referring to Hilary Clinton as the “Batgirl”. However, these topics were not as extensively dealt with as I hoped it would be, or at least that was what I perceived from Rushdie’s Times interview.
Beyond politics, the book also highlighted a plethora of subjects such as psychological health, identity, and homosexuality. Although each one was aptly dealt with, Rushdie placed a particular emphasis on the idea of identity. Nero’s third son, Dionysius, is the highlight of this theme. His attachment with the Museum of Identity’s curator exonerated him from his origins and his family’s expectations, making him metamorphose into who he really is inside.
On further scrutiny, identity is a prevalent question of each of the members of the Golden family. Each one tries to understand who he is inside and who they are on the natural scheme of things. In trying to cover up who they truly are, the Goldens lost their sense of themselves, none more affected of it than the middle child, Apu, who resolved to learn more as to the reasons why they had to move. Unfortunately, his amateurish sleuthing led to the renaissance of the Golden’s enemy, sniffing them all the way to their current residence.
The story is deflating as it is interesting. Compared to other Rushdie works, it is a more straightforward narrative, bereft of the usual phantasm that shroud Rushdie’s works. On some levels, it worked to the book’s advantage because the drama is hinged on reality. Rushdie’s brilliance is still showcased in his perceptive portrayal of human behavior. However, the book is a mundane work that lacks the essential Rushdie aplomb. The book is dense, so dense that it faded into a sea of mediocrity.
By hinging the book on more current events, Rushdie has written a narrative that is relevant to current events. Its satirical attributes make for a pleasurable reading. However, one can’t help but notice how the book mirrored some elements of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and even Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. I lament the fact that upon scratching the surface, the story is about father who is controlling his three sons.
On a positive note, if there is one element that Rushdie commendably assimilated into his newest work is his unassailable love for his native India. Even though the story is set in the United States, the story always go back to India as Rushdie never fails to weave India, its history and its culture, into his works. His prose also naturally flowed. However, his sense of his origins and his powerful storytelling are not enough to salvage what can be deemed as a lackadaisical work.
In his other works, Rushdie proved himself capable of handling literary taboos such as religion and politics. He plays around these themes and most of the time he succeeds. However, that is not the case for his latest work, which happens to be his 13th. The number thirteen really does ring an ominous bell and it proved on point in this case. The Golden House is not even at par with Rushdie’s standards. I know he could do more and the book didn’t do his brilliance any justice. I am hoping that his magical storytelling will once again pick up
For now, happy reading!
Recommended for those who have an innate appreciation of satirical works and those who enjoy swipes at political circuses.
Not recommended for those who love Rushdie’s brand of magical realism, those who are devout Donald Trump fanatics, and those who take offense at political jokes.
About the Author
To know more about Salman Rushdie, click here.