In my earlier attempts to read books written by Salman Rushdie, I ended up feeling exhausted by the over-written prose. Since it has been long since I last read any of his works, I had been looking forward to his latest release, The Golden House.
The book promised to be Rushdie’s return to realism with hints of mention of Donald Trump. These two were the prime reasons why I picked the book at the first opportunity.
The blurb on the back of the book reads:
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, becoming the queen to his king—a queen in want of an heir.
Our guide to the Goldens’ world is their neighbor René, 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.
Set against the strange and exuberant backdrop of current American culture and politics, The Golden House also marks Salman Rushdie’s triumphant and exciting return to realism. The result is a modern epic of love and terrorism, loss and reinvention—a powerful, timely story told with the daring and panache that make Salman Rushdie a force of light in our dark new age.
The book is principally the story of Nero Golden and his sons that defines the inspiration of the book’s title.
The Golden House opens on the memorable day of Obama’s inauguration that left me on a nostalgic high, further soaring my expectations from the book.
Set in modern day, the book gets a refreshing spin being narrated by a young filmmaker, René who steps in playing a spy of the Golden family and slowly assumes the roles of being the chronicler and the philosopher in the book. His strength lies in being flawed, complicit yet self-aware.
René often visualizes the events as scenes from his documentary film. As a result, many parts are written in the screenplay format. The imagery, eye for detailing of the sources of light and dashes of wry humour, help inject renewed zest in some of the otherwise dreary parts of the book.
The plot revolves around the key theme of transition, reinvention, transformation and metamorphosis.
The age-old question, “Is it possible to be both good and evil?” is both asked and addressed in the book. The contradicting forces of the good and evil taking over the souls of the book’s many characters determine the course of the plot, quite like the real world.
I particularly enjoyed the monologues of the spider, Baba Yaga that subtly reveal the real motives of the masked villains in the plot. I was touched by the hard-hitting monologue of D Golden regarding (his) own sexuality.
The book is magnificently insightful, rife with plenty of room for thought, analysis and inspires further reading of the ancient literature (lurching between Roman history and Greek mythology), open talk about gender identity, sensitive treatment of the patients suffering from mental health issues, is populated with fantastic movie recommendations (given the narrator’s profession) that run like snapshots in a number of scenes and some heady references from literature and art.
The book paints a panoramic portrait of loneliness, terror, jealousy, revenge, rationalization, sex change, cowardice and courage, patriarchy and of the modern world in the leadership of the 45th president of the USA.
Though the above attributes gift the reader a deeply knowledgeable insight of the writer’s views of the modern world, it more often than not made me lose track of the main plot. The frequent introduction of new characters diluted the main storyline, making the appearances of the lead characters too far apart in the book.
The book highlights the importance of putting our past at rest and making peace with it before trying to transit into a newer life.
The book benefits from a number of determined, less vulnerable female characters who are clear about their priorities in life and are particularly ‘beautiful’ in every which way.
Rushdie’s brilliant storytelling comes to fore in the parts of political satire where he addresses Trump as ‘the Joker‘ never shying away from being expressing his views on his leadership and the bizarre political scene.
“What is a good life? What is its opposite? These are questions to which no two men will give the same answers. In these our cowardly times, we deny the grandeur of the Universal, and assert and glorify our local Bigotries, and so we cannot agree on much.”
My main criticism is the over-abundance of the foreshadowing throughout the book that not only stole the joy of reading but often made the book unbearable and exhausting. The plot often seems lost in the vast expanse of the stories within stories and digressions of the many unnecessary characters.
While the Goldens’ emphasize on keeping their origins a secret the author reveals the country and the city that shall not be named early on. I would have enjoyed the book better had that mystery been revealed at a later place in the book. The book fails in telling too much about the importance, rise and fall of the Golden family than actually showing it happening.
The book has a rich language with a lucid narration coming from the master storyteller, Salman Rushdie. The book is slow-paced and fails at leaving a lasting impression once you put the book down.
“True is such a twentieth-centuary concept. The question is, can I get you to believe it, can I get it repeated enough times to make it as good as true. The question is, can I lie better than the truth.”
Though the story failed to keep me invested, the brilliant writing succeeded in doing the needful. This book is for relaxed reading with considerable allowance for revisiting the ancient history as also the contemporary politics in the light of an understanding of the many difficulties looming large over the human race.
About the Book:
Title – The Golden House
Author – Salman Rushdie
Publisher – Penguin Random House India
Genre – Fiction
ISBN – 978-0670090297
Pages – 368
Price – INR 699 (Get the best deal here)
About the Author: Sir Salman Rushdie is the multi-award winning author of twelve previous novels: Midnight’s Children which won the Booker Prize (1981) and the Best of the Booker Prize (2008). He has also published a memoir, a collection of short stories and three works of non-fiction. His books have been translated into over forty languages. He is a former president of American PEN.
* Thank you Penguin Random House for providing me with a review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Head here for more book reviews and rules of reviewing books on my blog.