Book Review of “The Golden House” by Salman Rushdie.
To preface this review, I have to begin by somewhat taking umbrage with the following parts of the publisher’s synopsis of this book (which appeared just like this in the “Read it Forward” newsletter):
“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.” … “Meanwhile, like a bad joke, a certain comic-book villain embarks upon a crass presidential run that turns New York upside-down.”
What bothers me here is the emphasis on the political aspect of this book, which I found to be merely a blip on the radar. True, at first glance, people might think that Nero Golden is Rushdie’s attempt to build a somewhat convoluted version of today’s POTUS. However, although there are some striking parallels, I don’t believe that this was Rushdie’s intention, particularly because there are hardly any references to the 2016 elections and its results. What he does do is quite amusing, in that Rushdie nicknames the two final candidates as Bat Woman and The Joker (green hair and all), and uses these images as elements in campaign cartoons developed by René and his girlfriend. In fact, other than this, the book almost totally avoids political commentary.
On the other hand, if you ask me, I think this book is more about the narrator René, and I must agree with the publisher fully when they say, “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.” In fact, if I could boil it down even further, I would say that this is practically a coming-of-age novel. In other words, René’s idea for this film is the vehicle for him to pass through numerous trials and tribulations – including some he experiences only second hand – in order to reach his true self.
However, there’s another aspect here, in that this is also a cautionary tale of wealth and power, particularly those who achieve this through corruption. The book delves into how powerful they can get, as well as how all that money cannot stop time, nor avoid the same types of tragedies and difficulties that can befall everyone, from the greatest to the lowliest among us. Even so, this is still René’s story, and through it, I think Rushdie is trying to say that when it comes to evil or corruption, there really is no such thing as a truly innocent bystander, because inaction has no fewer consequences than getting involved, unless your only action is to resist and fight. Although René initially denies his involvement in the Golden family, there is something about them, their secrets and their quirks that seem to draw him into their lives. Aside from this, René’s own life situation changes, forcing him to become almost dependent on the Golden family, which thereby draws him further into their world, despite his constant attempts to pull away.
This is only the second novel by Rushdie that I’ve read, and I can see now why he’s gained such popularity and acclaim, but I like this Rushdie better than the other one. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t as if I didn’t enjoy his previous novel, but it was very fantasy oriented and speculative, which can turn some people off. This book, however, is firmly based in reality, with all of the elements noted above, that are particularly relevant to today. More importantly, even though all this sounds like it could be extremely heavy, Rushdie brings to this narrative enough lightness and humor to keep it from depressing his readers, while keeping it strictly in the genre of drama. Even when Rushdie’s prose seems to meander somewhat, I truly felt that this book was much more focused than his previous novel. This is probably because of the lack of fantastical elements in this book, but this didn’t stop Rushdie from including some very thought provoking passages, some of which boarded on the poetic. For example, there’s one part where one of the Golden sons is discussing if he should or shouldn’t have sex reassignment surgery that struck me as spectacularly insightful regarding personal identity. This is just one way in which Rushdie reveals his brilliance together with how amazingly widely read he is, without every sounding patronizing or superior. All of this is just to say that I think that I enjoyed this book even more than “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights,” and I believe it deserves a full five out of five stars.
“Golden House” by Salman Rushdie published by Random House, release date September 2, 2017 is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon, Walmart (Kobo) eBooks and audiobooks (USA, Canada & Australia), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literacy), as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.