Book Review – The Golden House

by Salman Rushdie

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Book Review by Joni Dee

All that Glitters is Not Gold – Brilliant New Book by Rushdie

I normally start a book review with an introduction, but since Salman Rushdie needs none, I’ll get straight to the plot: Powerful real-estate tycoon Nero Golden immigrates with his three adult children into a grand mansion in downtown Manhattan. They arrive after a catastrophe had occurred to them in the “old country” which is forbidden to name.

The narrator, and ultimately the unintended protagonist, is their Manhattanite neighbour and family confidant, René. He takes upon himself to tell the chronicles of the “Golden house”, and in a sense becomes the family historian, who is much involved in shaping their story.

The Goldens are everything you could dream of, and in a sense their appeal pulls René into their world: They are socialites, rich and influential. The house is packed with intrigue and mischief, of brotherly rivalry and everything takes a turn to the worst upon the introduction of Vasilisa, Nero’s second gold-digger wife.

Rushdie does well to tackle to significant subjects of our everyday lives through the narrative of the Goldens, and the introduction to their world, as examples:

  1. The constant struggle of East and West. The old country of the Goldens and modern Western Manhattan life are constantly on an axis of strife. Full with Eastern idioms and concepts, with a terrorist act that sets the motion of our tale, he subtly plays the strings of the Clash of Civilizations. It is very apparent with the allegory of the old tale of the appointment with death in Samarra, vis a vis Manhattan and Mumbai (deliberately referred to as Bombay throughout the novel, the old degrading Western mispronunciation).
  2. The folly of the latest American elections, along with criticism of the elected president, is constantly in the background. The Goldens arrival is shortly after the inauguration of Obama – a time when they are established at the apex of the NY society. As the family starts crumbling down, the narrator describes the madness of Gotham, who is falling to the flute of the coloured hair candidate represented by the green haired Joker. The more vulgar he gets the more they like him.

However, the Batman reference is not the only cinematic allegory. René being an aspiring filmmaker, and the son of two professors intellectuals, means that he incorporate many literary, pop culture, and cinematic references as he tells his story. This is a brilliant way of getting the reader to identify with the scenes, and painting a vivid image of them. We also encounter many allegories to popular folk tales such as Baba Yaga and Vasilisa, Vasilisa with the Golden Tress, and more as another way of spicing up the civilization bridge. While throughout the pages the author spares us nothing of his criticism of many aspect of the American life “Guns were alive in America, and death was their random gift.”

In a way, by actively getting involved with the Goldens, René is not just telling his tale but is in a voyage to self-discovery. “The trouble with trying to escape yourself is that you bring yourself along for the ride.” Tells him Apu, one of the brothers, before he embarks on his own catastrophic journey. It seems like René will discover this soon enough himself.

This is a brilliant novel, seems very different than anything Rushdie has ever written, but not shy of his usual opinionated self and social criticism (“Lies can cause tragedies, both on the personal and the national scale… Telling the truth can also cost you what you love” René recalls he had told Apu in one of their talks, this is apropos the 2016 elections). If one word of criticism is due to the novel itself, is that it’s too long, many of the monologues are overstretching, trying to convey a point which has already been taken. Nonetheless – shining 5 stars!