The author of The Golden House, Salman Rushdie, and I have lived through the same decades, but his life has been global and large; mine provincial and small. Mr. Rushdie was born in Mumbai, however his influences were both British and Indian. Everyone remembers that he lived in fear of his life as a Muslim under a fatwa because of his book, The Satanic Verses.
In The Golden House, Rushdie writes as a New Yorker. He tells a tale of a Mumbai family, hiding with new identities, under a mysterious veil of danger in New York City. Our narrator is a young American man raised by professorial and loving parents on the edges of the MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens. (They’re real, look it up.) The Golden family lives at the other end of the Gardens and these recent arrivals are endlessly fascinating to René, the son of Gabe and Darcy.
The Goldens were “reborn” when they left Mumbai to live in America with their adopted Roman names. The father claimed the name of Nero, with all its end-of-empire symbolism. His first son took the name Petronius, the second chose Lucius Apuleius (Apu) and the third became Dionysus or D. The names were perhaps a bad idea.
René had always wanted to be a film maker but his life seems too prosaic until it becomes entangled in the low key, but rather tragic, lives of this family with no mother and, seemingly, no past. This novel is, among other things, an homage to great movies/films – European, Hollywood, Bollywood. Salman Rushdie, bursting still with crackling intellectual energy pulls into his story references to the movies he has loved, the same movies we love, except for a few so highbrow they may never have been available in the hinterlands I have inhabited. These movies still live vividly in his prodigious memory and in the minds of many a film buff.
As the Golden family comes apart, because you really cannot escape the past, a politician known as the Joker, guess who, a clownish grafter, is running for the American Presidency. (The parallels between American Democracy and the fall of Rome are hardly subtle.) As we know the Joker wins the election.
This is a very readable novel, without the Muslim/Indian baseline which is foreign to most Americans and makes some Rushdie novels seem somewhat dense. The Golden House is a tour de force by a man who is comfortable in cultures around the globe and does not mind splashing around in his literary bona fides for our enjoyment. Eliot’s “Prufrock” and Shakespeare get cameos among the films – “I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.” Not yet, Mr. Rushdie, not yet.
Those of us who are shell-shocked with worry for American Democracy can find some comfort in the decision this British/Indian man made to put on his New York/American persona in order to help us through these chaotic days (and nights, and months, and years). What began as a comedy could easily become a classical tragedy. However, I think you will read this tragedy with a great big old smile on your face (at least some of the time).