The Golden House by Salman Rushdie : A Review
Rating : 3/5
Date of Publication : 5th September, 2017
The Golden House was my third book of Salman Rushdie. I literally jumped at the opportunity to read this book as his previous two books that I had read had a huge impact on me. My first tryst with Rushdie was “Shame” during my college days. The novel, narrating the relationship between Zulfikar_Ali_Bhutto and General Zia-ul-Haq mesmerized me with his writing style portraying social commentary, magical realism and romance all into one book. The wounded character of Sufia Zinobia Hyder who embodies shame with the fire blazing through her left me reeling. “Shalimar the Clown”, my second read, was a wedding gift to me by my husband’s grandfather. The story, narrating the issues that transformed the beautiful state of Kashmir to a place filled with unrest and terrorism was a very insightful read. The doomed love of Shalimar for Boonyi and his gradual transformation from a loving child to a revengeful adult was impeccably chronicled by Rushdie. Hence, I was keen for my book review request to be accepted by Random House. I started the read with great anticipation and enthusiasm but by the climax, my mood was far from joyful and was bordering on relief.
The Golden House narrates the story of a real estate tycoon who has relocated to New York with his three sons and no sign of a wife. The family reinvents themselves by adopting names of mythological characters and Roman emperors – the father Nero Golden with sons Petronius “Petya” Golden, Lucius Apuleius “Apu” Golden and Dionysus “D” Golden – and with a social life and wealthy exuberance matching any Roman king. However, the family over-zealously protects their origins and past with each son narrating unreliable accounts of their life. The novel follows the undoing of the Golden family as chronicled by René, a neighbor and a filmmaker who has managed to insinuate himself with the family with the purpose of creating his “golden story”. Soon, René finds himself an unwitting accomplice in the complicated domestic politics of the Golden family thus elevating himself from the status of an outsider. In this story spanning across continents and narrated over decades, Salman Rushdie pens a tale of deceit, romance, transformation, revenge and murder.
Faithful to his usual style of writing, The Golden House is an allegorical tale cleverly woven with mythical, political and geographical issues. The Goldens’ arrival at their New York manor coincides with the historical day of swearing in of Obama as the President of United States. The tragic tale of the Goldens culminate with the arrival of green-haired white-skinned red-slashed mouth giggler as the President. Rushdie tries to draw parallels between the Goldens and the American society – Nero Golden, the patriarch, providing for his three sons and with a newly married young and “Melania”-esque Slovenian Russian wife named Vasilisa. Through his three sons, differing from each other like chalk and cheese, Rushdie explores various issues – an agoraphobic Petya, high on the autism spectrum yet a billionaire by his own rights through various computer games, the brooding and macabre artist Apu struggling with his past, the youngest D Golden fraught with his sexuality and physical transformation. Rushdie creates a strong caricature of the presidential elections with reference to the present obsession with comic heroes and also touches upon issues like Gamergate , Gun control and the influence of social media.
Like other Rushdie novels, the last part takes us to Bombay in India (currently called Mumbai) as the past of Nero Golden is slowly revealed. The growth of Nero as a successful business magnate is closely associated with the growth of Bombay. Rushdie takes us through the real estate boom of Bombay, the rise of the D Company, the Bombay bombings of 1993, the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and even through Benami transactions and the introduction of the Aadhar card. As this strikes closer to home, I enjoyed this part the most in the novel.
The first quarter of the novel where Rushdie establishes the identity of the Golden family members and introduces Vasilisa was a bit slow and tedious to read. I felt that this was mostly because of Rushdie venturing into Roman, Greek, Indian and Russian mythologies to draw parallels with the main characters and their identities. It was a struggle for me to complete this part and move on. Even the rest of the book was progressing at a leisurely pace as if the author was hesitant to approach the main issue – the past of Nero Golden. However, various snippets within the novel sparkling with Rushdie’s brilliance as a political satirist gave me the motivation to move on till the end.
Overall, the book is a slow read and I do not feel this book will appeal to many readers due to its dawdling pace, undue deviation from the plot and complex writing albeit sprinkled with hidden talent. I would also advice regular Rushdie readers to proceed with caution as this book is a difficult read and not rewarding enough for the effort.
P.S I have been given a e-copy of the book for the purpose of review by NetGalley and Random House and this in no way influences my opinions.