Whenever I buy a new Rushdie, I’m always a bit scared as I feel that he is an inconsistent author. Sometimes I think his books are absolute masterpieces and sometimes I find them dull. Thankfully Rushdie continues the winning streak with his last book Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights and manages to top that with The Golden House.
The Golden House encapsulates a lot of themes which are common in Rushdie’s novels, mainly migration, Indian culture and politics, however Rushdie does things a bit differently and disguises the narrative as a family saga, something which he has touched upon, especially in Shame but here he does it differently. For starters The Golden House is a departure from his trademark magical realism and is grounded in reality. Secondly the family saga concerns migrants.
The family in question are the Goldens, originally a family from Bombay, they emigrate to New York once the mother is killed and arrive on the eve of Obama’s election in 2008. As this is a Rushdie novel there are passages dealing with identity and fitting in within society. The Goldens all give themselves Roman names, which they abbreviate in order to fit within society.
Rushdie tackles the book through an interesting angle for the narrator is Rene, an aspiring film student of emigrant parents who is amused by the Goldens and decides to create a documentary/film about them. It is worth noting that Rushdie channels a lot of his usual pop culture references through Rene, mostly both mainstream and obscure films, kudos for name dropping Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives. As to be expected the family falls apart when the background history of the Goldens is revealed.
I see The Goldens as a representation as the last nine years of American history. The ‘Golden’ age of Obama triumphing over George W. Bush and the good times that followed The point when Trump (here represented as The Joker – a psycho clown) trumping of Obama happens is when the Goldens are in trouble. At this point Rushdie even includes a short nod to Brexit as part of ‘the world gone to pieces’ theme.
However it is not all doom. Both Rene and The Goldens share a garden, a guess that’s paradise and despite all the events the graden is not affected and Rene does lead a good life in the end, I assume that this is Rushdie’s way of saying that through perseverance the US may not go the way of the Goldens and the paradise/garden may be intact.
As I stated before the theme of identity is also important in The Golden House. The third child, who goes by the name of D is unsure of his sex and there are lengthy digressions in the notion of gender, not to mention that his partner works in the Museum of Identity, whic help enrich D’s knowledge of the subject and decide on his transition. Incidentally this is the second time I have read about the dilemma that the Hijira goes through and I’ll say that Rushdie does a better job.
Personally I thought this novel was great. It was an insightful read, kept me hooked and this time, the pop references didn’t bother me. I did enjoy this angrier version of Rushdie and hopefully it is kept up with future novels.