As a cis-gendered, white male there are certain things it is dangerous to have opinions about. I have privilege and by fielding an opinion I am perceived in some circles to be wielding it like some sort of patriarchal cudgel. That is unless it fits into the same dusting of reality of the group of people I am talking to. This reaction may not be unfair but to my mind it is entirely unhelpful in facilitating the discourse that we as humans are required to have in order to grow the understanding between us as individuals.
I say all this because Salman Rushdie’s The Golden House is about identity, both political and personal. More importantly it is about the cost of attempting to hammer something so rich and necessarily fluid into solid shape. It does this by following the limitlessly wealthy Golden Family from 2008 to 2016 with the inauguration of Barack Obama and the election of…whatever you call this thing that is happening to us now.
It is narrated by a man who asks us to call him René (in the same way we are asked to call the narrator of Moby Dick Ishmael), an aspiring filmmaker who, upon, meeting the Golden family, views them as interesting enough to be his meal ticket to creating the great and mighty screenplay he’s been working on since college.
The Golden House rolls with the crack and rumbling of something fated. Which would be a compliment if René wasn’t among the single most heavy-handed and needless foreshadowers in the history of post-modern literature. And maybe that is a Rushdie thing, he did it some in Midnight’s Children but it was different, more subtle, and with this being only my second Rushdie book I’m just going to go ahead and blame René. For the first, oh, let’s say 10% of the book, no single character can be introduced or interacted with without some obnoxiously bleak variation of “How little I knew…”. And then it suddenly stops and the book becomes, well, a book, and not the weird, tedious thing it seemed so hell bent on becoming the page before. And it’s good, like, really good.
It manages to be lightly surreal, discursive, and avant-garde in its narrative style, but never to the point of being confusing.
Rushdie makes some beautifully articulated concerns and criticisms against certain sects of the outrage culture that seems to exist in the current, I hate this word, millennial safe spaces. Writes some sad but wonderful segments allegorically placing the rise of the 45th president into the world of DC comics. (I think it is somewhere in the back end chapter 24, find a copy at a book store and just read it, it is wonderful).
There is so much in this story I want to write down, whole sections I want to quote and share with you just so you can read it and love it and experience that moment I did when my eyes first ran across the page. Trying to pin down any one thing in this book feels something near overwhelming because the thoughts that it carries with it are so heavy that to dissect them would birth a novel in its own right and that is not a review, but an intellectual mania.
And if that doesn’t convince you to read it, then I’m not sure there is anything I could say that ever would.
P.S. I was given this book by the publisher Random House. It sits primly on my bookshelf and is quite lovely and I am grateful for not having to pay for it personally (kids are expensive).
“How does one live amongst one’s fellow countrymen and countrywomen when you don’t know which of them is numbered amongst the sixty-million-plus who brought the horror to power, when you can’t tell who should be counted among the ninety-million-plus who shrugged and stayed home, or when your fellow Americans tell you that knowing things is elitist and they hate elites, and all you have ever had is your mind and you were brought up to believe in the loveliness of knowledge, not that knowledge-is-power nonsense, but knowledge is beauty, and then all of that, education, art, music, film, becomes a reason for being loathed…” ― Salman Rushdie, The Golden House
There is a part in “The Golden House” where Rushdie references “Starman, the Purple One, Bird On A Wire…” etc. Later on in the book Rushdie writes about the crack that lets the light get in. Did you notice that? I was reading these lines on about November7, the 1 year passing of Leonard Cohen. Do you think that Rushdie was paying homage to Cohen?
Oh, absolutely. I’ve read that he included it because he was writing the book when Cohen died. Rushdie presented a PEN award to Cohen years ago and considers his picture with him a prized possession.