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“In the secret grassy quadrangle of the Gardens, I crawled before I could walk, I walked before I could run, I ran before I could dance, I danced before I could sing, and I danced and sang until I learned stillness and silence and stood motionless and listening at the Gardens’ heart, on summer evenings sparkling with fireflies, and became, at least in my own opinion, an artist…a would-be writer of films.”

cover golden houseSet in the Greenwich Village enclave of the Macdougal-Sullivan Historic District, Salman Rushdie’s latest novel is pure Rushdie, while also being pure New York. His young narrator, Rene Unterlinden, the son of Belgian academics, has lived in the Macdougal-Sullivan Gardens all his short life while working to become a filmmaker. The spacious house beside him, owned for over twenty years by a mystery man who has never been seen on the property, has been in the care of professionals – despite its highly desirable address. On the day of President Obama’s inauguration, an “uncrowned seventy-something king from a foreign country and his three sons take over their castle…exuding a heavy cheap odor, the unmistakable smell of crass, despotic danger, the kind of scent that warned us, look out for this guy, because he could order your execution at any moment, if you’re wearing a displeasing shirt, for example.” Nothing hints at the family’s place of origin, and the head of the household has no wife or even any photos of a wife. Though “he made huge, clumsy efforts to be sociable and neighborly,” he was found to be “a man deeply in love with the idea of himself as powerful.”

Salman_Rushdie_2014Rene confesses that when looking at this man, he “thought of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster,” but before long, Rene begins thinking that this man might, at last, be the unique film subject he has been searching for. Fewer than twenty pages later, the reader learns that the new residents are from Mumbai and that they have survived a terrorist attack which took place there in November, 2008. About a month after that, the family vanished from India for New York, their escape to their “safe” address in New York City having been planned for many years. Now calling himself Nero Julius Golden, with sons named Petronius (Petya), Lucius Apuleius (Apu), and Dionysus (D), the new resident of the Gardens reminds Rene of the wicked king in a fairy tale who kept his sons prisoners in a house of gold. He admits, however, that “in our age of bitterly contested realities, it is not easy to agree upon what is actually happening or has happened, on what is the case, let alone upon the moral or meaning of this or any other tale.” What is known about the sons is that Petya is high on the autism spectrum and loves computer games and martinis. Apu is a gifted painter of portraits who has learned sorcery, Practical Kabbalah, Buddhist Judaism, and Mysore yoga. Their half-brother Dionysus is uncertain about whether he is transgender, transsexual transvestite, or cross-dresser, though one person suggests that “if you don’t identify with woman-ness or man-ness, maybe you’re nonbinary.”

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Looking across the Macdougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic Disrtrict in Greenwich Village. Photo by Douglas Elliman

 Rushdie is obviously having the time of his life as he creates and develops these characters, and he certainly enjoys the opportunity to set his story in New York in the heady days immediately after the Obama election. With his immense intelligence, his wild, non-stop imagination, and his ability to see current events as the basis of satiric commentary, he includes music, films, novels, folk tales, and classical references to expand his scope, and as he develops his story, behind the mask of Rene, the focus falls more firmly on Nero Golden, even as Nero begins to age. When Nero falls for the machinations of a young and practiced Russian flirt, the action begins to become more personal, even as Rene begins to uncover the source of the immense wealth which is supporting the family. By 2012, Nero is regarded as a new power player in the construction and development business, and he has had business dealings with the Mafia in major cities throughout the country. When Rene becomes the tragic victim of fate, Nero invites him to live in his house, and event that Rene siezes as an opportunity to be “the wooden horse inside the gates of Troy.”

Another view of the Macdougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District.

Another view of the Macdougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District.

As Rene observes major changes in the lives of the Golden family, however, he is still in his twenties, and he has had little experience dealing with high-level, world-class manipulators. The time frame speeds up in the middle of the novel, as death begins to stalk the Goldens. Nero’s family gets smaller and smaller, and Rene becomes more important as the focus of the story. He is aware that there are gaps in the Golden family narrative and some skeletons in the closet. Eventually, Rene’s girlfriend suggests that he write a “mockumentary,” instead of a documentary, making up what he does not know. “You have an imagination,” she said. “Imagine it.” And Rene suddenly remembers “A golden story…For the Romans, a tall tale, a wild conceit. A lie.”

A Mondrian-like house within the district is the source of some complaints.

A Mondrian-like house within the district is the source of some complaints.

When US elections roll around in 2012, Nero is furious about the choice of Romney for Presidential candidate against Obama, and by 2015, he is at his wits’ end: “The Joker was on TV, announcing a run for president, along with the rest of the Suicide Squad….Unable to watch the green-haired cackler make his improbable declaration, I turned to the crime pages and read about killings.” New and ominous characters make their appearance and become threats to Nero and his family, even as two women, girlfriends or former girlfriends of the Golden boys and Rene, become influential players in the action. When the 2016 elections occur, Rushdie is in his element.

As he concludes his novel and ties up the loose ends, he offers this: “Let my little story have its final moments in the midst of whatever macro garbage is around as you read this, whatever manufactroversy, whatever horror or stupidity or ugliness or disgrace. Let me invite the giant victorious green-haired cartoon king and his billion-dollar movie franchise to take a back seat and let real people drive the bus….For eight years we persuaded ourselves that the progressive, tolerant, adult America embodied by the president was what America had become, that it would just go on being like that….[But] America’s secret identity wasn’t a superhero. Turns out it was a supervillain.” While this novel is more contemporary in its focus than many of Rushdie’s others, it is brilliant, thoughtful, literary, and often very funny, one of Rushdie’s most easily enjoyable.

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Some autistic people have been helped by their relationships with felines. Petya Golden’s “cat” was an Alpine lynx.

Photos.  The author’s photo appears on https://commons.wikimedia.org/

The garden picture of the Macdougal-Sullivan Historic District may be found on https://www.dnainfo.com     Photo by Douglas Elliman.

The aerial view of the Macdougal-Sullivan Historic District is found on https://www.foodsofny.com/

A Mondrian-like house in the historic district was the source of some controversy.  http://spgarchitects.com

Some people on the autism spectrum were helped by their relationship with felines.  Petya Golden decided to befriend an Alpine Lynx.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynx

THE GOLDEN HOUSE
REVIEW. PHOTOS. Book Club Suggestions, Historical, Literary, Social and Political Issues, US Regional
Written by: Salman Rushdie
Published by: Random House
Date Published: 09/05/2017
ISBN: 978-0399592805
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

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