The world has turned a cacophony of unrelenting voices, where people in high offices as well as pedestrian consorts battle every day to be one up. The lines have blurred as issues have bulldozed their way, against most conventions, right into our living rooms, and administrative, as well as clandestine, powers are clashing regularly, and vehemently, across continents over the fatal flames of terrorism, corruption, religion and human rights. Bringing together these critical elements under a sprawling tale of love, ambition, deception and collapse is what ‘The Golden House’ is all about.
On one silent day, when Nero Golden, the enigmatic, octogenarian patriarch of a family of four, tip-toes into a lavish mansion in downtown Manhattan, the neighbours’ antennae go up without exception. Nothing is known about the family – its past, its roots, its business, its relations. Nero’s three sons, Petya, Apu and D wander under equally mysterious pseudonyms and their circle remains sanctified of any unfamiliar trouble. Filthy rich and unusually secretive, they, at once, catch the fancy of their 20-something neighbour, René, an aspiring filmmaker whose search for a subject to feed his magnum opus had, till then, been elusive. The façade might have worked well had not a Russian missile come surreptitiously and hit the Goldens with scorching heat one evening – the ravishing Vasilisa. The tremors she sends across the bricks of the Golden House impales the garbs of its inhabitants and in their vulnerable faces, we gradually see, a lot of us.
Chronicling the USA of Obama and Trump, Sir Rushdie writes with his trademark erudition and flamboyance, taking digs at the political mayhem the American soil has gotten embroiled into. From outright flimsy reasons triggering furore, to the politically-driven human rights issues, and to even likening the current Presidential rule to the Orwellian 1984 world, he spins the febrile web of the socio-political fabric of America with surgical precision.
Spring, the last of the ice gone from the Hudson, and happy sails breaking out across the weekend water. Drought in California, Oscars for Birdman, but no superheroes available in Gotham. The Joker was on TV, announcing a run for president, along with the rest of the Suicide Squad. There was still more than a year and a half of the current president’s term to run but I was missing him already and nostalgic for the present.
Closer home, he doesn’t spare the vandals of now-inevitable secularistic dissent and terrorist attacks. 26/11 Mumbai is invoked, and so is the abhorrent slavery to corruption, and the mastery of Sir Rushdie lies in bringing these two worlds, that of America and India, so tantalizingly close, and to a common ground of the bizarrely chaotic. While oscillating between the cinematic advent of Marvel Comics binge and the 1993 Mumbai blasts, Gamergate and beef ban, one recognizes this work to be a dazzling collage of double zeitgeist, not to be missed.
On the humane and moralistic aspects, Sir Rushdie’s prose swells like air and fills the narrative space with believable characters that are strong yet flawed. I found the Golden brothers to bear uncanny resemblance to the three brothers in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov; why, even the eldest one is named Petya! Well, the genteel characterization of their strengths and fears, their shrewdness and vulnerability, points towards a place where they reflect the society we live in and in some way, become our kin. One might be tempted to give a bear hug to D who grapples under an identity crisis, or an evening to Petya whose agoraphobia warrants a walk in the nearby Gardens, or a lift to Apu whose demons come to haunt him. Whether it is the fight to keep the René -Suchitra relationship alive or the urge to stall the arrival of Alzheimer into Nero’s life, under the pitch-dark skies of seduction and treachery, lies and loss, the reader shall encounter redeeming sunshine of gender acceptance, infallible love, filial loyalty and intellectual futility.
The river of his thought was no longer clear, its water an opaque and muddied flow, and within it his consciousness was slowly losing its grip on chronology, on what was then, what now, what was waking truth and what had been born in the fairyland of dreams. The library of time was disordered, its categories jumbled, its indexes scrambled or destroyed.
Making our narrator, René, a filmmaker, turns out to be a very smart move. Apart from sprinkling generous movie recommendations like Volker Schlöndorff’s ‘Swann in Love’ , Robert Wiene’s ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ and Satyajit Ray’s ‘Pather Panchali’, the narrator’s profession facilitates to keep the viewfinder largely unrestricted despite the limitation of a first-person account. His role provides the book’s structure, a legitimate trail of imagination wherein he can relay a scene which he wasn’t privy to and yet, pass it with the stamp of veracity.
Can a person be both good and evil?
The Golden House is a towering novel, carrying sagacious meditation on human emotions and desires, and weaving their many threads into weapons that slither too close, issuing a resounding warning on the incredible proximity we have with one another and reminding us, no place, no matter how far and how conducive, can absolve us of our past.
[Note: Thanks to Netgalley, Salman Rushdie and Random House for providing me an ARC.]
[Image courtesy http://www.shutterstock.com]