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February 15, 2018 BOOKLIST
Titles similar to The Golden House
Gardens native René, an aspiring filmmaker, quickly discerns that the enigmatic Goldens are the perfect subject for a screenplay. He ingratiates himself with his new neighbors, gains entry to their fortress, and closely monitors their dramatic, tragic, and resounding struggles over the next eight years even as he is inexorably pulled into the molten heart of this doomed kingdom-in-exile.
Rushdie’s galvanizing epic of the fall of civilizations attacked from within is spiked with references to ancient Greece and Rome, the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, and a litany of recent American mass and police shootings and other horrific crimes. It is also electric with literary echoes from Homer, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and Fitzgerald, and vivid with cinematic tributes to Buñuel, Bergman, and Hitchcock. This contextual amplitude is matched by narrative complexity as René experiments with different approaches to a story that is forever intensifying. He tinkers with form and facts, aiming for “Operatic Realism” as he recounts ruthless Nero’s seduction by the coldly calculating Russian, Vasilisa; autistic Petya’s hidden life as a brilliant video-game inventor; Apu’s increasing fame and susceptibility to visions; the two brothers’ disastrous rivalry over Ubah Tuur, a “serenely elegant” Somali sculptor; and D’s paralyzing struggle over his (or her) gender identity, a theme Rushdie handles with delving sensitivity and forthright inquiry—as does Arundhati Roy in another major novel of the season, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
Crimes of passion and greed escalate; the Goldens’ past (which opens a portal onto India’s systemic corruption, international criminal gangs, and terrorism) catches up to them; and the body count rises as René, in love with his gifted colleague, Suchitra Roy, harbors his own explosive secret. His entanglement with lies and subterfuge inspires a vehement critique of our descent into an “age of bitterly contested realities” in which facts and those who illuminate them—scientists, historians, and journalists—are vociferously and perversely condemned as elitist and fake. As the 2016 presidential campaign roars to its, for many, shocking conclusion, René describes one candidate as the Joker and the other as Batwoman, declaring, “America had left reality behind and entered the comic-book universe.”
There is a scorching immediacy and provocation to Rushdie’s commanding tragedy of the self-destruction of a family of ill-gotten wealth and sinister power, of ambition and revenge, and the rise of a mad, vulgar, avaricious demigod hawking “radical untruth” and seeding chaos. The Golden House is a headlines-stoked novel-on-fire sure to incite discussion. But it is also a ravishingly well-told, deeply knowledgeable, magnificently insightful, and righteously outraged epic that poses timeless questions about the human condition. Can a person be both good and evil? Is family destiny? Does the past always catch up to us? In a time of polarizing extremes, can we find common ground? Will despots and their supporters be forever with us? Will humankind ever learn? Can story and art enlighten us? As Rushdie’s blazing tale surges toward its crescendo, life, as it always has, rises stubbornly from the ashes, as does love.
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