The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

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It is hard for new ideas to come into the world.

More than anything else in the novel, I think ‘it is hard for new ideas to come into the world’, hits you between the eyes. How true and how terrible. I went into this hoping it wasn’t all some sort of Trump novel the way some have been toting it to be, to tiresome to have to deal with all that in reading escapes. It’s not entirely though there are echos of what is going on now. The control Nero has over his sons because of his vast wealth and power is terrible to read, how hard to step out of the shadow their father’s dominance creates. There is a line that alludes to not really needing to be aware of just what his father does in his work, anymore than the child of a dentist needs to know about the teeth his dad works on that really humored me. What a way to muddy the waters but humorous too because really- what better way to distance oneself from the ugliness of where the money you so enjoy comes from.

Each of Nero Golden’s sons are damaged,  Petya with ‘cracked intelligence’ which I really want to discuss, Apu the second born is a wildly talented artist but lazy, addicted to the lavishness his father’s money affords, D is the youngest, whose earlier disloyalty to Petya and Apu’s mother is never forgotten, whose place isn’t as solid as his older brothers and whose identity has been insubstantial from his very birth. Each son is burning, each Golden will be consumed by the flames of their father’s fire. René  is the filmaker who has found his subject and obsession in the Golden Family, but he doesn’t keep an artistic distance, not even close. Enter a woman with her own agenda, the threat of the ‘princes’ being tossed from their throne and helpless to prevent the destruction she brings.

Why did the Golden Men flee their homeland? Can you really re-invent yourself, wash yourself clean of the past? Isn’t that the reason so many come to America, a sort of rebirth, but how much of your country and past haunts you? Can you escape yourself, your fate?

I have a love/hate relationship with autism spectrum characters. My own adult son has Asperger’s, lives on his own, is in college and studies game design, while there were some things that mirrored my own child, certainly he doesn’t have ‘cracked intelligence’ and isn’t ‘inept’. I realize Rushdie took Petya and exaggerated many of the struggles those on the spectrum face but I felt he was made to be far more helpless. Again, exaggerated. Naturally, the umbrella is wide and each person is an individual as we all are. I feel sometimes people that write about autism do damage while glorifying the ‘giftedness’ on one hand, on the other they insult the individual as helpless. Not so in my experience. Petya is just a character, and he is ‘hemmed in by himself’ I get that. It’s such a difficult world to navigate for all of us, those on the spectrum often come off in literature as bumbling idiots- which they are not. It does get frustrating and insulting to those on the spectrum when such characters are always falling apart, even in their successes. Okay, off my little soapbox. I can allow the author his artistic liberties, one could well argue Petya’s environment (wealth) does more damage- the majority of those on the spectrum don’t have the best and can’t hide in their gardens, they grow better having to navigate the world.

There is so much happening, gender identity, how others pushing people in a direction they may not have otherwise gone can damage the soul. Why for some, maybe it’s not necessary to be this or that- it is provocative and challenging. Every reader will have different feelings reading this novel. The past isn’t the only thing discarded, Nero isn’t easy to hate outright- one can find tenderness, scratching the surface. For a book that isn’t out until September it’s hard to hold my tongue because there is ugliness and truth- but we ask ourselves, what is the truth anymore? Are times in America really this ugly and vulgar? Are we so naked and lost? These are questions only the readers can answer for themselves. The beginning of the novel didn’t grab me, but stay with it because deeper to the center is where you find the heart and it’s on fire.

Publication Date: September 5, 2017

Random House

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