Rushdie has garaged the magic carpets and dived deep
into 21st-century America, with its concerns about
identity, guns, the 1 percent and even superheroes.
his new book, "The Golden House," the
Indian-born, British-raised and American-adopted Rushdie
sought to write a realistic novel focused on the
contemporary moment. It’s, he says, about "what’s
going on, what’s in people’s heads, what’s eating
at people right now."
that means a presidential candidate from New York, a
brilliant man on the autism spectrum and another who
thinks he might become a woman. There are references to
Bollywood, private islands, Jessica Chastain, people who
claim Barack Obama is Muslim, and fatal shootings.
narrator asks: "What is heroism in our time? What
is villainy? How much we have forgotten, if we don’t
know the answer to such questions anymore."
master writer has been an American citizen for less than
two years. He’s one Muslim-born immigrant who can’t
be deported: "I slipped in under the wire," he
says dryly, talking by phone Tuesday from New York.
comment is followed by a laugh, but becoming a U.S.
citizen was far from a light decision: "Once you’ve
made that decision, that’s who you are." Even if,
as he says, "in this time when the movies are being
taken over by superheroes and supervillains, it seems as
so is America."
his novel’s satirical edge and implied criticism of
some current issues, at age 70, Rushdie doesn’t ignore
history. And he’s more than willing to keep fighting
for what he believes and writing novels that depict
people as more than cartoon cutouts.
live in a world in which we’re encouraged to be simple
things. Literature is one of the places you can go to
that shows how human nature really is."
fact, some of the new book’s themes are classic.
References to politicians and such function as
background, Rushdie says. The foreground is about a man
who has taken a new identity, Nero Golden, and brought
his sons to New York to start a new life.
will be a rather tragic story, made obvious by the fact
that the father has changed his first name to that of a
Roman emperor who was the last of his line (and who had
his own mother executed). Rushdie says the story is
realism pushed in the direction of Greek tragedy.
"Operatic realism," he says.
of constant allusions to ancient gods or rulers
(although there are some), Rushdie uses movies as the
prominent motif, comparing one gangster to "The
Godfather," a disturbed ranter to actor Klaus
Kinski and N.Y. facades to "Rear Window." A
would-be president is called the Joker, of Batman fame.
had been thinking about his Golden family for maybe a
decade and finally realized they could move to New York.
His narrator who observes the mysterious Goldens (to
some degree like Nick Carraway in "The Great
Gatsby") became not a writer but a would-be
been a kind of film addict all my life," Rushdie
says. "I was finally able to use some of that in
the book and to play certain kinds of cinematic games
with the way the book is written."
wanted to divert sharply from 2015’s "Two Years
Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights," saying he
feels he’s taken his fabulist writing as far as he
can, noting that he’s always been interested in
modernism although he’s often placed in a "magic
literary reputation had been cemented in 1981 with
"Midnight’s Children," which has twice been
voted as the best Booker prize winner of all. Knighted
by Queen Elizabeth II, the author became more of a
household name after 1988’s "The Satanic
Verses," which offended the Ayatollah Khomeini, who
called for Rushdie’s assassination.
hasn’t been in hiding for many years — during a 2002
interview he told me he lived an ordinary life and in
2009, when he was to receive the St. Louis Literary
Award, he said he’d rather talk about the literary
content of "The Satanic Verses" rather than
the politics around it. Yet the identity theme in his
new novel may remind the reader of the years the author
was known as "Joseph Anton" to security
overt, though, is one fictional character’s struggle
with his gender. Rushdie says the character agonizes
over possible transitioning much more than two of the
author’s own friends did. Although he expresses great
sympathy for the issue, his book pokes a bit of fun at
the confusing choice of various pronouns.
personal link to "The Golden House" is that it
almost functions as his own sort of immigrant novel, a
great ongoing, energizing tradition in American
an immigrant American too. I can bring stories from
is a rich time for new writers here, he says.
whatever the theme or subject, Rushdie seeks space for
readers to form their own conclusions:
the novel does best is to allow readers access to worlds
which might be worlds they would not otherwise have
access to and allow them to live in that world and make
up their minds what they think about it."