Drama swirls around immigrant family in Salman Rushdie’s ‘Golden House’

In his latest novel, Salman Rushdie tells a tale of a wealthy Mumbai family taking up residence in New York’s Greenwich Village in a post-Obama world.

“The Golden House”

by Salman Rushdie

Random House, 380 pp., $28.99

An immigrant who comes to the U.S. thinking he’s landed in a place “outside history, outside time” is in for a nasty surprise.

That’s one take-away from Salman Rushdie’s new novel.

Here’s another: “In our age of bitterly contested realities it is not easy to agree upon what is actually happening or has happened.”

In “The Golden House,” Rushdie (“Midnight’s Children,” “The Satanic Verses”) tells a tale of a wealthy Mumbai family taking up residence in New York’s Greenwich Village to escape their murky past. They consist of patriarch Nero Golden, who “wants to be connected to nothing in his history,” and his sons Petronius (“Petya” for short), Apuleius (Apu) and their much younger half-brother Dionysus (“D”).

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Their move to the U.S. was prompted in part by the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008, which killed the older boys’ mother. (The exact fate of D’s long-lost mother remains a mystery.) But there’s more to the Goldens’ story than that, as narrator René Unterlinden learns.

René, in his 20s, is an aspiring filmmaker who dreams of directing a screen epic “dealing with migration, transformation, fear, danger, rationalism, romanticism, sexual change, the city, cowardice, and courage.” In the Goldens, he feels he’s found his perfect subject, but his involvement with the family pulls him into hazard-strewn moral and emotional terrain.

All three sons have their issues. Petya is “an extraordinary, vulnerable, gifted, incompetent human being” coping with high-functioning autism, agoraphobia and alcoholism. Apu, a successful artist, is his brother’s flamboyant, gregarious opposite: “a magic creature, an escapee from a fairy tale, though nobody could say for certain whether he was charmed or doomed.” D is “a Dorian Gray type … bordering on the effeminate” who’s drawn to the idea of a sex-change, although his girlfriend’s encouragement of this seems only to panic him.

Into this unusual all-male circle steps a figure out of Russian folklore, Vasilisa, who, employing highly devious means, manipulates elderly Nero into marrying her and giving her a child.

Set against the…

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