Excerpt from The Golden House by Salman Rushdie, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Golden House

A Novel

by Salman Rushdie

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie X
The Golden House by Salman Rushdie
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2017, 400 pages
    Jun 2018, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Matt Grant
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Print Excerpt

The Macdougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District—to give the Gardens their full, overly sonorous name—was the enchanted, fearless space in which we lived and raised our children, a place of happy retreat from the disenchanted, fearful world beyond its borders, and we made no apology for loving it dearly. The original Greek Revival–style homes on Macdougal and Sullivan, built in the 1840s, were remodeled in Colonial Revival style in the 1920s by architects working for a certain Mr. William Sloane Coffin, who sold furniture and rugs, and it was at that time that the rear yards were combined to form the communal gardens, bounded to the north by Bleecker Street, to the south by Houston, and reserved for the private use of residents in the houses backing onto them. The Murray mansion was an oddity, in many ways too grand for the Gardens, a gracious landmark structure originally built for the 1 0 Salman Rush d i e prominent banker Franklin Murray and his wife Harriet Lanier Murray between 1901 and 1903 by the architectural firm of Hoppin & Koen, who, to make room for it, had demolished two of the original houses put up in 1844 by the estate of the merchant Nicholas Low. It had been designed in the French Renaissance manner to be both fancy and fash-ionable, a style in which Hoppin & Koen had considerable experience, gained both at the École des Beaux- Arts and, afterwards, during their time working for McKim, Mead & White. As we later learned, Nero Golden had owned it since the early 1980s. It had long been whispered around the Gardens that the owner came and went, spending perhaps two days a year in the house, but none of us ever saw him, though some-times there were lights on in more windows than usual at night, and, very rarely, a shadow against a blind, so that the local children decided the place was haunted, and kept their distance. This was the place whose ample front doors stood open that January day as the Daimler limousine disgorged the Golden men, father and sons. Standing on the threshold was the welcoming committee, the two dragon ladies, who had prepared everything for their master's arrival. Nero and his sons passed inside and found the world of lies they would from now on inhabit: not a spanking- new, ultra- modern residence for a wealthy foreign family to make their own gradually, as their new lives unfolded, their connections to the new city deepened, their experiences multiplied— no!— but rather a place in which Time had been standing still for twenty years or more, Time gazing in its indifferent fashion upon scuffed Biedermeier chairs, slowly fading rugs and sixties- revival lava lamps, and looking with mild amusement at the portraits by all the right people of Nero Golden's younger self with downtown figures, René Ri-card, William Burroughs, Deborah Harry, as well as leaders of Wall Street and old families of the Social Register, bearers of hallowed names such as Luce, Beekman, and Auchincloss. Before he bought this place the old man had owned a large high- ceilinged bohemian loft, three thousand square feet on the corner of Broadway and Great Jones Street, and in his far- off youth had been allowed to hang around the edges of the Factory, sitting ignored and grateful in the rich boys' corner with Newhouse and Carlo De Benedetti, but that was a long time ago. The house contained memorabilia of those days and of his later visits in the 1980s as well. Much of the furniture had been in storage, and the reappearance of these objects from an earlier life had the air of an exhumation, implying a continuity which the residents' histories did not possess. So the house always felt to us like a sort of beautiful fake. We murmured to one another some words of Primo Levi's: "This is the most immediate fruit of exile, of uprooting: the prevalence of the unreal over the real."

There was nothing in the house that hinted at their origins, and the four men remained obstinately unwilling to open up about the past. Things leak out, inevitably, and we found out their story in time, but before that we all had our own hypotheses about their secret history, wrapping our fictions around theirs. Even though they were all fairish of complexion, from the milky-pale youngest son to leathery old Nero, it was clear to everyone that they were not conventionally "white." Their English was immaculate, British-accented, they had almost certainly had Oxbridge educations, and so at first we incorrectly assumed, most of us, that multicultural England was the country that could not be named, and London the multiracial town. They might have been Lebanese, or Armenian, or South Asian Londoners, we hypothesized, or even of Mediterranean European origin, which would explain their Roman fantasies. What dreadful wrong had been done to them there, what awful slights had they endured, that they went to such lengths to disown their origins? Well, well, for most of us that was their private affair, and we were willing to leave it at that, until it was no longer possible to do so. And when that time came, we understood that we had been asking ourselves the wrong questions.

Excerpted from The Golden House by Salman Rushdie. Copyright © 2017 by Salman Rushdie. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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