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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About this Book

Print Excerpt

That the charade of their newly adopted names worked at all, let alone for two entire presidential terms, that these invented American personae living in their palace of illusions were so unquestioningly accepted by us, their new neighbors and acquaintances, tells us much about America itself, and more about the strength of will with which they inhabited their chameleon identities, becoming, in all our eyes, whatever they said they were. In retrospect one can only wonder at the vastness of the plan, the intricacy of the details that would have had to be attended to, the passports, the state ID cards, the drivers' licenses, the SSNs, the health insurance, the forgeries, the deals, the payoffs, the sheer difficulty of it all, and the fury or perhaps fear that drove the whole magnificent, elaborate, cockeyed scheme. As we afterwards learned, the old man had worked on this metamorphosis for perhaps a decade and a half before he put the plan into action. If we had known that, we would have understood that something very large was being concealed. But we did not know. They were simply the self-styled king and his soi-disant princes, living in the architectural jewel of the neighborhood.

The truth is that they didn't seem so odd to us. People in America were called all sorts of things—throughout the phonebook, in the days when there were phonebooks, nomenclatural exoticism ruled. Huckleberry! Dimmesdale! Ichabod! Ahab! Fenimore! Portnoy! Drudge! To say nothing of dozens, hundreds, thousands of Golds, Goldwaters, Goldsteins, Finegolds, Goldberrys. Americans also constantly decided what they wanted to be called and who they wanted to be, shedding their Gatz origins to become shirt-owning Gatsbys and pursue dreams called Daisy or perhaps simply America. Samuel Goldfish (another golden boy) became Samuel Goldwyn, the Aertzoons became the Vanderbilts, Clemens became Twain. And many of us, as immigrants—or our parents or our grandparents—had chosen to leave our pasts behind just as the Goldens were now choosing, encouraging our children to speak English, not the old language from the old country: to speak, dress, act, be American. The old stuff we tucked away in a cellar, or discarded, or lost. And in our movies and comic books—in the comic books our movies have become—do we not celebrate every day, do we not honor, the idea of the Secret Identity? Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, Diana Prince, Bruce Banner, Raven Darkhölme, we love you. The secret identity may once have been a French notion—Fantômas the thief, and also le fantôme de l'Opéra—but it has by now put down deep roots in American culture. If our new friends wanted to be Caesars, we were down with that. They had excellent taste, excellent clothes, excellent English, and they were no more eccentric than, say, Bob Dylan, or any other sometime local resident. So the Goldens were accepted because they were acceptable. They were Americans now.

But at last things began to unravel. These were the causes of their fall: a sibling quarrel, an unexpected metamorphosis, the arrival in the old man's life of a beautiful and determined young woman, a murder. (More than one murder.) And, far away, in the country that had no name, finally, some decent intelligence work.


This was their untold story, their exploding planet Krypton: a sob story, as things kept secret often are.

The grand hotel by the harbor was loved by everyone, even by those too poor ever to pass through its doors. Everyone had seen the interior in the movies, the movie magazines, and their dreams: the famous staircase, the swimming pool surrounded by lounging bathing beauties, the glittering corridors of stores including bespoke tailors who could imitate your favorite suit in an afternoon once you had picked out your preferred worsted or gabardine. Everyone knew about the fabulously capable, endlessly hospitable and deeply dedicated staff for whom the hotel was like their family, who gave to the hotel the respect due to a patriarch, and who made all who entered its hallways feel like queens and kings. It was a place to welcome foreigners, yes, of course, from its windows the foreigners looked out at the harbor, the beautiful bay that had given the unnameable city its name, and marveled at the great array of seagoing vessels bobbing before them, motorboats and sailboats and cruise craft of every size, shape and hue. Everyone knew the story of the birth of the city, how the British had wanted it precisely because of this beautiful harbor, how they had negotiated with the Portuguese to marry the princess Catherine to King Charles II, and because poor Catherine was not a beauty the dowry had to be pretty damn good, especially because Charles II had an eye for a beautiful girl, and so the city was part of the dowry, and Charles married Catherine and then ignored her for the rest of his life, but the British put their navy in the harbor and embarked on a great land reclamation scheme to join up the Seven Isles and built a fort there and then a city and the British Empire followed. It was a city built by foreigners and so it was right that foreigners should be welcomed in that grand palace of a hotel looking out on the harbor which was the whole reason for the city's existence. But it was not only for foreigners, it was too romantic a building for that, stone- walled, red- domed, enchanted, with Belgian chandeliers shining down upon you, and on the walls and on the floors the art and furniture and carpeting from every part of that giant country, the country that could not be named, and so, if you were a young man wanting to impress your love you would somehow find the money to take her to the lounge facing the sea and as the sea breeze caressed your faces you would drink tea or lime juice and eat cucumber sandwiches and cake and she would love you because you had brought her into the city's magic heart. And maybe on your second date you would bring her back for Chinese food downstairs and that would seal the deal. The grandees of the city, and the country, and the world made the grand old hotel their own after the British left— princes, politicians, movie stars, religious leaders, the most famous and most beautiful faces in the city, the country and the world jostled for position in its corridors— and it became as much a symbol of the city that could not be named as the Eiffel Tower, or the Colosseum, or the statue in New York harbor whose name was Liberty Enlightens the World. There was an origin myth about the grand old hotel which almost everyone in the city that could not be named believed even though it wasn't true, a myth about liberty, about overthrowing the British impe-rialists just as the Americans had. The story went that in the first years of the twentieth century a grand old gentleman in a fez, who just happened to be the richest man in the country that could not be named, once tried to visit a different, older grand hotel in the same neighborhood and was refused entry on account of his race. The grand old gentleman nodded his head slowly, walked away, bought a substantial piece of land down the road, and built upon it the finest and grandest hotel ever seen in the city that could not be named in the country that could not be identified, and in a short period of time put out of business the hotel which had refused him entry. So the hotel became, in people's minds, a symbol of rebellion, of beating the colonizers at their own game and driving them into the sea, and even when it was conclusively established that nothing of the sort had really happened it changed nothing, because a symbol of freedom and victory is more powerful than the facts.

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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