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The Georgia Straight - - Contents - > BY ALEXAN­DER VARTY

Leg­endary au­thor Sal­man Rushdie de­scribes how The Golden House, his “big, so­cial, panoramic” new novel about love and New York City, in­sisted on be­ing writ­ten at a break­neck pace.

The first time we spoke to Sal­man Rushdie, he asked to make the call, which he placed from “a se­cure and undis­closed lo­ca­tion”. At the time, the Mum­bai-born au­thor was un­der threat of death, thanks to a fatwa placed on his head by Shia cleric Ruhol­lah Khome­ini.

Times have changed, as Rushdie is happy to ad­mit when he picks up the phone. “I’m in an in­se­cure and dis­closed lo­ca­tion,” he says, chuck­ling. “I’m at home in New York.”

Al­though the 1989 fatwa was never for­mally lifted, Rushdie has now out­lived Khome­ini, and Is­lamic fun­da­men­tal­ists ap­pear to have turned their at­ten­tion else­where. Ar­guably, though, the world is no hap­pier now than it was back then, only now Rushdie feels he has more to fear from forces closer to home—the voices of hate that have been given promi­nence since the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump.

The rise of “a gi­ant green-haired car­toon king” is part of the back­drop be­hind Rushdie’s 12th novel, The Golden House, which has just hit book­stores world­wide. Trump hadn’t even won the Repub­li­can pri­maries when Rushdie con­ceived of its plot, but the au­thor says he had very lit­tle re­vi­sion to do fol­low­ing the events of Novem­ber 8, 2016.

“I’m sorry to say that I’d guessed right,” he ad­mits. “I wish I’d guessed wrong, but I had a feel­ing that this was what was go­ing to hap­pen. And, to tell you the truth, even if he [Trump] hadn’t won, the forces that were un­leashed dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign were clearly not go­ing to go back into the bot­tle.…as we see in this most re­cent Char­lottesville episode, those forces felt le­git­imized by Trump in some way, and en­er­gized, and here’s the con­se­quence.”

But Rushdie also stresses that The Golden House is not pri­mar­ily a po­lit­i­cal novel. It’s char­ac­ter-driven, he opines, with the main fig­ures be­ing a mys­te­ri­ous, Mum­bai-born bil­lion­aire—nero Julius Golden—and his three sons, plus var­i­ous wives and mis­tresses and the young would-be film­maker René, who nar­rates.

Oh, and New York City, the most lov­ingly ob­served and clearly de­lin­eated char­ac­ter of all. Rushdie might raise some mild ob­jec­tions about The Golden House hail­ing from the same lin­eage as The Great Gatsby, The God­fa­ther, and The Bon­fire of the Van­i­ties—he doesn’t think Tom Wolfe’s brick-sized opus is very good—but it’s a pos­si­bil­ity he has him­self con­sid­ered.

“What I set out to do was a some­what dif­fer­ent kind of novel than I’ve done be­fore—a big, so­cial, panoramic novel,” he ex­plains. “The novel be­fore this one, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-eight Nights, was a sort of fairy tale of New York, so I thought I wanted to write a com­pletely dif­fer­ent New York novel: a novel that was rooted in real life. That was the start­ing point. And I did think about all those books.

“With Gatsby, ac­tu­ally, there’s a couple of ref­er­ences to it in the text, largely be­cause of the theme of the rein­ven­tion of the self—which of course is a very big theme of The Great Gatsby, and a clas­sic theme of Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture any­way. In this case, here’s this In­dian fam­ily try­ing to rein­vent it­self, rather grandil­o­quently, in Amer­ica, so there was that echo of Gatsby. Bon­fire is not my favourite book, but what it does do is try to cap­ture a mo­ment in the life of the city, and I sup­pose I was try­ing to do some­thing the same, but with a dif­fer­ent mo­ment. So, yeah, I think those echoes are there. The Gatsby echo is prob­a­bly con­scious, but the oth­ers not so much.”

New York is also present in The Golden House’s break­neck pace— whether viewed as a com­edy of man­ners, crime fic­tion, or a bil­dungsro­man cen­tred on René’s moral mat­u­ra­tion, it sprints al­most from start to fin­ish.

“It shocked me, in a way, by the ve­he­mence and speed with which it showed up,” the 70-year-old Rushdie says. “More or less im­me­di­ately af­ter I fin­ished the last novel, this book be­gan to in­sist on be­ing writ­ten at once.”

He adds that the book’s prin­ci­pal lo­ca­tion—the Green­wich Vil­lage oa­sis known as the Gar­dens—is a real place, and as soon as he’d iden­ti­fied that as a site worth memo­ri­al­iz­ing, the fic­tional Gold­ens ar­rived and set up res­i­dence. “At that point,” Rushdie con­tin­ues, “the book be­gan to un­fold at, for me, quite a sur­pris­ing rate. And I think that has some­thing to do with the ur­gency of New York City.”

But for all the in­ter­twin­ing plot lines, the be­tray­als and machi­na­tions, the for­tunes lost and won, The Golden House ends on a sat­is­fy­ingly ru­mi­na­tive, even pos­i­tive, note. It’s fair to say that while all that is Golden ends as dust, René sur­vives with his bet­ter na­ture bat­tered but in­tact. Love, it would ap­pear, con­quers all. “I do think it’s one of the things that re­veals our best na­ture to our­selves,” Rushdie muses. “And I’m not just talk­ing about ro­man­tic love. I’m talk­ing about the love of fam­ily, the love of friends, even the love of coun­try. And then there’s ro­man­tic love. All those things give one strength and hope.”

Rushdie’s paean to l’amour brings to mind a cer­tain Bea­tles song, one whose sen­ti­ments were once deemed hope­lessly sen­ti­men­tal.

That no­tion of love as the ul­ti­mate panacea “was stupidly pro­posed at the end of the ’60s,” Rushdie says, “but it ac­tu­ally is all there is.”

Sal­man Rushdie joins Van­cou­ver Writ­ers Fest artis­tic di­rec­tor Hal Wake in con­ver­sa­tion at the Chan Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing Arts on Tues­day (Septem­ber 19).

Sal­man Rushdie says his panoramic new novel The Golden House isn’t overtly po­lit­i­cal, but its break­neck nar­ra­tive mir­rors our own tur­bu­lent times.

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