My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

ARC Review: The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

Please Note:  I received an advanced reader's copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  This did not influence the opinions of my review in any way.  Also, I have linked up the cover to Amazon.  If you click on the links and ultimately buy the book, I will get a small fee.  This did not influence how I rated this book.

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
When powerful real-estate tycoon Nero Golden immigrates to the States under mysterious circumstances, he and his three adult children assume new identities, taking 'Roman' names, and move into a grand mansion in downtown Manhattan. Arriving shortly after the inauguration of Barack Obama, he and his sons, each extraordinary in his own right, quickly establish themselves at the apex of New York society.

The story of the powerful Golden family is told from the point of view of their Manhattanite neighbour and confidant, René, an aspiring filmmaker who finds in the Goldens the perfect subject. René chronicles the undoing of the house of Golden: the high life of money, of art and fashion, a sibling quarrel, an unexpected metamorphosis, the arrival of a beautiful woman, betrayal and murder, and far away, in their abandoned homeland, some decent intelligence work.

Invoking literature, pop culture, and the cinema, Rushdie spins the story of the American zeitgeist over the last eight years, hitting every beat: the rise of the birther movement, the Tea Party, Gamergate and identity politics; the backlash against political correctness; the ascendancy of the superhero movie, and, of course, the insurgence of a ruthlessly ambitious, narcissistic, media-savvy villain wearing make-up and with coloured hair.

The tale of the Golden family is a saga on par with no less than the rise and fall of the Roman Empire.  With the larger than life character of Nero Golden, you see a man who is trying to act, after years of criminal activity, like a legitimate, wealthy businessman.  He is surrounded by his  three grown sons (who each have crosses to bear, despite their privileges) and a scheming trophy wife, yet he is alone in his adopted country of America.   

This novel not only chronicles the downfall of a powerful man, but also of the United States, as both transform from the envy of the world into caricatures of crass reality-television based drama and politics.

What I Liked:
Narrative device:
The narrator, René, acts (mostly) as a fly on the wall, witnessing the story as though he is writing a movie script of the Goldens.  Author Salman Rushdie uses this device to show what voice overs might occur in various scenes, allowing the reader to hear the inner dialogue of the characters.

René is also drawn into the family's story by the seductive nature of wealth and power.  He is symbolic of all of us who swear we will never watch The Kardashians or The Bachelor, yet are curious of the spectacle.  We watch one episode and we are hooked!  Like anyone, René can't stop watching the ensuing drama and leaps into the fray.  His guilt is the collective guilt of a population of Americans who say they want civility and cooperation, but engage in the opposite behavior when no one is looking. 

New York State of Mind:
Reading this book reminds me of a Woody Allen movie.  With his advanced education and professor parents, René represents the elite that the far right rally against.  All of the characters constantly analyze themselves and each other.  The home of the Goldens and other families surround The Garden.  This idealized patch of land is where wealthy neighbors let their young children play, released from the concerns of the outer world.  Much like reality television, this close proximity also sets up each resident's life to be viewed for the consumption and entertainment of their neighbors.  There are many references to Hitchcock's Rear Window, which now seems like an omen warning of the easy voyeurism our society now indulges in. 

Nero's sons are each very conflicted.  The oldest, Petya, struggles with high-functioning Autism.  While some of Petya's habits are stereotypical, the author does show the social anxiety of people on the autism spectrum, and the ways these individuals can harness these traits to find success.  

Apu seems to be the most well-adjusted, yet he is plagued by the ghosts of the people his father trod upon to reach the top.  He is an artist who takes what he wants (like his father), even when it hurts Petya.  His guilt over his privilege causes him to behave recklessly, which leads him to his ruin.

D (short for Dionysus), is trying to come to grips with his/her gender identity.  Born male, she identifies as a woman, but is terrified of the surgery that would align her body with her identity.  I found this one of the most fascinating aspects of the novel.  The author very succinctly explains the bewilderment that many older Americans feel over Identity.  Younger people easily accept ideas such as gender fluidity, and multiple kinds of pronouns.  But many well-meaning people (who want to be supportive) have a hard time understanding the difference between what is a choice, and what is inborn in a person.  D's character allows the author to explore these issues without judging the characters on their confusion. 

Social Commentary:
Without naming names, Rushdie takes jabs at the recent presidential elections.  He uses the analogy of Bat Woman and the Joker to represent Hillary and The Donald.  The surreal feeling of the election season mirrors the dark turn America has taken during the Obama years.  Racist, sexist, and misogynistic opinions that would have been unacceptable to express just a few years ago, are proudly yelled from the rooftops.  As mass shootings become more common, solutions to gun violence, such as keeping firearms from mentally disturbed people, are blocked just because one side doesn't want the other to score a victory. 

What I Was Mixed About:
Female Characters:
Most of the women in this book are deeply flawed.  They are portrayed as manipulative, scheming people who use men to further their own interests.  Most of the women who become involved with the main male characters shy away from commitment, and want nothing to do with bearing children.  Once they do become close to men, they immediately try to emasculate them by constant criticism and absurd power plays.  Aren't there any good women in this world?  Perhaps this was the mindset that men unconsciously attached to Hillary?  Could this be why she wasn't elected? 



Release Date:  September 5th, 2017

Publisher:  Random House

Genre:  General Fiction

Length:  400 pages

Source:  NetGalley

Format:  ARC E-book

Recommendation:   This is an epic book that is sure to resonate with many Americans.  It encompasses the immigrant experience, political theater, and our obsession with wealth and power.


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2020 Reading Challenge

2020 Reading Challenge
MsArdychan has read 2 books toward her goal of 120 books.


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