The Golden House

The Golden House

by Salman Rushdie


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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A modern American epic set against the panorama of contemporary politics and culture—a hurtling, page-turning mystery that is equal parts The Great Gatsby and The Bonfire of the Vanities


On the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration, an enigmatic billionaire from foreign shores takes up residence in the architectural jewel of “the Gardens,” a cloistered community in New York’s Greenwich Village. The neighborhood is a bubble within a bubble, and the residents are immediately intrigued by the eccentric newcomer and his family. Along with his improbable name, untraceable accent, and unmistakable whiff of danger, Nero Golden has brought along his three adult sons: agoraphobic, alcoholic Petya, a brilliant recluse with a tortured mind; Apu, the flamboyant artist, sexually and spiritually omnivorous, famous on twenty blocks; and D, at twenty-two the baby of the family, harboring an explosive secret even from himself. There is no mother, no wife; at least not until Vasilisa, a sleek Russian expat, snags the septuagenarian Nero, becoming the queen to his king—a queen in want of an heir.

Our guide to the Goldens’ world is their neighbor René, an ambitious young filmmaker. Researching a movie about the Goldens, he ingratiates himself into their household. Seduced by their mystique, he is inevitably implicated in their quarrels, their infidelities, and, indeed, their crimes. Meanwhile, like a bad joke, a certain comic-book villain embarks upon a crass presidential run that turns New York upside-down.

Set against the strange and exuberant backdrop of current American culture and politics, The Golden House also marks Salman Rushdie’s triumphant and exciting return to realism. The result is a modern epic of love and terrorism, loss and reinvention—a powerful, timely story told with the daring and panache that make Salman Rushdie a force of light in our dark new age.

Praise for The Golden House

“[A] modern masterpiece . . . telling a story full of wonder and leaving you marveling at how it ever came out of the author’s head.”—Associated Press

“Wildly satiric and yet piercingly real . . . If F. Scott Fitzgerald, Homer, Euripides, and Shakespeare collaborated on a contemporary fall-of-an-empire epic set in New York City, the result would be The Golden House.”—Poets & Writers

“A tonic addition to American—no, world!—literature . . . a Greek tragedy with Indian roots and New York coordinates.”San Francisco Chronicle

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780594900191
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/05/2017
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 135,202
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Salman Rushdie is the author of twelve previous novels—Grimus, Midnight’s Children (for which he won the Booker Prize and the Best of the Booker), Shame, The Satanic Verses, Haroun and The Sea of Stories, The Moor’s Last Sigh, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Fury, Shalimar the Clown, The Enchantress of Florence, Luka and the Fire of Life, and Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights—and one collection of short stories: East, West. He has also published four works of nonfiction—Joseph Anton, The Jaguar Smile, Imaginary Homelands, and Step Across This Line—and co-edited two anthologies, Mirrorwork and Best American Short Stories 2008. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University. A former president of PEN American Center, Rushdie was knighted in 2007 for services to literature.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

June 19, 1947

Place of Birth:

Bombay, Maharashtra, India


M.A. in History, King's College, University of Cambridge

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

On the day of the new president’s inauguration, when we worried that he might be murdered as he walked hand in hand with his exceptional wife among the cheering crowds, and when so many of us were close to economic ruin in the aftermath of the bursting of the mortgage bubble, and when Isis was still an Egyptian mother-­goddess, an uncrowned seventy-­something king from a faraway country arrived in New York City with his three motherless sons to take possession of the palace of his exile, behaving as if nothing was wrong with the country or the world or his own story. He began to rule over his neighborhood like a benevolent emperor, although in spite of his charming smile and his skill at playing his 1745 Guadagnini violin he exuded a heavy, cheap odor, the unmistakable smell of crass, despotic danger, the kind of scent that warned us, look out for this guy, because he could order your execution at any moment, if you’re wearing a displeasing shirt, for example, or if he wants to sleep with your wife. The next eight years, the years of the forty-­fourth president, were also the years of the increasingly erratic and alarming reign over us of the man who called himself Nero Golden, who wasn’t really a king, and at the end of whose time there was a large—­and, metaphorically speaking, apocalyptic—­fire.

The old man was short, one might even say squat, and wore his hair, which was still mostly dark in spite of his advanced years, slicked back to accentuate his devil’s peak. His eyes were black and piercing, but what people noticed first—­he often rolled his shirtsleeves up to make sure they did notice—­were his forearms, as thick and strong as a wrestler’s, ending in large, dangerous hands bearing chunky gold rings studded with emeralds. Few people ever heard him raise his voice, yet we were in no doubt that there lurked in him a great vocal force which one would do well not to provoke. He dressed expensively but there was a loud, animal quality to him which made one think of the Beast of folktale, uneasy in human finery. All of us who were his neighbors were more than a little scared of him, though he made huge, clumsy efforts to be sociable and neighborly, waving his cane at us wildly, and insisting at inconvenient times that people come over for cocktails. He leaned forward when standing or walking, as if struggling constantly against a strong wind only he could feel, bent a little from the waist, but not too much. This was a powerful man; no, more than that—­a man deeply in love with the idea of himself as powerful. The purpose of the cane seemed more decorative and expressive than functional. When he walked in the Gardens he gave every impression of trying to be our friend. Frequently he stretched out a hand to pat our dogs or ruffle our children’s hair. But children and dogs recoiled from his touch. Sometimes, watching him, I thought of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, a simulacrum of the human that entirely failed to express any true humanity. His skin was brown leather and his smile glittered with golden fillings. His was a raucous and not entirely civil presence, but he was immensely rich and so, of course, he was accepted; but, in our downtown community of artists, musicians and writers, not, on the whole, popular.

We should have guessed that a man who took the name of the last of the Julio-­Claudian monarchs of Rome and then installed himself in a domus aurea was publicly acknowledging his own madness, wrongdoing, megalomania, and forthcoming doom, and also laughing in the face of all that; that such a man was flinging down a glove at the feet of destiny and snapping his fingers under Death’s approaching nose, crying, “Yes! Compare me, if you will, to that monster who doused Christians in oil and set them alight to provide illumination in his garden at night! Who played the lyre while Rome burned (there actually weren’t any fiddles back then)! Yes: I christen myself Nero, of Caesar’s house, last of that bloody line, and make of it what you will. Me, I just like the name.” He was dangling his wickedness under our noses, reveling in it, challenging us to see it, contemptuous of our powers of comprehension, convinced of his ability easily to defeat anyone who rose against him.

He came to the city like one of those fallen European monarchs, heads of discontinued houses who still used as last names the grand honorifics, of-­Greece or of-­Yugoslavia or of-­Italy, and who treated the mournful prefix, ex-­, as if it didn’t exist. He wasn’t ex-­anything, his manner said; he was majestic in all things, in his stiff-­collared shirts, his cuff­ links, his bespoke English shoes, his way of walking toward closed doors without slowing down, knowing they would open for him; also in his suspicious nature, owing to which he held daily separate meetings with his sons to ask them what their brothers were saying about him; and in his cars, his liking for gaming tables, his unreturnable Ping-­Pong serve, his fondness for prostitutes, whiskey, and deviled eggs, and his often repeated dictum—­one favored by absolute rulers from Caesar to Haile Selassie—­that the only virtue worth caring about was loyalty. He changed his cellphone frequently, gave the number to almost no one, and didn’t answer it when it rang. He refused to allow journalists or photographers into his home but there were two men in his regular poker circle who were often there, silver-­haired lotharios usually seen wearing tan leather jackets and brightly striped cravats, who were widely suspected of having murdered their rich wives, although in one case no charges had been made and in the other, they hadn’t stuck.

Regarding his own missing wife he was silent. In his house of many photographs, whose walls and mantelpieces were populated by rock stars, Nobel laureates, and aristocrats, there was no image of Mrs. Golden, or whatever she had called herself. Clearly some disgrace was being implied, and we gossiped, to our shame, about what that might have been, imagining the scale and brazenness of her infidelities, conjuring her up as some sort of most high-­born nymphomaniac, her sex life more flagrant than any movie star’s, her divagations known to one and all except to her husband, whose eyes, blinded by love, continued to gaze adoringly upon her as he believed her to be, the loving and chaste wife of his dreams, until the terrible day when his friends told him the truth, they came in numbers to tell him, and how he raged!, how he abused them!, calling them liars and traitors, it took seven men to hold him and prevent him from doing harm to those who had forced him to face reality, and then finally he did face it, he accepted it, he banished her from his life and forbade her ever again to look upon her sons. Wicked woman, we said to one another, thinking ourselves worldly-­wise, and the tale satisfied us, and we left it there, being in truth more preoccupied by our own stuff, and only interested in the affairs of N. J. Golden up to a certain point. We turned away, and got on with our lives.

How wrong we were.


What is a good life? What is its opposite? These are questions to which no two men will give the same answers. In these our cowardly times, we deny the grandeur of the Universal, and assert and glorify our local Bigotries, and so we cannot agree on much. In these our degenerate times, men bent on nothing but vainglory and personal gain—­hollow, bombastic men for whom nothing is off-­limits if it advances their petty cause—­will claim to be great leaders and benefactors, acting in the common good, and calling all who oppose them liars, envious, little people, stupid people, stiffs, and, in a precise reversal of the truth, dishonest and corrupt. We are so divided, so hostile to one another, so driven by sanctimony and scorn, so lost in cynicism, that we call our pomposity idealism, so disenchanted with our rulers, so willing to jeer at the institutions of our state, that the very word goodness has been emptied of meaning and needs, perhaps, to be set aside for a time, like all the other poisoned words, spirituality, for example, final solution, for example, and (at least when applied to skyscrapers and fried potatoes) freedom.

But on that cold January day in 2009 when the enigmatic septuagenarian we came to know as Nero Julius Golden arrived in Greenwich Village in a Daimler limousine with three male children and no visible sign of a wife, he at least was firm about how virtue was to be valued, and right action distinguished from wrong. “In my American house,” he told his attentive sons in the limousine as it drove them from the airport to their new residence, “morality will go by the golden standard.” Whether he meant that morality was supremely precious, or that wealth determined morality, or that he personally, with his glittering new name, would be the only judge of right and wrong, he did not say, and the younger Julii, from long filial habit, did not ask for clarification. (Julii, the imperial plural they all preferred to Goldens: these were not modest men!) The youngest of the three, an indolent twenty-­two-­year-­old with hair falling in beautiful cadences to his shoulders and a face like an angry angel, did however ask one question. “What will we say,” he asked his father, “when they inquire, where did you come from?” The old man’s face entered a condition of scarlet vehemence. “This, I’ve answered before,” he cried. “Tell them, screw the identity parade. Tell them, we are snakes who shed our skin. Tell them we just moved downtown from Carnegie Hill. Tell them we were born yesterday. Tell them we materialized by magic, or arrived from the neighborhood of Alpha Centauri in a spaceship hidden in a comet’s tail. Say we are from nowhere or anywhere or somewhere, we are make-­believe people, frauds, reinventions, shapeshifters, which is to say, Americans. Do not tell them the name of the place we left. Never speak it. Not the street, not the city, not the country. I do not want to hear those names again.”

They emerged from the car in the old heart of the Village, on Macdougal Street a little below Bleecker, near the Italian coffee place from the old days that was still somehow struggling on; and ignoring the honking cars behind them and the outstretched supplicant palm of at least one grubby panhandler, they allowed the limousine to idle in mid-­street while they took their time lifting their bags from the trunk—­even the old man insisted on carrying his own valise—­and carried them to the grand Beaux-­Arts building on the east side of the street, the former Murray mansion, thereafter to be known as the Golden house. (Only the eldest son, the one who didn’t like being out of doors, who was wearing very dark dark glasses and an anxious expression, appeared to be in a hurry.) So they arrived as they intended to remain, independently, with a shrugging indifference to the objections of others.

The Murray mansion, grandest of all the buildings on the Gardens, had lain largely unoccupied for many years, except for a notably snippy fifty-­something Italian-­American house manager and her equally haughty, though much younger, female assistant and live-­in lover. We had often speculated on the owner’s identity, but the fierce lady guardians of the building refused to satisfy our curiosity. However, these were years in which many of the world’s superrich bought property for no reason other than to own it, and left empty homes lying around the planet like discarded shoes, so we assumed that some Russian oligarch or oil sheikh must be involved, and, shrugging our shoulders, we got used to treating the empty house as if it wasn’t there. There was one other person attached to the house, a sweet-­natured Hispanic handyman named Gonzalo who was employed by the two guardian dragons to look after the place, and sometimes, when he had a bit of spare time, we would ask him over to our houses to fix our wiring and plumbing problems and help us clear our roofs and entrances of snow in the depths of winter. These services, in return for small sums of cash money folded discreetly into his hand, he smilingly performed.

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 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 fashionable, 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 afterwards 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 sometimes 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 Ricard, 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 Si 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.”


Excerpted from "The Golden House"
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Copyright © 2018 Salman Rushdie.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
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The Golden House 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A brilliantly told story of an enigmantic millionaire his three children his second wife and their mysteries and downfalls. The characters are engaging and the story is told through a cinematic lens as the narrator is a director and scriptwriter. His enthusiasm for understanding the family is contagious and makes each page a delight. Set against the backdrop of a seemingly farcical election with apolitician nicknamed Batwoman squaring off against a gaudy bussinessman nicknamed Joker. A familiar background event to many U.S. readers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this novel! The methodical pacing and the very fine character developments nicely brought together a richly woven story. The narrators keen eye observing real life contemporary political events with wit and sharp denunciation is spot on!
Deb-Krenzer More than 1 year ago
I had never read a Salman Rushdie book before, but I had heard of him and what a good writer he was. So. . . I was pretty excited when I requested and received this book. That excitement lasted until I started reading it. It was just so tedious. And, yawn. . . boring. There were numerous times when the narrator of this story would say the same things over and over again. Using different words, of course. I would be reading thinking surely there's been enough talk describing something with the Golden family and then several pages later it would be said again, paragraphs of content with different wording. The narrator kept promising that "the story" will be coming. Well, after 60% into this story, I said "wow, I don't have to read all of this". I rarely like to abandon books because I feel so bad in doing so. But this one, I could not take it anymore. Not sure if this the writer's typical style, something that did not appeal to me either, or if it's different. I do appreciate, however, that Random House and Net Galley provided me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
TamWindsor_69 More than 1 year ago
Made my brain hurt. This was an intriguing, yet pedantic and tedious, telling of the lives of a family of uber-rich, modern immigrants, the Goldens, who take up residence in New York’s Greenwich Village. The intricately-woven tales of these quirky, colorful and quite dysfunctional relatives are relayed to the reader from the perspective of their young neighbor, Rene', who fosters a passion for filmmaking. By casting the Goldens as the subject of his latest film creation, Rene' inadvertently casts himself as an annexed member of the family and becomes embroiled in their ever-present quibbles, enmeshed in their infidelities and entangled in their nefarious deeds. Imbued with barely-concealed, nonsectarian political censure and littered with obscure film, book and music references, the prose oft times became draining and tiresome to slog through. But, what was glaringly obvious was Rushdie's blatant spotlight on the fact that we are a broken, dissociative society, over-indulgent in our hedonism and blind to our illusory, reality TV-infused existence. *I received a complimentary ARC of this story from NetGalley & Random House Publishing Group - Random House in order to read and provide a voluntary, unbiased and honest review, should I choose to do so.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Salman Rushdie has the talent of a seasoned writer. Didn't want to stop reading! This book is a must!
Jubo More than 1 year ago
It can be a bit jarring going from reading pulp fiction to true literature so I can appreciate some of the reviewers being uncomfortable, but make no mistake: THIS is literature. I don't think this is Mr. Rushdie's best work, but it's certainly close. The prose are gorgeous. The narrative is engaging and I liked the style in which it was written. The "character study" is, in truth, allegorical. This is a thoughtful, quiet analysis of the United States and our state of affairs. It's not a rebuke, but simply a study. If you enjoy intelligent meditation beautifully presented, you will love this book.
sandiek More than 1 year ago
In an established neighborhood in New York City, a new family moves into a fabulous mansion. They are the Goldens who are immigrants from abroad, maybe India, maybe the Middle East, the residents are not quite sure. The father, Nero, is an obviously successful and powerful man even if his story is shrouded in mystery. He has moved here with his three sons. Petya is a brilliant man who is crippled by his insecurities and is rarely seen outside the house. Apu is an artist and quickly makes his mark in artistic circles, knowing and loving everyone and anyone. D is the youngest son, a half-brother to Petya and Apu. He is racked by doubts about his identity and what course his life should take. Rene is a resident of the neighborhood. He is a young would-be filmmaker who has grown up there. He is fascinated by the Golden family and decides to make a movie about them. When his own parents are killed in an accident, he is invited into the Golden house and soon learns many of their secrets. When Nero meets and marries an enigmatic Russian immigrant, Vasilia, Rene is right there and sees the same things about her that worry the sons. As the years go by, more secrets and tragedies unfold, not only for the family but in the country. Those who live in this Greenwich Village neighborhood are typically liberal and they bemoan the direction the country is taking after the administration of President Obama. Some are blase about the election; others see the conservative candidate as a madman who has evil intentions. The Golden family also starts to unwind as ill events happen to them and their innate inclinations lead them on to tragedy. Salman Rushdie is one of today's most prominent novelists and any new novel by him is a joy. This parable documents the path America is taking as seen through the eyes of the New York intelligentsia. There are references to Greek mythology and topics such as sexual identity, the autistic spectrum, the film industry, the tragedy of wealth and the ability to reinvent oneself are explored. Some have called this novel a modern Bonfire Of The Vanities and it was an Amazon Best Book of September 2017. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.
Dianne57 More than 1 year ago
I have always wanted to try a book written by Mr. Rushdie ad I’m not sorry I tried this book…tried being the operative word! Apparently, I just don’t have the brains to become engaged with this sort of complex novel. I didn’t care for the political views of Mr. Rushdie but realize that this gives me another view of the world. This was a beautifully written book, with deeply complex characters that just didn’t capture my attention -I think I will be giving Mr. Rushdie a pass from now on. Apparently, I just can’t appreciate books like this – OR he just can’t write for the masses!
suekitty13 More than 1 year ago
I have to confess that I am a huge Salman Rushdie fan. I think he is a brilliant writer and an incredible storyteller. In picking up The Golden House I was pretty sure I was going to love it. I wasn’t disappointed. As usual Rushdie’s writing blew me away with its cleverness, humour and humanity. I found myself highlighting passage after passage, just wanting to read them over and over and to share them with someone. The story he tells in The Golden House is so woven into current events that the two cannot be disentangled. His views of the 2016 election are very clear and his despair for America his palpable. While he doesn’t mention any names he does recount the election as between Batwoman, the hero, and the Joker, an insane clown. I laughed out loud over many passages and shook my head in wonder and disbelief that this wasn’t just fiction. Rushdie has a knack for pinpointing the exact pulse of current events and building his stories around them. This story is tragic and heartbreaking, dark and bleak while ultimately being hopeful. The Golden’s are fascinating and infuriating and very, very human. Their lives are packed full of a series of almost unbelievable events, much more than an average person would ever experience and they are larger than life characters yet pieces of their stories are relatable. Our narrator “Rene” sees the world through a cinematic lens and when he meets the Golden’s he sees that they are the perfect subjects for a film. Their lives do seem very much like a movie with organized crime, assassinations and secrets galore. The big mystery of the Golden’s and their history is unraveled slowly throughout the story while the present day events have huge impacts on the characters and their capacity to keep their secrets. Watching everything unfold was just riveting and I couldn’t put the book down. This was another sublime work by Rushdie and it just may be my favourite one yet! Thank you to Random House for providing an Electronic Advance Reader Copy via NetGalley for review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Idiotic characters and plot line. Don't waste your money or time with this rubbish.