Salman Rushdie on the opulent realism of his new novel, ‘The Golden House’

“I’m on the Technicolor end,” said Salman Rushdie. He was talking about the kind of realism you’ll find in “The Golden House,” his new novel. “If realism goes from Raymond Carver to James Joyce,” he explained, “It’s realism, but it’s kind of amped up, boosted.”

Interviewed in the Manhattan office of his longtime agent, Andrew Wylie, Rushdie was jovial and charming, a voluble conversationalist not only about the art of fiction but also on topics as diverse as the politics of place names and the different ways to grip the paddle when playing ping-pong. Toward the end of a day of media interviews, the 70-year-old author’s (very nice) suit may have been a bit rumpled, but the man himself seemed in fine form. Some writers don’t much like talking to reporters; Sir Salman Rushdie is not one of them.

For Rushdie, who said he felt “a kind of personal revolt against magic realism,” the idea of writing about today’s political and social landscape sent him back to writers like Stendhal and Balzac, and that greatest chronicler of New York, Edith Wharton.

Set during an era of rapid social change, from the first Obama inauguration to the present day, “The Golden House” (Random House, $28.99) is about a mysterious family that moves to New York with changed names, seemingly endless financial resources and a hidden history of bad, bad things. Patriarch Nero Golden and his three sons (their names, also borrowed from classical mythology, are Petronius, Lucius Apuleius and Dionysus) have fled trauma in their first home, “the city that could not be named” (it’s Rushdie’s birthplace, which he still calls Bombay). They settle in the Gardens, a bucolic block in the bustling West Village, an Eden nestled into the heart of Sodom. But they cannot escape tragedy.

In the end, “The Golden House” moves beyond its social realism to become a sort of love story — both among characters and with their vexed, troubled country. “People always tell me that I’m a hopeless romantic,” Rushdie said. “I think of that kind of as an insult, so I resist it. But apparently I am. Certainly I’ve increasingly found in my writing that love becomes the dominant value, in a way that it wasn’t so much when I was writing ‘Midnight’s Children’ and ‘Shame.’”

“There’s an obvious thing, which is that during those very bad years of my life it was very much the love of friends and family that got me through. So I learned that lesson.”

He still has a souvenir from his citizenship ceremony. “They give you a little flag. They insist on giving you a little flag.” What did he do with it? “I have it. It’s stuck between two books in my library.”

Tuttle is the president of the National Book Critics Circle.

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