Sir Salman Rushdie‘s 400-page novel, The Golden House (2017) begins with the day of Barack Obama‘s inauguration, and then looks back at the American zeitgeist of the 21st century: the rise of the Tea Party, superhero franchises, the birther movement ,and the insurgence of a ruthlessly ambitious, media-savvy villain who wears makeup and colors his hair. Most of the story takes place in Greenwich Village, and one of the main characters struggles with gender identity and wrestles with the existential choices this implies.
Born in India in 1947, Rushdie grew up in England and was educated at Cambridge University but has lived in New York City for most of his adult life. Rushdie’s fourth novel, The Satanic Verses (1988), provoked a fatwa on his life, issued by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. The pronouncement placed Rushdie in mortal danger for the next decade, and the book’s publication was met with demonstrations and violence around the world. Rushdie survived; the book went on to become an international bestseller; and many more books would follow.
Much of his fiction is set on the Indian subcontinent. He combines magical realism with historical fiction; his work is concerned with the many connections, disruptions, and migrations between Eastern and Western civilizations.
He published Joseph Anton: A Memoir (2012) which is an account of his life in the wake of the controversy over The Satanic Verses.
There is quite a substantial gay population in the Islamic world. I think there’s a lot of prejudice. People in the gay community, and certainly in the transgender community, face real obstacles. Not only in Islamic countries but even here.
I grew up in Bombay, where there has always been quite a substantial transgender community, the Hijira. I’ve spent time in that community listening to their stories and hearing the convictions of their lives. That was for me one of the starting points in writing about an increasingly central subject of gender identity these days. Here in New York, I’ve had a couple of friends who have transitioned. One in each direction, male to female and female to male. Yes, these are people I care about who’ve gone through this process. That’s been another starting point for me.
Taking those personal elements, I tried to learn as much as I could, to explore as thoroughly as I could. When writing a contemporary novel which tries to take on the present moment, you really have to respond to the stuff that’s in the air. LGBT rights are very much in the air. I wanted to respond to that.