A modern Don Quixote lands in Trumpian America and finds plenty of windmills to tilt at.
Mix Rushdie’s last novel, The Golden House (2017), with his 1990 fable, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and you get something approaching this delightful confection. An aging salesman loses his job as a pharmaceutical rep, fired, with regret, by his cousin and employer. The old man, who bears the name Ismail Smile, Smile itself being an Americanization of Ismail, is “a brown man in America longing for a brown woman.” He is a dreamer—and not without ambition. Borrowing from both opera and dim memories of Cervantes, he decides to call himself Quichotte, though fake news, the din of television, and “the Age of Anything-Can-Happen” and not dusty medieval romances have made him a little dotty. His Dulcinea, Salma R, exists on the other side of the TV screen, so off Quichotte quests in a well-worn Chevy, having acquired as if by magic a patient son named Sancho, who observes that Dad does everything just like it’s done on the tube and in stories: “So if the old Cruze is our Pequod then I guess Miss Salma R is the big fish and he, ‘Daddy,’ is my Ahab." By this point, Rushdie has complicated the yarn by attributing it to a hack writer, another Indian immigrant, named Sam DuChamp (read Sam the Sham), who has mixed into the Quixote story lashings of Moby-Dick, Ismail for Ishmael, and the Pinocchio of both Collodi and Disney (“You can call me Jiminy if you want,” says an Italian-speaking cricket to Sancho along the way), to say nothing of the America of Fentanyl, hypercapitalism, and pop culture and the yearning for fame. It’s a splendid mess that, in the end, becomes a meditation on storytelling, memory, truth, and other hallmarks of a disappearing civilization: “What vanishes when everything vanishes," Rushdie writes, achingly, “not only everything, but the memory of everything.”
Humane and humorous. Rushdie is in top form, serving up a fine piece of literary satire.