British Columbia·Q&A

Donald Trump a 'three-card monte man, con artist,' says author Salman Rushdie

The world-famous author of Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses talks about the realism behind his new book, The Golden House, and how it fits into the "American farce" under Donald Trump.

On new book: 'If I could do this right, I could ... capture this bizarre moment in American life'

'I thought that I could write a tragedy inside a tragedy: the private tragedy of these people surrounded by the larger hullabaloo of the American farce declining into tragedy,' says author Salman Rushdie of his latest book, The Golden House. (Liam Britten/CBC and AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Salman Rushdie is famously known for the "magical realism" of his novels, but his latest work, The Golden House, has been described as his "triumphant and exciting return to realism."

The novel is grounded in American politics and culture set in New York City which both he and U.S. President Donald Trump call home.

Rushdie was in Vancouver Tuesday for a sold-out event at the Chan Centre but first stopped into CBC Vancouver for a conversation with On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

Listen to the complete interview:

Your newest novel has been called an "American novel" in the vein of The Great Gatsby or Bonfire of the Vanities. How do you see it?

It's very flattering. I did read myself into some New York literature: [James] Baldwin's Another Country, Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence, Henry James' Washington Square; these books which try to tell a story about interesting human beings but also to make a portrait of an age. I thought if I could do this right, I could try and capture this bizarre moment in American life.

Much of the conversation around this novel has focused on the presidency of Donald Trump. What did you feel and what did you see around you that became The Golden House?

The initial idea was just to write about this strange family, and it is kind of a broken and tragic family, and I did feel that increasingly, in the last decade, that "broken" and "tragic" were adjectives you could also apply to the United States.

I thought that I could write a tragedy inside a tragedy: the private tragedy of these people surrounded by the larger hullabaloo of the American farce declining into tragedy.

The Golden House is Salman Rushdie's latest book. (Penguin Random House Canada)

How important do you think you and other writers are to shaping our understanding of this time in history?

I feel it's very important in a novel to leave space for the reader. Instead of preaching at the reader, to let the reader enter the world of the book, experience it and think, what do I think about this?

When the public conversation is so messed up, so full of lies to be frank, the private conversation that happens between the writer and the reader through the pages can be a really valuable way of re-establishing our sense of the truth.

Salman Rushie says it took "a perfect storm" for Donald Trump to get elected. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

How did the election of Donald Trump happen?

It was a bit of a perfect storm. One thing I will say is the City of New York voted 90 per cent against him. In the place where he lived, everyone got his number. In a way, America is waking up to find out what New York always knew. As Fran Lebowitz said, he's not even a property developer: he's a three-card monte man. He's a con artist.

I think what happened is partly racism. Partly white supremacism in America, far from being obliterated by the election of a black president, was energized. Part of it has to do with misogyny.

I don't think everyone who voted for Donald Trump is a racist or a misogynist. There was some real anger to the political centre and there were many people left behind, and along came this man saying, "I'm your guy, I'll go in and smash things up."

On top of which, I don't think Hillary was a great candidate, I think the Democrats ran a terrible campaign, and then on top of that, 46.7 per cent of the electorate declined to vote. Throw all that together, it makes a thing like this happen.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast


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