Thursday, May 16, 2013

Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie

Midnight's Children
Midnight's ChildrenI was born in the city of Bombay...once upon a time. No, that won't do, there's no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar's Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. And the time? The time matters, too. Well then: at night. No, it's important to be more...On the stroke of midnight as a matter of fact. Clock-Hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh, spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India's arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world. 

"Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment of India’s independence. Greeted by fireworks displays, cheering crowds, and Prime Minister Nehru himself, Saleem grows up to learn the ominous consequences of this coincidence. His every act is mirrored and magnified in events that sway the course of national affairs; his health and well-being are inextricably bound to those of his nation; his life is inseparable, at times indistinguishable, from the history of his country. Perhaps most remarkable are the telepathic powers linking him with India’s 1,000 other “midnight’s children,” all born in that initial hour and endowed with magical gifts. This novel is at once a fascinating family saga and an astonishing evocation of a vast land and its people–a brilliant incarnation of the universal human comedy."

Midnight's Children was Salman Rushdie's first novel, which I somehow haven't read yet. I really enjoyed it. Like many of Rushdie's novels, it was a bit hard to get into, but I loved the writing and the plot. The book is woven so skillfully. Salman Rushdie does like to beat around the bush and never get to the point, which is infuriating but effective. Saleem talks to the reader directly, breaking off and having emotional crises. He's also constantly interrupted by his wife, and he stops and starts. In short, the reader is annoyed but also absorbed. 

The story itself is amazing, describing India so well. At least, I think it does, and it's certainly an excellent novel. There are tragedies and comedies that unfold, funerals and weddings, all in a mix between fantasy and reality. It's hard to define Midnight's Children in a specific genre; it could be called magic realism, I suppose, but it could also be called historical fiction. It's kind of a mix of the two. 

Midnight's Children is a long but brilliant novel, definitely one of my favorites of the Rushdie novels I've read (although admittedly I haven't read that many). The descriptions of the magic powers endowed to the children of midnight were amazing, once the narrator finally got around to them after over 200 pages. In that respect Midnight's Children kind of reminded me of One Hundred Years of Solitude; it is many, many pages before Saleem finally gets to his birth, just as it is many many pages before Marquez tells of the ice. So infuriating! 

One of the really infuriating things about Midnight's Children was all the foreshadowing. Saleem drops hints about these huge events that are going to happen, leaving the reader exasperated, guessing and waiting. And by important events, I mean events that will change the characters' lives and the whole country. There are also a lot of great metaphors that Salman Rushdie uses; for example that of snakes and ladders. For every ladder, there will always be a snake around the corner, and vice versa, but as Saleem observes, "The game lacked one crucial dimension, that of ambiguity - because, as events are about to show, it is possible to slither down a ladder and climb to triumph on the venom of a snake..." (pg. 161). Speaking of snakes, it always annoys me how people demonize snakes. There are many, many snakes which aren't poisonous at all, and if they do bite people, it's just because they're looking out for their own interests, just like everyone else. But that has nothing to do with Midnight's Children (at least, I don't think it does).

There were parts of Midnight's Children that I didn't love, but there were also parts that were really slyly funny, and a joy to read. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Read Midnight's Children:
  • if you like Salman Rushdie
  • if you like magic realism
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like books set in India
533 pages, 4 stars. 

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