I 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. Clockhands 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. – from Midnight’s Children, page 3 –
Salman Rushdie’s Booker Prize winning novel Midnight’s Children is the story of a nation narrated by Saleem Sinai who embodies the history of India by being born at the exact moment of India’s independence (August 15, 1947). Other children, also born between midnight and one o’clock on this day, discover they are able to telepathically communicate with each other.
In fact, all over the new India, the dream we all shared, children were being born who were only partially the offspring of their parents – the children of midnight were also the children of the time: fathered, you understand, by history. It can happen. Especially in a country which is itself a sort of dream. – from Midnight’s Children, page 132 –
The novel is allegorical, narrated in the first person, and spans more than sixty years from before Saleem is born until he is thirty years old. Saleem’s voice is arrogant, satirical and tangential.
Family history, of course, has its proper dietary laws. One is supposed to swallow and digest only the permitted parts of it, the halal portions of the past, drained of their redness, their blood. Unfortunately this makes the stories less juicy; so I am about to become the first and only member of my family to flout the laws of halal. Letting no blood escape from the body of the tale, I arrive at the unspeakable part; and, undaunted press on. – from Midnight’s Children, page 62 –
Although difficult to follow at times, Rushdie’s sense of humor was one of the aspects of the novel I enjoyed.
Poor Padma. Things are getting her goat. Perhaps even her name: understandably enough, since her mother told her, when she was small, that she had been named after the lotus goddess, whose most common appellation amojngst village folk is “The One Who Possesses Dung.” – from Midnight’s Children, page 20 –
Despite these light moments, Midnight’s Children is not a light read. I really struggled to finish this book – and my feelings about it are mixed. Rushdie’s prose is full of symbolism, analogies, magical realism and the complex history of India. The book has multiple themes (the individual vs. the masses and destruction vs. creation to name two). It is also full of numerous characters – some minor, some major and everything in between. I often found myself scratching my head trying to understand it all.
Important to concentrate on good hard facts. But which facts? One week before my eighteenth birthday, on August 8th, did Pakistani troops in civilian clothing cross the cease-fire line in Kashmir and infiltrate the Indian sector, or did they not? In Delhi, Prime Minister Shastri announced “massive infiltration…to subvert the state”; but here is Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, with his riposte: “We categorically deny any involvement in the rising against tyranny by the indigenous people of Kashmir.” – from Midnight’s Children, page 387 –
Rushdie is obviously brilliant. He knows how to tell a story. And yet I did not really enjoy reading this book and there are very few people to whom I could recommend it. If you are a person with some understanding of Indian culture and history and who loves symbolic stories filled with elements of magical realism, you might want to give Midnight’s Children a try. I am told it is one of his more accessible novels. If that is true, I don’t think I’ll be reading any more Rushdie in the near future.