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Midnight's Children: A Novel (Modern Library 100 Best Novels) Paperback – April 4, 2006

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Anyone who has spent time in the developing world will know that one of Bombay's claims to fame is the enormous film industry that churns out hundreds of musical fantasies each year. The other, of course, is native son Salman Rushdie--less prolific, perhaps than Bollywood, but in his own way just as fantastical. Though Rushdie's novels lack the requisite six musical numbers that punctuate every Bombay talkie, they often share basic plot points with their cinematic counterparts. Take, for example, his 1980 Booker Prize-winning Midnight's Children: two children born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947--the moment at which India became an independent nation--are switched in the hospital. The infant scion of a wealthy Muslim family is sent to be raised in a Hindu tenement, while the legitimate heir to such squalor ends up establishing squatters' rights to his unlucky hospital mate's luxurious bassinet. Switched babies are standard fare for a Hindi film, and one can't help but feel that Rushdie's world-view--and certainly his sense of the fantastical--has been shaped by the films of his childhood. But whereas the movies, while entertaining, are markedly mediocre, Midnight's Children is a masterpiece, brilliant written, wildly unpredictable, hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure.

Rushdie's narrator, Saleem Sinai, is the Hindu child raised by wealthy Muslims. Near the beginning of the novel, he informs us that he is falling apart--literally:

I mean quite simply that I have begun to crack all over like an old jug--that my poor body, singular, unlovely, buffeted by too much history, subjected to drainage above and drainage below, mutilated by doors, brained by spittoons, has started coming apart at the seams. In short, I am literally disintegrating, slowly for the moment, although there are signs of an acceleration.
In light of this unfortunate physical degeneration, Saleem has decided to write his life story, and, incidentally, that of India's, before he crumbles into "(approximately) six hundred and thirty million particles of anonymous, and necessarily oblivious, dust." It seems that within one hour of midnight on India's independence day, 1,001 children were born. All of those children were endowed with special powers: some can travel through time, for example; one can change gender. Saleem's gift is telepathy, and it is via this power that he discovers the truth of his birth: that he is, in fact, the product of the illicit coupling of an Indian mother and an English father, and has usurped another's place. His gift also reveals the identities of all the other children and the fact that it is in his power to gather them for a "midnight parliament" to save the nation. To do so, however, would lay him open to that other child, christened Shiva, who has grown up to be a brutish killer. Saleem's dilemma plays out against the backdrop of the first years of independence: the partition of India and Pakistan, the ascendancy of "The Widow" Indira Gandhi, war, and, eventually, the imposition of martial law.

We've seen this mix of magical thinking and political reality before in the works of Günter Grass and Gabriel García Márquez. What sets Rushdie apart is his mad prose pyrotechnics, the exuberant acrobatics of rhyme and alliteration, pun, wordplay, proper and "Babu" English chasing each other across the page in a dizzying, exhilarating cataract of words. Rushdie can be laugh-out-loud funny, but make no mistake--this is an angry book, and its author's outrage lends his language wings. Midnight's Children is Salman Rushdie's irate, affectionate love song to his native land--not so different from a Bombay talkie, after all. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Extraordinary . . . one of the most important [novels] to come out of the English-speaking world in this generation.”
–The New York Review of Books

“The literary map of India is about to be redrawn. . . . Midnight’s Children sounds like a continent finding its voice.”
–The New York Times

“In Salman Rushdie, India has produced a glittering novelist– one with startling imaginative and intellectual resources, a master of perpetual storytelling.”
–The New Yorker

“A marvelous epic . . . Rushdie’s prose snaps into playback and flash-forward . . . stopping on images, vistas, and characters of unforgettable presence. Their range is as rich as India herself.”

“Burgeons with life, with exuberance and fantasy . . . Rushdie is a writer of courage, impressive strength, and sheer stylistic brilliance.”
–The Washington Post Book World

“Pure story–an ebullient, wildly clowning, satirical, descriptively witty charge of energy.”
–Chicago Sun-Times

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library 100 Best Novels
  • Paperback: 536 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; 25th Anniversary edition (April 4, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812976533
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812976533
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (413 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is, in every way, a perfect novel. Both humorous and heartbreaking. I found myself deeply moved and very suprised that I enjoyed this novel as much as I did. I have never been very interested in Indian history, and knew close to nothing about it. But upon reading this novel, I found myself drawn into the rich fictional history of the Aziz family, as well as the equally rich history of India. Rushdie may have ruined reading for me, as every book I read will now have much higher standards! Not for light reading, though. I imagine this is a book that you could read over and over and still find something new each time. This is a tough novel, and it takes a lot of work to truly "get it". The only reason I stuck with it is because I had to for class. But it was very rewarding in the end. The novel reveals itself in layers, with recurring themes and motifs that grow in extremely deep and powerful meanings. The character of Saleem, self-described savior of India, is one of the most memorable characters to have graced the pages of a novel. I have heard some people say that this book is a let down in the end, as though it never comes to a full climax. In answer to that: I felt that was the whole point. Saleems dreams are always dreams, they are never completely realized. The language is beautiful and lyrical, and the plot is highly detailed, as though each sentence was carefully planned. Rushdie may be the ultimate architect of this century when it comes to plot building. As a writer myself, I was both green with envy and speechless with awe over this novel. I have never read anything else by Rushdie, but now I definitly plan to!

A couple of tips:

1. There are many different characters, so you may want to make a family tree to keep track.

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Format: Paperback
Towards the beginning of this book, there is a minor character who is an artist whose paintings have grown huge because he keeps trying to fit life into them. He mourns because he'd wanted to be a miniaturist, but instead has elephantiasis. Even though the character never recurs, I thought about him through the huge landscape of this book.
Rushdie has the eye for detail of a miniaturist, but writes in epic sweeps, fitting in countless lives and actions. If done badly, this would have been nearly impossible to read, but the execution is brilliant and instead gives the impression of a huge rich tapestry running by like film.
The book is about the Midnight's Children (children born in the first hour after the birth of India as a nation) and their erstwhile leader Saleem Sinai. It traces him (and them) through childhood, the creation of Pakistan, and beyond. Even though the events are crucial, to have an understanding of the plot won't give you any help with the book.
My advice to people attempting Midnight's Children is to not worry too much about catching and understanding every detail. Yes, knowing more about Indian history will make certain things clear (although it may obscure others), but there's so much here that it isn't really necessary. I already know that this is a book I'm going to re-read, and that will be the chance to pick up missing pieces.
One of the highest of recommends.
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Format: Paperback
Midnight's Children is considered to be Rushdie's masterpiece; it won the Booker Prize, and then, in 1993, it won the 'Booker of Bookers', ie the best book to have won the Booker Prize in the first 25 years of the award. In addition to this, Rushdie's reputation is not built upon his literary merits so much as the surrounding controversy of another book, The Satanic Verses, which all but condemned him to years of hiding and constant moving about in an effort to escape fundamentalist Muslim assassination-attempts.
The premise for this novel is amazing. At the stroke of midnight on August 15th, 1947, India achieved independence and became a valid country, free from the shackles of Britain. One thousand and one children were born in the hour from midnight to 1am, one thousand and one children with magical powers, the potency of which increases the closer the child was born to midnight.
The narrator, Saleem Sinai, was one of two children born on the exact stroke of midnight, and throughout the novel various allusions to yin and yang, good and evil, up and down, et cetera are made between Saleem and Shiva, the other child, but unfortunately nothing really comes from this. Although mentioned often and with great vehemence on the part of the narrator, Shiva never really came across as a 'bad guy', or even someone that should be worried about at all.
The story meanders through thirty odd years of life before Saleem's birth, detailing the lives and idiosyncracies of his parent's and grandparent's adventures, which, admittedly, are described with great sweeping motions and tantalizing literary strokes. Sentences marvel, paragraphs sing with wit or beauty, but...what was the point?
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Format: Paperback
Salman Rushdie's "Midnight's Children" appears to be an allegory, spiced with satirical commentary, on the political course of modern India and the in-fighting of its various social and religious factions. It is an endlessly inventive book with a cheeky sense of humor and wild, exotic imagery, but it does not eschew somber moments. Rushdie presents this novel as the autobiography of Saleem Sinai, writing from his current residence at a Bombay pickle factory under the critical eye of his frequently interruptive lover/fiance Padma.
Saleem was born on the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the precise moment of India's independence from Great Britain and Pakistan's formation. He and one thousand other babies (the Midnight's Children) born in India throughout the hour each has some supernatural power such as witchcraft, time travel, gender alteration, etc., or otherwise is simply a mutant. Kind of like the X-Men, except they're too self-serving to band together and fight crime (and too bad, as there is a lot of narrative potential in this idea).
Saleem routinely hides in a washing-chest in his house to find inner peace away from neighborhood kids who taunt him for his large misshapen nose and other odd facial features. One day in the chest, he has a strange accident -- he sniffs a pajama cord up his nose, triggering an effect which causes him to hear voices in his head and realize he has telepathic powers. By telepathy, he establishes communication with the (heretofore unknown to him) other Midnight's Children, but they prove unwilling to unite. An operation performed on his nose to stop his severe dripping snot problem clears his nasal passages to reveal an uncanny olfactory ability, enabling him to sniff out emotions and ideas as well as smells.
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