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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.”
Top customer reviews
BTW - to those who give it three stars or fewer- I can only hope that they write something better and show us what a good novel should be- forgive my sarcasm.
Initially the book may not be the easiest too read, as although the story is told mostly in chronological manner, it is interwoven with obscure at the time glimpses of the future. In Rushdie's world everything is connected, no thing is too small or inconsequential. Ideas, objects and small events initially loosely connected shape Saleem's life. As the story develops everything starts coming together, making sense, no longer obscure. Therefore the book becomes easier and easier to read and even more engaging the further you get into it.
The reality and fantasy are tied together in this novel- typically for this author, fantasy serves to highlight and magnify the reality.
The life of the protagonist, Saleem Sinai is magically tied to the life of the nation as he is born in the exact moment when India is born as a nation independent from the British rule. In the same hour 1000 of other children possessing supernatural abilities are born in India.
Some say that the idea of magical children is not fully utilized by the author or perhaps even unnecessary, as the reality of the times is captivating enough. This is debatable, but in any case don't expect the magical children fighting villains, this is not Avengers or Fantastic 4. The extraordinary abilities of the children are more a curse and a source of misfortunes than they are a blessing as the world is not ready for them.
Superstition, backwardness of the adults, causes them to pass the suffering on the children. The adults "make children the vessels into which they pour their poisons" of unhappiness, prejudice and intolerance.
As the protagonist grows up, the insults from surrounding him adults and his own peers are replaced by much worse mayhem unleashed on him and the whole nation by the politicians and tyrants.
As such the broken life and body of the midnight's child becomes a mirror of what happens to the fractured nation, divided by languages, religions and political ambitions. In this aspect the novel is a powerful accusation and the author takes no prisoners, historical figures even the reverend ones come under the fire of his literary weapons.
Even though the optimism of the people is shown as a disease and completely unjustified the author leaves room for a sliver of hope- symbolized by the little Aadam.
The use of visions, prophecies, colors, objects loaded with meanings, historical events and psychological insights along with rich and almost poetic prose create a book that is full of impact and should not be passed.
Then I bogged down, and down. The writing became turgid, the tale endless. One of my favorite books " A Suitable Boy ", deals with the same period , at much the same length; the difference for me was I cared deeply for the characters in Boy, had no connection to the Children. Will go back and give another try, at some point, if I live long enough.
The story would be ultra bland were it not for Salman Rushdie's sheer brilliance & imaginative narration. There are many detailed reviews here.
If you've seen Quentin Tarantino's movies, you know to expect the outrageous being paraded nonchalantly. Thats what reading this book is like. Its like watching a Tarantino movie only that the subject is drama!
This book will test your patience with its size, but you wont forget it either.
The book is dripping with awesome prose, satire and drama.
Rushdie adds life to his characters in an amazing and ultra realistic way, each with their own flaws, idiosyncracies, way of speaking & thinking! This book is a must read for all book lovers.
Most recent customer reviews
Enchanted and fascinated with the story and the magnificent writing.