Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie


Back blurb of Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie: Born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, at the precise moment of India's independence, the infant Saleem Sinai is celebrated in the press and welcomed by Prime Minister Nehru himself. But this coincidence of birth has consequences Saleem is not prepared for: telepathic powers that connect him with 1,000 other 'midnight's children' - all born in the initial hour of India's independence - and an uncanny sense of smell that allows him to sniff out dangers others cannot perceive. Inextricably linked to his nation, Saleem's biography is a whirlwind of disasters and triumphs that mirrors the course of modern India at its most impossible and glorious.

My take

29 May 2007: Making headway! Already into Book 2 and Saleem Sinai is alive ... and his nose is growing. I've gotten through all the geneaological and historical information of Book 1, which was a little tiresome but very necessary to the story (as far as I can see). Wish me luck!

13 May 2007: I must admit that I thought I would breeze through this book, but I keep forgetting the characters' names (all these Indian names are confusing!), and I feel that the author deviates from a main storyline. But I am swimming through these and making headway, and have gotten to a point that I cannot not continue reading. The main character has been born!

Half fiction and non-fiction (or some would believe otherwise), a prophecy of the life of our lead character, Saleem Sinai, sums up how his life is inevitably entwined with the turbulent history of India.

"There will be two heads but you will see only one - there will be knees andnose - a nose and knees. ... Newspaper praises him, two mothers raise him! Bicyclists love him - but crowds will shove him! Sisters will weep, cobra will creep ...

Spittoons will brain him - doctors will drain him - jungle will claim him - wizards reclaim him! Soldiers will try him - tyrants will fry him ...

He will have sons without having sons. He will be old before he is old! And he will die ... before he is dead!"

***

Saleem narrates the events of his own life to his lover Padma, a first person account of his own life. While the title would lead us to believe that it is about the super powers of this elite group of midnight's children, the book bespeaks of a generation struggling to shape the world into a better place and at the same time, they becoming a product of the very environment they aim to change.

I'd been complaining about how it took me a while to get into it. In fact it took me two months to finish it (I carried it everywhere to force me to read in short bursts). For someone who can finish reading a novel in 3 days, this is excuciatingly long.In hindsight, I better appreciate the book knowing it is divided into three parts.

The first part is entirely dedicated to tracing the geneology of Saleem Sinai's family set in India's colonial past. The second part delves into the birth, childhood and early adulthood. The third paints Saleem as old (at 30+ years), after having lived a full yet difficult life.

The first part is very detailed and at times I lost interest, but it lays the groundwork for the entire book, hence a boring-ish necessity. At one point I was wondering when Saleem would be born ... I was a third into the book!

But throughout, you can't help but enjoy the vibrancy and trivialities of Indian life (magicians and seers and Indian customs) and the soap-opera-ish lives of the people (lovers allowed only to see each other through a sheet with a hole in the middle, or a husband being hidden in the cellar, infidelities, and their sex lives).

I also kept wondering about the midnight's children. There are fascinating depictions of their powers and how they might make a difference in a difficult world. But Saleem and his kind, particularly his "twin" midnight brother and nemesis play a prominent role in India's history and the plot, from start to finish.

I started the book skeptical that I would enjoy it. But after the initial difficulty, I enjoyed the writing style - engaging, witty and at times irreverent. Be forewarned that there are many Indian names and unfamiliar (to me) Indian terms, that I had a dictionary close by. This is also the first time I've encountered someone who just revels in compound-compound words like fasterfaster, compound-compound-compound sentences - in fact, one sentence that went on and on for a page and a half. But it works.

The arch of the story is flawless. Don't try to skip sections to get to the ending, it is the process of reading this (rather lengthy) biography that is the source of the enjoyment journey. It is a book with both the mundane and the profound, I came away not regretting reading it.

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