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Book #83: Midnight’s Children

Finally, I finished Midnight’s Children.

Finally.

That’s not an indictment of the novel, although it isn’t necessarily a light-hearted, quick read by any means. At 500+ pages, Midnight’s Children isn’t the type of novel you’re going to plow through in a couple of days. That said, it shouldn’t take a couple of months, like it took me, either.

Midnight’s Children is an interesting novel. It’s part allegory, part historical fiction, part something called “magical realism.” It’s a well thought out, extremely detailed book. It’s the type of book that, as you’re reading, you have a feeling that you might be missing something. For most of the time, I was thinking…am I smart enough to read this novel?

Salman Rushdie is quite obviously a brilliant writer. With Midnight’s Children, he crafted an intricate novel with layers and layers of complexity.

The plot centers around Saleem Sinai, the Indian narrator who is born at the exact moment of India’s independence on August 15, 1947. A group of kids born that night in the hours between midnight and 1 a.m. have special powers, with Saleem having the power of telepathy. Because he was born exactly at midnight, he has the strongest of these powers. But this isn’t The Avengers or something silly like that.

It was prophesied that the child born at midnight of India’s independence would be the country’s savior. Saleem’s the one. No pressure, Saleem.

So the story follows Saleem as he grows into adulthood and all the hijinks that go along with a prophesied savior becoming a man. The story parallels the growth of India as a nation and is divided into three separate “books.”

The storytelling technique Rushdie uses is unique. Saleem, the narrator, is telling the story to his future wife, Padma. The technique works and give Rushdie a way to remind the reader of the story’s context.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, the novel has been the center of controversy over the years. As Wikipedia explains:

“In 1984 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi brought an action against the book in the British courts, claiming to have been defamed by a single sentence in chapter 28, penultimate paragraph, in which her son Sanjay Gandhi is said to have had a hold over his mother by his accusing her of contributing to his father’s Feroze Gandhi’s death through her neglect. The case was settled out of court when Salman Rushdie agreed to remove the offending sentence.”

Salman_Rushdie_2014

Rushdie. (Wikimedia Commons)

Some people weren’t big fans of Rushdie after Midnight’s Children came out. And I haven’t read Satanic Verses, but supposedly it’s even more controversial. Some Muslims weren’t big fans.

In all, Midnight’s Children is a good, complex novel. I’ve probably had my fill of it, though, and won’t be revisiting this one anytime in the near future, if ever.

However, the novel did pique my interest enough to want to read more of Rushdie’s work in the future. I’ll get on that whenever I finish this God-forsaken list of books.

Other Stuff

The Opening: “I was born in the city of Bombay…once upon a time.”

The Meaning: The title refers to the children in India born between midnight and 1 a.m. on the morning of the country’s independence. They were born with special powers.

Highlights: This novel has a lot of complexity and depth with well-developed characters. You get the feeling that you’re sitting in history as it develops, with the story paralleling India’s independence and growth as a country.

Lowlights: I couldn’t help but feel detached from the story, moreso than a normal novel. I can’t necessarily explain why. Just had a feeling of disconnect from the characters and setting.

Memorable Line: “Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence.”

Final Thoughts: Good book. Worth your time if you appreciate creative, historical fiction. However, it’s a dense, complex read. Don’t expect to fly through this one.

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13 Comments Post a comment
  1. I haven’t read this book at all but the title of it did grab me. as you say I’m very into ‘magic realism’ and detailed reads. It also sounds like the type of book you can learn a lot history from! You definitely make me want to go buy this book! Thank you and well written.

    Like

    November 4, 2015
  2. You made it sound so much more approachable than I ever thought it was!

    Liked by 1 person

    November 4, 2015
  3. At some point I passed a threshold where I did not feel obliged to read books merely because it’s expected of me as a literate person. Mind you, I’m a reader, a tenacious one. Once I discover a great author I plow through until I’ve read every available work. Happened most recently with Halldor Laxness and Evelyn Waugh. Rushdie–no. He’s got a great command of vocabulary and he knows a lot of history. Insight? Wisdom? I didn’t see it. Began and stopped Satanic Verses and Midnight Children. If you want to read a memorable book, check out Independent people by Laxness (if you haven’t read it already). IMHO

    Liked by 1 person

    November 4, 2015
  4. I’ve read this and agree about the disconnect. For this reason I don’t rate or recommend it. As an academic exercise it is hard to fault, but I did not enjoy reading it. For me, that is the point of reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    November 4, 2015
  5. Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    Here’s Robert’s neat review of Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” – I always enjoy what Robert has to say because he says it without the least pedantry, in a simple manner that grabs me right away. As for Rushdie, I too think him brilliant – and yet his work has never stunned me. Why? Perhaps because while it is complex, detailed and he’s undoubtedly a major spinner of fine words, I like spiritual depth…perhaps his work has this depth, but I never found that aspect strong enough for my esoteric tastes. What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    November 4, 2015
  6. I loved Midnight’s Children. You are right about that feeling of wondering if you are smart enough to get it. It is something that permeates all of his works. I doubt he would ever produce annotated editions of his novels but someone has to, they are so full of complex allusions, metaphors, allegories and inside jokes. I did not like The Satanic Verses, but The Moors Last Sigh is very good and written during his period in hiding which informs some of its themes.

    Like

    November 4, 2015
  7. I really enjoy Rushdie’s essays best, if you want more from him.

    Like

    November 4, 2015
  8. I love Rushdie’s books, and I always still wonder if I am smart enough to read them. I have read three [Shalimar the Clown, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, and Midnight’s Children], and I am sure there are big points in each of them that I missed, but I do love his writing. I can definitely see where you would feel a disconnect; I didn’t feel that, but that’s because my parents are from India, I have lived here for 10 years, and I spent 5 months living in Bombay a few years ago, so I felt connected to the setting, if not necessarily the characters. Does that make sense? Anyway, I’m so glad to finally read your review, and I can’t wait to see what you read next! Maybe something a little lighter to give yourself a bit of a break?

    Like

    November 4, 2015
  9. I just read The Enchantress of Florence and felt the same way that you did – am I missing something? Am I smart enough to really get this? It was a beautifully detailed and rich story but yeah, there were times where I felt I was missing the big point. I’m glad I’m not the only one!

    Like

    November 5, 2015
  10. Jono #

    I think this is cultural. India and its history has greater relevance to Indians and Brits, just as your love of gatsby might not transatlanticly resonate as much on uk side. Both great novels but viewed differently from which side of the pond you sit. Death in the family is another one that gets higher praise in the USA than maybe outside. The irony of your love of gatsby and disinterest with dance is that they are essentially the same novel told at different speeds and references.

    Back to salman ,midnight was named the Booker of bookers….high praise indeed as there are some great books that have won that prize. To be middle of the pack in your rankings is a little harsh. I think you have expressed your mea culpa….that it’s you and not the book!

    Like

    November 5, 2015
  11. I’m currently reading this book and can imagine just how much thought Rushdie put in to create such a detailed background of Saleem. You generally don’t find that in a book these days (no offence) and I think it’s a brilliant book. Why do people create huge controversies on small lines is beyond me…

    Like

    November 11, 2015
  12. I have not read the book yet, but seems like an interesting. Will definitely try to get my hands on this one.

    Like

    November 23, 2015
  13. I started this book and i closed soon after Saleem had his daughters and they got married and had their own stories. I truly agree with you on many points like whether I have the aptitude to go through the end of the book or not or whether I will ever soak in the wisdom of Rushdies words. However, he is much of a complex writer and as much as I may be pushed to read it no way I am going through that book again. It made me weary at some point. Its too detailed though he delighted me at how phrases his words and his thoughts and how he had the art to spin a we of complexity that you can hardly find in any other book be it classic one or a contemporary one!

    Like

    June 12, 2016

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