Category: Salman Rushdie

book review – Midnight’s Children

This is a big book in many ways. In terms of printed pages it falls into the category of doorstopper at 600 plus and in terms of reputation as the Booker of Bookers it cannot get much higher. Add to that the larger than life author Salman Rushdie and you come to this with a certain sense of trepidation.

In some cases minds are clearly made up before the book is given a chance. One friend saying he didn’t like Rushdie and therefore wouldn’t try the book. But there has clearly got to be something there if it won the awards it has and has remained such a popular read even after a couple of decades since its first publication.

After reading it the first thought is that it might have made more sense to have gone through some sort of brief Indian history refresher because the crucial years in the book and the lives of the main character Saleem Sinai are connected with Indira Ghandi and events I had no knowledge of, the state of emergency she declared and then abused. In some respects you pick a great deal up but with the mixture of myth, fantasy and reality it’s not always clear what did happen or what is a dream.

What you can say for sure is that this weaves you through a period of history where India had gained its independence but struggled to find its soul. The splits in society quickly emerged and the country split, went to war and then consolidated with seething bitterness still continuing in some quarters.

Taking the reader through the thirty plus years of independence is Saleem who discovers that he has the ability to communicate telepathically with all of the other children who were born in the midnight hour on the arrival of independence.

It is the Midnight’s Children that link Saleem to a different world, an India of old beliefs and strange powers, as well as a hope that the future will be different from the past. But in the end the children are literally neutered as they fail to break with tradition and produce an India of their dreams.

The second thought is that you wish there was a way that a book could come with a sense of smell because this invokes many smells and tastes that although described well would have been pouring out of the book like an Indian market had smell been possible.

In the end it is the sense of smell, both natural and almost supernatural, that allows the hero to reconnect with his past. But just like his country he is disintegrating into a million pieces.

At the end you realise that imagination and fantasy can be powerfully deployed to help make sense of a real history that at times must have seemed to be unreal.

The final thought is about the writing and the style. There are motifs established in the early part of the book that return again and again. There are big themes with justice, love, betrayal and religion all getting their chance to be played out in the form of grotesque characters and situations.

Time is crucially important. Being born at Midnight not only gives Saleem his telepathic powers but also makes him who he is in the sense of being a child of national prominence. He can only talk to the others after the midnight hour has been struck and it is the sense of his own time running out that ruins through the book from start to finish.

An odd feeling about the book is that in places it feels cinematic to the extent that you see the images as if shown on a screen and the impact of cinema is clear on the writing technique.

But ultimately I guess the real question is not about the writing, the story or the length of time it lingers in the memory but whether or not it is enjoyable. It is intimidating but after a while even with the madness of circus freaks, wars and a family of flawed characters grows on you.

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book review – Midnight’s Children

This is a big book in many ways. In terms of printed pages it falls into the category of doorstopper at 600 plus and in terms of reputation as the Booker of Bookers it cannot get much higher. Add to that the larger than life author Salman Rushdie and you come to this with a certain sense of trepidation.

In some cases minds are clearly made up before the book is given a chance. One friend saying he didn’t like Rushdie and therefore wouldn’t try the book. But there has clearly got to be something there if it won the awards it has and has remained such a popular read even after a couple of decades since its first publication.

After reading it the first thought is that it might have made more sense to have gone through some sort of brief Indian history refresher because the crucial years in the book and the lives of the main character Saleem Sinai are connected with Indira Ghandi and events I had no knowledge of, the state of emergency she declared and then abused. In some respects you pick a great deal up but with the mixture of myth, fantasy and reality it’s not always clear what did happen or what is a dream.

What you can say for sure is that this weaves you through a period of history where India had gained its independence but struggled to find its soul. The splits in society quickly emerged and the country split, went to war and then consolidated with seething bitterness still continuing in some quarters.

Taking the reader through the thirty plus years of independence is Saleem who discovers that he has the ability to communicate telepathically with all of the other children who were born in the midnight hour on the arrival of independence.

It is the Midnight’s Children that link Saleem to a different world, an India of old beliefs and strange powers, as well as a hope that the future will be different from the past. But in the end the children are literally neutered as they fail to break with tradition and produce an India of their dreams.

The second thought is that you wish there was a way that a book could come with a sense of smell because this invokes many smells and tastes that although described well would have been pouring out of the book like an Indian market had smell been possible.

In the end it is the sense of smell, both natural and almost supernatural, that allows the hero to reconnect with his past. But just like his country he is disintegrating into a million pieces.

At the end you realise that imagination and fantasy can be powerfully deployed to help make sense of a real history that at times must have seemed to be unreal.

The final thought is about the writing and the style. There are motifs established in the early part of the book that return again and again. There are big themes with justice, love, betrayal and religion all getting their chance to be played out in the form of grotesque characters and situations.

Time is crucially important. Being born at Midnight not only gives Saleem his telepathic powers but also makes him who he is in the sense of being a child of national prominence. He can only talk to the others after the midnight hour has been struck and it is the sense of his own time running out that ruins through the book from start to finish.

An odd feeling about the book is that in places it feels cinematic to the extent that you see the images as if shown on a screen and the impact of cinema is clear on the writing technique.

But ultimately I guess the real question is not about the writing, the story or the length of time it lingers in the memory but whether or not it is enjoyable. It is intimidating but after a while even with the madness of circus freaks, wars and a family of flawed characters grows on you.

Midnight’s Children – post VIII

Having go to the end of what has been a real marathon I’m not sure how I feel. It is going to take a bit of time I think for the impact of this novel to sink in.

Some of that is because of the length and ambition of this story and the fact that some of the themes only become clear towards the very end with the spittoon and the chutney key links to both the past and the present.

The years of emergency rule are also ones that end the role of the midnight children as they are rounded up and stripped of their powers. But that comes after a war between Pakistan and India that sees Saleem retrieve his memory after bumping into one of the other midnight children.

The movement towards the climax is also a movement towards the death of the dream of an India that could really change after independence. That is the message I am going to take away from this, that the dreams and the waves of optimism led to war, semi-dictatorship with the emergency years and for those in the slums and the poor sides of the track nothing but roughly the same as there was before. A country of two worlds, rich and poor, continues to the end.

A review will follow soon…

Midnight’s Children – post VII

It might sound like an odd thing to say but there is a moment when you cannot help thinking of Anthony Powell and his Dance to the Music of Time. The echoes are the idea of bombs falling and with deadly accuracy wiping out some characters from the cast.

In this case the Indo-Pakistan war is the conflict and the bombs kill Saleem’s parents, aunt and via a silver spittoon that literally brains him changes his life.

Things need to be changed as he father has a stoke, mother starts to see things rather than cope with the reality of being pregnant again and after making a sexual advance to his sister Saleem is isolated even more.

Having been dragged to the doctor’s to have his sinuses unblocked he loses the telepathic ability he has cherished but instead gets a hyper sensitive sense of smell that in its own way has a power. The question is whether or not he intends spending long using that power as a human sniffer dog sniffing out insurgents on the border.

The story, now in book three, changes and goes through stages and with the action moving from India to Pakistan there is definitely an increased military feel to the atmosphere with generals and coups part of the political landscape. But there is also an unreality to it and Rushdie describes the confusion of war with the propaganda of both sides making it almost impossible to know what battles have been fought and won and lost.

More tomorrow…

Midnight’s Children – post VI

If you think about the challenge of using a single person to act as a metaphor for a country keeping them in one place is going to lose some of the power that moving them around would have.

So the movement into exile in Pakistan comes when Sinai’s family breaks apart after it is revealed that he is in fact not their son but was swapped by the nurse Mary. She disappears into her own exile having destroyed her relationships with her employers and the relationship between everyone becomes strained.

The upshot is that amongst the mourning for Sinai’s failed director uncle, who commits suicide, there is a breakdown between relationships between Sinai’s mother and father with the former being dragged to Pakistan with her mother and the later staying behind surrounded by nothing but failure and the rubble of the bulldozed estate.

The crossing of the border is not only physical but also something more powerful and prevents Sinai from communicating with other Midnight Children and enjoying his gift of telepathy.

He still suspects his mother of infidelity and by encouraging a naval officer to confront his adulterous wife Sinai believes he has taught her a lesson. The only lesson he does seem, to pick up is that children need to be beware of dabbling in adult lives and chain reactions can lead to death, murder and family breakdown.

More tomorrow…

Midnight’s Children – post V

I’ve been listening to a Guardian podcast of Salman Rushdie talking about Midnight’s Children. Although it has helped a little bit put his motivation in context I’m starting to understand that perhaps when people say they don’t like his books they actually mean they don’t like him. Perhaps in the context of discussing your own work it is always going to make you sound slightly arrogant but there was a side to his personality that I didn’t find particularly endearing.

Still back in the world of his writing this book is starting to progress and at the half way stage there are plenty of indications that dramatic events are waiting to unfold. The first is the moment when Sinai loses a finger and the fact does not have the blood group of his mother and father is revealed leading his parents to argue over that conundrum.

The second development is the communion with the midnight children that Sinai conducts every night at the witching hour and the different talents that are revealed from those that were born in the magic first hour of independence.

Finally there is a suggestion that through his dream Sinai has the ability to kill those he dreams have died. The first to go is a classmate with a weak heart but he sets his sights on the studio boss who has used and then abused his aunt.

More tomorrow…

Midnight’s Children – post IV

Suddenly the book changes from a colourful history and personal childhood biography to something more fanciful. Sinai informs his parents that he can hear voices, he seems to think are angles, and is rewarded with a box round the ears for his trouble.

But he really can hear voices and discovers the ability to get into the thoughts of peple ranging from farmers to prime ministers and sitting at the top of the clock tower he spends his time surfing the inner thoughts of thousands.

But it takes a bike crash caused by Sinai’s attempts to get the attraction of an American girl to get the pieces to click together and he realises he can communicate with the other midnight children born in the country in the hour of independence.

This is where the bravery of Rushdie comes in because presumably he had a choice to keep it a history of India told through the eyes of one boy/man or he could take a fantastic turn and as a result of course do something that only literature can help you achieve. It reminds you of a cartoon where the impossible becomes possible and surely that is what a great imagination should be able to do.

More tomorrow…