*All Book Reviews on this blog are spoiler free.*
"I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you'll have to swallow a world.” - Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children.
I know it has been nearly a month since I last posted a book review and I have a reason (or an excuse) which goes by the name of Midnight’s Children. Midnight’s Children is one of the more famous books of Salman Rushdie. Every time I review a book I attempt to remain objective, to explain the reasons of my liking (or disliking) the book, accepting that it may appeal differently to a different audience and so on and so forth. The final decision - whether you read the book or not - is entirely up to you. Today, I am admittedly writing with an agenda– to convince you to read this book.
The book begins with our protagonist Saleem Sinai settled in a pickle factory and trickling towards his 31st birthday when sits down to write his autobiography. Unlike most autobiographies, Saleem’s story doesn’t start at his birth (or at his conception). His story begins when his grandfather kneeled on a frozen patch of ground under the blue Kashmiri sky and hit his nose in the process. Beginning in early 1915, Saleem narrates the story of how his family came to be and how it seems inevitably the history of his country is tightly wound with that of his family.
Saleem was born at midnight on the 15th of August and in a very extravagant metaphor, Salman Rushdie showcases Saleem’s life as a reflection of the country of India which was incidentally born at the exact moment of Saleem’s birth. Being born with his country also granted Saleem the power to read minds and hold telepathic conversations which led to the formation of MCC (aka Midnight Children’s Conference). Members of MCC included other children born within the hour of India’s independence each gifted with different talents.
While telepathic powers and magical surrealism is an important aspect of this book, it doesn’t take up as much of the limelight as you would expect it too. In fact, the autobiography format allows the book to deal with several themes including tradition, the pettiness of children, the greater purpose, redemption, prophecies, love and several others. History is also a very important element of this book. Not just the history of Saleem’s parents and grandparents which inevitably shapes his story but also the history he helps to create.
The autobiography format also helps in providing sense to the chaos that is life. Saleem connects different scenes by pulling in images and phrases, which add depth to the story, act as an element of surprise and even create humour. Saleem’s character undergoes massive change from an idealistic, imaginary child with big dreams to a darker adolescent and then, when he sits down to writes this story, once again a child with elaborate writing techniques. However to keep him in check, we have another consistent character – Padma, who is reading his story as he writes and who like you and me, the average reader, doesn’t care much for his slow pace and helps him clarify things up.
I have already admitted Midnight’s Children is a long read and it is certainly not easy. The first 150 pages can be so difficult to read but once you get past them, the rest of the book is a breeze. Salman Rushdie switches back and forth between the past and the present, all the while hinting at the future and he does this without any warning. It takes time to get used to the style of writing which contains several Indian mannerisms and often literal translation from Hindi that makes the sentence structure awkward.
The ending of this book is perhaps the best I have read in recent times. It isn’t a happy ending per say but leaves you with a sense of closure and wraps up the book neatly. In conclusion, Midnight’s Children is unique, well thought out as a concept and just as well executed.