It’s satisfying to start the year reading much and reading great books. Maybe February the 20th, doesn’t qualify as beginning of the year anymore. After all, two more weeks, and the girls have their Spring Break, and after that I know time will fly, and they’ll have their first year of public and charter schools in the books. Christmas 2018 seems a distant dream. I can’t hardly believe that my in laws came in Thanksgiving, and left back home in Europe January 10th, a bit over a month.
The books. This year I’m reading mostly from my shelves, but I admit I always add a couple of books here and there every month or every other month, and read from those new additions as well.
Midnight’s Children. Midnight’s Children was an intimidating book. It’s been a year or so since I’ve wanted to read a book by Rushdie, and since I found this and Satanic Verses at the last local library sale. To make sure I would read it, I added it to my TBR 2019 Pile Challenge. It had been ages since I listened to a book, and when I found this one was on audio at my library, I decided to listen to it. It was a great decision. I needed the voices dramatization, the Indian English accent, the tone and inflections to show me if it was something funny, ironic, shouted or whispered. I believe this book has, like Homer, that quality of being a great book to read aloud, and for that task, who would be better than Lyndam Gregory? His rendition was mind-blowing.
One feels a bit dumb talking about titles like this. I’m not able to give you any sharp insight on it, or compare it and situate it in the books about India and by Indian authors canon. All I can share it’s just what the book did to me. For the many weeks I listened to it, I felt immersed in India, privy to different conversations and happenings, tossed to and fro in the crowds, colors, foods, smells. Inside and out the minds of the midnight children and all around them.
The book is larger than life. The many allusions and references were over my head, yet I latched to many, and that made me giddy, and it also exhausted me, in a good way, such as when we come back from a trip that was packed with excursions and visits to people and places. I bet this book has something for any and all of us, no matter who we are, where we are from. A dear mention was one of the characters singing, “how much is that doggy in the window?” My husband’s aunties live in Australia, Holland, and England, yet they are all from Malta, Europe, and they used to sing this to my oldest daughter, now 14, when she was a baby. We visited Malta and rendezvoused with some of the aunties. My in-laws are also familiar with the tune. There’s also a mention of some Spanish bull fighters, many cultural references to everything you can think of and more.
I have to add that the first half of the book or so, was purer, more 1001 Arabian Nights like, and naive. The story begins in 1915, Saleem tells us about his ancestors, though he is born in 1947, and the book ends in 1967.
The Indo Pakistani war chapters felt like I was thrown into The Heart of Darkness Indian style. There’s lot to chew in this book, and even more to swallow. This is the biggest problem I have with contemporary literature, it’s truly hard for me, it demands much from the reader in many aspects. It’s also the biggest accomplishment, nobody can say you are the same after you close a book such as this. It was an enriching experience.
I won’t isolate and list topics that are dealt with in the book which pose some difficulties. To strip them from the amazing story telling abilities that Rushdie displays would be pointless, even obscene. Talking about books has the effect of prejudicing us against reading them. We, contemporary readers, are such a cast. There’s a lot we miss just because we are quick to jump the guns of our likes and dislikes. It’s also quite stupid to run with our interpretations as if we were trying to pin the tail to the donkey.
My friend who read this at book club, tells me how one of the participants is of Indian origin. This person said India is a lot like Rushdie describes it, with all the superstitions and old wife tales they believe in. I’d dare say that I felt it, all the magical and non plausible accounts which formed a very realistic picture. Reality. Realism. It’s the same question and different answers or views. Rushdie, as Calvino in The Baron in the Trees, presents the impossible in a way that it takes the place of what we understand by real. I like how modern authors draw new borders for what’s real and what’s dreamed or imagined.
It’s just possible that I’m starting to have a bit more understanding of contemporary writers. For sure I have a huge respect for them. Maybe little by little some will become favorites. Right now, I try to read, and thank them for the beauty they unlock. If they approach the evil and cruel of our world, they don’t have a shortage of poetry at their disposal. A banquet, delicious and overwhelmingly abundant.