Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

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.

11 thoughts on “Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

  1. You’ve both encouraged and discouraged me from rereading this. I don’t remember much from my first go except that the magic realist style confused me, being one of the first in this genre I had read. I was a very naive reader back then, when it first came out in paperback!

    So would I reread it? Possibly. I was born in the year after the novel (also the year after Rushdie) after my parents had left India, their country of birth, for England, where I was born. So I feel I ought to have some affinity with what’s described. But I must first finish The Moor’s Last Sigh which I stalled on after the women sounded to be too much like my mother at her worst!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your comments are always interesting, and this one made me laugh. It’s like that, Chris. I too wanted to listen to it, and dreaded listening to it, I had both contradictory feelings all through the book.

      I totally forgot to write about what I believe is the heart of this book, its magic realism. You may remember that Rushdie himself, in the prologue, comments how non Indians deem the book fantastic, while Indians say “they all could have written it exactly the same”, (meaning they see the history of India and Pakistan, and the story of the people reflected in it with accuracy.) I totally forgot to add how my friend from Honduras, upon re-reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, saw the heart of the Latin American cultures reflected in the Buendía sagas. And yet, we can all understand this, how for these authors magic realism is a recourse, a new style, realism obtained through the hyperbole, and still be confused when we come to the books. I wish I could know what makes it possible to see that magic realism blend and fuse with realism to the point we don’t experience it as that annoying pimple in the middle of a beautiful face, -which reminds me how much I relished all those mentions of parts of the body, the nose, the knees, skin. I plan to get back to Rushdie when the time is right.

      Two things. One, -and judging by the fascinating personal connections you shared-, this book will benefit from you being a more experienced reader. Two, -and I don’t know your view of audio books-, consider listening to this book, the actor who narrates it adds layer upon layer of meaning, understanding, and makes it as true for us without knowledge of India, totally accessible, and enjoyable.

      But if you are reading Rushdie, do you need this one too? Don’t overdose. In this one, with all those many women portrayed, -fascinating women too-, I bet you’ll find your mother and more, ha ha ha.

      It also reminded me vaguely of some Bible scenes, Old Testament, with all these flawed yet heroic people. I connected the most in the way immigrants and those living in a transplanted country experience life. India is a very ebullient country for sure. In Houston we have a fascinating amalgam of cultures, idiosyncrasies, and races, and the Indians and Pakistanis are specially close to us. At the university where my husband works, at the IT department, there’s many men and some women initially from there. Our daughters pediatrician is also from India. We adore her. Our former doctor, who truly meant a lot to us, specially my husband, as he visited him at hospital, Dr. Reddy Palavolu, was also a charming and warm man, wise and very cordial. We miss him terribly. All this to say that I believe that, in a very different way, we in Houston share India’s clash and mesh of people, -though we are much more sterilized here, of course, 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t have the patience for audiobooks, I’m afraid, Silvia. And with The Moor’s last Sigh I stalled on it before one of our house moves and I’m not sure where it has got to on my shelves! Some time I’ll finish it and then it will be the turn of his breakout novel, and all those subtleties I missed first time around.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I thought you were reading The Moor’s… right now.

        I understand the dislike for audios. I go on phases where I listen to some books, but in general, I do prefer to read.

        I don’t think it’s necessary to get to those books, but I do know that, should you find yourself in the mood for this book, you’ll get much more from it than the first time around.


  2. Silvia: thanks so much for a great review — you really gave me a feel for the book. I am all admiration at your accomplisment in reading and absorbing Rushdie’s work. This one has been on my personal challenge list for a very long time — I’ve tried to read it twice and gave up fairly quickly — I think I’m just not ready for it yet! Did you know that when the Booker Prize people let readers vote on the “best” novel to ever win the Booker Prize, Midnight’s Children won? It just seems to be, by consensus, one of the century’s great novels AND I am going to read it (even if it takes me a few more tries).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Janakay, that about the Booker Prize is quite amazing.

      I don’t think I could have read it, though, I listened to it, and it was difficult at times. Another thing I did was to read Spark Notes before and after some chapters. One pass didn’t always make it for me, as the book is full to the brim with people, jumps in time, and has a myriad of descriptions plus those tricky magical elements that can confuse us. I can say it’s worth reading, yes, it is. His writing at times is beautiful, and there were moments of profound truths being revealed. Maybe listening to it will work for you as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful review! I think this is a book I should re-read. I remember it being difficult but so much of it would make sense now if I were to pick it up again and it sounds like re-experiencing it in audio is the way to go.

    But first I would like to try some of Rushdie’s other books…just to get a better feel for him as an author.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know. Some difficult books, over the years may be books we want to revisit with different knowledge and experiences, and familiarity with the author.

      I too would try some other of his novels before re-reading.


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