Title: Midnight's Children: A Novel
Author: Salman Rushdie
Release Date: 1981
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Literary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Midnight’s Children follows the story of Saleem Sinai, a boy born at midnight on August 15, 1947, the exact moment of Indian independence from Britain. Within one hour of midnight in either direction, 1,001 children were born in India, and they each have some sort of special power. As a child born right at midnight, Saleem’s powers are the strongest – those of telepathy. Rushdie takes the reader through independent India’s tumultuous early years, juxtaposing Saleem’s personal story against the broader events of modern India, and brilliantly intertwining the two.
In the past when I’ve told people that Salman Rushdie is my favorite author, yet I haven’t read Midnight’s Children, they are surprised. After all, it’s considered his seminal work, one of the best novels in modern literature. I have a good reason though – I started it years ago, got about halfway through, at which point my book met with an unpleasant fate. Water was somehow spilled all over it, and I couldn’t even peel the pages apart, much less finish it. I vowed to buy another copy immediately so I could continue, but by the time I got around to it earlier this year, I had forgotten too much to be able to pick up where I left off. So I started anew, devouring this unique novel from beginning to end.
I absolutely loved the history contained within Midnight’s Children and am very glad I waited this long to read it. Why? I just wrote my master’s thesis on the conflict between India and Pakistan. Therefore, when I was reading this novel, I recognized the historical accuracy of even the most minor events. It gave me a lot of familiarity with the subject matter. Midnight’s Children on the whole is a bit convoluted and confusion (that’s not a criticism, just a statement of fact – I liked the way it was written, personally) and having an intimate knowledge of that history really helped me understand the book.
I could really tell that this was an early work of Rushdie’s when I was reading it. While brilliantly written, it doesn’t quite have that polish that his later novels display so easily. Rushdie has always had the ability to write beautiful prose, but it’s clear that he’s honed that skill over the years. While the writing in Midnight’s Children was excellent, it wasn’t quite as beautiful as some of his later work.
Magical realism is ever present in Midnight’s Children, as it is in most of Rushdie’s works. I thought it worked especially well in this novel, as many of the events taking place in the backdrop are larger than life. I love how Rushdie incorporated fantasy into the very real, very scary history of post-independence India. Wars, riots, states of emergency – it was not a pretty picture, yet Rushdie handles it very well.
After reading the 25th anniversary author’s note at the beginning of the novel and really absorbing the book itself, the genius of Midnight’s Children becomes all the more clear. It’s simultaneously a love and hate letter to India. Rushdie loves his country at the same time he is incredibly angry at how events have unfolded there. He brilliantly expresses these feelings through Saleem and the events in the book. It’s really an amazing feat, all the more astonishing considering this was only his second novel.
Midnight’s Children is really a masterpiece of twentieth century fiction. I was continually amazed by its breadth and depth, at how much Rushdie jam-packed into its pages. As a result, it is a book to be read slowly and savored; reading it quickly will ruin the experience and make it difficult to understand. I really enjoyed it and am glad I finally got around to reading this modern classic.