I know I’m a bit late jumping on the bandwagon, but I heard about this read-along and couldn’t help joining in. If you are interested, you can find this hosted over at Bibliojunkie by JoV. I’ve been dying to read one of Rushdie’s books for the longest time, but his reputation as a brainy, intelligent type did kind of put me off. I was afraid I might not completely understand his writing! But surprise, surprise, I have been really enjoying this one. It’s been a while since I’ve read any magical realism and I find I haven’t gotten lost in it yet. But a little less about me and more about the read-along, and an overview of the book itself.
How The Readalong Works: The read-along is split into three parts or ‘weeks’. Part one covers ‘Book 1’ of the novel, which is roughly from pages 1-150. Each week we get a set of questions about the section we’ve read. Each member posts their thoughts on their blogs to share with other reader. That’s it! Very simple. But because I was late getting the book I will be posting my responses as and when I finish the sections in my own time.
Synopsis of ‘Midnight’s Children’: Saleem Sinai, the protagonist and narrator of this extraordinary story, is not an ordinary person. His birth (the exact moment of India’s liberation, as it happens) caused something of a warp in time, making him one of the 1001 children to be linked inextricably to world history. Imagine if the ‘Book of Life’ had been expelled from heaven and landed on earth in 1001 fragments, each fragment to have suffused itself in a child being born at that exact moment. That’s what it would be like: an elite collective of ‘midnight’s children’ who are connected to each other and to the fate of the world.
This is Saleem’s destiny; to carry within him the burden of India’s painful re-birth. However these children of fate do not live long, and at thirty-something Saleem is already seeing signs that history, is literally, pulling him apart. Therefore exhausted and spent, Saleem’s only desire now is to write down the endless lives and worlds that have come and gone inside him any way he can. What ensues is a convoluted narrative of multiple stories that break off and resume their course elsewhere, and memories that capture the essence and nuance of people, places and events in India’s history.
1. Saleem describes himself as ‘handcuffed to history’. What do you think that this means, and do you think that this is true of him?
In the story Saleem has a very distinct reason to call himself ‘handcuffed’ to history. As the synopsis says, he is one of the many children who are magically connected. But I think Rushdie has created Saleem’s unique destiny as a way of saying that all people are handcuffed to their own personal histories, whether they be familial, cultural, religious or otherwise. I am reminded of Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.” When we are born, we enter part of an ongoing story or ‘play’ that other actors or people are taking part in. I’m not a fan of the notion that we live a preordained life, but I can’t help thinking some things might be set. For instance our family history is something we can’t change. This is evident when Saleem chooses to write about his life. In order to do it properly, he decides to go back as far as his great-grandfather to begin his own personal history, as if to say that he already existed in some form or other in his ancestors.
The notion of being linked to the history of a country is far more potent. We don’t think about it very much, but all our lives pretty much depend on the decisions made by the countries we live in, or those more powerful ones surrounding us. The India under British rule that is portrayed in Book 1 draws many parallels with today’s Afghanistan and Iraq. I do not know for certain yet, but I anticipate Rushdie might link the other 1001 children to countries that have been split in two through the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy of Imperialist forces like China – Hong Kong, North – South Korea, Northern Ireland – The Republic of Ireland and Inner -Outer Mongolia. Even if this isn’t the case, it certainly makes it a very interesting concept.
2. Unlike many novels, Midnight’s Children is not written using a linear narrative. Why do you think that Rushdie uses this technique, and do you think that it is successful?
The concept of ‘Midnight’s Children’ is quite unique and complex. There are many characters and historical events that collide together to form a colourful confusion. And it is only natural that this confusion be represented by a non-linear narrative. Rushdie notes that it took him many years to write the story, and I think the broken storyline is an effective way for Rushdie to evoke the nature of time, the way it passes outside us and within us and how we capture time in memories that are, in effect, incomplete and flawed in themselves. We may make memories through sight, sound or even scent (noses are very important in Saleem’s story… he has amazing olfactory senses that warn him when he is in trouble!), so the fabric and cadence of these memories may change.
I think it’s also Rushdie’s way of saying stories do not have to be told in a linear way. We don’t think in a linear way, so why should stories go in a straight line? When we encounter Saleem, he is writing an autobiography after all, and our lives are full of alleyways and multiple roads that we may have travelled at any one time. Our life history may even contain dead-ends and booby-traps. Instead of going the way of ‘stream of consciousness’ which would have rendered this novel completely unreadable, I think Rushdie chose a more ‘friendly’ version, and made his story fragments bigger and therefore more coherent for his readers. Instead of having three separate memories flowing into one another in a single sentence a la Woolf or Joyce, memories are divided distinctly into paragraphs so we at least know the next one will be a jump to somewhere else. Part of the alienation of SoC is the fact that the story switches without indication. Rushdie has taken great care to make sure this doesn’t happen too often with his readers.
These are some of the questions put to us for the readalong. If you’ve read the book, what would be your response to them?