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Midnight's ChildrenMidnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“To understand just one life you have to swallow the world … do you wonder, then, that I was a heavy child?”

Like a weaver at his loom, Rushdie manages to gather in his hands the medusa-like threads of India’s unique oriental history. With this he doesn’t merely write a story, but rather proceeds to reconcile a heady clash of colours and ideas into a startling pattern that (despite the magical realism) seem to mimic the oftentimes absurd flow of life itself. Even though I would like to call this a novel about the ‘birth’ of Pakistan, it is also the story of India’s greatest loss. ‘Midnight’s Children’ is riddled with themes of abandonment, prejudice and unusual circumstances. It addresses the cultural abortion and geographical divorce of a nation in a most astonishing way. Within the midst of the civil war is Saleem, our narrator, who is quite literally beginning to crack under the weight of his extraordinary life.

You see, Saleem is not an ordinary mortal. He is a changeling and moreover one of the most prolific and talented members of the secret ‘Midnight’s Children’ society. Born on the stroke of midnight, on the very moment of Pakistan’s birth, Saleem was hailed by all as the golden child, the lucky one, the ‘little piece of moon’ that would grace the flag of his brand new motherland.

“I have been a swallower of lives; and to know me, just the one of me, you’ll have to swallow the lot as well.”

Therefore twinned twice as he is (once through religion, and again through the hour of his birth) Saleem begins a personal history that is far from personal and reveals how painfully he remains yoked to the same tempestuous fate as these two enemy nations. But as the story goes on, we learn of how other more ancient personal histories often return to seek their own terrible vengeance. For if Saleem knows one thing about this life that shouldn’t even BE his own, it is that blessings and curses, once uttered, carry on like an arrow obsessed until they find and meet their target. Anthing that stands in the way is pierced. And Saleem, this thief of fate and destiny with his dark twins and superhuman powers is the luckless crucible in which history chooses to shape its’ weird alchemy.

“Why, alone of all the more-than-five-hundred-million, should I have to bear the burden of history?”

It is extremely difficult to talk about ‘Midnight’s Children’ without going into detail. The story is so full of twists and turns that as a reviewer I feel scared to let anything slip. One thing I’d hate to do is spoil any of the plot developments that so delighted me when I read it. But there is one thing I can talk about. The very IDEA of the story that took Rushdie almost 10 years to get down on paper that is so ambitious that just thinking about it makes me dizzy. Where does one start telling the story of countries? And not only this, how does one go about ‘twinning’ a country with humans? There is also the task of harnessing a mind-boggling range of cross-cultural mythological and religious symbolism. The real question I would like to ask Rushdie is ‘where and when do you decide to not draw inspiration and call it enough?’

The writing of stories is a labyrinthine process, we can get lost in the intricacies of the art if we are not careful. Yet Rushdie has a very firm grip on his narrative, introducing this multi-faceted, many-headed Hydra a morsel at a time. In fact, he worked this frustration of ‘where to begin’ into the first chapters of the story, as we see Saleem bemoaning the how he must begin his personal history from his grandfather, as it is here that we find the real ‘roots’ to his birth.

“I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’m gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”

Anyone with a liking of magical realism will love reading ‘Midnight’s Children’. The cast is full and varied. My favourite has to be the Brass Monkey, who Rushdie admitted was based on his own sister who was affectionately called so. As expected with Indian literature, the settings are handsomely portrayed and are vibrant with colour and movement. Although there are many characters that come and go, I found it easy to follow. This was my first book from Rushdie, and I found it pleasantly surprising. My advice to newcomers is do not be put off by the thickness of the book nor the hype surrounding its’ author. Give it a try and you will definitely like it.

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