07 April 2012
This is one hell of a book. Saleem, the narrator, opens by telling us (in a stuttering, halting way—a stickler for perfect accuracy, that Saleem) when he was born, that he’s 31 now, and that he’s dying. This was the first Rushdie I’d read, so I can’t give you any firsthand information about how it compares to his other works, but I loved this.
Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is a sweeping epic of an “autobiography” in the process of being written by Saleem Sinai, one of the midnight children (children born during the midnight hour of India’s official independence, and blessed/cursed with different magical gifts). Saleem believes that the hour of his birth destined him to share in—and be inexplicably tied to—India’s fate, and his “autobiography” is stuffed with events of all shapes, sizes, and impacts—the intimately personal, the national, and the epic international. Don’t be deceived by my use of the word “magic.” This is not a science-fiction novel, and it’s not a sword and sorcery fantasy book—it’s a book of poetic, character-driven magical realism, and it’s a wonderful journey.
The language is beautiful, crowded, and colorful (and sometimes discards/disregards punctuation as stifling or too divisive). Every page is densely populated with descriptions of all kinds—smells, tastes, sights, sounds—and musings, and all the words are always jostling, bumping, running together, bustling on the page like a huge crowd (like the 1001 original midnight children, or the population of India, or the host of characters in this book). And it’s easy to get pulled in by language like that—it’s fun and vivacious and hurtling—it just carries you along like a powerful current. Rushdie and Saleem work wonders with parallels, recurring themes, and the tiny, detailed motifs that make up a person’s worldview—these fragments and patterns become as important and psychologically charged as the memories of events themselves.
That’s not to say that the style of the language is what carries the story or makes the book readable—not at all. Rushdie does a magical and wonderful thing by matching his superb style with an equally well-crafted plot. Something is always happening in this book (more often than not, lots of somethings). And without giving too much away—there are crimes committed (war-related and garden-variety), there are love interests (of the acceptable sort, and of the illicit kind), there are family trees so odd they’d look like a Dalí painting, there are crises of identity, burned shoes, prominent noses and knees, and, of course, magical midnight children. The story loops back in on itself in ways that I perhaps should have been able to predict, but which I utterly failed to because I was so caught up in the rush (and it’s such a huge story). It’s hard to fit all the important details of a full, eventful life into a book, but Rushdie does it beautifully, and character-specifically through Saleem. And better than that, he makes it all incredibly readable, personal, and engaging.
I don’t have all the words necessary to talk about this book (especially without spoiling it). And quite frankly, even if I did, by the end we’d both just be exhausted and you would have no energy to start reading the book—which you should do, because I really really really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the characters, I was continually (and pleasantly) surprised by the plot, and the language challenged and thrilled me. You should pick up a copy of Midnight’s Children and savor it.