Year Published: 1981
First sentence: I was born in the city of Bombay... once upon a time.
So finally The List comes up with a book that rings more than just a vague subconscious bell. I've never read Midnight's Children before, but I've read a couple of Salman Rushdie's other books, albeit as a teenager with little to no insight. The story goes something like this: I was 16 or so, I'd guess, and I was on one of my numerous trips to the library. I'm not sure how I ended up in the vicinity of Rushdie, but of course at that age, tormented by religion, The Satanic Verses would catch my eye. I didn't take the book out immediately, though, probably because I was already carrying six or seven others. This is a problem I still have when I go to libraries. Resolving to get the book next time, and unfamiliar with the concept of putting a book on hold, I ended up not being able to find it again for several months. Instead, back at the library, one day I found Haroun and the Sea of Stories crunched behind some other books (Midnight's Children included, I'm sure, haha), and reflecting that the discovery seemed like fate, I read that one instead. Lifetimes later, I don't remember Haroun and the Sea of Stories at all, and although I did eventually read The Satanic Verses, the thing about it that's stuck with me the most is the marvellous name of Alleluia Cone.
What all my long-winded rambling is eventually supposed to establish, is that I'd completely forgotten the density of Rushdie's prose, and the poetry of it, as well. Going back to write out the quotations, I uncovered several unexpected parallels, and was pleased. I'm definitely getting ahead of myself, though.
Midnight's Children is the story of India and Saleem Sinai, who was born at the exact same moment as his country, at midnight on August 15, 1947. My knowledge of India's history doesn't extend very far beyond a viewing of the movie Ghandi in grade 11, but this book makes me wish it did. It's not crucial to understanding what's going on, but I think it's probably crucial to a good understanding, and there're almost certainly a billion things that I missed because I don't know anything about anything. The plot meanders all over the place, from Saleem's grandfather in Kashmir to Saleem, cracking up in a pickle factory in Bombay. My favourite bit is the Midnight Children's Conference, the group of magical children all born between midnight and 1 a.m. the night India got its independence. I hope "magical children" doesn't sound sarcastic, because I honestly don't mean it that way. There are riches and poverty, religion and politics. A nose and knees, knees and a nose.
And seriously it is so good. It's exotic, I guess you could say (though that sounds unbearably lame), and even if it wasn't, it's a nice change of pace from post-WWII angst (well... Western post-WWII angst, at any rate) and the Great Depression. It's hilarious and bleak, and not too heavily grounded in reality. And you should read it.
'You do it on purpose,' she says, 'to make me look stupid. I am not stupid. I have read several books.'
It is a sign of the power of this custom that, even when her husband was afflicted by constipation, she never once permitted him to choose his food, and listened to no requests or words of advice. A fortress may not move. Not even when its dependants' movements become irregular.
...perhaps if one wishes to remain an individual in the midst of the teeming multitudes, one must make oneself grotesque.
The great are eternally at the mercy of tiny men. And also: tiny madwomen.
Rating: 3/3 (read it!)