Ben's Reviews > Midnight's Children

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
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Dec 02, 07

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Recommended for: anyone who reads fiction written after 1965
Read in November, 2007

This was an extremely good book; one which, for some reason, I couldn't quite fall in love with. I was, however, more and more impressed with Rushdie's mastery over his novel as I made my way through it.

Midnight's Children is as much a tale of history and nationhood as it is of a person. I think, in some sense, the book was a sort of authorial attempt to bring into the realm of substantial palpability everything that had happened to the Indian subcontinent since Independence in '47 (or thereabouts). In so doing, Rushdie had to deal with many of the themes that have been the standards of world literature in the passing decades: the richness of pre-modern superstition falling away to the antiseptic light of post-colonial progress, the upheavals of third-world political instability, magical realism, the individual as a link in the hereditary chain.

I don't know for sure, but I'm certainly willing to grant the benefit of the doubt to the notion that Rushdie (along with with Gabriel Garcia Marquez) was among the first to employ these literary devices. And in some ways, he does it best. I was repeatedly impressed by the fact that Midnight's Children didn't just talk about history, patterns, and the past and the future interlinking. No -- its author had done the hard and uncommon work of planning the book so that those patterns would really be there. So that images from the beginning of the book would effectively and reliably return to haunt at the apex and at the climax of the tale. I *often* lose patience (and Marquez is on this list) with books that make great promises (witness: Love In the Time of Cholera) early on, but end up meandering, without focus, robbing the book's conclusion of greater meaning and impact. Rushdie did not make this mistake.

I think that one of the problems I had with Midnight's Children is that I read it out of order. Clearly clearly clearly God of Small Things and Middlesex to pick two at random among many, were heavily influenced by this novel. But I read them first. And in some ways, you have to admit that they improved on the techniques that I suspect Rushdie pioneered.

Rushdie brings history to life in Midnight's Children, and he does it by adding magic. He weaves a personal, wonderful, and improbable life into the history of Indian independence, the creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is set in an even more charming, and considerably more personal (and personable) frame-tale narrative. The structure is not born of whimsy. The author is making a strong and cogent point about the nature of knowledge and history and experience. Official records contain one version of history. Rather than just smugly assert that there are others, he provides us a literary illustration. Who knows what could have happened? When Reasons swept its bright and ruinous hand over this part of the world, who can say what got lost? What was looked over? It is as if the thesis of the book (if there were one, other than that Indira Ghandi was a plague to the nation), was that within the cracks and crevices of official knowledge are rich seams of midnight-black possibility, a dark rainbow of being.

My final criticism: the book brought all of this history and insight beautifully to life. I felt the sacrifice was the actual protagonist. In the present, he is a charming reality. The versions of himself that he narrates feel like a frail sort of cipher. He rarely has strong attachments, we are not told much about his feelings, and when we are, they don't seem to be connected to the main thread of the narrative. He changes as needed to move the story forward, but, ultimately, the story is not a personal one. The person at its center has worked too hard to be a symbol, a nation, history.

Is Midnight's Children worth reading? Absolutely. Will it enter my list of most-beloved novels? I'm afraid not.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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Alison Christy
The combination of history and nationhood etc and in fact the entire structure was completely ripped off of Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum. Rushdie may have even acknowledged as much. That said, I think Rushdie does it better. :)






message 2: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Huh. Fascinating. I have nothing against stealing ideas, but I am kinda fascinated to read Mr. Grass now. Plus, his last name is Grass! :-) I *have* received extra confirmation that Middlesex and God of Small Things were extremely reminiscent of M.C., though. But in my ignorance, I enjoyed them thoroughly. I wonder if I would have, if I'd read this book first.


Taylor Am out reading reviews of Midnight's Children 'cause it's going to be one of the next books I read, and wanted to say I enjoyed your review - your comparison to Middlesex is compelling (I loved that book, as well). Can't say I've read or know much about God of Small Things, but if it's reminiscent of Rushdie, I'm game. Out of pure curiosity, had you read anything else of his before this? I've read Satanic Verses (incredible), and Ground Beneath Her Feet (pretty good) and I'm kind of besotted with him, but I'd be curious to know what you think of this in comparison to his others if you have.


Alison Christy Hi Taylor. I thought Ground Beneath Her Feet was stylistically a lot like Midnight's Children - almost too much alike, I felt like Rushdie was copying himself - and MC was much, much better. Satanic Verses is pretty different, as I recall.

I think Eugenides has actually acknowledged his debt to MC for Middlesex - Gunter Grass did the multinational multigenerational novel first, then Rushdie, and then Eugenides. Personally I wasn't impressed by Middlesex, but I loved Midnight's Children.

Hope that helps!


message 5: by Taylor (last edited May 08, 2008 04:07PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Taylor Yeah, now that you mention it, the comparison of the sprawling plotlines does make sense.

Glad to know you enjoyed MC more than Ground Beneath Her Feet. A lot of people seemed to like the latter, but I just couldn't bring myself to care about the characters as much.


message 6: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Hi Taylor (and Ali!) -- "MC" was my first foray into Rushdie. I'm sure it won't be the last, but I'll defer to Ali on these points. I couple of years ago I would've said that God of Small Things was a worth reading as a point of cultural literacy alone. The nineties have come and gone, and it might be receding into history, The author, Arundhati Roy, has moved from novel-writing to essay-writing and politics, and I think that I'd wish her to write another novel, I don't know that she will. I loved the novel, anyway.

As much as I enjoyed Rushdie and the other books named, I have to say that Kite Runner was a complete breath of fresh air for not, well, not just being so under Rushdie's spell. I really need to push Thousand Splendid Suns up on my reading queue, although I've been warned to temper my expectations on that account. Anyway, I suspect that *many* novels (I might toss Life of Pi onto the fire) were produced under influence of Rushdie. Can't help feel that the original *and* the emulators would be stronger if they tried to fall farther from the tree.


message 7: by Ally (new)

Ally The brand new group - Bright Young Things - is nominating books to read in January & Midnight's Children is among them. Its the perfect place to discuss your favourite books and authors from the early 20th Century, why not take a look...

http://www.goodreads.com/group/invite...


Scherzadee Ah, love your review! I felt the same way while reading it. Worth reading, but not a favorite. Thanks for putting it into words so elegantly


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