101 Books to Read Before You Die discussion

Midnight's Children
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Alana (alanasbooks) | 1189 comments Mod
I'm not sure how to break this one down, although it is a large book. Please preface your comments with about how far along you are in the book, to avoid spoilers.


Alana (alanasbooks) | 1189 comments Mod
I read this last year because I'd heard so many good things about it. Honestly, I hated it: not to start anyone else on the wrong foot! I have just found in my experience that this kind of book, something like the "magic realism" genre, is simply not my cup of tea.

Does this type of genre, mostly reality, but using some strange "superpower" as a metaphor, work for you? Or do you just find it distracting? I do remember when he would talk about the history of India itself, when it didn't involve the book's characters at all, was completely fascinating, and I could read that for hours. But it would switch back to the characters and I would get so bogged down because I just couldn't get connected to any of them. I didn't care one way or another what happened to them. Can anyone else relate?


Priyanka I'm about halfway through it.

I had started reading this one even before nominations for May read started. Still haven't been able to finish it. I thought maybe (view spoiler) will make it interesting, but no! It still drags and I can't read more than 10-15 pages at a time.


Irene | 1424 comments I am dreading this one. I have had unpleasant experiences with magical realism in the past. I may decide just to skip it. Is it very long?


Sagheer Afzal | 11 comments Hi Guys. Just started this book. Looking forward to have some great discussions with you

Sagheer


Mike | 318 comments Mod
I have seen the movie which I am hoping helps. I have read The Satanic Verses which was a bit of a struggle...


Alana (alanasbooks) | 1189 comments Mod
I didn't know there was a movie. The slog of the book is plenty, I'm not sure I could handle a movie...

Irene, I think it's something like 600+ pages. I found it incredibly tedious, but as I said, I think it very much depends on if it's in your style of reading or not. I know some people who really, REALLY liked it, but I am in the camp that just couldn't get in to it. In fact, I kept thinking it would get better, and kept at it as a result, and by the end, thought "why on earth didn't I abandon this ages ago?" Actually, the most riveting section I remember is when a character's wife is listening to him talk and her internal thoughts are something like "What on earth is he talking about and why is this conversation still going on? What's the point?" I thought "Yes, I'm with her! WHAT is the point?"

HOWEVER, I'm curious to hear from those of you who DO like it, because I think if I hear more of what you get out of it, I might see more of what I missed and why it's considered such a great book, so please don't let me deter anyone from enjoying it!


Alana (alanasbooks) | 1189 comments Mod
How's everyone coming along with this? Especially those that are reading it for the first time? Any new thoughts? Have you read this kind of genre before? What do you think of it?


message 9: by Sam (new)

Sam Owens I'm glad I'm not the only one struggling. I finished chapter 1 last night and struggled to keep my concentration. I feel at the moment it's jumping to quickly between characters. I had to google what happened I'm hoping it gets easier


Sagheer Afzal | 11 comments Hi Guys

I'm upto to 0age 142 but I have to say reading it is a laborious and ponderous task. The introspective monologues are so so long and dense that you lose the thread of the plot. Very much a book written for the high brow literary intellectual types. The type of people who perhaps award prizes to authors.


message 11: by Mike (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike | 318 comments Mod
The Satanic VersesAlana wrote: "How's everyone coming along with this? Especially those that are reading it for the first time? Any new thoughts? Have you read this kind of genre before? What do you think of it?"

I have finished Book 2. I find this book less confusing than The Satanic Verses. I think having seen the movie was a definite benefit. The story is cleverly integrated within the historical backdrop and very witty at times.


message 12: by Alana (new) - rated it 1 star

Alana (alanasbooks) | 1189 comments Mod
I've heard so many good things about The Satanic Verses, but frankly, I'm afraid to try it, because it was so tedious to me to get through this one.


message 13: by Mike (last edited May 23, 2015 11:02AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mike | 318 comments Mod
Alana wrote: "I've heard so many good things about The Satanic Verses, but frankly, I'm afraid to try it, because it was so tedious to me to get through this one." I felt it was harder to read but maybe it deserves a second go now I know it better. I find Rushdie is a bit like Faulkner. It's good to use Sparknotes to keep up & to make sure you're not missing anything...


message 14: by Lekha (last edited May 23, 2015 06:08AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lekha Murali (Lekha_murali) | 7 comments 'Magical realism' simply means distorting or contorting or exaggerating reality to make the difficult more palatable or make the mundane look spectacular or simply because it is pleasurable.

That is all that is there to it. In 'Midnight's Children' Rushdie captures the cultural, social, linguistic commingling and the resulting cacophony that is unique to the Indian subcontinent.

Having had grown up in India, with knowledge of the region's history, this story just did it, complete with inventing a language that captures the soul of India. I say this because there are officially, sixteen languages in India, unofficially it can be very confusing for people who are not used to that kind of mixed culture.

If you live in the city of Bangalore you will pick up six to seven languages easily. Each language means a different culture, custom, beliefs, social norms and cuisine. Now add to this the numerous religions such as Hinduism which in itself is complicated with numerous gods, Christianity, Islam, Sikh, Jainism and the list goes on and on. Now add to this the social discrimination of casteism.

India as a country never existed until 1947, neither did Pakistan. The entire region was a shape shifting kingdoms for thousands of years, ruled and governed by kings locally and from those outside the region which has resulted in its numerous languages and culture and religion all the social divisions and fragmentation. Now imagine the politics of the region. Mind boggling, isn't it?

India and Pakistan were never countries until the Colonial British decided to bind the divisive and explosive elements together, simply because it was to their advantage.

What I have described is only the tip of the iceberg. Now tell me how does one capture all this and tell a story, trying to stay true its history which Rushdie has done admirably and the implications of the decision to divide the region into India and Pakistan, and the resulting on its population?

Rushdie did this by inventing a language all its own, even though it is English, its is distorted, contorted and exaggerated to make the story more palatable and make the mundane more interesting.

The disastrous decision to divide the region into two countries still has implications doesn't it? The day after declaration of independence, the border between the two countries were blood soaked, people murdering, killing in sheer insanity. The boundary became an outlet for the pent hatred of centuries and wanton blood lust. That's India's Holocaust.

Rushdie's explains all the ingredients that goes into the mindset of the people.

Tin Drum is another story that does the same with Facism.

Read classic literature with curiosity, absorb it with passion and imagination.

Then take a lifetime to let it assimilate it into your being.

You would have lived several lives in one lifetime.


message 15: by Alana (new) - rated it 1 star

Alana (alanasbooks) | 1189 comments Mod
Lekha that's a very interesting analysis. I don't know nearly as much as I should about India's history, which is one of the reasons I found the historical aspects of the novel so interesting. I didn't find the characters appealing at all, but the cultural history of India is fascinating. I like your thoughts on the mixtures of faiths, cultures, languages, etc.


Lekha Murali (Lekha_murali) | 7 comments Thanks I could help. India is a complicated place like most old cultures in the world, simply because people have lived in a place long enough.

As to the characters they are caricatures and cartoons - distortions and contortions and exaggerations of reality.


Sagheer Afzal | 11 comments have been wanting to read this book for a long time as Salman Rushdie has long been the darling of the litterati; the supposed pioneer of magical realism. I am loath to say I was very disappointed. The prose was dense and the authors aversion to using paragraphs to add clarity to his narrative made the book plodding and ponderous. I fail to see the inherent symbolism of Saleem Sina and the Brass Monkey or Shiva. I fail to see how it gives any insight into any of the themes raised in the book. Marlon Brando once wrote long after he starred in 'Last Tango In Paris' that he had no idea what the film was about. I felt the same way after reading this book. The narrator tries to make you feel as though you are an actor in his little world but really you are not. But then I don't think Salman Rushdie wanted to write this book for the readers. In his introduction he writes that his own inchoate idea of the book was long and strange. So there you have it, a book written not for the readers but for the writer who tries hard to awaken our intellects. All good and well, but none of the wordplay which so many reviewers have gushed over makes it readable. Arundhati Roy can do just as able a job as intriguing our minds with much fewer words. You can tell that elements in this book are the precursor of 'The Satanic Verses' I find it significant that when Rushdie recounts the names of Prophet Muhammad he adds 'Mahound' the name used by his enemies and his designation of a black statue as Al-Lah which supposedly is worshiped by the pagan Arabs is insolent. This is a book written for the intelligentsia. Of whom a cohort regard Rushdie as a champion of freedom of expression. But for the lesser enlightened who like to read books for enjoyment this is not your cup of tea.


Sagheer Afzal | 11 comments Lekha wrote: "'Magical realism' simply means distorting or contorting or exaggerating reality to make the difficult more palatable or make the mundane look spectacular or simply because it is pleasurable.

That ..."


Hi Lekha. I fail to see how Rushdie delineates the conflict of India. His rambling prose does not give any windown into the minds of the people immersed in this conflict.


Sagheer Afzal | 11 comments Alana wrote: "I read this last year because I'd heard so many good things about it. Honestly, I hated it: not to start anyone else on the wrong foot! I have just found in my experience that this kind of book, so..."

Hi Alan. I totally agree with your review. This is a very self indulgent book. As though Rushdie was trying to dazzle us with the depth of his insight through intricate and convoluted monologues. Fine, no one is denying that Rushdie is an intellectual man. But the masses who don't have as many IQ points as Rushdie just want to enjoy a book. This is not a book to be enjoyed. Its dense and convuluted structure seem to suggest that Rushdie wanted it to be read slowly with every word pondered over. As thought it was written for literary judges who award prizes.


message 20: by Alana (new) - rated it 1 star

Alana (alanasbooks) | 1189 comments Mod
Sagheer wrote: "Its dense and convuluted structure seem to suggest that Rushdie wanted it to be read slowly with every word pondered over."

I think this may be the key phrase. While I did not enjoy the story, I am pretty intelligent, so it's not that I COULDN'T get more out of it if I really tried, but honestly, some books just don't lend themselves (at least to me) to really be pondered over in such a fashion. I think to those that really appreciate the depth and extravagance such a story can go into and see it for its artistic and examining value (as Lekha pointed out) it can be very enlightening and even uplifting. For someone like me, it just becomes tedious, because I'm trying to read more story into it than is really there, rather than absorbing the words and descriptions as the author meant.

Again, different reading tastes for different folks. Makes for some very interesting discussion though! :)


Lekha Murali (Lekha_murali) | 7 comments Well said Alana, I agree it might just not be everybody's cup of tea. Tastes and preferences vary widely from person to person.


message 22: by Jennifer (new) - added it

Jennifer  | 285 comments Lekha wrote: "'Magical realism' simply means distorting or contorting or exaggerating reality to make the difficult more palatable or make the mundane look spectacular or simply because it is pleasurable.

That ..."


Very insightful post Lekha. I was a little apprehensive about starting this read. I recently finished One Hundred Years of Solitude and while I appreciated it, I found it to be a slow read. However, your post has made me excited about starting this one, even if I am far behind everyone else.


Irene | 1424 comments I finally decided to attempt this one and have finished part 1. It is not as dense as One Hundred Years of Solitude. I may not understand everything, but I am getting the bulk of the story. So,what is the significance of the baby switch? Why is the discovery of the Brittish homeowner's hair piece so significant? I am assuming that the insistance that the house be purchased whole without any changes permitted is an image of the archaic and useless and burdensome institutions and customs that India inherited from the departing Brittish.


Sagheer Afzal | 11 comments Hi irene

I just purchased one hundred years of solitude. Is it really more opaque than Midnights children?


Irene | 1424 comments I found it to be, but I am not that far into Midnight's Children, so my opinion of this book may change. One of the most confusing parts of One Hundred Years, at least for me, is that nearly every male character in the family has the same name


Irene | 1424 comments I am now half way through Part 3 and eager to finish. Looks like no one knew the answers to my earlier questions, but I will try again. In Part 3, what does the Jungle of Dreams represent with its four girls who wordlessly provide sex, the growing translucance, the tidal wave? What does the invisible basket represent?


message 27: by Alana (new) - rated it 1 star

Alana (alanasbooks) | 1189 comments Mod
I'll be honest Irene; while I did finish the book (and granted, that was over a year ago), I was so bored with it by the end that I've forgotten most of those details, so I don't really have any insights :( I'm glad you're getting more out of it though!


Irene | 1424 comments Can any of our members from India highlight some of the more significant symbolism in this novel and what it means?


Sagheer Afzal | 11 comments The statue that was Al-lah was a thinly disguised salvo against Islam.


Irene | 1424 comments Why, if the narrator is Muslim, are there negative remarks being made suripticiously against Islam?


Sagheer Afzal | 11 comments Salman Rushdie is an avowed atheist. I think he has was using the narrator to vent his own negativity about Islam.


Irene | 1424 comments Do you know the significance of the switched babies? why the two boys identities are changed?


Irene | 1424 comments One more question... What is the meaning of that black/green sequeence that was introduced in Part 2 and returned near the end of the book?

Well, I am very glad I finished this one. While it was not as bad as I feared, I have no desire to read another book by Rushtie.


Sagheer Afzal | 11 comments The only other thing I can contribute in unravelling the convoluted prose is that the Witch and her children are a reference to Indira Gandhi. The Brass Monkey is I think a symbol for the glamorous anglophile child.


Irene | 1424 comments And what is the green and black all about?


Sagheer Afzal | 11 comments The green is the colour of the Pakistani flag. Jawarlal Nehru who was Indira's father was strongly opposed to the partition. The black illustrates the darkness and despair felt by people such as the Mahatma Gandhi who correctly foresaw the devastation caused by the partition.


message 37: by Lekha (last edited Jun 06, 2015 05:50AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lekha Murali (Lekha_murali) | 7 comments Irene wrote: "Do you know the significance of the switched babies? why the two boys identities are changed?"

The babies are switched by a Mary Periera to show solidarity with Joseph. Joseph a revolutionary, hated the rich so much that Mary thought her action of switching the poor baby with the rich baby would somehow make it right with the one she loved.

As illogical and foolish that may be, Mary did in a lovelorn state of mind and later regrets it.

The significance is that even after the truth about the switch was discovered and it came to light that Saleem was not the biological son of Ahmed and Amina Sinai, nothing changed. The truth simply did not matter, because according to the narrator, "In a kind of collective imagination, we learned that we simply could not think our way of our pasts.."

What I understand by that sentence is that, we are bound to our pasts by memories and emotions. There are emotional baggages and unresolved issues. No matter how much we think about it rationally, there is no way to break these bonds until there is emotional maturity.

In this case, there was no way Ahmed the rich man was going to acknowledge that some poor kid living in a slum was his son even though that was the truth. He had too much vested in Saleem emotionally, and too much to lose in a class ridden society.

Another interpretation would be(this is mine from the history I know), that even if the Colonial British(Mary) gave Kashmir to Pakistan instead of to India, it might have resulted in the same blood shed and other calamities and that switch would not have made a difference, because "we learned that the we simply could not think our way of our pasts..", because the nation could not let go of the age old hatred and prejudice and oppression and the terrible things they did to one another over generations.

Now tell me, isn't that something relatable when it comes to a nation or society?

By the way the babies, Saleem Sinai and Shiva are metaphors for India and Pakistan, because there is a place where one baby's forehead bumps, matches the other one's hollow.

That actually means the India-Pakistan border drawn by the British, known as the Radcliffe line. The line was drawn so thoughtlessly, that the day after the independence, a farmer living in one country needed a visa to work on his farm because his farm that was in his family for generations belonged to another nation, because of this line that became international boundary.

People who went to visit relatives could not return because they did not have passports and visa. Suddenly neighbors became citizens of different nations. Everything became disastrously complicated.

And in the hard and bitter exodus of these poor people trying to find their homes from one side to another, the simmering hatred of hindu-muslim(which also has its roots in casteism) found an outlet, resulting in the largest holocaust of that region.

By the way the leaders of both India and the colonial British knew this would happen. Despite that, in their carelessness they let it happen, without making the right preparations for such and eventuality. This is what Mary's heart-throb Joseph means when he says, that independence is for the rich and the poor kill each other, which moves the lovelorn Mary to switch babies.

Thus the meanings and the references and the intertwining layers and textures are incredible in this book, which is why a lot of people go gaga over it.


Irene | 1424 comments Thanks for all the thoughts and insights on the meaning behind the elements in this book. I think that I would have enjoyed it much more had I understood more of those layers of meaning. But, most of the book I was forced to read on the surface level, not even knowing enough to know what to question.


Sagheer Afzal | 11 comments My point of contention is the fact that a books are meant to be readable. Making it books complex detracts from their readability and after unraveling all the meaning and symbolism in Midnights Children what is there that is so original about any insight that has been gleaned? I don't think Rushdie enlightened anyone by making this book so obfuscatory.


message 40: by Lekha (last edited Jun 08, 2015 06:13AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lekha Murali (Lekha_murali) | 7 comments Irene wrote: "Thanks for all the thoughts and insights on the meaning behind the elements in this book. I think that I would have enjoyed it much more had I understood more of those layers of meaning. But, mos..."

It doesn't matter that you are not aware of the layers and textures, because it piqued your curiosity enough to ask these questions.

That is the purpose of complex literature. It provokes thought, stirs the soul, broadens and deepens our horizons; transports us to places and times with its intricate and meticulous imagination.

The written expressions of such remarkable minds are the portals through which we can access these worlds and all thanks to the printing press and the inventions in the that vein, these beautiful works are easily accessible to anyone.

Thanks to you, I jumped into the book for the third time in my life. I rarely re-read the books I have already read.


message 41: by Alana (new) - rated it 1 star

Alana (alanasbooks) | 1189 comments Mod
Lekha wrote: "It doesn't matter that you are not aware of the layers and textures, because it piqued your curiosity enough to ask these questions. "

Well said!


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