by Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie is the third author I've read recently that I'd put off reading for many years out of a misplaced fear I'd find his books dull and uninteresting--James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon are the other two authors. With great consternation and teeth-gnashing I finally picked "Midnight's Children" off the shelf and soon wondered what the heck had taken me so long.
To put it simply, "Midnight's Children" is a great book. It's a darkly comic odyssey through the history of India in the 20th Century told not only with touches of humor, but the supernatural as well. Reading the book can be an adventure, given the winding narrative that mixes past and present and the walls of print on each print, but it's an adventure worth the effort.
The story is told by Saleem Sinai on what he believes to be his deathbed. Padma, his caretaker and erstwhile fiance, begs to differ with this assessment, but aids Saleem by serving also as sounding board and editor. The relationship between Saleem and Padma continues to advance as he recounts the story not just of his life, but those of his parents and grandparents as well. His grandfather was a European-trained doctor in 1915 who returned to India, lost faith in God, and met Saleem's grandmother through a strategically torn sheet. His mother marries a poet on the run from assassins who hides out in their basement, but because he does not have sex with her winds up divorcing her. She then marries the businessman Ahmed Sinai and changes her name. On the stroke of India's birth, along comes Saleem. From this moment, his fate is tied with that of India. Like Saleem, the new nation of India--as well as Pakistan and Bangladesh--is finding its way and searching for its identity, though the answer is not really a happy one.
A side plot involves the "Midnight's Children," a group of children born in that first minute of India's existence. These 1001 children have supernatural abilities. Saleem can read minds while others master witchcraft, time travel, and so forth. This put me a little too in mind of the X-Men, though Saleem lacks the composure and leadership abilities of Charles Xavier and his rival Shiva is never as charismatic or evil as Magneto. (Recent TV viewers might compare this more to "Heroes" or "The 4400.") At any rate, I didn't particularly enjoy this subplot until at the end when it's used to demonstrate the madness of the Indira Gandhi regime.
Even if you're like me and have little understanding of India short of watching "Gandhi" you can still make sense of this book if you're willing to try. Make no mistake: this is not for the casual reader or the faint of heart. At the same time, the touches of humor--especially the bickering between Saleem and Padma about how to tell the story--and the supernatural make for an entertaining yarn. In the end you might also wonder what took you so long to find this wonderful book.
That is all.