“Midnight’s Children”

by davidbjensen

Rushdie, Salman.  Midnight’s Children: A Novel.  25th anniversary ed.  New York:  Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2006.

This is one of my favorite passages from this novel:

Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence; I must be guided by the memory of a once-glimpsed file with tell-tale initials; and by the other, remaining shards of the past, lingering in my ransacked memory-vaults like broken bottles on a beach…(491).

I like this quote because I find it poetic, but also because it encapsulates the reading experience I had while involved with this detail-rich, densely-packed story.  That is to say, my memory of the essence serves me well…but the inexhaustible character development and twisting deepening turning plot leave me a touch evaded…like a dream from the distant past that you still remember, one that was profoundly symbolic and stuck with you for days after it occurred, but is now somewhat amorphous not in theme but in detail, as imagery has gently dissipated with time, while its fundamental gist still remains.

Rushdie, the marvelous teller-of-tales that he is, has descriptive capabilities easily on par with Charles Dickens.  Told in a first-person narrative, this fictional autobiography is set in the turbulent time period directly after India gained independence from Britain’s imperial authority in 1947.  The intent of this review is not to recount the storyline, but rather, to elaborate on what makes Rushdie such a unique and exceptional novelist.  His sentences are complex, while he breaks bends distorts rules of punctuation and syntax in a dynamic and creative way.  He uses repetition brilliantly…a perforated sheet, a silver spittoon inlaid with lapis lazuli, saffron-and-green, the blue of a Kashmiri sky; these are a few themes that poignantly, yet casually, emerge again and again, which make you smile each time because of how deeply couched they are in context and meaning.  Moreover, his marvelous vernacular usage truly breathes life into this novel.  Certain place names, terms of endearment, or other colloquialisms were completely unfamiliar to me as a Western reader.  But that’s what gives this book a whole other level of depth.  I mean, I loved the story because it was complex and imaginative and emotional.  But for an English-speaking Indian audience, on top of its literary refinement, it must certainly carry cultural overtones/undertones and historical frame of reference that  hit home more so than I can even begin to imagine.

Midnight’s Children won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1981.  It also won the Booker of Bookers Prize in 1993, which was judged as the best novel among all previous winners in the 25 year history of the prize at the time.  A similar prize known as The Best of the Booker, was awarded in 2008 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the prize. A shortlist of six winners was chosen and the decision was left to a public vote. The winner was again Midnight’s Children.  So, yeah, if you like ingenious storytelling and have the wherewithal to stomach a substantial 533-page work of fiction, then get on with it…this one is well worth your time!

And for what it’s worth, the Hollywood film adaptation is due out in early November of this year.