This is no Days of Our Lives, sand through the hourglass, kind of book where you can skip massive chunks and still be ahead of what’s going on. Allow your mind to drift off to contemplate what you’re having for supper or the blue fluff in your belly button, and you’re finished. This is a very demanding book. You need to stay focused.
Endearing, funny and informative, it is just as equally frustrating and tedious. Narrated by the main character, Saleem Sinai, we are tossed every which way, back and forth between time periods; introduced to a multitude of characters; and spun off on random tangents that miraculously accrue to form a complete, multi-layered, wild, fantastic, insane but oddly plausible story. Rushdie manages to squeeze in the entire history of India from the day of independence from British rule and the formation of Pakistan in 1947, up to and including the establishment of Bangladesh in 1971. Rushdie’s book is a précis of Indian history and culture. How he covers it all is mindboggling.
He is such a skilled author, though, that despite all the blundering, clumsy, stream of conscious spewing forth of information from his narrator, and the occasional fibs that Sinai tells, the reader never feels overwhelmed or lost. Re-iterations and summations neatly woven in at strategic places, help to keep us on track and keen to make it to the end, albeit with a few hair-pulling-out stops along the way.
India itself, then, is the pre-dominant theme, and in order to tell the tale, Rushdie has created the beyond fantastical character and life of Sinai and his family. Born on the stroke of midnight, August 15, 1947 – Independence Day, Sinai shares his destiny with the other one thousand children born in that first hour. Each of the surviving 400 or so children is endowed with a magical gift, with Sinai’s being the gift of telepathy, enabling him to communicate and hold conferences with the other midnight children.
Sinai’s life is indelibly linked with the growing pains and trajectory of the newly independent India. Not only is his life a mirror image of the country’s political and cultural struggles, but a cause and effect relationship exists between the two. Sinai is India and India is Sinai.
It’s little wonder that this book was awarded the Booker of Bookers, a prize created to celebrate the Man Booker award’s 25th anniversary in 1993. Three previous judges worked together to determine the best of all the Booker winners over those years, and Rushdie’s was the obvious choice. Full to overflowing with sumptuous detail, involving sub plots, imagery and motifs, Midnight’s Children is exuberant, lavish story-telling. At number 90 on the Modern Library’s top 100, it’s a definite must-read.
Midnight’s Children, the film, will be shown at Silvercity on November 8th by the North of Superior Film Society.