Review of 'Midnight's Children'

Midnight's Children by Salmon Rushdie

Any book by Rushdie is going to take me some time to finish and Midnight's Children was no exception. The writing is so dense that you have to slowly read and digest it like a fine meal - To skip ahead is to risk being quickly lost at what is going on with key plot elements disseminated between the florid prose.

The story is the reminiscences of Saleem Sinai, born on the exact hour that the partitioning of India occurred - Where Pakistan was formed on August 15th, 1947 when his family is forced to flee their ancestral home in what will now be Pakistan to Bombay (Mumbai). He is at pains to show us that his unusual life was reflected in the turbulent life of his country. He actually begins his story with that of his grandparents and parents, showing their traditional lives and struggles to give him the fairly affluent life that he would eventually be born into.

During his childhood in Bombay (Mumbai) after a bit of a trauma to the head he learns of an unusual gift - being able to communicate telepathically with 1,000 other “midnight's children” born on the same day that he was. Each of these children have their own talent with those being born closer to midnight being the most powerful. They are able to exert control on others but due to squabbling amongst themselves they are unable to establish any meaningful objectives or purpose. The diminishing group of fragmented youths eventually disperse with Saleem then losing his gift.

His experience of youth is filled with the shattering of innocence from his mother's infidelity to his family's periodic banishment of Saleem when they can no longer deal with him so that he is forced to live with relatives that sympathetically dote on him. His seeming disjunct from his family is thrown into the harsh light of reality as he learns of his switching at birth which, at the very least, explains why he is so physically different than the rest of his family (particularly his large nose).

With religious intolerance spreading throughout India his family once again return to Pakistan to be thrown into a war that quickly envelopes the fledgling country. It is at this point that Saleem sees himself as someone else as he joins the army as a scout gifted with the ability to smell out trouble makers (literally, as he has a very large nose!) but has lost all sense of identity. After several years, having been assigned to group of several soldiers to go out hunting subversive elements he desserts to return once again to India to find himself once again.

So, quite a story to follow and lord help you if you lose track as I often did. As to the enjoyment of the book, hum, it was interesting but not what I would call a page-turner. The conceit of the writer taking things down as he feels the end is near with the periodic off-screen nagging of his girlfriend (Padma) to just get on with it and dragging him back from his many digressions - This does help speed things on quite a bit but not being overly familiar with this period in India history this made my reading even slower to try to comprehend not only the story but also what was actually happening to the country. Difficult progress indeed.

Interesting but not to be undertaken lightly though perhaps that it won the “Booker of Bookers” will encourage readers to pick it up and give it a try. I am not sure I will again, at least, not with a lot of time and patience on my hands that I think this book deserves.

Rating: “A bit better than average”

Review Date: 2015-03-08

Genre: General Fiction

Publisher: Vintage Books

Publication Date: 1981

Other reviewed books by Salman Rushdie: