Book Review: Midnight's Children

I read The Satanic Verses immediately after it was published, and it turned me off to Salman Rushdie for many years. No one should be forced into hiding for fear of being murdered by religious zealots. But Rushdie suffered this very fate for writing careless stream-of-consciousness passages in a really bad book. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry… (Not to mention that the man acts incredibly pretentious every time I see him on TV.)

However, Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is excellent. It describes events in India from the point of view of Saleem Sinai who, along with hundreds of other “midnight children,” is born at the moment of India’s independence. The midnight children represent diverse hopes, dreams, plans, and talents. These are set in motion when the children are born and remain intertwined with their lives as the nation suffers social and political upheavals, until their decimation during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency.

Rushdie’s writing style freely mixes historical fact and realistic events with myth, metaphor, and bizarre coincidence. In The Satanic Verses, this technique seemed inane, detracting from the book’s literary value. Here, it adds humor and enriches the historical and cultural setting of the book. What is metaphor to us is real in the world of Midnight’s Children, but the book retains a bounty of metaphor of relevance to the real world.

Truth is stranger than fiction:

  • In The Satanic Verses (published in 1989) as well as Midnight's Children (published in 1980) a hapless and excessively self-absorbed main character manages barely to survive a world that seems bent on his destruction. Hence, the real life controversy following publication of The Satanic Verses is entirely consistent with the plot of these books.
  • [Spoiler] At the end of Midnight's Children, published in 1980, Saleem marries a woman named Padma. In 2004, Rushdie married actress/model Padma Lakshmi.

Perhaps, like Andy Kaufman, Rushdie intends to blur the distinction between his art and his life.

Tags: Reading

Updated at: 27 November 2005 12:11 AM

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