Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Midnight’s Children Gives Every Novelist Something to Aspire to

Contrary to what the Grand Ayatollah may have to have to say on the subject, Salman Rushdie is a damn fine writer.   You may recall the Iranian Book-Critic-in-Chief’s dissatisfaction with the fatwa-spawning Satanic Verses, but we can assure you that even his “Supreme Holiness” was impressed by Rushdie’s masterpiece, Midnight’s Children.   The story of a man born on the stroke of midnight on August 15th, 1947, the same moment that India gained its nationhood, and the intertwining of their own dysfunctional histories and futures; it’s a brilliant bit of storytelling and literary genius. 
Midnight’s Children is a work of such rare excellence that there’s not really much more to say about it.  Every conceivable superlative has been slapped on this book and far finer minds than our own have sung it’s praise and lauded its merits.  No less than the Man Booker Prize committee deemed it the best novel of the past 40 years when it awarded it the one-off Best of the Booker Award in 2008.  And now Mr. Rushdie your finest hour: a shout out on The Literate Man.  Well done, old boy!
But lengthy intro aside, this book is so obviously extraordinary, with so many flattering reviews already in print and in cyberspace, that posterity would probably thank us for ending this piece right now.  But we won’t!
Instead, let us count the ways (five) in which our minds were staggered by this work.  First, the sheer ambition and scale of this saga is enough to turn your brain into sawdust.  Rushdie’s packed enough content inside the 533 pages for a dozen novels.  It’s an epic on the scale of War and Peace or East of Eden, but condensed into half the pages.  There’s so many competing themes at work here (coming-of-age, the birth of a nation, ageless religious conflict, culture clashes, family dynasty, etc.) that in the care of a lesser writer this story would be stillborn.  But Rushdie’s mighty talents allow him to weave these ideas into a seamless tapestry that never feels forced, confusing, or worse: boring.
And how does he do this?  By narrating the journey through the eyes of a self-important crackpot.  The Quixotic protagonist adds levity to the heavier themes with his distinct and whimsical voice.  And this is the second point: a fresh, original, and fantastic protagonist point of view. 
Thirdly, the pell-mell stream of consciousness narrative, jumping from present to past and from one scattershot thought to the next add an element of artistic flair that elevates this tale above almost every other literary epic.  Protagonist Saleem and the country of India become one and the same through Rushdie’s brilliant allegory, which is teased to the surface through an earthy mix of magical realism that comes as close to distilling the essence of India onto a sheet of paper as is possible.
Which brings us around the fourth point: Rushdie’s use of local dialects and cultural detail.  He brilliantly mimics the local pigeon and mannerisms of the various subcontinent’s cultures, further deepening the reach of the story and providing a hard-earned authenticity.
And if that weren’t’ enough to convince you to pick up this book than a fifth and final note of praise is due to the author for his courage.  And not his courage in tackling such vast and broad-ranging subject matter, but real courage for attacking the authoritarian regime that nearly strangled the life out of the young nation-state in the 70’s and 80’s and which earned him a libel lawsuit from none other than disgraced former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
In summary, -and after five hundred odd words of redundancy- Midnight’s Children is one of the finest novels ever written in the English language.

(Editor’s Note:  This review coincides with the recent release of Rushdie’s autobiography, Joseph Anton. It’s been well received by critics, and for any lovers of biography, you’re guaranteed top-notch writing and certainly an interesting subject matter as he delves into his years hiding from Muslim assassins.  Enjoy!)


  1. I've been out of the book blogging world lately, but it's great to read your reviews again. I loved Midnight's Children too, though I confess it is the only Rushdie I have read. What would you recommend for the next read? Satanic Verses obviously has drawn the most attention, but I'd be curious to hear what you think.

    1. Hi Amy,
      Thanks for the comment. Sadly, I have to admit I'm hardly a Rusdie expert, either. But one thing I'd be interested in reading is the stage version of Midnight's Children that Rushdie penned. I'd be curious to see how he condensed the story; what he left out and what he included. Happy reading!

  2. have Satanic Verses on my Kindle & have read one whose name escapes me at this moment in time, but a great writer despite what some over zealous critics may say.

    1. Hey Parrish,
      Always good to hear from you. I've started reading Satanic Verses on two occasions, but for whatever reason, never finished. Great writing, as you'd expect, but the story just doesn't quite grab you the same way as Midnight's Children; hard to capture the lightening in a bottle twice.