Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Midnight's Children cover

“Please believe that I am falling apart.
I am not speaking metaphorically; nor is this the opening gambit of some melodramatic, riddling, grubby appeal for pity. I mean quite simply that I have begun to crack all over like an old jug – that my poor body, singular, unlovely, buffeted by too much history, subjected to drainage above and drainage below, mutilated by doors, brained by spittoons, has started coming apart at the seams. In short, I am literally disintegrating, slowly for the moment, although there are signs of acceleration. I ask you only to accept (as I have accepted) that I shall eventually crumble into (approximately) six hundred and thirty million particles of anonymous, and necessarily oblivious, dust. That is why I have resolved to confide in paper, before I forget. (We are a nation of forgetters.)”

Saleem Sinai chronicles the history of his life, beginning with his grandparents’ childhoods and continuing through their marriage, his parents’ lives, and his own childhood and adolescence. Because Sinai was born at the stroke of midnight on the day India became independent in 1947, the story of his life is also the story of India’s transformation into an independent nation. Events in Sinai’s life constantly intersect with and affect India’s political struggles, and everything is influenced by his family’s varied and complex history. It’s a blend of One Hundred Years of Solitude and Middlesex, and if nothing else you will walk away from this book amazed at Rushdie’s skill as a writer. Aside from the downright masterful way he makes every single event and character in the story connect and matter, the way he writes is just mindblowingly good.

In fact, there are only two things that prevent me from giving this the full five stars, and they are:

1. Saleem Sinai is such a dick. The events of his life directly coincide with (and occasionally affect) major historical events, and also he can read minds (more on that later). This is enough to convince him that he is the single greatest, most important human being ever to walk the earth, and nothing could be as impressive as he is. Think I’m exaggerating? Let him tell you himself:

“It is possible, even probable, that I am only the first historian to write the story of my undeniably exceptional life-and-times. Those who follow in my footsteps will, however, inevitably come to this present work, this source-book, this Hadith or Purana or Grundrisse, for guidance and inspiration.”

Oh my god, get over yourself.

Sinai’s direct audience is his girlfriend Padma, who is listening to the story as Sinai writes it and appears periodically to give her opinions on what’s happening. Sinai treats her like dirt – he makes fun of her name, shakes his head at how adorably stupid she is, and is generally such a condescending ass that I kept waiting for Padma to slap him in the face. The best part: whenever Padma listens to Sinai’s story, she literally kneels at his feet while he sits and reads to her. No wonder the guy has a Messiah complex.

It’s okay to have a story with an unlikeable hero, but I honestly believe that Rushdie isn’t aware of what a colossal douchebag his protagonist is. I think in Rushdie’s mind, Sinai is a perfectly good person and is totally justified in his lofty opinion of himself. This is unfortunate.

2. Do you ever read a book and see the beginnings of another story within it, something that the author never explores as much as you’d like them to, or even a completely different direction you wish they’d taken? That was my experience with Midnight’s Children.

The title comes from the fact that Sinai wasn’t the only kid born in India at midnight on independence day – there were actually several hundred children born within that minute, and they all have magical powers or mutations of some kind. The ones born at the top of the minute have the strongest powers, and the ones born in the last few seconds of the minute just have weird mutations. There are two kids born on the very first second of midnight: Sinai, and a boy named Shiva. Sinai can read minds, as I said, but he can also communicate telepathically with all the other Midnight’s Children, and they can use him as a conduit to talk telepathically to each other. So Sinai and Shiva, as the leaders of the Midnight’s Children, organize the group and hold telepathic conferences, trying to decide what to do with their vast array of powers. While Sinai wants to use the group’s abilities to do good, Shiva is violent and cruel, and uses his powers for evil. They’re constantly battling against each other, and meanwhile the other four hundred Midnight’s Children all have their own ideas about how to use their powers. (one kid, a time-traveler, warns them that everything will end horribly)

I know Salman Rushdie is a respected author who is taken very very seriously in the literary world, but I’m going to be honest: Midnight’s Children would have made one hell of a comic book. Hundreds of child superheroes and wizards, led by two very different leaders who are constantly at odds with each other? A narrator who thinks of himself as the good guy but is actually just as selfish as his evil alter ego, Shiva? Tell me how that wouldn’t be awesome.

Verdict: four out of five stars

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