Thursday, April 30, 2009

Review - Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Synopsis from B&N:

Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment of India’s independence. Greeted by fireworks displays, cheering crowds, and Prime Minister Nehru himself, Saleem grows up to learn the ominous consequences of this coincidence. His every act is mirrored and magnified in events that sway the course of national affairs; his health and well-being are inextricably bound to those of his nation; his life is inseparable, at times indistinguishable, from the history of his country. Perhaps most remarkable are the telepathic powers linking him with India’s 1,000 other “midnight’s children,” all born in that initial hour and endowed with magical gifts.

This novel is at once a fascinating family saga and an astonishing evocation of a vast land and its people–a brilliant incarnation of the universal human comedy. Twenty-five years after its publication, Midnight’s Children stands apart as both an epochal work of fiction and a brilliant performance by one of the great literary voices of our time.

My thoughts:

Well. I think this is a novel I would like to read as part of a class - there is so much going on, dealing with events in history I don't know about or understand, that I believe much of the book just flew right over my head.

That being said, it was certainly an interesting read. I've mentioned before that I struggle with books that use magical realism, and this was, again, a struggle in this novel. I don't know exactly why it's so difficult for me, but it always trips me up. This novel is chock full of it, pretty much from page one, so it made it slow going - I've been chipping away at it for the better part of 2 weeks.

I was initially concerned about the style - here's the first paragraph, so you understand what I mean.

“I was born in the city of Bombay… once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th 1947. And the time? The time matters, too. Well then: at night. No, it’s important to be more… On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh, spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India’s arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world. There were gasps. And, outside the window, fireworks and crowds. A few seconds later, my father broke his big toe; but his accident was a mere trifle when set beside what had befallen me in that benighted moment, because thanks to the occult tyrannies of those blindly saluting clocks I had been mysteriously handcuffed to history, my destinies indissolubly chained to those of my country. For the next three decades, there was to be no escape. Soothsayers had prophesied me, newspapers celebrated my arrival, politicos ratified my authenticity. I was left entirely without a say in the matter. I, Saleem Sinai, later variously called Snotnose, Stainface, Baldy, Sniffer, Budha and even Piece-of-the-Moon, had become heavily embroiled in Fate – at the best of times a dangerous sort of involvement. And I couldn’t even wipe my own nose at the time.”

It's very stream-of-consciousness, which can take some getting used to. Once I got some 100 pages into the novel, that didn't really bother me anymore, and Saleem is certainly a charming narrator. Again, there is just SO MUCH to this novel, that trying to figure out what I was missing started to make me lose the flow much of the time.

I'm not sure I can say I enjoyed the novel - I did find it interesting, and I'm glad I read it, but it was more of an experience than a joy.

Now I want to hear from the people that loved it - I know you're out there! What am I missing? I'd love to be enlightened!

Finished: 4/23/09
Source: Franklin Avenue library
Rating: 6/10


bermudaonion said...

This would probably be way over my head too.

Meghan said...

I had the same problem with this book. It was really over my head and I felt like I needed a class discussion to properly understand it. I'm the same in that I'm happy I read it, not so sure I actually liked it.

J.S. Peyton said...

This definitely sounds like and experience. I've never read any Rushdie, but he's been on my list of authors to read. I think I'd start with The Satanic Verses first, though which probably isn't much better!

Kristen M. said...

I have read this book twice and gotten vastly different things out of it each time. I guess that I would never say a book is "over my head", just that reading a book is a personal journey and based on your own knowledge and background, you will come away with a different reading experience. Rushdie is a perfect author for this.

I wouldn't recommend The Satanic Verses as a first Rushdie to read ... it's really the toughest to get through of any I've read. I might suggest Fury instead. The Ground Beneath Her Feet is my favorite though! I think I will re-read it this summer.

beastmomma said...

It took me a little while to get into this book. I had to start it twice before I finished. Here is my review:

A Hazra said...

I started on this book after nearly a year, and I'm finding it as difficult to get through as the first time. I like Rushdie's style of writing, but there is something, something I can't pinpoint that makes this book a difficult read for me. But there is one thing I felt in my meagre reading: you have to be a little familiar with India's history and cultural background to truly appreciate the book. I'll post my review in a couple of weeks, when, hopefully, I'll be done with it.

Violet said...

I have tried reading it twice and left it after just 4-5 pages. I know what you mean. Kudos to you for completing the book and gaining at least an experience from it.

Julie said...

I have read Midnight's Children twice, and also saw the Royal Shakespeare Company's stage version of it. Although I've never been able to get into the S. American brand of magical realism, for some reason this book totally captured my imagination. I think you just have to sink into it, enjoy the lush writing, and not try to understand it too deeply. :-)

Elizabeth said...

bermuda - I just felt like there was something I couldn't quite figure out, the whole way through.

Meghan - someone needs to do an online class for all these books we want to read, but won't understand. They would make a killing!

JS - I want to read that one too, although after this I don't know why!

Kristen - I like that you don't call any book "over your head" - you are right that you can get something from the experience, no matter how much you actually understand.

beastmomma - thanks for sharing your review. This was my second attempt, also, and I think I had a better experience this time around.

a hazra - I agree - I think a better background in Indian history would have served me well. I'll be interested to read your thoughts.

Violet - well, I was determined this time! It was definitely an experience...

Julie - I think seeing it on stage might actually help, in my case.

Zibilee said...

I felt much the same way as you did when I read this book. Much of it went over my head and there was a ton going on in the story. I didn't have a problem with the magical realism, but I thought there was so much more to the book than I actually got out of it. I liked it, but it was not a favorite.

Anni said...

I'm just reading this book, but somehow, I think, it's not for me.

Rahul said...

I am so much looking forward to this movie. Hope it is as good as the review. Though too early to say this and that even without watching it, In my view this might be an Oscar winning movie :)