Friday, November 26, 2010
Review: Midnight's Children
On the stroke of midnight, at the very same moment India was gaining its independence, Saleem Sinai was born. Midnight's Children follows Saleem's life, as the events in his life mirror those of his nation.
Midnight's Children was an extremely complex book, and a rather difficult read for me. The Author, Salman Rushdie, deliberately confuses, addles, and misleads the reader as his narrative twists and turns with the growth of his protagonist, and the growth of an independent nation. In many ways, this book is a family saga, as it follows not only Saleem, but a multitude of other family members, servants, and some of the 1000 other "Midnight's Children".
While Saleem is inextricably bound to the events of his country, his is also bound to the other "Midnight's Children". All those born in that initial hour of independence were born with extraordinary gifts, some with good powers, some with not so good powers. Saleem's power is the ability to be telepathically linked to the other Children, and to converse with them.
Saleem is also the narrator of the novel, despite the fact that he discusses some events that take place long before his birth. Early on, we learn that Saleem is telling his life's story because he believes he is falling apart, quite literally, he thinks he is cracking apart from the inside. His narration style is, to say the least, very non-linear. He jumps around a lot, and uses a stream of consciousness story telling style that at times drove me nuts as it was hard to keep focused on what exactly he was talking about.
The major theme running throughout the novel, is the parallel between Saleem's life and the status of India as a nation. These two aspects run on a very similar trajectory, yet a reader could easily miss this nuance if they are unfamiliar with Indian history dating from their independence up until the mid to late 70's. Like I said earlier, this was a novel that I really struggled to get through, and not knowing the history involved will only make it harder. Luckily, I was reading this one for a college English course, so much of the historical context was explained. However, I do recommend a wikipedia search or something if you choose to embark on this one.
For me this wasn't a book that filled me with that old familiar joy of reading. At best this was a slog for me. The tricky, jumpy, confusing narrative style, and ever-changing cast of characters, and the ever-changing natures of the characters made this really difficult to digest. However, the level of skill and craftsmanship involved in this book is quite high. Though the style didn't tickle my fancy, it is brilliantly done. My troubles don't stem from the novel being stylistically a broken concept, or from it being poorly executed; I simply found the challenge of digesting such a complex narrative at odds with my enjoyment. With that said, I do think Midnight's Children is one of those books that would get better, and make more sense with a reread, but I'm not sure I'm willing to test that theory.
This is certainly not a book that everyone will enjoy, but I think the novel has its merits, and it tackles some very interesting topics that may be obscure or unknown to the average Western reader. If you are in the mood for a challenge, or looking for a change from the usual, Midnight's Children might fit your bill.