Just finished Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.
This novel was my first encounter with this author, and I found myself swept into his magical version of India’s 20th century spun by the novel’s whimsical, intellectual and humanly erroneous narrator.
I picked out Midnight’s Children to read during my recent travels in India. I wanted a novel based in Indian life and history to enrich my exposure to the place. Even though I am finishing it about a month after returning from my trip, I feel I got what I asked for.
The story is framed as the narrator’s retelling of his life, including what he sees as its direct and indirect influences beginning decades before he was born and ending in his present moment. Character by character, place by place, the narrator brings the life of his family into focus, showing us how it grows and changes, twists and turns, as the years pass.
Midnight’s Children is touted as magical realism and indeed is full of both subtly supernatural happenings and flat-out fantastical characters. With the entire story told in the narrator’s voice, however, all of the story’s bizarreness can be written off as stemming from his outlandish perspective, which would border on insanity if not for his endearing honesty and my willing suspension of disbelief as reader. For example, the narrator sees himself as having a magical influence on India’s political development as an independent nation, which lends the story an allegorical feel. We can’t help but wonder if the attitudes of his characters aren’t meant to reflect elements of Indian culture in general.
I found this magical storytelling satisfying but also challenging. Rushdie presents a delightfully complex and vivid character in his narrator, but in doing so includes some of the problematic aspects of any unique personality: the narrator employs an arcane vocabulary, lapses into cerebral meanderings and moves between topics tenuously at times–all of which made for a somewhat slow and plodding read for me. Again, this is only a half-criticism, as the narrator’s complexity added to the depth of the novel’s experience.
Midnight’s Children exposed me to Indian history, politics, cultural forces, attitudes and more (again, just what I was looking for), all through a magical, flawed lens. The effect is immersive, surreal, hilarious, gripping and, most of all, charming.