The controversies surrounding The Satanic Verses and my sheer ignorance prevented me from reading any of Rushdie’s works and I now humbly bow my head in shame. I was quickly taken in by Midnight’s Children, which did require focus, and was then both surprised and delighted by its prevailing wit.
Starting in 1915 and taking us through 1978, the convoluted tale is set in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Through the voice of Saleem Sinai, a man who believes his life is nearing its end, we hear his life’s story interspersed with historical fiction and hilarious perception of both the narrator and his captive audience of one.
Born in 1947 (as was Rushdie), Saleem Sinai spins an intricate narrative including his mysterious midnight birth which coincides with the independence of India. Endowed with an unusually large nose, he comes to learn of its unusual powers that link him to the 1,001 other midnight’s children. A man with the ability to simultaneously annoy and enthrall.
Sister to Saleem, Jamilla would likely be prescribed Ritalin today. An affinity for setting fire to shoes and doing as she damn well pleases earns her the moniker of the Monkey. As she blossoms into young womanhood, she is found to possess the voice of an angel and goes on to fame, yet is masked behind a veil and earns a very unlikely admirer. An intriguing woman.
The sounding board to the tale, Padma, has no problem correcting or criticizing Saleem’s story. Much more realistic than her narrator, she lets him know what is and what is not pertinent to his story. One could almost picture her rolling her eyes or tapping her nails impatiently.
Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence: but I seem to have found from somewhere the trick of filling in the gaps in my knowledge, so that everything is in my head, down to the last detail, such as the way the mist seemed to slant across the early morning air…everything, and not jus the few clues one stumbles across, for instance by opening an old tin trunk which should have remained cobwebby and closed.
...and the silence filled the house, from wall to wall, from floor to ceiling, so that flies seemed to give up buzzing, and mosquitoes refrained from humming before they bit; silence stilling the hissing of geese in the courtyard.
Now that I’ve experienced the great humor of Mr. Rushdie, I’d love to have a chat with him. Perhaps he’d divulge how he segued from copyrighter to writer. I’d opt for a dark subterranean cafe to serve as a meeting locale and while he may not be concerned about the menacing fatwa, I would most definitely have a look or two over my shoulder. There will certainly be more of his titles added to my bookshelves.
My rating for Midnight’s Children is a 9 out of 10.
To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
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