the wonderful world of veena.

30 October 2014

book review: midnight's children [salman rushdie].

Well, I finally got around to purchasing and reading Midnight's Children. After years of wanting to read it but putting it off for a number of reasons, I finally decided that this was going to be my year.

I had previously read two of Rushdie's books - Shalimar the Clown and The Ground Beneath Her Feet - so I knew what to expect as far as his writing style and his use of big words I don't know the meaning of. What I didn't expect was the history lesson to go along with the narrative. I knew the basic premise of the novel, but it had depths I could only imagine.

The story is narrated by Saleem Sinai, of Midnight's Children. Born at the stroke of midnight as India became an independent nation - August 15, 1947 - Saleem discovers at a young age that he and the other children born in that initial hour have special powers. One can walk through walls, one can time-travel, one is a witch, and on and on throughout the country. And Saleem, born at exactly midnight, has the power to communicate with all of them.

But as he grows up, Saleem learns some hard and invaluable lessons. He has to deal with the expectations that come along with being born alongside a nation. He has to deal with growing up Muslim in an India that is experiencing religious turmoil. And he has to deal with difficult family secrets that come to light when he is at a vulnerable age. Saleem walks us through his life and how it mirrors India's young life: both are trying desperately to find themselves in a time when many are struggling with identity and their place in the world.

Saleem's story takes us from Kashmir to Delhi to Bombay to Pakistan to Bangladesh to Delhi and finally back to Bombay again, and it spans four generations and a multitude of history. Although India has been around practically forever [the Indus Valley is often considered the birthplace of civilization], it is practically a baby as far as being an independent nation. It has been settled and ruled by Mughals, the French, the Dutch, the Portuguese, and the British, to name the most famous of conquerors. Having been free for only 67 years means that it holds a unique place in the world, and I really enjoyed reading about that time and transition and the years that followed.

I found myself having long discussions with my parents after reading certain passages; although they were both very young at the time of independence, they remember some of the after-effects pretty well, and we had some very interesting chats. I know some of the information in the books is fiction, and the timeline is skewed in certain places, but for the most part I think the historical aspect is vaguely accurate, and it was fascinating to me both as a student of history and as a person of Indian origin.

This book is certainly a heavy tome to get through, but it was well worth the time it took to read it to the end. In many ways I'm glad I read it now as opposed to 9 years ago, and I can see why it has been receiving accolades for over two decades, including being named the "Booker of Bookers" in 1993 and 2008.

currently reading: The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
next from-the-list: either The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri or Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Rushdie has a number of other novels I would like to read at some point, but for now I'm good with taking a break. The man uses some big words.

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