After years of hearing friends and classmates rave on about Salman Rushdie, I finally picked up my first book of his. I started with The Satanic Verses as that is his most controversial work, and possibly his most discussed novel. I wanted to be in on all the conversations, so I picked it up, devoured it, and loved it. A new thirst developed. A thirst to consume everything an author produces. I felt it for Vonnegut and Murakami, I have since developed this for Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I have an unquenchable thirst to read all Rushdie’s novels. I searched the web for what to read second. I didn’t look for his next most controversial or discussed, but his most popular. The work I chose was Midnight’s Children and it is just as good as I could have hoped.
I find when reading Rushdie that I’m horribly uneducated when it comes to Indian and Pakistani history, but this could have its benefits. Both The Satanic Verses and Midnight’s Children were incredibly educational and I quickly began studying the topics discussed in the novels and dreaming of a trip to India or Pakistan. It is exactly what I want from literature. Something fascinating, educational, captivating and, most importantly, inspiring. I wish I could produce something half as beautiful or half as fun as Midnight’s Children. Reading a book about a culture and history that I am so uneducated on is incredibly refreshing and I never really know what to expect. It is a whole new world.
The story focuses on the life of Saleem Sinai, a boy born on the stroke of midnight as India became an independent nation. He, and all the other children born in the midnight hour, possess some amazing gifts that link him both to the life of the new nation and the life of its people. It is a masterful examination of how the whole population can represent the life of the individual and vice versa. The actions of Saleem play an often unseen but far reaching role in the development of the nation just as the nation’s development simultaneously changes the boys life. It develops interesting perspectives on the impact of individuals, the importance of history and how we shape the world that shapes us. Saleem’s life is controlled by fate, but not entirely. This seems to be a big theme flowing through Rushdie’s book. His life is dictated by fate, in the sense that it is directed by the fate of his nation. He is still free to make his own decisions, but only within the opportunities presented by the course of history. He is his own man, but part of the current made up by everyone living around him. He flows with his nation, helps to shape it, but can’t entirely control his future. Destiny isn’t completely without choice, but choice can’t always change destiny. They are partners in the lives of every individual.
I really can’t stop gushing about the work. I highly recommend it. It gives some amazing insight into a country, that I’m ashamed to admit, I don’t know very well. I don’t want to give away too much, but the book is a masterful history, biography and fantasy all rolled into one. The Characters are lovable, deplorable and intriguing. Rushdie makes me excited about literature like very few other authors can. I’m not saying I don’t love literature. I do. But Rushdie produces work rarely paralleled in this day and age. I challenge you to dive into his world, you won’t regret it. Saleem tells the story from his own perspective and often highlights the questionable accuracy of a personal narrative. His life mirrors the nation in which he was born, and his very being seems to be a metaphor for greater India. It is a bit long, but never seems to drag. It carries you every step of the way, and by its finish you can’t help but look back at what a remarkable journey it was.
The novel won the Booker Prize 1981 and also won the best of the Booker Prizes both in 1993 and again in 2008. If that’s not a testimony to its quality, I don’t know what is. I would like to one day see Rushdie as a Nobel Laureate, but they seem to think he is too popular of a choice. If you haven’t read any Rushdie, I’d say you should start now. I can’t wait to pick up my next one. Without question, I’d give it 5 out of 5 stars.