Friday, June 4, 2010

#11 - "Midnight's Children" by Salman Rushdie

Today is Friday, June 4th, 2010. Midnight's Children was due back to the Calgary Public Library on Tuesday, May 25th. I now owe them $3.15. Sure, it isn't much, but it is the first fine I've incurred on The List; a milestone of sorts. Apparently I should also be feeling a little guilty. It was suggested to me that since someone had put the book on hold, I should feel bad for depriving them of reading it for the past two weeks. I'd be lying if I said it was eating me up inside.

Midnight's Children is another excellent book from this list of great books; what a surprise. Written almost as an autobiography, Saleem Sinai serves as the story's narrator and main character, telling the tale of the 1,001 children who were born between midnight and one in the morning on August 15, 1947; the day India became an independent nation. Sharing a birth date, and birth time for that matter, with an entire nation, the children of the midnight hour are endowed with special powers. The closer to midnight they are born, the more powerful their powers. Saleem Sinai was born at the stroke of midnight, and serves as a quasi-leader for the group of Midnight's Children. The book follows Saleem from two generations before his birth to 'present' day, (the book was written in 1980) where Saleem has changed as much as, and alongside, India.

It's difficult not to sympathize with Saleem Sinai. His appearance leaves a lot to be desired. If he was being described to a friend, "has a great personality" would likely be used. Although endowed with telepathy, able to read pretty much anbody's mind at will, he is also cursed with a cucumber nose, sinus troubles, forceps scars, patchy hair, a missing finger, knock kneed legs, a bad ear, and less than average intelligence. A true walking disaster area. But despite his foibles, Saleem manages to survive different tragedies, both for his family and the nation, while he attempts to figure out why himself and all of the midnight children have been endowed with these special powers. It is it for their glory or for India's, will they serve as saviours for the new nation, or will they be patsies in it's demise?

I find it almost difficult to classify this novel, wanting to put it into so many different categories. I could argue it is a fantasy novel, talking of magical powers, magicians, charmers, telepathy, and time travel; things I would expect to see in Harry Potter perhaps. At the same time, I could classify it as 'historical fiction', with every major plot development coinciding with important events in India's young history, from independence, elections, war with Pakistan, nuclear development, to the Emergency.

But then again, maybe it isn't historical fiction, maybe it is a political commentary. When tackling many of the major issues India has faced in the past, Rushdie is often quite critical of the path the country took, and critical of its' leaders who guided it in these directions. Of course maybe it's a satire, filled with interesting characters, locations and situations, mocking the trials and tribulations that have plagued India since independence.

One thing is for certain, it is an excellent book. Normally, I would not be a fan of a book with such "magical" plot lines. I'm the type who would read about telepathy and think, 'RIGHT,' with a roll of my eyes, searching for the nearest World War II documentary. But in Midnight's Children it did not seem out of place, nor did it seem unbelievable. Set against the backdrop of real events, everything seemed to fit. I found myself not only engrossed in this story, but also engrossed in the history of India; the nation winning nearly as much sympathy as the cucumber-nosed, snot-faced, Saleem Sinai.

My twelfth book from the list will be The Corrections by Johnathan Franzen.

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