Thursday, September 17, 2009

Midnight's Children

by Salman Rushdie

Ah Salman. So much plot. So many layers of intricacy. So hard to understand late at night when I finally have a chance to read.

Saleem Sinai, the many-named protagonist, has a life that follows that of India. Born at the stroke of India's independence, his personal struggles follow that of the national body politic. Of course, one reading hardly does any Rushdie novel justice, and this Booker of Bookers is no different. I believe I could re-read Saleem's story half a dozen times and still find newness in it (not to mention learning cool things like that Bombay was named by Portugese explorers and means beautiful bay, while Mumbai is the short-form of the name for the Hindu goddess who rules the area Mumbadevi).

Despite the encyclopedic nature of some chapters, and the length and complexity of the story, there are some loose ends. Childhood friends and his loved-in-that-unbrotherly-way sister are left with only Saleem's surmises and assumptions. A very unreliable narrator, we are made to trust Saleem too much, to believe too much. Or perhaps we believe only what we want to -- even in the occult, magical, mystical nuances of the book the choice not to believe is unappealing since believing makes things so much more interesting. Saleem's fascination lies in his difference -- his cucumber nose, is temporary psychic powers, his olfactary sensitivity to feelings, secrets, threats.

Rushdie makes you think, in this masterpiece even more than some of this other books. And I readily admit that there were times I didn't want to. But I still found myself waking up in the middle of the night and having to read just a couple more pages, and few books can pass that test.


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