Saturday, November 19, 2016

Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie

Midnight's ChildrenI read Midnight's Children because I needed a book for a category in my reading challenge, "A book recommended by your librarian or bookseller."  Well, I have no idea why anyone would think I actually want to talk to someone, but luckily for me Kramerbooks (a local bookstore here in DC) provides bookmarks whenever you buy a book there, and one of them had a list of books recommended by their booksellers of the past!  Hah!  Midnight's Children was one of these, and I picked it from among the rest for two reasons: the library had it available for Kindle without a huge waiting list, and the elements of magic that the description promised sounded intriguing.

The story is about Saleem Sinai, who is born at the exact moment of India's independence from Britain, and how his fate is tied to that of the country and the other "Midnight's Children," all born within that first hour of independence and who all possess magical abilities.  Saleem is recording the story decades after it begins, with his grandfather, and is doing so because he is starting to actually crack and fall apart, and he wants to record what happened to him and his.

This was an interesting premise and I'm told it's an important book, but it didn't rub me the right way.  I found myself incredibly bored reading this.  Part of this is Rushdie's writing style, which meanders here and there and has many deviations from what I would consider to be "the point."  This fits in with the structure of the book, kind's kind of like when your grandparents tell a story and keep getting distracted.  But Saleem is only 30 years old when this takes place, so it also doesn't make sense.  And then the other part was that it just takes forever to get to the actual "story" part of this, with the events building up to the destruction of Midnight's Children.  The book is divided into three parts, and the third starts 75% through the book, and it was infinitely more interesting than the entanglements of his family.  Part of this is probably because I actually don't know a lot about Indian history.  Saleem's personal history is supposed to be tied closely to, and mirror, that of India as a country, but I only saw the most obvious of those parallels when Rushdie specifically pointed them out.  If my history in this area was more up to snuff, maybe I would have enjoyed it more because I could have followed the more subtle strings that were, as it was, lost to me.

And finally, Rushdie's version of Saleem's life didn't seem to play by its own rules.  The Midnight's Children are supposedly all born with powers--and yet Saleem needs an accident to get his working.  He has another ability connected to his nose, which lets him smell things that most people can't.  For most of the book these are regular scents, but then at the end, when Saleem actually gets around to writing the story, he can apparently smell history to the point that he can relate what happened in his family going back decades before he was born--and yet this isn't connected to his magical "midnight" ability.  He also plays with time, trying to make a point that it's fluid by pinning certain events to drastically wrong dates, but to me this just seems sloppy and makes Saleem into an unreliable narrator, whose whole story can't be trusted.

There were good parts of this.  While Rushdie tends to ramble, some of his prose is absolutely beautiful.  I also loved how, in the third part of the book, he manages to do a really cool duality thing, showing how history has two halves to it.  The concept of the Midnight's Children was also very cool, and I would have loved to see India tied more closely to all of them, rather than just Saleem who actually rather sounded like the most boring of the bunch--especially with the question of whether he really was supposed to be some sort of "chosen one," which seemed unlikely to me, or if he was just full of himself, which seemed rather more likely.  I think this is a book that could also potentially interest people in Indian history, but it was too rambling for me to have that effect.  I believe what other people have said, that this is an iconic book for its time, place, genre, etc., but as a book to just read, it didn't agree with me.

2 stars out of 5.

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