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Midnight's Children

Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie, Lyndam Gregory Salman Rushdie's narrative tone in this book is jovial and humorous, even when he's describing pretty horrific things. It sneaks up on you that the first-person narrator, Saleem Sinai, is not just a little unreliable, but also whiny, self-justifying, and arrogant. In the end, it's hard to tell how much of the "magic" in this novel of magical realism was real and how much was the narrator's own megalomania. The history of India ran parallel to his own personal history, with events happening in synchronicity, really? And the war between India and Pakistan was actually History's attempt to get him and his family? Saleem Sinai is sometimes likeable and sometimes a real jerk. He spends the entire book telling his life story to an unseen nurse/lover, Padma, who seems to be a long-suffering woman who loves him despite his determination to literally make everything all about him.

But there really are magical elements in this book, in which the thousand and one "Children of Midnight" born during the midnight hour of India's independence are all given supernatural gifts. If this were a genre fantasy novel, we'd see them running around India engaging in feats of heroism and villainy. But this isn't a superhero novel, it's a literary historical novel with a touch of the fantastic, so the Children of Midnight never do much at all, and Saleem's amazing telepathic abilities are used only as a plot device to connect them and include them in his narrative.

As a modern history of India (told irreverently and one-sidedly and in a self-involved way by Saleem), Midnight's Children is funny, tragic, interesting, and a grand epic that Rushdie's storytelling device makes extremely personal. Rushdie's writing style is full of asides and interjections and laugh-out-loud metaphors, and he brings all the characters, even the bit ones, to life in amusing detail. He reminds me a bit of Stephen King in that respect, though Rushdie is far more of a literary prose-smith than King, and his book, while a little bit wordy and tangential at times, nowhere near as bloated as a King epic.

The history of Saleem Sinai's family is also a great family melodrama, and much funnier than the history of India, while often just as tragic. Maybe history really does resonate with Saleem and his family.

An interesting and entertaining book, but ultimately it didn't quite satisfy me because I was reading it as a Westerner. Rushdie's introduction to this Booker prize winner points out that Westerners usually think of Midnight's Children as fantasy, while Indians tend to read it as a historical. So, again, adjust your genre expectations. Even though all these people have superhuman abilities, they ultimately have little to do with the plot. It's Rushdie's writing and the national and family melodrama that keeps you listening.