It's been quite a long time since I've written, but although I have slowed down, I have not stopped reading. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie was a challenging read, at least it was for me. It's also a hard book to describe. It is fiction that at times reads like non-fiction. It names historical people but I have no idea if the stories mentioned are true or not. It covers a period of about 60 years from the time the grandfather of our main character, Saleem Sinai was fresh our of university in 1915 until the mid 1970's, where this story ends. This book is filled with sorrows, disappointment, tragedy and cruelty and people who are ultimately cured of the disease of optimism.
The story tells how Saleem was born on the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the day that India gained its independence from Britain. He realizes early on that his life is tied to India itself and events happening in his homeland are mirrored in his own life and vice versa. In actuality this book is the story of India from 1915 on, and what better way to tell the story of a country than by following the lives of one family through the years.
Along the way we get to be a part of Saleem's quirky family and are introduced to his friends and those stories are the parts of the book that I enjoyed the most. Saleem's history is introduced first as we meet his grandfather and grandmother, and then his mother and her siblings and then finally Saleem himself enters his story (and India's). The author is an expert at developing interesting characters and funny situations and yet, into every lighthearted story is woven an often disturbing political excerpt.
It is also discovered that all the children of Midnight, those born within the first hour on that fateful day, have been given supernatural gifts, some great and some small. The closer to midnight the child was born, the more powerful the gift. The use of these gifts also changes the story of our hero and his country.
Happy stories are mixed amidst the sad, deceit and trickery mixed with love and sacrifice, beauty and ugliness, political and personal, it is all in this book. There are mass murders at peaceful rallies, political marches, secret meetings, wars, poverty, and forced sterilization.
I do believe that if I was more familiar with the recent history of India (the last 100 years or so), that this book would have had more of an impact on me. I found myself skimming over the political sections to get to the "story", which does not work with this book, since the true story it is telling is that of India itself.
I cannot say I recommend this book, although I can't deny the author's talent with storytelling. I found it too heavy and disheartening and there was too much of the political in it for my taste. If you are knowledgeable about India's recent history or are interested in knowing more about it and how it affected the lives of people, and you like a bit of the supernatural mixed in, give this book a try.
I will end with a quote from the book:
Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I've gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each "I," every one of the now-six-hundred-million-plus-of-us, contains a similar multitude. I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you'l have to swallow a world.