Monday, July 17, 2006

Midnight's Children

MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN (Salman Rushdie) - Five Stars

The thing that really surprised me about Midnight's Children, by the end of it, was its generally sardonic attitude towards the magical symbolism and omens that are so central to the plot. So much is made of the mystical connections relating to the main character (Saleem Sinai), so much promise is set up in the story, that it's surprising when the abuse starts being heaped on Saleem with almost sadistic relentlessness. By the end of the story Rushdie has portrayed a startlingly pessimistic view of the "potential" of the innocent. And, with the obvious parallels between the life of Saleem Sinai and the development of modern India, Rushdie also exhibits a pessimistic and fairly depressing forecast for the future of one of the world's most populous nations.

But amidst all that is an epic; a collection of stories that seems almost like "A Thousand and One Nights" in its scope. The magical realism style Rushdie employs is far less confusing than that of Gabriel Garcia Marquez: where Marquez's rambling, stream of consciousness writing serves largely to (intentionally) disorient the reader, Rushdie (through a liberal use of semi-colons) gently guides the reader through narrative leaps spanning both time and distance. Astonishingly descriptive, Rushdie is almost more a painter than a writer in this book: the near 550 pages pass by with a very economical use of dialogue, and it is the scenes and descriptions that provide the meat and memories of the novel.

"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'll have to swallow a world."


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