Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie was published in 1981 and was awarded the Booker and James Tait Memorial Black Prizes of the same year. Later, the novel went on to win the Booker of Bookers twice. Midnight’s Children is a highly acclaimed novel and a classic in literature.
In an interview with John Mullan for the Guardian, Rushdie talked about how he started writing the book and how he came to find his own voice upon discovering the voice of his main character Saleem:
“One day in 1976 – I’m no longer certain of the date – a young, unsuccessful writer wrestling with an enormous and still intractable story decided to start again, this time using a first-person narrator. On that day, much of what is now the beginning of Midnight’s Children was written. “I was born in the city of Bombay . . . once upon a time.” “Clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came.” “Handcuffed to history.” “Snotnose, Stainface, Baldy, Sniffer, Buddha and even Piece-of-the-Moon.” I can still summon up the feeling of exhilaration that came over me as I discovered Saleem Sinai’s voice, and in doing so discovered my own. I have always thought of that day as the moment I really became a writer, after a decade of false starts. “My clock-ridden, crime-stained birth.” (read the full article)
Midnight’s Children is set in Bombay, India around the country’s independence and is said to be a ‘loose allegory’ for the events that took place in India before and after their independence. The novel falls into the genre of magical realism as its main focus is on the the children born between midnight and 1am of 15 August 1947, the day of Indian independence. And what makes these children special? They are all imbued with special powers. Those born closest to midnight have the strongest powers. The main character is Saleem who was born at the stroke of midnight and who later discovers his powers of telepathy. Here is the blurb from GoodReads to better illustrate Saleem’s role in Midnight’s Children:
“Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment of India’s independence. Greeted by fireworks displays, cheering crowds, and Prime Minister Nehru himself, Saleem grows up to learn the ominous consequences of this coincidence. His every act is mirrored and magnified in events that sway the course of national affairs; his health and well-being are inextricably bound to those of his nation; his life is inseparable, at times indistinguishable, from the history of his country. Perhaps most remarkable are the telepathic powers linking him with India’s 1,000 other “midnight’s children,” all born in that initial hour and endowed with magical gifts. This novel is at once a fascinating family saga and an astonishing evocation of a vast land and its people–a brilliant incarnation of the universal human comedy. Twenty-five years after its publication, Midnight’ s Children stands apart as both an epochal work of fiction and a brilliant performance by one of the great literary voices of our time.” (GoodReads)
Mignight’s Children is not Rushdie’s most controversial novel and certainly not the one that caused him to go into hiding (that was The Satanic Verses) however it did cause the 1984 Indian Prime Minister, Indira Ghandi, to bring action against the book in British courts because of a sentence. Apparently in chapter 28 in the penultimate paragraph the Prime Minister’s “son Sanjay Gandhi is said to have had a hold over his mother by his accusing her of contributing to his father’s Feroze Gandhi’s death through her neglect”. The matter was resolved out of court as Rushdie agreed to remove the sentence. This was reported by Rushdie himself in his introduction to the 2006 25th Anniversary Special Edition of the novel.
This novel is on my TBR as I believe it to be one of a few special books that just need to be read. Besides The Satanic Verses which also sits on my TBR, I think anyone interested in the life of Salman Rushdie while he was forced into hiding should read his memoir, Joseph Anton.