Monday, August 26, 2019

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

August 15, 1947.  This is the date of India's independence from Britain.  It is also the birthdate of a thousand 'midnight's children', those children born on the exact moment of India's creation.  Their lives are tied to that of their mother country and reflect what is going on in the world around them.  Each child receives a special gift.  One can time travel, one change genders at will, another knows all about spells and potions.  Two of the babies are born in the same hospital.  Saleem Sinai and Shiva.  One is from a poor Hindu family, the other from a wealthy Muslim one.  A nanny who is there swaps the children.  The wealthy heir is sent to the slums to grow up poor and desperate.  Saleem is sent to the wealthy family and given everything he needs and desires.  He has the gift of telepathy and can psychically contact the others.  He creates a midnight's children congress which meets every night.

But things are not easy in India.  First, Pakistan demands it's own independence.  When Saleem is a teenager, the deceit of his nanny is revealed and he is unmasked as a fraud.  His family loves him though so not much is done.  The family moves to Pakistan and over the years, Saleem experiences the horrors the world is going through; war, poverty, repression, political torture, etc.  The other child, Shiva, grows up to embody his namesake, The Destroyer, and rises to fame in the military, killing those who oppose the government.  How will the story end of these two men, twinned at birth and now opposite in every way?

This novel is Salman Rushdie's crowning jewel.  It won the Booker in 1981 and then won the Booker of Bookers later, which was selected by readers.  It is a huge analogy of freedom and repression, opposite sides of the coin.  The writing is lavish and imaginative, a waterfall of images and comedy and tragedy that spews forward until the reader must give way to it and accept it all.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.

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