Review: Midnight's Children

May 3, 2009

In February I began reading Rushdie's Midnight's Children — a strange sort of historical fiction —but a trip in early March inserted Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red before I could finish. Two things I've loved about Rushdie, at least in the two novels I've read: his use of the English language, and his ability to credibly, smoothly bend reality into an absurd yet moving other world. In these he is master. These are so clear that I won't dwell on them (ok, that's actually because my wife has the book up at work so I can't refer to it for examples).

Midnight's Children is the story of India — that is, of the modern state of India — seen through the rise and fall of four generations, and narrated by the third. It is a large and ancient land; naturally he cannot encompass it in even a long novel. Yet he does seem to touch on all the major developments. But then again, what do I know? I'm a Westerner. And so is he.

I wonder how that influences him? I wonder what this book would have become had it been written by someone directly living India's birth into modernity? Perhaps such a person could not exist. Perhaps no one from inside could have created such a story. Perhaps if someone did, it would have been too foreign for Western readers to appreciate. Maybe such a work exists, but the Western selection bias has precluded the possibility for it to be recognized as a masterwork.

Midnight's Children was an incredibly journey, well worth the time, but would have been better served had I not interrupted 80% through. It is large; it is challenging; it is beautiful. Ground Beneath Her Feet was the better novel of the two. Midnight's Children was more grand and magical, but less philosophical and less likely to send me to the dictionary. But Midnight's Children does not elicit from me the praise I gave to that other tale.