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Midnight's Children [Paperback]

Salman Rushdie
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 8 1982 Picador Books
Saleem Sinai was born at midnight, the midnight of India's independence, and found himself mysteriously 'handcuffed to history' by the coincidence. He is one of 1,001 children born at the midnight hour, each of them endowed with an extraordinary talent - and whose privilege and curse it is to be both master and victims of their times. Through Saleem's gifts - inner ear and wildly sensitive sense of smell - we are drawn into a fascinating family saga set against the vast, colourful background of the India of the 20th century.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Anyone who has spent time in the developing world will know that one of Bombay's claims to fame is the enormous film industry that churns out hundreds of musical fantasies each year. The other, of course, is native son Salman Rushdie--less prolific, perhaps than Bollywood, but in his own way just as fantastical. Though Rushdie's novels lack the requisite six musical numbers that punctuate every Bombay talkie, they often share basic plot points with their cinematic counterparts. Take, for example, his 1980 Booker Prize-winning Midnight's Children: two children born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947--the moment at which India became an independent nation--are switched in the hospital. The infant scion of a wealthy Muslim family is sent to be raised in a Hindu tenement, while the legitimate heir to such squalor ends up establishing squatters' rights to his unlucky hospital mate's luxurious bassinet. Switched babies are standard fare for a Hindi film, and one can't help but feel that Rushdie's world-view--and certainly his sense of the fantastical--has been shaped by the films of his childhood. But whereas the movies, while entertaining, are markedly mediocre, Midnight's Children is a masterpiece, brilliant written, wildly unpredictable, hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure.

Rushdie's narrator, Saleem Sinai, is the Hindu child raised by wealthy Muslims. Near the beginning of the novel, he informs us that he is falling apart--literally:

I mean quite simply that I have begun to crack all over like an old jug--that my poor body, singular, unlovely, buffeted by too much history, subjected to drainage above and drainage below, mutilated by doors, brained by spittoons, has started coming apart at the seams. In short, I am literally disintegrating, slowly for the moment, although there are signs of an acceleration.
In light of this unfortunate physical degeneration, Saleem has decided to write his life story, and, incidentally, that of India's, before he crumbles into "(approximately) six hundred and thirty million particles of anonymous, and necessarily oblivious, dust." It seems that within one hour of midnight on India's independence day, 1,001 children were born. All of those children were endowed with special powers: some can travel through time, for example; one can change gender. Saleem's gift is telepathy, and it is via this power that he discovers the truth of his birth: that he is, in fact, the product of the illicit coupling of an Indian mother and an English father, and has usurped another's place. His gift also reveals the identities of all the other children and the fact that it is in his power to gather them for a "midnight parliament" to save the nation. To do so, however, would lay him open to that other child, christened Shiva, who has grown up to be a brutish killer. Saleem's dilemma plays out against the backdrop of the first years of independence: the partition of India and Pakistan, the ascendancy of "The Widow" Indira Gandhi, war, and, eventually, the imposition of martial law.

We've seen this mix of magical thinking and political reality before in the works of Günter Grass and Gabriel García Márquez. What sets Rushdie apart is his mad prose pyrotechnics, the exuberant acrobatics of rhyme and alliteration, pun, wordplay, proper and "Babu" English chasing each other across the page in a dizzying, exhilarating cataract of words. Rushdie can be laugh-out-loud funny, but make no mistake--this is an angry book, and its author's outrage lends his language wings. Midnight's Children is Salman Rushdie's irate, affectionate love song to his native land--not so different from a Bombay talkie, after all. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Review

"'Salman Rushdie has earned the right to be called one of our great storytellers.' Observer" "'Huge, vital, engrossing... in all senses a fantastic book.' Sunday Times" "'The literary map of India has been redrawn... Midnight's Children sounds like a country finding its voice.' New York Times" "'A brilliant and endearing novel.' London Review of Books" --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Imagery! May 15 2002
By Kalyan
Format:Paperback
Wonderful Imagery!
Rushdie creates a wonderful panorama and guides us through post-1947 nehru's india toward indira's new india as his characters move across the length and breadth of india, associating themselves with history, witnessing its events, and occasionally being a part of them. From the old Kashmir with the silent dal lake to the massacre at Jallianwalbagh, From the Streets and Forts of Delhi to the language riots of Bombay, From the military coups in pakistan, along the mysterious rann of kutch to the Mangroves of the Sunderbans, the story keeps turning while showing you all the nuances, sentiments, and personalities of the indian subcontinent. The characters are brilliantly depicted in rich variety and grab the readers attention immediately. It's not a history book but it presents history with stunning images in rushdie's wonderful hinglish. A wonderful read!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hard read, but a good one Oct. 9 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Ok I've re-read this book eight times, since the age of fourteen. I think that's why it took me till the sixth time to realize the book was about India, from Independence upto the 1970s. 'Midnight's Children' refers to that generations of Indians which lived right after independence, i.e. 1947. So-called because it was at midnight, 15th August 1947 that India(and Pakistan + the about-to-be Bangladesh) were born out of British India. It tells the story of Saleem Sinai who was born on Midnight, Independence day, and whose life is tied to that of his country's. Along with Saleem, another son was born almost at the same time: Shiva. These two represent the two different sides of India that are so familiar: Saleem represented the affluent, British-educated cosmopolitan and tolerant India. Shiva, represented the hungry-starving dog-eat-dog India, and how those two grew up together, separated, yet tied together. Plus all the hopes and dreams which were assocaited with the formation of this new India, the "tryst with Destiny" e.t.c. With the actual history of India as the backdrop. Saleem was one of many 'Midnight's Children', another name for India's democracy, and parliament. And goes on to show how Indira Gandhi neutered them (she declared a National Emergency, declared martial Law, and brought on the onset of disabling Socialist policies, the effect of which are still being felt). The book is written very well, but some of the Indian references will go over non-Indian readers' heads. Also, the state of India as Rushdie describes it is correct for the late 70s and early 80s, and has no bearing on the India of the 90s onwards. I think it's time to write a novel on Midnight's Grand-children, to the see the sparkling changes they are making on their nation. This book is only for people who have a significant interest in India. Not for the casual reader, and not a book to read for anybody who wants the most up-to-date story on India. Unfortunately there isn't a novel on that as of now.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars where's the beef? Nov. 2 2000
Format:Hardcover
I feel about Salman Rushdie's first big book roughly the same way I feel about Indian food. The food features a fascinating melange of spices, smells and textures, but I have no desire to consume it. Nor do I particularly comprehend the attraction of the cuisine of a dirt poor Third World country with more dietary taboos than you can shake a sitar at and, while heavy spicing is a perfectly logical substitute for substance, at the end of the meal one longs to ask: "Where's the beef?". Similarly, in his novel, Rushdie combines his signature Magical Realist style and the actual historical background of India since Independence with the family history of the Sinai's to create a bewildering mess of a novel that is heavy on Bombay slang. The language is pungent but indecipherable and the story is ambitious but confusing. The linguistic pyrotechnics and luxuriant prose have displaced the meat of the story.
I actually believe that India offers a unique opportunity to the author of today. With the end of the Cold War and peace in the Middle East, South Africa and Northern Ireland, many of the settings that offered built in tension have disappeared. India, however, remains a corrupt political state, is rife with ethnic tension and is nearly at war with both Pakistan and China. There are so many latent plot lines that it would seem an irresistible setting and I very much enjoyed books like Rohinton Mistry's Such a Long Journey and Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy (1993). But, both are much more traditional, Western-style novels. As is usually the case, the injection of magical realism into Rushdie's story ends up detracting from his tale rather than enhancing it. The effort to create an Indian, or postcolonial, style did not work for me; a straightforward narrative, stripped of hocus pocus gimmickry, would have been much more enjoyable.
GRADE: C-
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written but confusing Sept. 6 2010
By Andrea
Format:Paperback
Salman Rushdie's writing style is easily to fall in love with, but it didn't take long before I realized that no matter how much I loved the way the words flowed on the page, I didn't really get what was going on. Rushdie's Midnight's Children is a densely packed tale of babies switched at birth, a nation divided, magic, history, love, prejudice, and war. It's beautifully written and often laugh-out-loud funny. It can also be confusing and frustrating.

"Midnight's Children" are those born within the first hour of the newly independent India. The story of Saleem's life is intended to parallel the events in India at the same time. It may be my own lack of historical knowledge of India and Pakistan during the 1960s/70s that made this a more difficult read than I'd anticipated.

I found that I had a hard time connecting with any of the main characters. The ones I was most sympathetic to were only around for a chapter at a time. The use of Padma as a means of addressing the reader got very tiresome after a while and didn't seem to be necessary. The whole novel seemed to be leading up to some sort of payoff that, in the end, never materialized. After a month of slogging through this novel, it was disappointing and unsatisfying.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars and thoroughly enjoyed reading my first Salman Rushie novel
This was a very stimulating read. I found myself very energized while reading it , and thoroughly enjoyed reading my first Salman Rushie novel!
Published 16 days ago by greeneyes
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific journey
I read this over an extended period of time and enjoyed every word and tale written. Rushdie's descriptions are brilliant and his stories are very funny.
Published 20 months ago by Therongold
2.0 out of 5 stars Find writing style very tiring and subject very history specific
I bought this book because Salman Rushdie is a world renowned writer and this is a very popular book. Read more
Published on May 9 2012 by Rajesh
5.0 out of 5 stars Booker of the Booker
It's no surprise the novel, Midnight's Children has won the Booker Prize 3 times. It is one of the best novels of all time. It has become my favorite novel, and will be yours too. Read more
Published on Dec 28 2010 by A. Pendse
5.0 out of 5 stars Liberating the Truth from History
How do you tell the story of a country? Tell it as the story of a person. The main character and narrator of Midnight's Children, Saleem Sinia, is born (or at least someone is... Read more
Published on Oct. 26 2010 by Leslie Carmichael
3.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat interesting but...
The style of writing is not for everyone. Is it well written? Yes and no. It seems to try too hard, resulting in a book that doesn't generate much desire to keep turning the... Read more
Published on Aug. 26 2006 by Peter
5.0 out of 5 stars The best contempory writer
Salman Rushdie is still one of the best contemporary writer; in this book, he's painting a fine portrait of the Indian's socio-political situation. Read more
Published on June 24 2006 by P. Bolduc
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing novel, one of the best I have read.
This book can appeal to different people on so many levels. In my case, my taste in novels can depend on the day or the season. Read more
Published on Oct. 3 2005
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply a "must read"
I don't have the time or inclination to go into a long rant about what makes this book so outstanding, but I will say that it is by far the best book I've ever picked up. Read more
Published on Sept. 24 2003 by Ben E
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
One of Rushdie's best works and far more accessible to those without knowledge of Southasian history and Islam. Read more
Published on June 21 2003 by fafreak
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