Once upon a time I used words like ‘great’ and ‘masterpiece’ with frivolous regularity. Then I read Midnights Children. Salman Rushdie works on a different scale to other authors, seamlessly blending the magical and the realistic, enhancing and supplanting accepted history, and illuminating his tactile world to all. He is first and foremost a storyteller who juggles plots and ideas with consummate ease, building a tapestry of flawed heroes and three dimensional characters. He writes with such a conversational narrative voice that is a pleasure to sit back and wallow in his half real, half magical worlds.
Take this, the first paragraph of this most epic of novels:
“I was born in the city of Bombay… once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th 1947. And the time? The time matters, too. Well them: at night. No, it’s important to be more… On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh, spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India’s arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world. There were gasps. And, outside the window, fireworks and crowds. A few seconds later, my father broke his big toe; but his accident was a mere trifle when set beside what had befallen me in that benighted moment, because thanks to the occult tyrannies of those blindly saluting clocks I had been mysteriously handcuffed to history, my destinies indissolubly chained to those of my country. For the next three decades, there was to be no escape. Soothsayers had prophesied me, newspapers celebrated my arrival, politicos ratified my authenticity. I was left entirely without a say in the matter. I, Saleem Sinai, later variously called Snotnose, Stainface, Baldy, Sniffer, Budha and even Piece-of-the-Moon, had become heavily embroiled in Fate – at the best of times a dangerous sort of involvement. And I couldn’t even wipe my own nose at the time.”
From the moment I picked it up and read this spectacular opening I knew I was about to indulge in a truly memorable journey. If there is another novelist writing with a similar fluidity of style then I cannot wait to discover them. Midnight’s Children thoroughly deserves every accolade it has received; I have never read a book quite this good. There is no more important or talented author writing in English today than Salman Rushdie.
Midnight’s Children tells the history of Saleem Sinain, one of 1001 children born in the first hour of Indian independence, tied to the fate of the fledgling nation. Each has been awarded a special talent, talents which, like their fellow countrymen, they will use to shape the nation into which they have been born. But as they grow older and early exuberance gives way to uneasiness in the country around them, Saleem begins to discover that not everything comes as easily at it initially seems.
With its polyglot amalgamation of three distinct but overlapping cultures, Midnight’s Children is one of those novels which define our time. As with The Satanic Verses, it is a story about globalisation and immigration and the multifarious world we increasingly live in. It is…no, you decide for yourself.
Common perception of Salman Rushdie is of a dense and unreadable author, for literary buffs rather than general readers. This is not true, though his individual style takes some getting used to. If you have never read any Rushdie, start with his more recent work such as Fury or The Ground Beneath Her Feet to get into his groove. Once you have done that then grab this book, sit back and prepare to enter the magical world of the children of Midnight, eternally tied to the fate of their fledgling nation. You will not be disappointed.
10 out of 10