I hardly know what to say about Midnight’s Children, because I’m convinced that I only barely understood it. Salman Rushdie’s novel swept me along in a frightening and gorgeous narrative that was so cut-up and pasted together, so detailed and comprehensive, so mystical and mysterious that I was far out of my depth. I let myself be carried along by it’s current, and while I couldn’t comprehend its depths of meaning or the history through which it flowed, the glittering waters and compelling narrative currents enraptured me.
Salman Rushdie’s extensive novel tells the story of Saleem Sinai, one of hundreds of Indian babies born exactly at midnight on the dawn of India’s independence. Saleem, along with all the other children of midnight, are born with special powers which tie them to each other and to India’s tumultuous future. Their paths, as individuals and a collective, mirror the path of India as it struggles to find its identity as a modern nation, through the separation from Pakistan all the way to the scandalous Emergency. Saleem himself suffers many injuries and losses and crises of identity, before finally reuniting with the mother who did not give birth to him, finding a love that forced itself upon him, and caring for a son who is not of his own blood.
Thickly layered with historical and cultural detail, Midnight’s Children began to educate me in the story of India, but it was like drinking from a fire hydrant–the in-the-know references and crowded chaos of events overwhelmed and confused me. The story of Saleem was also obscure and muddied, for reality and dream, truth and fiction were entirely indistinguishable. Of course, that muddled chaos seems to have been Rushdie’s intent, so I am left with an image of India as a country that was muddled and hazy, unsure of its own history and heritage.
I can’t say with any conclusivity whether I liked the story or the character of Saleem, but I relished the storytelling in all of its confusion and vivid color and almost-vulgar intimacy. I loved learning, in whatever small way, about India and its journey. I was fascinated by the way Rushdie dipped in and out of reality without a flicker of hesitation. I recommend Midnight’s Children as an intriguing journey and a unique experience of words and magic, but it isn’t for the faint of heart or the casual reader.