The winner of the Best of the Bookers prize among many other prestigious literary awards, Midnight’s Children has long been heralded by critics as one of the most important novels to come out of the English-speaking world in this generation, and instantly earned its author Salman Rushdie comparison with some of the world’s greatest contemporary writers.
Midnight’s Children is an epic fantasy tale of history and of childhood, giving a voice to India, a country brimming with life, energy and conflict. Rushdie’s huge landscape of a novel charts India’s journey to independence and partition and beyond to Indira Gandhi’s State of Emergency in the 1970s. The novel entwines this complex history with the life of the young Saleem Sinai, born at the precise moment of India’s emergence as an independent country, comparing the birth of a nation to an emerging childhood.
Through Saleem, Rushdie tells us that to 'understand one life you must swallow the world', and this is what we must do with Midnight’s Children, engulfing a rollercoaster ride of minute details and side stories to appreciate the complex relationship we all have with history. Using Saleem’s forgetfulness as a tool, Rushdie plays with our notions of truth and reality. As Saleem acknowledges that he misplaces the time frame of a number of seminal moments in India’s history he frets over the accuracy of his story. Rushdie is highlighting that our sense of history will forever be affected by our own perspective, our memory and narrative creates its own truth. For Saleem, his version is as true as anything else because this is the version he believes.
Rushdie writes with an original, meandering prose drawing on the long tradition of storytelling and narration. As he narrates his tale, Saleem jumps backwards and forwards across time, events are previewed before they occur and mistakes in time are corrected after the fact giving the novel a sense of intrigue, although this sometimes errs on the side of irritation. With a uniquely Indian perspective on the English language, Midnight’s Children is an eclectic mix of styles, echoing the rhythm and slang of colloquial spoken English in India. Familiar English words get combined in new and unusual ways, and long, unbroken sentences run on freely, sometimes spanning a page or more.
While Rushdie’s glittering and impressive prose is one of the novel’s biggest attractions, for many it may prove one of its biggest drawbacks. With such an intricate plot, the novel will take a couple of re-readings to catch all the miniature details of the history woven into the canvas. However for those that persevere Midnight’s Children is a stylish and engrossing record of a vivacious and political charged country as well as a provoking discussion of our relationship with history and storytelling.
"Burgeons with life, with exuberance and fantasy....Rushdie is a writer of courage, impressive strength, and sheer stylistic brilliance." The Washington Post Book World
"Huge, vital, engrossing...in all senses a fantastic book." Sunday Times
"In Salman Rushdie, India has produced a glittering novelist — one with startling imaginative and intellectual resources, a master of perpetual storytelling." V. S. Pritchett, The New Yorker
"An extraordinary novel...one of the most important to come out of the English-speaking world in this generation." Robert Towers, The New York Review of Books
Original Guardian Review of Midnight’s Children – 1981 >>
Rushdie speaking on the reception of Midnight’s Children by the Booker Prize >>