Usually, I prefer going into a book blind. I will actively avoid reading jacket summaries, and while I do take recommendations into account, nothing beats that feeling you get when you pick up a book with no expectations that ends up being incredible.
“Midnight’s Children,” however, came to me with a whole stack of endorsements and preconceptions. My friends and teachers had universally praised it. It had received the prestigious Booker Award upon its release and, years later, had been declared the Best of the Booker — as in, the best out of all the books that had received the Booker. It had a lot to live up to.
Fifty pages in, I knew I had nothing to worry about. From the very beginning, author Salman Rushdie paints a picture of a vivid world, encompassing all aspects of the protagonist’s story. While “Midnight’s Children” is narrated by Saleem Sinai, it covers so much more than his life, starting with the history of Saleem’s parents and grandparents and parents and the story of India’s newfound independence in 1947.
Saleem, who was born at the exact moment of India’s independence, is one of 1,000 children born in that first hour of freedom — the titular “midnight’s children.” These children are blessed with extraordinary powers that vary in strength based on the minute of their birth — the closer to midnight, the greater their power. Saleem, born during the very first moment, receives the power of telepathy; others are gifted in war or witchcraft, teleportation, extreme beauty — all manner of powers.
However, despite appearances, “Midnight’s Children” is not a fantasy novel. The story is much more magical realism than anything else — the supernatural elements improve and even complete the tale.
Rather than making the story strange or unfamiliar, Rushdie presents the fantasy elements in such a way that they enhance its reality. Because the fantasy seems so natural, so unforced, the reader simply accepts them as part of Saleem’s world and approaches them as he would any other plot device.
The genius of “Midnight’s Children” really becomes apparent in Rushdie’s melding of his two story lines. Either story on its own would be sufficient: a family epic and the development of a nation. Together, however, they build off of and better each other.
The larger political themes increase the relevance of the story; at the same time, the story presents them in a way that appeals to the general reader. I am personally not very big on politics, but reading about India’s postcolonial struggles in conjunction with the events of Saleem’s life fascinated me. By knitting together these two diverse themes, Rushdie has created a tale with something for everybody.
In “Midnight’s Children,” Rushdie presents a sweeping epic of individual and country, reaching from the smallest experiences of childhood to the most important decisions of prime ministers. This extensiveness is what makes it such a transformative read, but also means that I am not sure I would recommend it as something to pick up during school. Wait until winter break or summer, until you have some time to devote to it — this book truly deserves it.