Why should you read “Midnight’s Children”? – Iseult Gillespie

Why should you read “Midnight’s Children”? – Iseult Gillespie


It begins with a countdown. On August 14th, 1947, a woman in Bombay goes into labor
as the clock ticks towards midnight. Across India, people hold their breath
for the declaration of independence after nearly two centuries of British
occupation and rule. And at the stroke of midnight, a squirming infant and two new
nations are born in perfect synchronicity. These events form the foundation
of “Midnight’s Children,” a dazzling novel by the British-Indian
author Salman Rushdie. The baby who is the exact same age
as the nation is Saleem Sinai, the novel’s protagonist. His narrative stretches over
30 years of his life, jumping backwards and forwards in time
to speculate on family secrets and deep-seated mysteries. These include the greatest enigma of all:
Saleem has magic powers, and they’re somehow related
to the time of his birth. And he’s not the only one. All children born in and around
the stroke of midnight are imbued with extraordinary powers; like Parvati the Witch,
a spectacular conjurer; and Saleem’s nemesis Shiva,
a gifted warrior. With his powers of telepathy, Saleem forges connections with a
vast network of the children of midnight— including a figure who can step
through time and mirrors, a child who changes their gender
when immersed in water, and multilingual conjoined twins. Saleem acts as a delightful guide
to magical happenings and historical context alike. Although his birthday is a day
of celebration, it also marks a turbulent period
in Indian history. In 1948, the leader of the Indian
independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi, was assassinated. Independence also coincided
with Partition, which divided British-controlled India into the two nations of India
and Pakistan. This contributed to the outbreak of
the Indo-Pakistani Wars in 1965 and 1971. Saleem touches on all this and more, tracing the establishment
of Bangladesh in 1971 and the emergency rule of Indira Gandhi. This vast historical frame is one
reason why “Midnight’s Children” is considered one of the most illuminating
works of postcolonial literature ever written. This genre typically addresses the
experience of people living in colonized and formerly colonized countries, and explores the fallout through themes
like revolution, migration, and identity. Rushdie, who like Saleem was born in 1947,
was educated in India and Britain, and is renowned for his cross-continental
histories, political commentary, and magical realism. He enriches “Midnight’s Children”
with a plethora of Indian and Pakistani cultural references, from family traditions to food,
religion and folktales. Scribbling by night under the
watchful eyes of his lover Padma, Saleem’s frame narrative echoes
that of “1001 Nights,” where a woman named Scheherazade
tells her king a series of stories to keep herself alive. And as Saleem sees it, 1001 is “the number of night, of magic,
of alternative realities.” Over the course of the novel, Rushdie dazzles us with
multiple versions of reality. Sometimes, this is like reading
a rollercoaster. Saleem narrates: “Who what am I? My answer: I am everyone everything whose being-in-
the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens
after I’ve gone which would not have happened
if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional
in this matter; each ‘I,’ every one of the now-six-
hundred-million-plus of us, contains a similar multitude. I repeat for the last time: to understand me,
you’ll have to swallow a world.” Saleem’s narrative often has
a breathless quality— and even as Rushdie depicts the
cosmological consequences of a life, he questions the idea that we can ever
condense history into a single narrative. His mind-bending plot and
shapeshifting characters have garnered continuing
fascination and praise. Not only did “Midnight’s Children” win
the prestigious Man Booker Prize in its year of publication, but in a 2008 competition that pitted
all 39 winners against each other, it was named the best of all the winners. In a masterpiece of epic proportions, Rushdie reveals that there
are no singular truths— rather, it’s wiser to believe in several
versions of reality at once, hold many lives in the
palms of our hands, and experience multiple moments
in a single stroke of the clock.

18 thoughts on “Why should you read “Midnight’s Children”? – Iseult Gillespie

  1. Reminds me of House of the Spirits which’s similar only there’s only one person with magical powers and it takes place in Chile. It also focuses more on a single family’s history but that history is tied to the going’s on of Chile during that time span so it doesn’t take place in isolation.

  2. Both this book and the "Satanic verses" are highly overrated. I preffer other fantasy books instead of such "realistic" creations. This guy got huge attention because his death sentence in absentia for the "Satanic verses". My opinion – not worth it…

  3. I was thinking if a video on one of the books of the famous German writer Herman Hesse could be the next in this series of video.
    A video on Siddhartha or Narcissus and Goldmund could be, potentially, a really great video to focus on. ☝🏻

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