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Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
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Midnight's Children (original 1981; edition 1991)

by Salman Rushdie

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
10,155186282 (4.05)1 / 817
Member:HelenGress
Title:Midnight's Children
Authors:Salman Rushdie
Info:Penguin Books (1991), Paperback, 552 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:India, Pakistan, civil war, mystery, Saga

Work details

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)

  1. 100
    One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Nickelini)
  2. 71
    The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (GoST)
  3. 51
    The Tin Drum by Günter Grass (GabrielF, CGlanovsky)
    GabrielF: I think Rushdie based a lot of his style in Midnight's Children on The Tin Drum. Both books are historical epics told through the perspective of a child with strange powers.
    CGlanovsky: A boy bound to the destiny of his birthplace. Surreal elements.
  4. 10
    Kim by Rudyard Kipling (Gregorio_Roth)
    Gregorio_Roth: The book is a modern interpretation of KIM in a number of ways. I think it will complete your point of view on Imperialism and India.
  5. 10
    Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh (pamelad)
    pamelad: Also set during Partition.
  6. 21
    The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (BGP)
  7. 00
    My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk (BGP)
  8. 11
    The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie (wrmjr66)
    wrmjr66: I think The Moor's Last Sigh is Rushdie's best book since Midnight's Children.
  9. 11
    The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (BGP)
  10. 01
    Island of a Thousand Mirrors: A Novel by Nayomi Munaweera (evilmoose)
  11. 03
    The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (amyblue)
1980s (13)
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English (175)  Spanish (2)  French (2)  Dutch (2)  Czech (1)  Danish (1)  Finnish (1)  Hebrew (1)  Polish (1)  All languages (186)
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CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

Saleem Sinai, the narrator of Midnight’s Children, opens the novel by explaining that he was born on midnight, August 15, 1947, at the exact moment India gained its independence from British rule. Now nearing his thirty-first birthday, Saleem believes that his body is beginning to crack and fall apart. Fearing that his death is imminent, he grows anxious to tell his life story. Padma, his loyal and loving companion, serves as his patient, often skeptical audience.

Saleem’s story begins in Kashmir, thirty-two years before his birth, in 1915. There, Saleem’s grandfather, a doctor named Aadam Aziz, begins treating Naseem, the woman who becomes Saleem’s grandmother. For the first three years Aadam Aziz treats her, Naseem is always covered by a sheet with a small hole in it that is moved to expose the part of her that is sick. Aadam Azis sees his future wife’s face for the first time on the same day World War I ends, in 1918. Aadam Aziz and Naseem marry, and the couple moves to Agra, where Aadam—a doctor whose loss of religious faith has affected him deeply—sees how protests in the name of independence get violently suppressed. Aadam and Naseem have three daughters, Alia, Mumtaz, and Emerald, and two sons, Mustapha and Hanif. Aadam becomes a follower of the optimistic activist Mian Abdullah, whose anti-Partition stance eventually leads to his assassination. Following Abdullah’s death, Aadam hides Abdullah’s frightened assistant, Nadir Khan, despite his wife’s opposition. While living in the basement, Nadir Khan falls in love with Mumtaz, and the two are secretly married. However, after two years of marriage, Aadam finds out that his daughter is still a virgin, as Nadir and Mumtaz have yet to consummate their marriage. Nadir Khan is sent running for his life when Mumtaz’s sister, Emerald, tells Major Zulfikar—an officer in the Pakistani army, soon to be Emerald’s husband—about his hiding place in the house. Abandoned by her husband, Mumtaz agrees to marry Ahmed Sinai, a young merchant who until then had been courting her sister, Alia.

Mumtaz changes her name to Amina and moves to Delhi with her new husband. Pregnant, she goes to a fortune-teller who delivers a cryptic prophecy about her unborn son, declaring that the boy will never be older or younger than his country and claiming that he sees two heads, knees and a nose. After a terrorist organization burns down Ahmed’s factory, Ahmed and Amina move to Bombay. They buy a house from a departing Englishman, William Methwold, who owns an estate at the top of a hill. Wee Willie Winky, a poor man who entertains the families of Methwold’s Estate, says that his wife, Vanita, is also expecting a child soon. Unbeknownst to Wee Willie Winky, Vanita had an affair with William Methwold, and he is the true father of her unborn child. Amina and Vanita both go into labor, and, at exactly midnight, each woman delivers a son. Meanwhile, a midwife at the nursing home, Mary Pereira, is preoccupied with thoughts of her radical socialist lover, Joseph D’Costa. Wanting to make him proud, she switches the nametags of the two newborn babies, thereby giving the poor baby a life of privilege and the rich baby a life of poverty. Driven by a sense of guilt afterward, she becomes an ayah, or nanny, to Saleem.

Because it occurs at the exact moment India gains its independence, the press heralds Saleem’s birth as hugely significant. Young Saleem has an enormous cucumberlike nose and blue eyes like those of his grandfather, Aadam Aziz. His mischievous sister, nicknamed the Brass Monkey, is born a few years later. Overwhelmed by the expectations laid on him by the prophecy, and ridiculed by other children for his huge nose, Saleem takes to hiding in a washing chest. While hiding one day, he sees his mother sitting down on the toilet; when Amina discovers him, she punishes Saleem to one day of silence. Unable to speak, he hears, for the first time, a babble of voices in his head. He realizes he has the power of telepathy and can enter anyone’s thoughts. Eventually, Saleem begins to hear the thoughts of other children born during the first hour of independence. The 1,001 midnight’s children—a number reduced to 581 by their tenth birthday—all have magical powers, which vary according to how close to midnight they were born. Saleem discovers that Shiva, the boy with whom he was switched at birth, was born with a pair of enormous, powerful knees and a gift for combat.

One day, Saleem loses a portion of his finger in an accident and is rushed to the hospital, where his parents learn that according to Saleem’s blood type, he couldn’t possibly be their biological son. After he leaves the hospital, Saleem is sent to live with his Uncle Hanif and Aunt Pia for a while. Shortly after Saleem returns home to his parents, Hanif commits suicide. While the family mourns Hanif’s death, Mary confesses to having switched Saleem and Shiva at birth. Ahmed—now an alcoholic—grows violent with Amina, prompting her to take Saleem and the Brass Monkey to Pakistan, where she moves in with Emerald. In Pakistan, Saleem watches as Emerald’s husband, General Zulfikar, stages a coup against the Pakistani government and ushers in a period of martial law.

Four years later, after Ahmed suffers a heart failure, Amina and the children move back to Bombay. India goes to war with China, while Saleem’s perpetually congested nose undergoes a medical operation. As a result, he loses his telepathic powers but, in return, gains an incredible sense of smell, with which he can detect emotions.

Saleem’s entire family moves to Pakistan after India’s military loss to China. His younger sister, now known as Jamila Singer, becomes the most famous singer in Pakistan. Already on the brink of ruin, Saleem’s entire family—save Jamila and himself—dies in the span of a single day during the war between India and Pakistan. During the air raids, Saleem gets hit in the head by his grandfather’s silver spittoon, which erases his memory entirely.

Relieved of his memory, Saleem is reduced to an animalistic state. He finds himself conscripted into military service, as his keen sense of smell makes him an excellent tracker. Though he doesn’t know exactly how he came to join the army, he suspects that Jamila sent him there as a punishment for having fallen in love with her. While in the army, Saleem helps quell the independence movement in Bangladesh. After witnessing a number of atrocities, however, he flees into the jungle with three of his fellow soldiers. In the jungle of the Sundarbans, he regains all of his memory except the knowledge of his name. After leaving the jungle, Saleem finds Parvati-the-witch, one of midnight’s children, who reminds him of his name and helps him escape back to India. He lives with her in the magician’s ghetto, along with a snake charmer named Picture Singh.

Disappointed that Saleem will not marry her, Parvati-the-witch has an affair with Shiva, now a famous war hero. Things between Parvati and Shiva quickly sour, and she returns to the magicians’ ghetto, pregnant and still unmarried. There, the ghetto residents shun Parvati until Saleem agrees to marry her. Meanwhile, Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India, begins a sterilization campaign. Shortly after the birth of Parvati’s son, the government destroys the magician’s ghetto. Parvati dies while Shiva captures Saleem and brings him to a forced sterilization camp. There, Saleem divulges the names of the other midnight’s children. One by one, the midnight’s children are rounded up and sterilized, effectively destroying the powers that so threaten the prime minister. Later, however, Indira Gandhi loses the first election she holds.

The midnight’s children, including Saleem, are all set free. Saleem goes in search of Parvati’s son, Aadam, who has been living with Picture Singh. The three take a trip to Bombay, so Picture Singh can challenge a man who claims to be the world’s greatest snake charmer. While in Bombay, Saleem eats some chutney that tastes exactly like the ones his ayah, Mary, used to make. He finds the chutney factory that Mary now owns, at which Padma stands guarding the gate. With this meeting, Saleem’s story comes full circle. His historical account finally complete, Saleem decides to marry Padma, his steadfast lover and listener, on his thirty-first birthday, which falls on the thirty-first anniversary of India’s independence. Saleem prophesies that he will die on that day, disintegrating into millions of specks of dust. ( )
  bostonwendym | Jul 29, 2016 |
A bit slow but promising, of course it's way too long and I had other things to do at the time so I stopped at page 300. ( )
  askajnaiman | Jun 14, 2016 |
Didn't finish
  TheDenizen | May 31, 2016 |
Midnight’s Children - Rushdie - Published 1981
audio performance by Lyndam Gregory
4 stars

Saleem Sinai is born, in Bombay, on the exact stroke of midnight of August 15, 1947. The story of his life parallels the birth and growing pains of independent India. As he tells the convoluted story of his life, Saleem takes great care to emphasize his connection to the history of his country. And if Saleem is to be believed, we see how the timing of his birth endows him with unique powers to influence events.

The question is whether Saleem is to be believed. The title Midnight’s Children derives from Saleem’s belief that he is in telepathic communication with every Indian child born during the midnight hour of August 15,1947. Each of the ‘children’ has a particular magical gift; gifts which are described, but which, for the most part, play little part in the actual story. If Saleem is a reliable narrator, this book is a masterpiece of magical realism. That is what I thought it would be when I started reading it. More than 600 pages later, I have a different opinion. I think, Saleem is insane. He is traumatically damaged, manic, and schizophrenic. In his madness he sees every aspect of his life directly impacting events. He sees the symbolic nature of his own existence. And his madness is the overriding metaphor of an independent India.

I had both audio and printed versions of this book. Either way, I found it exhausting to ‘listen’ to Saleem expound on the events of his life. His voice is very strident; ‘See,see,see, this is how these things are connected, this why that small event is so important.’ Sometimes I felt like he was beating me over the head. Delusional, manic, pressured speech; I felt like he needed to be medicated.

On the other hand, he was a great storyteller. There are over 100 vibrant characters, described in humorous detail (with a great deal of symbolic attention paid to body parts and body secretions). These characters encompass India’s many castes, economic classes, religions, and political parties. There are many farcical, almost slapstick events, to counterbalance the personal and national tragedies that occur in Saleem’s story. I enjoyed these characters. If Rushdie creates them with cynical satire, there is also affection. Rushdie also uses Saleem’s voice to make some brilliant, biting, social commentary. This book wasn’t what I expected, magical realism in an exotic setting. That doesn’t make it less impressive. This story is insanely surreal. Although I like straightforward historical fiction better, this may be the best way to tell the reality of 20th century India.
( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
I was born in the city of Bombay ..... once upon a time.
As you can find out from the opening line the story is about a child who was born in India. It is about a life, not the life of the little new born only, but the life of a nation.
The amazing unity between the details had been done wonderfully. Just like other Rushdie's novels it contains many characters who all play an important rule in the life and growth of the main character (as it actually really is in real life), but every single one of them is as important as the story goes along. His marvelous way of picturing the legendary India in its very critical time of history never let your mind to forget even for a moment the geographical and cultural destination of the tale and he does it with the beautiful use of words, the Indian-English conversations and even the characters attitudes and behaviors. At the same time the influences of Indian traditional legends, characters and symbols makes a fantastic relation between the past and present. Midnight's children is truly an incredible piece of literature to me, but I still prefer Shame over it. ( )
  GazelleS | May 11, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 175 (next | show all)
Midnight's Children is a teeming fable of postcolonial India, told in magical-realist fashion by a telepathic hero born at the stroke of midnight on the day the country became independent. First published in 1981, it was met with little immediate excitement.
added by mikeg2 | editThe Guardian, Lindesay Irvine (Jul 10, 2008)
 
"The literary map of India is about to be redrawn. . . . What [English-language fiction about India] has been missing is . . . something just a little coarse, a hunger to swallow India whole and spit it out. . . . Now, in 'Midnight's Children,' Salman Rushdie has realized that ambition."
added by GYKM | editNew York Times, Clarke Blaise (Apr 19, 1981)
 

» Add other authors (46 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Salman Rushdieprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Capriolo, EttoreTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davidson, AndrewCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Howard, IanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schuchart, MaxTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Versluys, MarijkeEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Zafar Rushdie
who, contrary to all expectations,
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I was born in the city of Bombay . . . once upon a time.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Please distinguish among:

-- Salman Rushdie's original 1981 novel, Midnight's Children;

-- Rushdie's 1999 screenplay adaptation (with introduction) of the novel, having the same title; and

-- The 2003 stage play, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, adapted for theater by Rushdie, Tim Supple and Simon Reade.

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0812976533, Paperback)

Anyone who has spent time in the developing world will know that one of Bombay's claims to fame is the enormous film industry that churns out hundreds of musical fantasies each year. The other, of course, is native son Salman Rushdie--less prolific, perhaps than Bollywood, but in his own way just as fantastical. Though Rushdie's novels lack the requisite six musical numbers that punctuate every Bombay talkie, they often share basic plot points with their cinematic counterparts. Take, for example, his 1980 Booker Prize-winning Midnight's Children: two children born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947--the moment at which India became an independent nation--are switched in the hospital. The infant scion of a wealthy Muslim family is sent to be raised in a Hindu tenement, while the legitimate heir to such squalor ends up establishing squatters' rights to his unlucky hospital mate's luxurious bassinet. Switched babies are standard fare for a Hindi film, and one can't help but feel that Rushdie's world-view--and certainly his sense of the fantastical--has been shaped by the films of his childhood. But whereas the movies, while entertaining, are markedly mediocre, Midnight's Children is a masterpiece, brilliant written, wildly unpredictable, hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure.

Rushdie's narrator, Saleem Sinai, is the Hindu child raised by wealthy Muslims. Near the beginning of the novel, he informs us that he is falling apart--literally:

I mean quite simply that I have begun to crack all over like an old jug--that my poor body, singular, unlovely, buffeted by too much history, subjected to drainage above and drainage below, mutilated by doors, brained by spittoons, has started coming apart at the seams. In short, I am literally disintegrating, slowly for the moment, although there are signs of an acceleration.
In light of this unfortunate physical degeneration, Saleem has decided to write his life story, and, incidentally, that of India's, before he crumbles into "(approximately) six hundred and thirty million particles of anonymous, and necessarily oblivious, dust." It seems that within one hour of midnight on India's independence day, 1,001 children were born. All of those children were endowed with special powers: some can travel through time, for example; one can change gender. Saleem's gift is telepathy, and it is via this power that he discovers the truth of his birth: that he is, in fact, the product of the illicit coupling of an Indian mother and an English father, and has usurped another's place. His gift also reveals the identities of all the other children and the fact that it is in his power to gather them for a "midnight parliament" to save the nation. To do so, however, would lay him open to that other child, christened Shiva, who has grown up to be a brutish killer. Saleem's dilemma plays out against the backdrop of the first years of independence: the partition of India and Pakistan, the ascendancy of "The Widow" Indira Gandhi, war, and, eventually, the imposition of martial law.

We've seen this mix of magical thinking and political reality before in the works of Günter Grass and Gabriel García Márquez. What sets Rushdie apart is his mad prose pyrotechnics, the exuberant acrobatics of rhyme and alliteration, pun, wordplay, proper and "Babu" English chasing each other across the page in a dizzying, exhilarating cataract of words. Rushdie can be laugh-out-loud funny, but make no mistake--this is an angry book, and its author's outrage lends his language wings. Midnight's Children is Salman Rushdie's irate, affectionate love song to his native land--not so different from a Bombay talkie, after all. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:44 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

The life of a man born at the moment of India's independence becomes inextricably linked to that of his nation and is a whirlwind of disasters and triumphs that mirror modern India's course, in a twenty-fifth anniversary edition of the Booker Prize-winning novel.… (more)

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