Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
Best of the Booker. Everyone agrees Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie is an incredible book, but as I carried this around with me for the past week, I also heard messages of, 'Good luck', 'Rushdie is not an easy read', 'Once you read this book, you don't need to read any more Rushdie; you're covered'.
It is a great book, a dense, complicated narrative that is both believable and unbelievable, and, a wonder for the real discourse it created in India. It introduces a main character, Saleem Sinai, of many names, with many fathers and mothers, a son prophesized to be both master and victim of his times, tethered to India's independence and history, before and after. He is a child swapped at birth, born among hundreds of other children between the hour of midnight and 1 am on 5 August, 1947. It is only he and Shiva, the other child born promptly at midnight, that bear the most powerful of powers of which each of the midnight's children are bequeathed - to see into the hearts and minds of men and as god of war, respectively.
Alongside this mystical, national honor/curse, Sinai's life unfolds. A sister is born. They move to Pakistan. His parents grow distant, close, and distant again. Bombs. Death. Amnesia. War. Slums. The Most Charming Man in the World. A witch. A widow. Emergency. A son. But it's true that they seem almost inexplicably linked to the events of a country, and cannot be read without the context of those times.
I wonder though, is that significant to him, born at midnight, or whether all of our lives play out alongside the same timeline and trajectory of where we're from? Can the two be wholly separate? Or, perhaps, is it simply that his life, and his son's, are linked in a much deeper way? The magic of Rushdie's book is that it makes us wonder, through very adult content, in a childlike way. And its 1981 publication changed the landscape of literature both in India and the world over. For that, I honor Rushdie, as the English-speaking literary community has.
But, indeed, I also anticipate a long break before I return to Rushdie again, for as literary and detailed and beautiful and mature as his stories are, they shine a light on the reader's own inadequacies - the brain power to embrace the testaments about human nature and history he makes with such ease, brilliance and expertise. You outshine us, midnight child.