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Midnight’s Children By Salman Rushdie

Midnight’s Childrenby Salman Rushdie

Random House, New York, 2006 (original published in 1981)

From my TBR pile.  Winner of the Booker Prize and the Booker of Booker Prize.  I read this  novel as part of a group read organized by Arti Meredith and Mrs. B.  It has been wonderful reading along with others.  My thoughts on the first sections of this novel can be found here, here and here.

Book Three brings the story full circle.  Saleem, having lost most of his family in the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, finds himself in 1971 amidst the  fight for an independent Bangladesh.   Throughout this section Rushdie makes a strong argument for the role that politics, graft, collusion and warfare played in the shaping of this part of the world.  Saleem is forced into the army, witnesses atrocities and runs away.  He looses his memory, his friends die, he regains his memory, he marries and has a son, but not really.   Like Saleem himself his son, Aadam Sinai, is not really who he appears to be. And he is born at a time of great upheaval, just like his father and the rest of  Midnight’s Children.

This final part of Midnight’s Children  moves away from magic and brings history into focus.  Places and events from the beginning of the novel are mirrored towards the end.  I found it difficult, this last section, mainly because the novel loses the many of the elements  that enticed me in the beginning, Saleem’s family’s history and the mythical and magical histories of India and Pakistan.  I found myself enveloped in politics, particularly Rushdie’s scathing depiction of Indira Gandhi, her son Sanjay and their declared  State of Emergency.  I know some of this history.  I started skimming parts of  Book Three and not giving it the attention it deserved.   I  do understand Rushdie’s point,  I just need a break from this kind of historical fiction.

I think it was a certain scene of a pile of bodies that threw me off.  I am tired of war, of human failings and our ability to hate the “other”. What feeds our perverse need for destruction?

I did love this book and someday I will revisit  Midnight’s Children and give Book Three the attention it deserves.  The film adaptation, written by Salman Rushdie and directed by Deepa Mehta, is supposed to be released in October.  I am looking forward to it.

I want to thank the organizers of this read-along.  It has been a great experience.

5 Comments

Filed under Booker, Historical Fiction, India, Pakistan, Salman Rushdie, Thoughts

Midnight’s Children – Book Two, Part B by Salman Rushdie

Midnight’s Childrenby Salman Rushdie

Random House, New York, 2006 (original published in 1981)

From my TBR pile.  Winner of the Booker Prize and the Booker of Booker’s Prize.  I am reading this  novel as part of a group read organized by Arti Meredith and Mrs. B.  It is wonderful sharing thoughts.

The second part of Book Two focuses on exile and migration, on war and politics, both in the insular world of Saleem Sinai  and the larger world of India and Pakistan.  The Midnight’s Children Conference suffers from the same divisiveness that shatters the sub-continent.

     …..Children, however magical, are not immune to their parents; and as the prejudices and world-views of adults began to take over their minds, I found children from Maharashtra loathing Gujaratis, and fair-skinned northerners reviling Dravidian “blackies”; there were religious rivalries; and class entered our councils.  The rich children turned up their noses at being in such lowly company; Brahmins began to feel uneasy at permitting their thoughts to touch the thoughts of untouchables; while, among the low-born, the pressures of poverty and Communism were becoming evident…and, on top of all this, there were clashes of personality, and a hundred squalling rows which are unavoidable in a parliament composed entirely of half-grown brats.  From page 292.

The world mirrored in the thoughts and actions of children.   I greatly admire Rushdie’s ability to focus in on Saleem’s story and then move out, as if with a camera, to capture all that is happening in and around the Indian subcontinent.  Saleem’s  family contains love and betrayal, eventually even murder.    Saleem lives within this drama as he grows into an awkward young man.  The family is exiled to Pakistan and Saleem finds himself witness to revolution,  followed shortly by war.

     Midnight has many children; the offspring of Independence were not all human.  Violence, corruption, poverty, generals, chaos, greed and pepperpot…I had to go into exile to learn that the children of midnight were more varied that I— even I—had dreamed.  from page 333.

And then there are endings.  In the final chapters of Book Two,  in a conflict that seems a farce,  Saleem looses many members of his family.

     I am trying to stop being mystified.  Important to concentrate on good hard facts.  But which facts?  One week before mu eighteenth birthday, on August 8th, did Pakistani troops in civilian clothing cross the cease-fire line in Kashmir  and infiltrate the Indian sector, or did they not?  In Delhi, Prime Minister Shastri announced “massive infiltration…to subvert the state:; but here is Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, with his riposte:  “We categorically deny any involvement in the rising against tyranny by the indigenous people of Kashmir”.  From page 387.

Saleem’s rants about the sheer insanity of the Indo-Pakistani war bring to mind the politics and propaganda that infuse all wars.  They also remind me that Kashmir is still in suffering a territorial dispute, between Pakistan, India and China.

So on to Book Three and the wrap up of our read-along.  I can’t wait to see what my co-readers have to say about the rest of Midnight’s Children.

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Filed under Booker, Historical Fiction, India, Salman Rushdie, Thoughts

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie – Book 1

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Random House, New York, 2006

From my TBR pile.

I am taking part in a read-along organized by Mrs B, Arti andMeredith.  We are taking four months to read the book that won the Booker of Booker’s prize twice.    After reading Book One, I wanted to jump ahead and continue reading but decided to take the time to digest the first section.

In our den we have several wall hangings, presents from a friend who visited India and Nepal.  They are made up of pieces of cloth and imbedded with bits of mirrors.  When the sun hits them they bounce light all over the room.

Midnight’s Children is a book made of words like bits of  mirror, reflecting the time before and after India gained independence from Britain and was partitioned into the states of India, West and East Pakistan.  The story is told by Saleem Sinai.  Each evening he writes his scattered thoughts and reads them to a woman he works with, Padma, who is illiterate and seems a bit grumpy and slow-witted.  It is Padma who helps bring Saleem’s thoughts into focus as he recalls his family history from the time before he was born.

Midnight’s Children reminds me of a twisted version of 1000 and One Nights, a comparison I’m sure the author is tired of,  and I love it.  Rushdie’s mix of tumbling language, history and magical realism is like looking through a kaleidoscope, where the image is split into a thousand parts but somehow comes together beautifully.

Book One covers the story of Saleem’s family up until the time of his birth, August 15th, 1947, which is also the exact time of the creation of the independent State of India.  By telling his story Saleem also tells of India’s struggles for independence, the bigotry between classes and religions and the lasting impact of the British Raj.  All this is told with grace,  humor and a burning coal of anger at its core.  Anger at the thick-headed greed of politicians, thieves and governments.

I find it difficult expressing  my admiration for Salman Rushdie’s abilities with language, with story-telling.  I can not wait to move on to Book Two.

11 Comments

Filed under Booker, Historical Fiction, India, Read-Along, Salman Rushdie, TBR Double Dare

Kristin Lavransdatter – The Wreath – by Sigrid Undset

Kri0143039164.01._SX140_SY225_SCLZZZZZZZ_ Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

Translated by Tina Nunnally

Penguin Classic, New York, 2005

Bought used at local bookstore.

I am reading this 1100+ page novel as part of a read-along organized by Emily and Richard.  There ar e many others joining us.

Kristin Lavransdatter, written in three parts by the Nobel prize-winning Norwegian author Sigrid Undset, is a historical novel that follows the life of a woman in fourteenth century Norway.  We first meet Kristin when she is seven, travel  up to the mountain pastures with her father.  Her best friend, Arne, travels with them.

As they came over the ridge, the wind rushed towards them and whipped through their clothes-it seemed to Kristian that something alive which dwelled up there had come forward to greet them.  The wind gusted and blew as she and Arne walked across the expanse of moss.  The children sat down on the very end of the ledge, and Kristin stared with big eyes-never had she imagined the world was so huge or so vast.

The first part of the novel, The Wreath,  follows Kristin through her childhood and adolescence.  We see Kristin first as a beloved daughter,  and member of a  large extended family.  I enjoyed her relationship with her parent’s and family friends and felt empathy when she is stricken by loss.

We then see Kristin as a young women struggling between guilt and pleasure.  She refuses her arranged marriage and finally “marries for love” but, in her own eyes,  Kristin is a “fallen women”, she has given in to passion before marriage and it is clear she will suffer for it.

I found it difficult reading about Kristin’s struggles with quilt and her passions for the man she falls in love with.  It is a melodramatic, overwrought presentation.

I do feel Undset has created a world very like the one that actually existed in Northern Europe in the 1300’s.   The intrusion of the church into the pagan world view, the poverty, the struggles for land and wealth between families, and the place of women in that patriarchal society are all clearly drawn. I am fascinated by the growing power of the Catholic church and the church’s consolidation of wealth and power.   Undset’s descriptions of the land, the people and their daily life are quite beautiful, some almost mystical.  I find I am more interested in the historical aspects of this book than in the main character, Kristin Lavransdatter.

It will be interesting to follow Kristin’s life through the rest of this book.  I am very curious about other readers thoughts.

Reading-along:

Jason at 5 Squared

Richard at Caravana de recuerdos

Emily at Evening All Afternoon

softdrink at Fizzy Thoughts

Valerie at Life Is A Patchwork Quilt

Frances at Nonesuch

Jill at Rhapsody In Books

Lena at Save Ophelia

Dawn at She  is Too Fond of Books

E.L. Fay at This Book and I Could Be Friends

Sarah at What We Have Here Is  A Failure to Communicate





24 Comments

Filed under Historical Fiction, Read-Along, Review