Midnight’s Children


This is a huge task for me trying to sum up this massive, fantastical, multi-layered book. This is also probably the most “difficult” book that I have read in the past year. Was it eventually worth the effort? Well, read on to find out 🙂 .

Midnight's Children

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

The basic story is deceptively simple. It’s about a boy Saleem Sinai who is born in India on the stroke of midnight when India achieved independence. This accident of birth gives him (and other children born during that magical midnight hour), unique, special gifts. Saleem’s gift is his “nose” that allowed him at first to go into people’s heads and know what they are thinking. He is also able to telepathically communicate with the other midnight children forming a kind of “ham” radio link of sorts with the rest of the children. Now after an eventful life, he is breaking into pieces, literally falling apart, and he wants to narrate his story to his lover before he dies.

The book is about Saleem, but it’s also about India because for some magical reason, Saleeem and India’s destiny are intertwined with each other. They both suffer the battering and bruising that comes with being newly independent. To put it in a simple way, this book is like the movie Forrest Gump, but based in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

The book starts with the story of Saleem’s grand parents in Kashmir, and then his parents, and then finally Saleem and his fellow midnight’s children. So it’s almost 300 pages in till you get into the meat of the book itself. But, I think any Rushdie reader is used to this. He always starts off slow, and then layers on the fantasy one after the other, until you just can’t stop reading. That’s almost his trademark. It’s always well worth ploughing through the slow starts.

Alongside the turmoil of this incredible family, is the brutal yet ever hopeful history of India during those times – from the Independence struggle, to Nehru’s early hopeful rule, the wars with China and Pakistan, the creation of Bangladesh, and the Emergency of 1971. Whew! That’s a lot to pack into one book. But Rushdie somehow manages to do it, and do it very well.

A criticism (well, not really) more of a thought, this may not be the book for someone who has scanty knowledge of Indian history in the last 100 odd years. Considering the scale of the book, Rushdie really has very little time to set the stage. So, a novice reader is definitely going to miss the importance of many throwaway sentences or statements. An example is the Jallianwala Bagh massacre – a huge deal in Indian history, but I doubt it is well-known outside the country. This episode is dealt with in 2-3 sentences in the book. A non-Indophile would probably not even understand the real-life context or even mistake it for a fictional incident, considering the fantastical way it is written. I think my copy of the book would have been more helpful with a few footnotes to help readers appreciate the details in the novel a little more.

Because, make no mistake, there is a lot of detail. Beneath the dense, slightly overwrought language, there were tons of surprises in store. Till the end, I literally had no idea where the story was heading – and while this is not a good thing in most books, it was here. Do you remember those games of passing the parcel from when we were kids? We were given a huge multi-layered parcel, which we had to pass on to each other, till the music stopped. The person holding the parcel had to unwrap one layer, take the gift hidden in it and exit the game, which continued on till the parcel was completely unwrapped or only person was left in the game.

Well, reading this book felt like that game. There were layers upon layers of surprises built-in, and so many characters walking in and out of the story that I literally felt like I was unwrapping one of those multi-layer parcels.

A lot of reviews about this book talk about the political/historical angles in the book. For me, the book also appealed on a purely personal level. To me, it was all about hope and dreams at the birth of a child (or a nation), the gradual growth during the early years, the tumultuous times of puberty, and the eventual disappointments and broken dreams of adult hood, then maturity and eventual acceptance of death.

So, is this my favorite Rushdie of all? Unfortunately, I still have to say no. This was a beautiful book, I enjoyed it a lot. But in my personal viewpoint, his later books are better. They have more depth to it. I feel he was just starting out here, and he had yet to acquire the discipline and maturity of his later books. But, can you believe this is just his second book? God! even here, the way he plays with words, ignoring sentence structure and formation rules, and still coming up with sentences that can tear your heart and make you laugh out loud… that’s sheer God-given talent and brilliance at work here.

Oh, and there are some sly one-liners that give a hint of his future troubles with religious fanatics. Catch this little remark that Saleem lets slip in this book:

On Cornwallis Road it was a warm night. An insomniac cow, idly chewing a Red and White cigarette packet, strolled by a bundled street-sleeper, which meant he would wake in the morning, because a cow will ignore a sleeping man unless he’s about to die. Then it nuzzles at him thoughtfully. Sacred cows eat anything.

Considering that India is a country where cows are worshipped, this statement is sacrilege indeed. But oh so true, I couldn’t help chortling out loud.

Oh, and there are some more interesting tidbits about this book I have to tell, but to paraphrase Saleem’s own words, everything must come in its order, and so…that is blog post fodder for another day :D.

Edit: If you live in India and wish to purchase this book, head on over to shoppingwish.in to find the best deals.

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  • Zoeb

    Great review, Nishita. I am currently reading this epic novel and I have finished the first part of it. Rushdie has a solid knack for humor- his writing style is so imaginative and path-breaking that he ropes you in. completely. But yes, his writing is complicated. But so far, I am paying close attention and I have found Midnight’s Children as a fantastic experience.

    • @Zoeb: Thanks for reading and commenting. Glad to see you enjoy this book :). It’s difficult but it is a treat.

      • Zoeb

        Just finished the book. Have to admit that Rushdie is a genius with words and language- the concept was quite cool as well and the emotions felt very real- There was everything- slapstick comedy, funny dialogue, drama, horror, violence and more and all of it was packed superbly. I conclude that ‘Midnight’s Children’ is one of the Greatest Indian novels ever….

        • @Zoeb: Glad you liked the book so much 🙂

  • The quality of onion layers is right! I remember when I was 17, read this novel first time, it was in 2005 and I understand nothing except the outline of the story. Then I read again in 21, left it half finished. Hence I have plan to read it again, at least to concern some of the historical facts that my family was involved in. 1947, my father came as a refugee to live in India after the partition. Then 1971 Bangladesh (ভাষা আন্দোলন; Bhasha Andolon) when both Bengal fought against Pakistan, called Bangladesh freedom movement (মুক্তিযুদ্ধ; Muktijuddho). I have listen to those experiences form the eye witnesses. It seems in many documentation about the history Rushdie used his own imagination, less reality. 🙁

  • Rimali Batra

    This is a perfect review of the book. I remember taking upon myself the task of reading this book an year ago but I couldn’t complete it for reasons of it being ‘Too complicated’. Trust me, it was. I am an easy reader and hence I moved on to reading something else without finishing this one. Ever since, the book has found adobe on the corner most spot of my bookshelf. After I read your review, sometime ago, I re-invited the task of finishing the book. I did complete it this time and absolutely loved it. Thanks for the review – it motivated me to finish. Cheers – Rimali Batra.

    • @Rimali: Wow, thanks for the comment. I am happy that this review prompted you to try the book again. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  • Dhiraj Kumar

    I have written a book on social networking. Can you write a review on this.

  • Amritorupa Kanjilal

    Brilliant review!

  • TheReader

    I completed reading this book..phew!! The book is funny..yeah. The book has lots of historical instances..yeah. It is satirical..yeah. Is imaginative..yeah. Has story :O
    I mean the book gets lots in its so many characters so often.. What happens to the network they have..it gets lost so suddenly..so uneventfully.. Ahh.. I had read it so long ago and there was so much in it that I cant even recall much.. but i remember having finished it and looking back and feeling lost.. Booker of Booker..might be.. reader’s choice..might be not!!

  • Jagan Mohan Reddy

    Around 1985 when I was in my early teens I picked up this Book to read and decided it was worth less and after 27 years today I gave it another try and my opinion remains unchanged.

    He is smart with words and over smart with his narrative.

  • Excellent write-up. I’m trying to work my way through the book right now.

  • tanvi

    I just came across your review while surfing the net… And a very well written one. Looks like you too are a voracious reader like me… 🙂

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  • I keed picking this one up and then putting it away. My Rushdie experience stopped dead with The Enchantress of Florence. It put me off Rushdie for a long time. Maybe I will pick this one up next. Currently reading Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls 🙂

    • @Vaishnavi: I haven’t read Enchantress of Florence yet, the story sounded interesting. But most of the reviews were just so -so. How are you enjoying Hemingway?

  • Today I finished reading this book. Having read Satanic Verses and The Enchantress of Florence, I wanted to read all of Rushdie’s books. I’ve read those two books twice. A Rushdie book cannot just be read once. A review of Midnight’s Children is a daunting task. Where to begin? The novel is monumental. I admire you for taking it on. I am too awed at this point to attempt it. Paul Brians of Washington State University published chapter by chapter notes for Satanic Verses, available online. Midnight’s Children also needs such a reference, if one does not already exist. It is true that someone unfamiliar with India’s history, Hindu mythology and Islam would miss a lot, but what a wonderful way to experience the multi-lingual, complex subcontinent than in this novel.

    • @Olivia: That’s great that you loved this book so much 🙂

  • I read the first three paragraphs. I want to read it now.
    *plans for a trip to the library*

  • Sounds like a really good book…thanks.

    Just stopping by to say hello and to take a look around.

    I am having a Father’s Day giveaway on my blog if you would like to stop by.


    Hope you can visit.


  • AS

    ya, i loved this book too!

  • I have been slowly collecting Rushdie’s works for my home library, as he really is such a magician when it comes to words and stories. I’ve read his first book (Grimus) and The Satanic Verses, and liked both of them very much, though Grimus is quite unlike anything else he has written since. I have a copy of this book but I have been saving it since I just know I will love it. I have peaked at the first few sentences and they make my heart flutter so I am holding off until the time is right… Rushdie is an author who definitely makes you work, but I think it is worth it in the end.

  • Wonderful review, Nishita! I tried reading ‘Midnight’s Children’ last year, but could continue beyond 50 pages. It was interesting till I read, because as you have said, Rushdie says many things in a few lines. The next time I try reading it, I will take your suggestion of ploughing through the first 300 pages to get to the meat of the book. Thanks for this wonderful review 🙂

    I also love your new header image! Imagine my surprise when I clicked on the link to another post in your blog and a new header image came up! I loved the new header image too! I love this concept – where the header image changes with every click!

  • I can get a little bogged down in Salman Rushdie’s books too (apart from The Ground Beneath Her Feet, which I find enthralling at almost every moment), but the writing is always so gorgeous and funny that I forgive him over and over. He has zillions of little silly jokes with words. It’s great.

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