📚 Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie)

Read 1981 novel by Salman Rushdie by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

Midnight’s Children is a 1981 novel by Indian-British writer Salman Rushdie, published by Jonathan Cape with cover design by Bill Botten, about India’s transition from British colonial rule to independence and partition. It is a postcolonial, postmodern and magical realist story told by its chief protagonist, Saleem Sinai, set in the context of historical events. The style of preserving history with fictional accounts is self-reflexive.

Midnight’s Children sold over one million copies in the UK alone and won the Booker Prize and James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1981.[1] It was awarded the “Booker of Bookers” Prize and the best all-time prize winners in 1993 and 2008 to celebrate the Booker Prize 25th and 40th anniversary.[2][3][4][5] In 2003 the novel appeared at number 100 on the BBC’s The Big Read poll which determined the UK’s “best-loved novels” of all time.

I remember reading Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children when I was younger. Although I felt I appreciated Rushdie for his skill and style, I think I got lost in awe of the complexity. Recently returning to the novel at a different age, through a different medium – audiobook – I was still in awe, but I also felt that I appreciated it all a bit more (well at least I think I did.) I wonder if my original experience was based on trying to consume the text instead of letting the waves just wash over you? I was also surprised how well the novel lent itself to being read aloud.

Stylistically, the intertwining of the seemingly local within history reminded of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet. However, I am not sure Cloudstreet is an example of what Linda Hutcheon’s calls ‘historiographic metafiction’.

According to Hutcheon, in “A Poetics of Postmodernism”, works of historiographic metafiction are “those well-known and popular novels which are both intensely self-reflexive and yet paradoxically also lay claim to historical events and personages”.[3]

It was interesting to read Rushdie’s reflection on what he was attempting with the novel.

As a reader, I have always been attracted to capacious, large-hearted fictions, books that try to gather up large armfuls of the world. When I started to think about the work that would grow into Midnight’s Children, I looked again at the great Russian novels of the 19th century, Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina, Dead Souls, books of the type that Henry James had called “large, loose, baggy monsters,” large-scale realist novels—though, in the case of Dead Souls, on the very edge of surrealism. And at the great English novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Tristram Shandy (wildly innovative and by no means realist), Vanity Fair (bristling with sharp knives of satire), Little Dorrit (in which the Circumlocution Office, a government department whose purpose is to do nothing, comes close to magic realism), and Bleak House (in which the interminable court case Jarndyce v Jarndyce comes even closer). And at their great French precursor, Gargantua and Pantagruel, which is completely fabulist. I also had in mind the modern counterparts of these masterpieces, The Tin Drum and One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Adventures of Augie March and Catch-22, and the rich, expansive worlds of Iris Murdoch and Doris Lessing (both too prolific to be defined by any single title, but Murdoch’s The Black Prince and Lessing’s The Making of the Representative from Planet 8 have stayed with me).

Personally, I would love to know the process Rushdie used to write such an intricate novel. It was also interesting how old Rushdie was when he wrote it. As I approach middle age, it is a reminder to keep going.


What had been (at the beginning) no bigger than a full stop had expanded into a comma, a word, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter; now it was bursting into more complex developments, becoming, one might say, a book-perhaps an encyclopaedia-even a whole language… which is to say that the lump in the middle of my mother grew so large, (Page 139 – 140)

Reality is a question of perspective; the further you get from the past, the more concrete and plausible it seems-but as you approach the present, it inevitably seems more and more incredible (Page 235)

What grows best in the heat: fantasy; unreason; lust. (Page 237)

‘Memory’s truth, because memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else’s version more than his own.'(Page 301)

Scraps of memory: this is not how a climax should be written. A climax should surge towards its Himalayan peak; but I am left with shreds, and must jerk towards my crisis like a puppet with broken strings. This is not what I had planned; but perhaps the story you finish is never the one you begin. (Once, in a blue room, Ahmed Sinai improvised endings for fairy-tales whose original conclusions he had long ago forgotten; the Brass Monkey and I heard, down the years, all kinds of different versions of the journey of Sinbad, and of the adventures of Hatim Tai… if I began again, would I, too, end in a different place?) Well then: I must content myself with shreds and scraps: as I wrote centuries ago, the trick is to fill in the gaps, guided by the few clues one is given. Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence; I must be guided by the memory of a once-glimpsed file (Page 618)

The process of revision should be constant and endless; don’t think I’m satisfied with what I’ve done!

I am obliged to offer no more than this stubborn sentence: It happened that way because that’s how it happened. (Page 668)

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