Half the words without half the story. That’s my quick, half-time recap of Salman Rushdie’s hard-to-put-down novel, Midnight’s Children.
How tempting to leave it at just that. I can’t say why, but I’m not ready to talk of what I’ve read quite yet. But ready or not, it’s time to share notes with read-along partners — and any other who desires to listen in — though to react at all, feels plain premature at this point of the tale.
In this month’s reading, the spotlight shifts from the narrator’s holey grandfather to the young narrator himself. It’s a story about growing up, endearing as it is universal. I like this narrator. No, I love this narrator. Snot-nosed and ugly and misunderstood he may be, but how can one not admire his youthful idealism and brutally honest self-assessments?
Rushdie’s story just grows and grows, making it hard to point a finger at any thing in particular. It grows like the young babe Saleem — and it grows like the population of India, too — though, thank God, it does not grow uncontrollably. But at this point of the story, I wish I possessed greater understanding of how the young narrator, Saleem Sinai, is a mirror of India’s own young life. While I sense that child and country are inextricably linked, for better and worse, I don’t yet understand HOW this is. Yes, both experience growing pains from internal turmoil and blood-letting. But surely there is more to their common ground than the story has currently revealed?
I’ve glimpsed three great religions and God-knows-how-many-languages and voices influencing both India and Saleem. I see both growing up under the watchful eyes of an expectant world, waiting for a sort of payback on investments and loans. And unlike the country of his birth, I’ve watched a young narrator become absolutely consumed with need to understand his larger purpose in the world. So much so, that Saleem is in constant need of a hidey hole to escape the pressures of his world.
Hiding that begins in the physical world — from a washing-chest in his mother’s bathroom to a clock-tower next to his parent’s home — becomes mental, growing out of Saleem’s interior world and a couple of physical blows to the head. The last, a childhood mishap, finished the work of his father’s hand and “wild anger,” which left Saleem’s left ear permanently damaged.
So what words could beget such parental violence? I’ll only share that Saleem was premature in his conclusions. That Saleem was wrong. That his parents more wrong. And that maybe there’s plenty of wrong to go around whenever any of us fail to listen to others as fully as we can. Or ought.
But lack of listening isn’t Saleem’s problem. Not at all. Because, much like a radio, Saleem is gifted with a fantastic ability to tune his mind into other minds, to eavesdrop on real-time thinking of friends, parents and politicians. What begins as simple mind-reading soon mushrooms into a type of telepathic communication center — where Saleem’s mind becomes much like an internet server, allowing Midnight’s Children — those uniquely gifted Indian children born in the first hour of Indian Independence — to communicate with one another. There he meets scary Shiva — the true son of Saleem’s parents born at the same time as Saleem and India — who is dark to Saleem’s light and pessimist to Saleem’s idealism, hinting of conflicts to come. What grows from this conflict is for the second half of the book to reveal.
But what, I wonder, will grow from all I failed to mention? Evie Burns, for example? The Brass Monkey of a sister? And all those with bald heads that keep popping up from time to time, on the pages of this book? Who can say, at this point, whether any and what and who are the red herrings of this story? Who knows but what may ultimately become important in this fabulous tale?
Especially, with a narrator who laments, in the final paragraphs of this month’s section of reading, this bit of wisdom to fly off the page…
“Most of what matters in your life takes place in your absence.”
With words like these, I can only conclude I don’t know the half of it.