I’m not sure why I said yes. I’m no good at book clubs and reading groups. But in spite of past failings, and because I fell in love at first sight with the novel’s opening paragraphs, I signed on to read Salman Rushdie’s award-winning Midnight’s Children.
Rushdie birthed this masterpiece while I was in the midst of mastering the pieces of my busy young life — marriage, career and motherhood without apple pie but plenty of midnight feedings to compensate.
Older, if not wiser, I’m still busy. It’s the way I keep time. But not too overextended for this travel piece — this story in a story that I believe, once I’ve arrived to the final word and period, may point to some greater truth that lives just off the page.
Why do I think this? Well, because this story moves. Though not always in chronological order. Like a pendulum, the story grants peeks into the future, speaking of events and characters without proper introductions — then swings back to make sure we’re still hanging on to the story line. In a fictional world where time is elastic — stretching forward, snapping back, keeping readers at attention — it’s good that Rushdie never loses control.
We are safe, following the trail of words left by expert hands, even while “traveling” such strange lines across India, even as we careen through the countdown of time to reach the end of British colonial rule. Strange, as in, where are these sentences leading me? And where will they take the three generations of family the author introduces in Book One, whose lives intersect with the wilds of three great world religions?
Hinduism, Islam and Christianity are all present and accounted for — while the story’s patriarchal grandfather, poor soul, loses his faith in God before we’re barely out of the gate. It happens — on page two of the story — in such a humiliating, unforgettable way: Nose first, Aadam Aziz dives to prayer mat and, rather than encountering God, crashes into the earth. Three drops of blood fall. A hole in his soul opens up. And his faith in God leaks out so fast he becomes “caught in a strange middle ground, trapped between belief and disbelief…” Readers are left with a holey hero, who lives a young life into an old one, stuffing his hole to the brim with marriage and career and children.
I’m thankful to the wise organizers of this reading experience who built in plenty of time for spacious reading. The schedule has not only granted breathing room for life but allowed me to fly back to the beginning to re-read Book One with “traveled eyes.” Once was simply not enough for me, since I missed too much, even traveling slow. I was getting the gist of the story but leaving too many fine details and scenery behind.
I don’t want to miss anything along the way, if I can help it. Every word, every image, every potential connection that bridges one idea to another feels important. Of course, I am missing details. How can I not? There is just too much to take in. And the author knows it. He has written a novel made to read over and over again; he implies as much when he writes, toward the end of Book One,
“To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world. I told you that.”
Since I’m just a “tourist” traveling in a foreign land and time, I cannot hope to swallow Rushdie’s world. But like any tourist, I hope to carry away sweet memories of my visit. And, since I do not armchair-travel alone, I look forward to enlarging my perspective by reading other reactions to Rushdie’s story at today’s first of four meeting stops.
Maybe others will mention why they said ‘yes’.