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’.
Literary Tiger said:
Midnight’s Children was a book club pick for me too. Sadly, I just couldn’t get through it. I really, really wanted to, but I got through 1/4 of the book, perhaps. 🙂 I’d like to go back again someday and see if I can finish it properly.
How many times I’ve expressed a similar sentiment as you, with different ‘reads.’. My most recent was “Mrs. Pettigrew Lives for a Day.”
It’s never the book’s ‘fault’ — but usually my own busy life, where something has to give, and inevitably, it’s soul enrichment. Or perhaps — and I’ve never thought about it this way before — perhaps it’s just not the ‘right’ time for the book and me to converse — though I do believe there’s a right time and place or everything under heaven.
Thanks for dropping in and leaving a note
Bill Chance said:
My reading list is getting so long I’m afraid to balance it against the amount of time I have left – but I might add “Midnight’s Children” to it.
I’m not sure if the link to Arti (one of our MC read-along organizers) and her blog, Ripple Effects was at the end of the post when you dropped by. If not, do go over and see what she has to say — as well as other readers — since Arti has graciously added links to all those sharing their thoughts about our shared reading experience. It may help you decide whether or not to add another book to your life.
But I DO know what you mean regarding the balancing act. There’s just too many wonderful books to choose from — or activities, for that matter. And I like life just this way.
Thanks for dropping by and leaving a note.
My, my, my… You and Arti focused differently. Even as a non-participant, I found something in her post to latch on to. And here? Yes, ma’am, I did. Now, I wonder what happened to the Aadam Aziz I wrote about last night. He crashed into a tree rather than a prayer mat, but still – I wonder what happened to his belief.
And I can’t help admiring that sentence – “To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world. It’s awfully close to my little mantra that “everything counts”. It surely does.
Isn’t it interesting how we can experience the same event — and read the same book — and internalize and externalize it so differently. Of course, I see Arti’s point of view too. And Bellezza’s. And others who’ve written of their MC reading experience.
I read an opening line to an article in this morning’s paper — appropriate, I think, that it came by the travel section — which captures, so well, my feelings of this shared MC reading experience:
“The best trips alter our perspectives in lasting ways we didn’t see coming.”
I think this line of thought applies to arm-chair traveling too — which becomes even richer when shared — sort of like when traveling by car, and a companion points out the window and says, “Well, will you look at that…?” To realize I would have missed THAT moment without their bringing it to my attention makes the view even sweeter. Surely, the perspectives of those we journey with enlarge our own.
There were so many beautiful lines in Book One. Too many to point to. Just like real life. And maybe it’s good I didn’t lift too many out of context — for as you say — “everything counts!”
Isn’t this a fantastic journey? And I’m sure glad you’re with us, though few, as travel companions. You’re so right… there are lots to cover, and I sure have missed quite a lot. I too had to reread some chapters, researched the background on others, before I could get a little glimpse of this massive chronicle of a nation’s birth and the lives of these characters. Rushdie is an amazing writer and historian, magical realism… that’s the notion I look forward to savouring and understanding more as I step out into Book Two. Thanks for travelling with me, Janell!
It’s ‘s been wonderful. I’m grateful to be reading MC with others and for your shared role in organizing this enrichment experience.
Seems like the year is shaping into one for reading stories — inviting me to places and times different than my own. From the lean ‘reporter-like’ prose of Ernest Hemingway — the last class was a few days ago now — to Rushdie’s dense woven sentences of fantastic happenings NOT rendered for rushing. I’m feeling stretched — in a good way — by the extreme difference in writing styles. And I confess to encountering more than a few speed bumps in Book One — a word or event that required me to brake for a dictionary or a quick history lesson via internet. I know I didn’t do the level of research that you’ve undertaken — but the novel has inspired me to want to know more about India and its recent history.
The magic carpet ride appears to continue in Book Two….
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I read it many years ago, and enjoyed it for what it was, and yet never quite understood why it was such a winner in prize terms.
I haven’t any idea of the criteria used by decision-makers, to anoint one book with an award over overs. Of course, I’ve heard the term ‘short-listed,’, but even here, what causes one to rise above all others on the list?
But what I can say is that almost half-way through MC — (I’m still reading slow) — is that Rushdie’s story enlarges my world by inviting me to enter his — and that I find his world not only intellectually stimulating (for it’s hard to predict where the next word will take me) but that it touches my heart and spirit, too. Moreover, these characters live with me — they keep me company off the page – so that the story stays warm, even when I’m not before it.
The device he uses to tell his story inspires intimacy…. a storyteller within a story — so that I feel like I”m hearing it firsthand. That what I hear is a wild mix of fantasy and facts is strangely comforting — in fact, it feels like familiar territory, since my own private perception of reality bears a similar quality. And like in my own world, I sense there’s universal truth hiding in the mix — and that as long as I keep turning bits of it over in my mind, hitting ‘rewind’ and ‘play’, that it will be revealed — in it’s own good time.
I hope this didn’t sound too much like a defense of the novel. It wasn’t meant to be. But your question inspired me to dig down past surface judgments — and that’s always a good thing in my book.
Good to hear from you, Viv. It always is.