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.
This is a wonderful and detailed recap of Book Two Part A. Thanks for joining in and sharing your view on the novel. You’ve said it all… Rushdie is a brilliant writer weaving together the growing up of a child and a nation.
Again, my own memories streamed out as I read about Saleem’s mission school days and his childhood growing up in post-colonial Methwold Estates. I too remember drinking Bubble Up, or having school prefects, or being taught by multi-ethnic teachers in a Christian school. But, instead of the Rover, growing up we’d had the Austin… another typical British car, but maybe more the car of the ‘ordinary folks’.
I can’t wait to finish the whole book and to see what the film adaptation is like. I can see a lot of movie moments in this first part of Book Two (in Book One as well, but those are not Saleem’s stories). And I understand Rushdie himself was involved in the screenplay. So, I’m more eager to see it.
Again, thanks for reading with us, and for contributing your perspective and insight… oh the joy of Read-Along’s, albeit this is only my first one… already a delightful experience. So, maybe after this, another title? 😉
Funny thing about approaching the finish lines of great books — while I long to get there, I’m always a little sad at crossing it. I fear I’ll be going though MC withdrawal in a couple of months — but thank heavens we have a movie to ease the transition!
Interesting to read of how your growing up memories as British colonial connected you with the story. All those rich details like Bubble-Up and toothpaste jingles — which I ran into again last night, in our first chapter of May reading — “Keep Teeth Kleen And Keep Teeth Brite, Keep Teeth Kolynos Super White! — is what brings the text to life. There’s plenty of universal connection for me, that comes out of parallel childhood experiences — e.g., his toothpaste jingle reminds me of one from my childhood — “You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.”
Funny, too, how many of those questions raised above, about deeper common ground shared between India and Saleem, were addressed in the few pages of last night’s reading. Forget Saleem. Maybe it’s Rushdie that’s the mind-reader!
To think — if not for this read-along, I can’t imagine ever picking this book up. So as for future read-alongs, I’m open to possibilities. And wonder, too.
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What a wonderful post, Janell! I’ve found myself nodding at so many of your points: it does seem premature to write thoughts now at this halfway spot; it does seem that Rushdie’s story is just growing and growing and it’s hard to point a finger at just one event or person which is the most influential; and, I can so relate to how Saleem is trying to “understand his larger purpose” in the world. You’ve wrapped it up with a bang (“Most of what matters in your life takes place in your absence.”) How true. How insightful Rushdie is. I can see myself rereading this again at some point in my life because there’s so much to ponder. Lovely to share it with you.
You are too kind. I struggled with this post. Both in the writing of it and at the mere thought of writing it. But as I shared with Arti, the pleasure of reading all of our partner’s postings was sweet reward for my struggles.
I, too, can see myself re-reading this novel again. It’s always hard to tell in real-time — but I sense MC will be one of those timeless books born out of our time on earth. To think, I wouldn’t have read this but for Arti’s Read-along invitation — it makes me wonder how many layers of rich living I’ve robbed myself over the years, either by saying ‘no’ or through simple unawareness. I don’t even want to know.
Bellezza, it’s good to connect with you again.
Thank you so much for this. I also found it difficult to give a summing up of the novel at this stage, but not nearly so eloquently and insightfully as you have. All those bald heads–never considered. Yes, the interweaving of the many myths and religions that have formed India, and the inevitable conflict between Saleem and Shiva (but what will it be, and how? Will the Brass Monkey be involved???). You have made me think in a different direction about this novel.
I wonder how many of us read-along ‘reporters” considered our words not up to task, in expressing thoughts and feelings on Midnight’s Children, at this half-way point?
My post felt long on reporting and short on reactions. Rambling rather than concise. Whereas, I felt you and the rest succeeded where I fell short…
Like Saleem, I “can be quite tough in my self-judgments when I choose.”
Yet, though difficult to write while thoughts are still incubating, I’m glad for the sharing through progress reports. Already my reading experience has been enriched by others perspective. And I sense the additional lens of insight — offered by you and the rest — will bless my reading experience through the final word.
Sure glad you joined the reading group.
Well, even though I’m not part of the reading group I thought I’d at least peek in and wave. Hope all’s well, and that you’re enjoying the holiday weekend.
Glad you did.
Odd coincidence of how I was thinking about you yesterday, while rocking and swaying on Grand Lake, filled with many many Memorial Day boats filled with merry-making boat-people. Boat of all sizes and shapes made their own waves — not nearly as kind and gentle as yours — which sent me to the upper deck to ward off waves of motion sickness. Laying there, on chaise lounge in the warm sun and whipping Oklahoma wind (which added to the rough “seas”), I wondered about all those who’ve called boats home — and of course, your name floated to the surface — and I wondered whether people are just born ‘sailors’ or if ‘sea legs’ can be grown out of circumstance.
All I can say, for sure, is that I’m glad to be home, though still a little dizzy. Inner ear out-of alignment, perhaps? And two, that I have the utmost respect for sailors of all sorts and sizes. And the best part, maybe is this: No longer, when summer holidays roll around — Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day….will I envy all those I see heading to the lake in their trucks and SUVS with a boat in their wake. What’s good for the goose is NOT always good for the gander. Especially for those, like me, who are better off taking a gander at boating holidays!
Have a great holiday. On or off the boat!
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