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Midnight's Children ()

Booker Prize Winners (1981)

I feel about Salman Rushdie's first big book roughly the same way I feel about Indian food.  The food features a fascinating melange of spices, smells and textures, but I have no desire to consume it.  Nor do I particularly comprehend the attraction of the cuisine of a dirt poor Third World country with more dietary taboos than you can shake a sitar at and, while heavy spicing is a perfectly logical substitute for substance, at the end of the meal one longs to ask: "Where's the beef?".  Similarly,  in his novel, Rushdie combines his signature Magical Realist style and the actual historical background of India since Independence with the family history of the Sinai's to create a bewildering mess of a novel that is heavy on Bombay slang.  The language is pungent but indecipherable and the story is ambitious but confusing.  The linguistic pyrotechnics and luxuriant prose have displaced the meat of the story.

I actually believe that India offers  a unique opportunity to the author of today.  With the end of the Cold War and peace in the Middle East, South Africa and Northern Ireland, many of the settings that offered built in tension have disappeared.  India, however, remains a corrupt political state, is rife with ethnic tension and is nearly at war with both Pakistan and China.  There are so many latent plot lines that it would seem an irresistible setting and I very much enjoyed books like Rohinton Mistry's   Such a Long Journey and Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy (1993).  But, both are much more traditional, Western-style novels.  As is usually the case, the injection of magical realism into Rushdie's story ends up detracting from his tale rather than enhancing it.  The effort to create an Indian, or postcolonial, style did not work for me; a straightforward narrative, stripped of hocus pocus gimmickry, would have been much more enjoyable.


Grade: (C-)


Salman Rushdie Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Salman Rushdie
    -INTERVIEW: Salman Rushdie on Defending Free Speech in the Face of Fanaticism: The attack on the celebrated author makes what he said in a 2005 interview ever more relevant (Shikha Dalmia, 8/27/22, UnPopulist)
    -PROFILE: Salman Rushdie Is Recovering, Reflecting, and Writing About the Attack on His Life (KARL VICK, APRIL 13, 2023, TIME)
-ESSAY: Salman Rushdie Is the Canary in a Free Speech Coal Mine: But the liberty at stake is moral and spiritual, not just intellectual. (MIKE COSPER, AUGUST 23, 2022, Christianity Today)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Politics Sometimes Needs Great Literature to Save It from Itself: Salman Rushdie's Victory City, an allegory of our current struggle for liberalism, rises to the occasion (Peter Juul, 3/07/23, The UnPopulist)
    -ESSAY: Demonising Salman Rushdie: Following the author’s brutal stabbing it’s time to reclaim The Satanic Verses as a capacious work of art exploring faith and identity (Sameer Rahim, September 8, 2022, Prospect)
    -ESSAY: Rethinking Salman Rushdie: We can condemn Salman Rushdie’s attacker without celebrating Rushdie. (Michael Warren Davis, Aug 18, 2022, American Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Memory of Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ Grows Hazy: Few now recall that the book was published in Persian or that Arab and Muslim intellectuals defended the author from Khomeini’s fatwa (Khaled Diab, August 19, 2022, New Lines)
    -ESSAY: The Greatest Living American Writer on Salman Rushdie: ‘The attack on Rushdie is an attack on all writers, but even more so on me, because of my prominence’ (Neal Pollack, August 19, 2022, Spectator)
    -ESSAY: The Rushdie Controversy, for a New Generation: Fatwa, fear, and free speech—here’s what really matters in the Rushdie story. (MATT JOHNSON, AUGUST 26, 2022, The Bulwark)
    -ESSAY: Salman Rushdie: Did a ‘chance’ airport meeting lead to fatwa? (Chloe Hadjimatheou, 8/28/22, BBC News)
    -ESSAY: Rushdie Is India’s Forgotten Child of Midnight: Iran was not the first country to ban ‘The Satanic Verses’ (Pratik Kanjilal, 8/30/22, New/Lines)
    -ESSAY: Salman Rushdie and the Islamic Punishment for Blasphemy: For centuries, the orthodox Muslim view has been that those who insult Muhammad must be summarily killed. (Gordon Nickel, 2 Sep 2022, Quillette)
    -ESSAY: Salman Rushdie and the Neoliberal Culture Wars: Far from a metaphysical battle between fanaticism and tolerance, the Rushdie affair exemplifies the marketization of hurt sentiments. (Faisal Devji, 9/14/22, Boston Review)
-ESSAY: The End-Of-History Smart Set: From '60s radicals to pro-war liberals, the West's last literary clique now seems a relic of the 20th century. That isn't such a bad thing. (Matt Purple, 5/28/21, American Conservative)
    -ESSAY: The Emotional Liquor of Offence: Why would we blame writers for what they write instead of the readers who take offense at what they read? (Helen Dale, 8/26/22, Law & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: How the Salman Rushdie Fatwa Changed the World (Reuel Gerecht Wall Street Journal August 29, 2022)
    -REVIEW: of Victory City by Salman Rushdie (Judith Shulevitz, The Atlantic)
    -REVIEW: of Victory City (Hilary A White, Independent ie)
    -REVIEW: of Victory City (James Walton, The Spectator)

Book-related and General Links:
A Novel of India's Coming of Ages (Clark Blaise, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Sep 24, 1981 Robert Towers: On the Indian World-Mountain (NY Review of Books)
    -Salman Rushdie Links
    -Salman Rushdie: An Overview