Read-along: Midnight’s Children- Book 1

Yay, back to blogging! Perhaps I really need deadlines to get things (blogging) done, because telling myself to get it together didn’t really work. Guess that means I should not be a boxing coach (one job to cross off the list 😉 ). But Jo from Bibliojunkie is hosting a read-along of Midnight Children, and it looks like this was the kick I needed to finally read some Rushdie and post something. So thank you, Jo! 🙂

I read Book 1 of Midnight’s Children today and now I’m wondering, why was I so intimidated and reluctant to pick it up? Rushdie’s works come with a lot of history and reputation, but most of all, they are thick books. I know a lot of you read chunksters regularly, but I’m more of a 300-400 page book reader. After finishing a particularly great book I always wish it had been longer of course, but a chunkster is more of a commitment, one that I shy away from, even if it is a “small” chunkster. But today, carrying this one around with me from home to the train to uni and back, I remembered the comfort of thick, well-worn books (paperbacks, I’m not a masochist). I just wish I could always be sure I’d love a chunkster before starting reading (mainly because I’m still bad with not finishing books, even ones I don’t enjoy).

And now for Midnight’s Children (finally, I know), I’m really enjoying it so far. It’s about Saleem Sinai, our likeable if unreliable narrator, born on the stroke of midnight, exactly as India gains its independence. As such, Saleem’s (hi)story and that of his country are irretrievably intertwined. His narrative is not a linear one, it is made up of fragments, representing the fragments in Saleem’s personal history and that of his family, as well as the fragmentation of India. Saleem’s identity is as diverse as that of his country, and in his narrative, he brings together the many faces of India. He tells of the colonization, the conflicts over religion and caste, the partition and independence, and manages to imbue his narrative with myth and magic as well as science and skepticism. I’m curious whether Rushdie will show that there is a place for both tradition and modernism, or if he will take the more realistic or pessimistic stand and have modernism wipe out “the old ways”. This ties in with the theme of east versus west and the problems of belonging (which are no doubt quite autobiographical) which are manifold. But I want to talk about these aspects next week.

I also enjoyed Rushdie’s use of an unreliable narrator (and with the topics that the novel concerns itself with, I am wondering whether a reliable narrator would be at all feasible. What do you think?), and the way he comments on storytelling. Saleem interrupts his narrative many times to foreshadow events, provide running commentary to his own narrative, or warn us that he will soon “take over” his story. Interestingly, he has a more immediate audience for his story than us readers, namely his companion Padma. Through Padma, Saleem (and Rushdie) anticipates readers’ reactions, such as impatience at the non-linearity of his narrative and irritation at interruptions when Saleem (the narrator as opposed to the character) makes an appearance:

Padma has started getting irritated whenever my narration becomes self-conscious, whenever, like an incompetent puppeteer, I reveal the hands holding the strings; but I simply must register a protest.” (70)

(I adore Rushdie for that semicolon!)

Padma also expresses the feeling of betrayal that readers often experience when the narrator turns out to be unreliable. This is most often the case with autobiographies (most memorably with Frey, A Million Little Pieces and Oprah), and we have to remember that in this context, Padma believes she is listening to Saleem’s autobiography. This fictional audience’s reaction to the narrative is one of the most interesting aspects of Midnight’s Children; Padma serves as an intermediary between narrator and reader, and I found myself constantly comparing her reactions and my own.

This is my first read-along in blogland, and I have to say it’s more difficult than usual to discuss a book without giving things away. I can’t really talk about Book 1 specifically without using spoilers, but the topics and themes from this first part are of course not limited to it. So I thought I would try to talk about one or two topics or themes in each post. This one would be narration and storytelling, I guess, and the next posts will probably focus on the binary of east and west and belonging, and (post-)colonialism and racism. Does that make sense? Is that something you’d like to read?

 

Also, you can still join the read-along, just pop over to Bibliojunkie and sign up!

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27 thoughts on “Read-along: Midnight’s Children- Book 1

  1. You are very welcome! I am blown away by your introduction and feel good things (or thoughts) coming with your participation in this readalong! I too wonder why I was intimidated, because I found myself suck into the storytelling of the book very quickly.

    I am reading up to 100 pages now and I wonder when is the non-linearity is going to happen? Maybe not yet? or maybe I’m used to non-linearity of story telling and I didn’t feel as if my strings of thoughts have been interrupted, it still feels very coherent to me. I’ll take note when Padma interrupts again! 😉

    This is a promising start, look forward to your first 150 pages review! It will of course contain spoilers, as it is expected of a read-along. 😀

    1. Heh, thanks 🙂 I need to make the round to see what everyone else is saying about this book 🙂

      Hmmh, I think the beginning is non-linear already. Not super non-linear like postmodern lit, but he splits the narrative through his narrator appearances and talks about his life and his birth, then to the grandfather, some foreshadowing about his current life. But perhaps I’m just imagining it 😀

  2. Ooh, I have never read any Rushdie, but you have made him sound a lot easier than I expected. And I could use something to start posting again as well 😉

    1. I really hope you don’t feel intimidated about reading Rushdie now 🙂 I was pleasantly surprised at how accessible the text is. It would be great if you’d join us (and it really helps with posting something):)

  3. Nice post, Bina! It was interesting to read in your post about the themes you think are woven into the book – including an unreliable narrator, non-linearity of the narration, the tussle between east and west, post-colonialism and racism – Wow!

    I have had ‘Midnight’s Children’ on my bookshelf for years but have been reluctant to take it down. I read Rushdie interesting introduction and the first ten pages. I am still reading about Saleem’s grandfather 🙂 Hoping to read more tomorrow.

      1. Heh, I keep categorizing everything I read into themes and concepts. Uni left its mark on me 😀

        I’m saving the introduction by Rushdie for last, I don’t want to be spoiled or find out how much is autobiographical yet 😉 But it’s one of the motivators for finishing this book quickly, finally get to read the intro.

        Hope you’re enjoying the book, and I’m curious about your thoughts on it!

        This is the anniversary edition (from my library), and I like it, too. Though the vinatge edition is gorgeous as well, isn’t? 🙂

        1. I am reading the Vintage edition, and the cover is nice. However the cover of the edition you have posted is beautiful – it reminds me of the rich colours of an Inddian festival 🙂

          1. It’s nice to know that the content is somewhat reflected in the cover 🙂 I really like the image of the snake curled around the children.

  4. I love Rushdie’s complex sentences, hehe 😀 I’m glad you’re enjoying this – I really did as well. I felt lost a couple of times, but in the end it all came together beautifully.

    1. Heh, I really love semicolons. How’s the portuguese sentence structure? Coming from German, I always find English sentence structure quite simple (what’s one semicolon, Germans write one-page-long sentences!? 😀 )

  5. Yay!!! I love Rushdie, and I loved Midnight’s Children, so this post made me super happy. 😀

    Also, whenever I see a post that’s part of a read-a-long on a blog, I assume that there will be spoilers. So I wouldn’t worry about including them in your posts, as long as you put a bit of warning ahead of time. 🙂

    1. Good to hear that I made a Rushdie fan happy, Eva! 🙂 I think I’ll try to work on the spoiler thing for the next post, didn’t want to commit a sacrilege.

      I have The Moor’s Last Sigh on a shelf somewhere, sounds like a good Rusdie to read after this one 🙂

  6. Bina B! This is one of his best works and I really loved Midnight’s Children. You have to read his essays in Imaginary Homelands which are fantastic. I despaired with The Enchantress though… lobotomy moment….

    I wonder how his latest will turn out. Will I read it.. absolutely 🙂

    Great insight into Rushdie Bina B!

    1. Another fan of this book, why did it take me so long to read it? 🙂 I need to look for Imaginary Homelands, you (rightly) make it sound like a must-read! Okay, I won’t touch Enchantress until I’m a die-hard Rushdie fan and have read all his other stuff. 🙂

    1. Oh cool, what word did you create? I love neologisms, but I didn’t create chunkster. I learned it through blogging, but it would be great to know who made it up 🙂

    1. Thanks! 🙂 I think Jo is doing a week one wrap up post, I’m curious about everyone else’s thoughts. Hope you’re enjoying the book 🙂

  7. I really want to read that book (before I have to overcome my Mankell addiction, though), it sounds very interesting.
    The unreliable narrator will probably be my driving force – I think unreliable narrators make literature really lively and prevent that the book from being boring.

    1. Heh, don’t worry about the thats. I’m sure my posts are full of repetitions!

      Hope you get over your Mankell addiction soon, or at least take a break! 😉 This book is worth it. And I’m with you on the unreliable narrator thing, my major book kink 😀

  8. Stumbled upon your blog while searching for images of the cover. I wish I had known about this readathon earlier, as I am needing to goad myself to continue. So far, I have just finished Book 1 😦

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Nish! Too bad you didn’t know about the read-a-thon, but I’m sure you can stick with this book. Ill pop over to cheer you on 🙂

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