According to the Man Booker prize judges, Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie might be the best book of all times. That’s what made me decide to read it. I don’t feel like I’ve read enough to have an opinion on what might be the best book of all times, but it’s a marvelous story.
The protagonist and narrator of the story is Saleem Sinai, who tells the story of his extraordinary life and how it’s fused to India’s political turmoil. Saleem is born at midnight on August 15, 1947, the exact moment of India’s independence from the United Kingdom. Because of this synchronicity, Saleem’s life is linked to that of the newborn country.
I must (to my shame) admit that I knew close to nothing about the history of India and the rest of the region. This book taught me a lot and also motivated me to read up on it a little bit more. If you have visited the region or are planning to this book is worth a read just for a very entertaining way to get yourself educated a bit. Do note that the book is fiction, so not everything should be taken literally. The book also gives the reader a glimpse at some cultural phenomena. One that I got to experience myself and that comes back many times in the book is eating (and chewing on) paan. It must have been about 5 years ago now and I still can’t read or write about it without my insides making a double backflip. (I know some of the people who were there read the blog and I’m sure they’ll be smiling while reading and remembering it.)
The life-changing events and absurdities in Saleem’s life keep coming and make sure that even though Midnight’s Children is a long read, it never gets boring. There is always a remarkable twist in the story just around the corner. The book is also full of brilliant one-liners and potential internet meme’s.
One that stood out for me is “Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence.”. It’s easy to spend a few hours reminiscing about the truth in that.
The book constantly hovers between a retelling of history and wildly imaginative fictional story. A bit like Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time does too. Although it’s about a different time and place. Rushdie (or Saleem) addresses this on several occasions without specifying what is true and what is make-believe.
Saleem says “Reality is a question of perspective; the further you get from the past, the more concrete and plausible it seems – but as you approach the present, it inevitably seems more and more incredible.”. We don’t have to stretch our imagination to strongly feel this statement. I don’t think there are many people who don’t feel that the time in which we live is incredible, for better or for worse. I wonder how people will look back at today in let’s say 100 years’ time. Perhaps there will be a writer that can write a story as imaginative and as delicately linked to history as Rushdie did about the 31 years after India’s independence.
There’s even a statement from Midnight’s Children that might help to explain some of what we see happening today. “Memory’s truth, because memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else’s version more than his own.” Who is a sane human and who isn’t remains up for debate of course…
More beautiful sentences and the interesting statements can be found throughout the book, but there is no way for me to weave them into a semi-coherent blog post. If you are curious about them, or about Saleem’s story I propose you just dive into Midnights Children and get fascinated by Rushdie’s beautiful writing and his incredible imagination and storytelling.