This is perhaps the first time I have to write a short review mid-way reading a novel, and I find it challenging as many ideas at this point are a lump of clay, without a form nor structure. Bina was very quick to post her first thought and she has decided to finish every week with a section of the book (i.e. Book 1, Book 2, Book 3). I have no idea what she is talking about, imagine my surprise when I arrived at page 142+ and bumped into the division and end of Book 1 of Midnight’s Children!! LOL :D.
I am one reader who avoid reading table of content, introduction of a novel and anything else that might give away a clue about the story and just plunge straight into reading the main! This is no help of course in this case, I should have known the novel is subdivided by 3 sections and I should have set some targets. What about if I say we should have completed Book 1 by now and split Book 2 into two weeks’ read and finish off the final week with Book 3? If you need more time just let me know, I am more than happy to extend a few more days at the end of 13 December. I can’t wait to read all of your final reviews!
You are more than welcome to include spoilers in the read-along, but don’t get too far ahead than the weekly target. 😉
Now for Week 1 Wrap-up thoughts…………
It is the end of week one, this week I had the pleasure to read many introductory posts about the read-along and get to know your motivations behind reading the Midnight’s Children.
Wilfrid tells everyone out there who is listening how this read-along idea was first germinated. Even though he is daunted by Salman Rushdie’s novels, he has this urge to grind through it with the support of everyone here. Wilfrid thinks it is always good to have a handful of visible companions while finding his ways in this mental jungle of his. Monthly page-views mean little if none translates into a visible dialog, a visible relationship. Wilfrid invites his circle of friends to come join us.
Read here and find out how the idea was first conceived.
Wilfrid has subsequently posted the first week wrap-up in interesting thoughts and details, see here.
Bina wonders why she is so intimidated and reluctant to pick the book up? because she really enjoys it! Bina reads well ahead of me and before I discovered the non-linearity of the book, she has introduced us to the unreliable and fragmented narration of Saleem Sinai, fragmentation of Saleem’s personal and family history and the fragmentation of India. Bina is curious to know whether Rushdie will show if 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 of Rushdie) which are manifold. But Bina will talk about these aspects next week. Stay tuned.
And did you notice Padma’s interruption in the thick of the story? Bina constantly compares her reactions with Padma’s and look forward to the moment when Saleem will “take over” his story.
Read Bina’s full thoughts here.
Rob rarely re-read a novel, but he is willing to read the Midnight’s Children again to see how much he could remember and if he still feels the same way after reading this novel for the second time. Rob also compares this with Satanic Verses and thinks both show the tension within India and applied magic realism to the storytelling, but not sure why one book caused a stir and the other did not. In his recollection Midnight’s Children is less offensive but it could be a result of more tolerance a decade on. I have finished Book 1, and found a statement of two which borders on condescending description of a religious practice, but without finishing Midnight’s Children and Satanic Verses, I won’t be in the position to say which is more offensive but I am curious to know. Rob is taking this opportunity to know if he should revisit Rushdie’s work or move on to other authors, after all life’s too short and too much to read and so little time.
Rob has more to say here.
As for me, ……
It was a pleasant surprise to find Midnight’s Children such a delightful read. I was swept up by Aadam Aziz’s (Saleem’s grandfather) life story and his big nose. Rushdie made me laugh and at the same time I felt the need to be solemn about the grim history of India’s conflict behind the characters’ lives. It is a strange combination, but one that works very well as it brings me through the peak and trough of emotion and certainly promises a roller coaster ride, hopefully till the end.
I found Padma quicker to react, before I could suss out how I feel, Padma’s words quicker than lightning have already said what I needed to say or haven’t thought about it yet. I like to believe many of the anecdotes are autobiographical and it is Rushdie’s intention to disguise the real with the unreal (magic realism) to give it a fable like so that none of the characters he alluded to in his personal life would be offended…. except his father.
In my Vintage classic edition, Rushdie’s 2005 introduction says “My father was so angry about the character of ‘Ahmde Sinai’ that he refused to speak to me for many months; then he decided to ‘forgive’ me, which annoyed me so much that for several more months I refused to speak to him.” Rushdie’s sister Sameen, whose nickname was really “The Brass Monkey” was happy with the use of his raw material. Rushdie’s mother understand that it was “just a story – Saleem isn’t you, Amine isn’t me, they’re all just characters” thus demonstrating that her level head was a lot more use than Rushdie’s father’s Cambridge University education in English Literature! Rushdie used his £700 advance to travel to India to write this novel after publishing his first, Grimus, and finished the Midnight’s Children in 1979 and quit his job from Ogilvy and Mather, where he was a copywriter.
Some of my favourite passage from the book so far:
Amina, her mind clogged up with Nadir Khan and insomnia, found she couldn’t naturally provide Ahmed Sinai with these things (unquestioned loyalty, unreserved and full-hearted love). And do, bringing her gift of assiduity to bear, she began to train herself to love him. To do this, she divided him, mentally into every one of his component parts…. she fell under the spell of perforated sheet of her own parents, because she resolved to fall in love with her husband, bit by bit. – page 87
Sonny Ibrahim and I were born to be friends – when we bumped our foreheads, Sonny’s forcep-hollows permitted my bulby temples to nestle within them, as snugly as carpenter’s joints. – page 169
All games have morals; and the game of Snake and Ladders captures, as no other activity can hope to do, the eternal truth that for every ladder you climb, a snake is waiting just around the corner; and for every snake, a ladder will compensate. – page 194
Rushdie writes so beautifully and thrillingly narrates historical event and building up the tension of Saleem’s birth and the impending independence of India. The tension slowly built to the day leading up to the strike of the clock at midnight when these two events happened and Saleem’s life and his nation’s history became twins. Saleem’s life was also changed forever by a mischievous act of Mary Pereira. From Book 2 onwards I will read in anticipation of how little Saleem’s upbringing was like and how he took over the history. Thrilling.
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Besides the 10 starting points for your discussion
This week in-depth discussion questions for Book 2 (estimated from page 150 to 350):
- “There is no escape from form” says Saleem (p. 226); and later, he speaks of his own “overpowering desire for form” (p. 317). Set against this is the chaos of Indian life which is described in such detail throughout the book. How is this coherence achieved? What role does mythology play in giving form to events in the novel?
- Saleem pleads, “…believe that I am falling apart.” (p. 37); he never arrives at a certain image of himself without being thrown into chaos again (e.g. p.164-165). But a child on an advertising hoarding is described as “flattened by certitude” (p. 153). Is there, then, value in uncertainty? What is it?
- What did Methwold represent? Why did he specify that nothing be changed in his houses?
- At the very heart of Midnight’s Children is an act of deception: Mary Pereira switches the birth-tags of the infants Saleem and Shiva. The ancestors of whom Saleem tells us at length are not his biological relations; and yet he continues to speak of them as his forebears. What effect does this have on you, the reader? How easy is it to absorb such a paradox?
- What kind of person is Saleem?
Enjoy the rest of the week. I’ll see you at Week 2 wrap-up next Friday, on the 26th of November.
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We now have these wonderful people with us, there are altogether 16 of us (including myself):