Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Part 1 of the Read Along on Midnight's Children by Salman Rusdie-

" For ignorance is the first requisite of the historian—ignorance, which simplifies and clarifies, which selects and omits, with a placid perfection unattainable by the highest art. Concerning the Age which has just passed, our fathers and our grandfathers have poured forth and accumulated so vast a quantity of information that the industry of a Ranke would be submerged by it, and the perspicacity of a Gibbon would quail before it."  Lytton Strachey

Every since I read The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie I knew I wanted to read a good bit more of his work.   A bit of research seemed to indicate the consensus best work by Rushdie is Midnight' Children (1981, 531 pages).    The novel won the very prestigious Booker Price in 1981 and in 2008 was voted "the best of the Booker award books".   Rushdie has won nearly every award short of the Nobel Price for literature.    When Jov of Bibliojunkie announced she would be hosting a Read Along from 12 November to 13 December I decided this was my push to read Midnight's Children.    I confess what I liked best about The Enchantress of Florence was the sheer beauty of the prose and the presentation of Indian history in the work.    I want very much to increase the depth of my knowledge of the history of India and who better to learn from than Salman Rushdie.    I will quote my comments on the prose of Rusdie so readers can get a feel for why I like it:

Imagine a 25 layer cake made by 25 of the best Parisian pastry chefs with each layer a different flavor made with no expense spared and you get some of the idea of it.    Now imagine as you eat the cake you notice small round balls of something mixed in.   Maybe it is opium maybe it is goat waste or even a poison that will produce a spectacular disease that everybody else in the court will marvel at as it overtakes you.    Maybe even it is a magic potion that will transform you in ways beyond imagination.

The Read Along is structured to match the  sections of the book.    If possible participants are asked to post once a week for four weeks then do a concluding post.   As a sort of mild directive and inspiration Jov has provided us a list of ten possible suggestion points for the first week and first section of the book.   At the end of the read along in post five I will do an overall post on the work but for now I will respond to some of the excellent discussion points of JoV.

1.    The narrator of the  story, Saleem, says he is "handcuffed by history".      I am currently also reading Micheal Holroyd's magisterial biography of Lytton Strachey.   I think the opening lines of his famous work, Eminent Victorians can help us understand what "handcuffed by history"  may mean:

THE history of the Victorian Age will never be written; we know too much about it. For ignorance is the first requisite of the historian—ignorance, which simplifies and clarifies, which selects and omits, with a placid perfection unattainable by the highest art. 

I think I will use these lines from Strachey as kind of a coda for my reading of Midnight's Children.    I think Saleem, not in any sense a classically educated or well read person, is saying two things that may seem contradictory.    Firstly as most unreflective historians he may see himself as only able to write or tell what it true.    He feels himself limited by the truth.   He thinks there is a simple historical truth.    Anyone at all familiar with classical Indian philosophy will know that this view of history as a factual thing one cannot step outside of is contrary to the ancient Wisdom texts of India.    One of the most quoted lines from James Joyce's Ulysses is "history is a nightmare from which i am trying to awake".    The post World Ward II history of  Indian has  nightmare quality for sure as does the vast poverty that coexists with great riches.     In part Saleem wants to escape from what he sees as historical determinism, in part from cultural bonds (there is a reason I am quoting Strachey and Joyce that will become clear later.)    These alleged handcuffs are also his excuses for his failures in life.   The notion of handcuffs of history is contrary to the basic tenants of Hindu metaphysics.    In part this is why Einstein admired Tagore.   On the other side of the question (of course there are many sides) is the notion that assuming the truth is not fully determinate by events and happenings is the escapism of mystics through the eons.  

3.-Discussion Point Number "Unlike many novels, Midnight’s Children is not written using a linear narrative. Why do you think that Rushdie uses this technique, and do you think that it is successful?"

Basically the structure of history is non-linear in the models underlying Midnight's Children.  In this structure    one cannot hope to understand the present without a knowledge of the past and events of the past get their significance from their relationship to the present and the notion of a "present time" is also a historical/literary construct out of a flowing oceanic river of events- linear narrative is necessarily a travesty of the truth.

There are already a number of really good posts on part one of Midnight's Children.     

I will do an "over all" post on the book after I post on the next three sections.    As I post one I will try to explain the references to Strachey and Joyce and hope they will emerge as not just literary name dropping.

Mel u


ds said...

No, I don't think your mention of Strachey and Joyce is "literary name dropping." I think it is a brilliant way to approach this novel, which is among my favorites. I will look forward to all of your posts on Midnight's Children, Mel. Thank you

Mystica said...

I am following your posts on this as I have the book but back in Colombo! will have to get to it once I go back.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant review Mel! I look forward to read more of your analysis about the novel. :)

Mel u said...

ds-thank you very much

Mystica-I hope you will get a chance to comment

bibliojunkie-thanks and thanks for motivating me to read this work-

Rahul said...

Lovely movie & heard such music after ages! Def worth watching in the theatres. Superb acting by Ronit roy, rahul and Shahana also. Even darsheel was good.