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Salman Rushdie: Midnight’s Children

Rushdie’s second novel catapulted him to fame but it also brought Indian literature to the attention of many Western readers, who were unfamiliar with it before. It remains one of the best novels of the latter part of the twentieth century and may be the best-known magic realism novel not written by a Latin American. In addition, unlike some of his later novels, this book was acclaimed both in India and the West.

The title refers to the fact that the hero/narrator, Saleem Sinai, as well as other characters (1001 to be precise), was born at midnight on 15th August 1947, the exact time that India obtained its independence from Britain. Saleem narrates the story of his family and himself from 1915 to 1978, i.e. his birth occurs about half way through the events. The plot is very complicated and I have no intention of summarising it here. Suffice it to say that Saleem manages to be involved in most of the key events in India during his life starting, of course, with his birth. More importantly, Rushdie superbly interweaves the story of Saleem as an individual, the story of his generation and the history of India and Pakistan during the twentieth century. He also gives us a portrait of his home town, Bombay (now Mumbai). As mentioned above, he uses magic realism, as the 1001 children born in India at midnight on 15th August 1947 have magical powers and Saleem is able to communicate with them telepathically, which, of course, gives him a broad view of what is going on in India. As Saleem and his family are Muslims, they move to Pakistan when the rise of Hinduism makes it difficult for Muslims, so he also participates in and sees key events in Pakistani history. This book is essential reading, not just for those who want to know about India and Pakistan but for anyone interested in twentieth century literature.

Publishing history

First published in 1981 by Jonathan Cape