Literature: Midnight's Children

"We will watch your life closely; it will be, in a sense, the mirror of our own."
Jawaharlal Nehru to Saleem Sinai

Midnight's Children is a 1981 novel by Salman Rushdie, and is one of the two works for which he is best known (the other being The Satanic Verses, which is largely well-known for being the one that got him some very serious death threats). As well as winning the Booker Prize in the year it was released, it has twice won the Booker of Bookers, meaning that it was voted the best novel ever to have won. It is considered a major work in the Magical Realism genre, as well as of postcolonial literature and, of course, of Indian literature; Rushdie's prose style is quite a departure from previous Indian twentieth-century literature, often becoming very vernacular and creating a very vivid sense of the culture and atmosphere of India.

The novel is structured as the hastily-written and occasionally verging-on-incoherent autobiography of Saleem Sinai, born note  into a wealthy Indian Muslim family at precisely midnight on 15th August 1947note . This results in Saleem and 1,000 other children born between midnight and one a.m. developing odd supernatural powers, with those born closest to midnight being the most powerful. The three children born at midnight exactly have the strongest powers of all: Saleem, whose telepathy manifests at the age of nine and allows him initially to read everyone's thoughts and later to telepathically connect the five hundred and eighty-one surviving midnight's children; the self-explanatory Parvati-the-witch; and Shiva, whose powers are never described in great detail but whose name - the destroyer - he lives up to.

Saleem has an incredibly strange and convoluted life, but this is not, in many ways, a novel about Saleem; nor is it a novel about cool supernatural abilities. First and foremost, it is a book about India.

Tropes appearing in Midnight's Children include:

  • Backstory: Lots of backstory. Before it even begins chronicling the entirety of Saleem's thirty-one years in incredible detail the novel spends about 150 pages describing the lives of the two preceding generations of the Aziz-Sinai family.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Word of God argues that the ending is this. Readers usually see it as a Downer Ending. Saleem ends up being castrated during the Emergency and becomes a vagabond after that. He finds a new girlfriend in Padma and work at her Chutney factory and seems to have settled in despite his bitterness. On the other hand, all the Midnight's Children are either dead, or in hiding. Saleem's Evil Twin Shiv has become a Karma Houdini and 80s India and Bombay generally seems pretty hollow.
  • Doorstopper: 650 pages. It is a slow read.
  • Framing Device: While the novel is presented as Saleem's written autobiography, he is also telling it to his girlfriend and eventual fiancee, Padma, and makes frequent mention of her reactions.
  • Same Character, but Different: Saleem's sister the Brass Monkey's transformation into Pakistan's national darling Jamila Singer entails such a sudden and total change of personality that they are effectively different characters (highlighted, of course, by the use of different names).
  • Shaggy Dog Story: How Saleem feels about his life, and since he's a metaphor for post-Indepent India, it might be how the book and author feels about India or at least the generation of that era.
  • Two Aliases, One Character: Throughout the novel Saleem makes references to Indira Gandhi and her Emergency, and to the Black Widow, one of the women who seriously affected his life, but it isn't revealed until near the end that they are the same person, and 'seriously affected his life' is something of an understatement.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Saleem, on occasion, although he's quite upfront about his own fallibility.

Alternative Title(s):

Midnights Children