I couldn't quite shake the idea, as I listened, that Salman Rushdie worked with an open copy of The Tin Drum by his side. But where Tin Drum felt to me like rich and moving reading experience, Midnight's Children felt clownish and empty. Reading it was like listening to the author shout LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME for hundreds of pages...and then it was over. I can fully admit the writing itself is masterful, but I found myself wondering with almost every sentence: How can great writing be so empty of purpose and meaning? And also: How can such a skilled writer make the topic of Indian independence, and the resulting partition of India, such a dull bludgeon of a reading experience?
Let me say more about this nagging Tin Drum echo that I heard throughout Midnight's Children--and why Midnight's children could mimic, but totally fail to capture the mastery of Tin Drum. Each book has countless minor characters who appear, play their part, and go away again. But in Tin Drum the characters are deeply felt, no matter how unrealistically portrayed, and in Midnight's Children the characters feel like windup toys. I think of Sigismund Markus in Tin Drum, a very minor character, the Jewish shopkeeper who commits suicide during Kristalnacht, versus Ilse Luben, who drowns herself in a lake before she makes any impression on the reader whatsoever, or Tai, a boatman who takes up many pages of narrative and who suffers an equally meaningless death. The death of Sigismund still moves me when I think about it, and the deaths of Ilse and Tai left nothing more than a great, boring, ho-hum, glad-they-are-gone-so-we-can-get-on-with-the-story feeling. Worse is the death of Vanita in childbirth--again my only feeling was that I had none.
Then I tried to frame the book as post-modern so of course it would use distancing effects as a way to call attention to its own fictions...but again the book compares so poorly with other postmodern novels, like those of Nabokov or Barthelme, which manage to use the same distancing effects to somehow bring a reader closer to all the beauty and tragedy of the human condition. This book in contrast just distances the reader.
So I'm left with a great wonderment that this is the book that wins the Booker of Bookers. The other book that Midnight's Children compares poorly to is A Passage to India by E.M. Forster--each book has a Dr. Aziz who is central to the story, with Rushdie's Aziz comparing very poorly to Forster's in any sort of valuation I can imagine for fiction.
The reader overplayed it. I think he was trying to add to the humor in the story and in so doing, killed the funny. Subtlety is a key in these performances. I wish they would have had Simon Vance do it, or Simon Prebble or .... well anyway.
The story itself is funny and touching and provocatve. Historical fiction at its best, telling the story of the times with a wide vision, and at the same time not loosing the thred of a human, personal story. And of course, there's a bit of magic, a bit of destiny... good stuff. I would download it again if they released another performance. Maybe they will get Grimus out soon? I hope.
The story reminded me of the "magic realism" of One Hundred Years of Solitude. If you enjoy that type of writing, you will enjoy this. The book takes place in India. The main character's life parallel's India's growth as an independent nation, including struggles with Pakistan. There were parts of the book that were fast-paced and extremely engaging, but I found there were also parts that my attention lagged during. I felt that was due to the book itself, not to the narrator.
Listening to books is an unforgettable experience, especially the books one loves. "Midnight's Children" is one of my favorites, and continues to be in audio form as well. Lyndam Gregory does a beautiful rendition of Midnight's Children. He gives each character a unique voice that makes them come alive. As the listener, you can see the characters in your mind. Gregory has the ability to evoke the essence of each character. Most importantly, he delivers the high drama of Rushdie's book. But... the only thing that was a bit of a put-off was the pronunciations of the names of the characters. Gregory does an excellent job with various kinds of Indian accents - it is obvious that he has really worked at it. However, he is not quite able to pronounce names, i.e., the proper nouns. Every time he says "Parvati" it sounds like "poverty", and "Nizam" always comes out as "Nazim", and so on. I would still highly recommend this audio book - it is a wonderful companion on a long drive.
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
Salman Rushdie sure isn't afraid to take on large themes in his books. The Satanic Verses dealt with the whole Anglo-Indian immigrant experience. Midnight's Children is a broadly sprawling picaresque account of the first 30 years of India's post-Empire independence. There is plenty of humor except when Rushdie pauses to be serious or poignant or sometimes even tragic. There is also a good deal of history thrown in for context, of which I daresay the average American is largely ignorant. It must have seemed, in 1977, as though India's brief flirtation with democracy was dangerously close to collapse.
The problem with writing a book that way is that it's hard to feel especially close to any of his characters. There is a kind of distance between them and the reader held apart by the witty repartee of the author. I suppose that's why it feels especially touching when that distance is relaxed and characters are allowed to be vulnerable emotionally. Which isn't to say that his characters are not interesting or vivid in their own way. The upside of writing the book that way is that it keeps it entertaining even through the parts that, upon reflection, had to have been emotionally traumatic.
I waited in vain for the sentence that cost Rushdie a defamation suit from Indira Gandhi, but that sentence has been removed. Rushdie's introduction to this anniversary edition talks about the suit, and the fascinating story of how the book came to be written and the very entertaining rejection notices this Booker Prize-winning book received. It is a shame Rushdie's career has been overshadowed by the controversy over Satanic Verses. I do not think he gets enough credit for being the wonderfully funny, witty, and entertaining author that he is.
Lyndam Gregory does a fantastic job of catching the various Indian accents and keeping all the characters differentiated.
This is a fabulous, ambitious book, magnificently written. The narration is also well-done, if sometimes a little bit too flamboyant; because the story is so thick and complex, a more measured narration may have been better, but the narrator has done a fabulous job of highlighting Rushdie's fantastic prose, and bringing the characters to life by his performance. This is the magic of a good audiobook: the marriage of a fine performance and first-rate prose. The only drawback to this recording is that the recorded chapter breaks do not mirror the actual book chapters. So, it makes it difficult to switch back and forth from the written text and the audiobook, which some readers like to do.
The writing style is superb. The delivery is superb. The only problem is in the "plot"; a weird mixture of history and fantasy. Also, it goes on for too long in a number of places. But it is a real pleasure to listen to, and I could not imagine a better verbal rendition of it.
An academic who listens to novels on runs and commutes to campus.
Though Midnight's Children won the Booker of Bookers, this text is less engaging and, I believe, less successful than The Satanic Verses. While MC tells the story of one particularly magical child, Saleem Sinai, who is writing this story for the purpose of telling his young child, who perhaps retains some magical qualities of his parents. The story is also the narrative of India and Pakistan, and the tensions that have existed since their twin births. While the story of Saleem Sinai takes many turns, the narrative takes its most significant turn when Rushdie unleashes a scathing critique of Indiria Ghandi's leadership during "The Emergency." Rushdie, as he explains in the Preface, was sued for libel over one particular sentence that Ghandi found offensive, regarding her relationship with her son and her role in her husband's demise. While Rushdie removed the offending sentence, this incident proves that his takedown of Ghandi was, in fact, accurate over her power grab. This book demonstrates the necessity of literature, both in how narrative allows for someone to make sense of events and the power of literature as social critique. For anyone interested in serious literature, this book should be engaged with for both the pleasure of literature and the power of literature.
I have only listened to one other Rushdie book (Shalimar the Clown - Fantastic!) so I was looking forward to hearing more from this esteemed author. It helps to know that this is Rushdie's first major work and I got the sense that it was intended to trumpet to the world that a new literary lion had stepped onto the world stage. Like a graduate student trying too hard to impress a mentor, however, Rushdie seemed to be trying too hard to impress the reader. For a listener - as opposed to a reader - this can be especially challenging since each paragraph was so dense with information, plot development, and literary flourishes that it was hard to follow it all. Similarly, he introduced (and then discarded) so many characters - and goes back and forth from the past to the present - that I had a hard time putting it down and then remembering (or figuring out) what was going on when I resumed listening (especially if more than a day had lapsed). So - over time I lost interest and ultimately didn't finish the book. Maybe one day I will return to it.
I want to be clear, however, this is a beautifully written book and no one tells such intricate, multi-generational stories that help shed so much light on the India/Pakistan history - and the sorrow associated with the partition of India.
The narration was a plus - an outstanding job.