©1981 Salman Rushdie; (P)2009 Recorded Books, LLC
“Extraordinary . . . one of the most important [novels] to come out of the English-speaking world in this generation.” (The New York Review of Books)
“Burgeons with life, with exuberance and fantasy . . . Rushdie is a writer of courage, impressive strength, and sheer stylistic brilliance.” (The Washington Post Book World)
“A marvelous epic . . . Rushdie’s prose snaps into playback and flash-forward . . . stopping on images, vistas, and characters of unforgettable presence. Their range is as rich as India herself.” (Newsweek)
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 was once charmed by the lilting narratives of Salman Rushdie???s "Haroun and the Sea of Stories" read out loud to me with background music by a rather talented boyfriend. It is not among Rushdie???s more famous works, so it???s surprising that, given how much I loved that other work, it???s taken me this long to get to another.
And again I am charmed. And overwhelmed. Charmed by the language and rhythm of "Midnight???s Children", by the vastness of the story, of the magical realism which I normally dislike. Overwhelmed by the hugeness of it all, the multiple stories, some historical, some so fantastical that they make "One Hundred Years of Solitude" look like non-fiction. I???ve just finished it and already can???t remember parts of it because my brain simply won???t hold it all.
"Midnight???s Children" is predominantly the biography of Saleem Sinai, born in the first minute of India???s independence from Britain. The story traces his life and simultaneously that of the new India through optimism and growth, partition and war, and emergency and corruption. Coincidence builds on coincidence until the stories begin to spiral upwards to stretch plausibility and then, rather than losing control, culminate in a sunburst of magical fantasy in which Saleem disappears from being entirely at one point. While the story winds in at the end, the language keeps rushing towards the final page leaving you at the conclusion ever so slightly out of breath. It will take you a moment to realize that you are actually sitting still.
I am not usually a fan of magical realism such as the aforementioned "One Hundred Years of Solitude". Maybe this works for me here because I expect India to be a place of bright, outlandishness. (That extraordinary lotus pink is, after all, the navy blue of India.) It is a place so distant to me that it???s easier for me to suspend belief perhaps. But it???s also Rushdie???s ability to make words dance and to mesmerize sentences like a snake charmer.
Winner of both the Booker Prize and the Booker-of-Bookers, it is considered to be one of the best books of the 20th century. Rushdie certainly deserves all this high praise: It???s a great work and he manages to sustain it over thousands of pages. I don???t know that I consider it the best book ever, and I confess it could have been a smidge shorter: There are a few points when you wish he would linger less. Still, absolutely worth the time and effort.
Lyndham Gregory is amazing here giving perfect pace to the words and handling dozens of different characters and voices. A slight weakness on the females, but not especially noticeable. I???ll be looking for other work of his.
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