Midnight’s Children Read-along: Book Two (until Alpha and Omega)

“After that, for several months, mother and ayah took it in turns to open and close my lids. “He’ll learn, Madam,” Mary comforted Amina, “He is a good and obedient child and he will get the hang of it for sure.” I learned: the first lesson of my life: nobody can face the world with his eyes open all the time.”

“Our Bombay: it looks like a hand but it’s really a mouth, always open, always hungry, swallowing food and talent from everywhere else in India.”

“Midnight’s children can be made to represent many things, according to your point of view; they can be seen as the last throw of everything antiquated and retrogressive in our myth-ridden nation, whose defeat was entirely desirable in the context of a modernizing, twentieth-century economy; or as the true hope of freedom, which is not forever extinguished; but what they must not become is the bizarre creation of a rambling, diseased mind. No: illness is neither here nor there.”

“That was the day on which taxes were raised and tax threshold simultaneously lowered; my father flung down the Times of India with a violent gesture and glared around him with the red eyes I knew he only wore in his tempers. “It’s like going to the bathroom!” he exploded, cryptically; egg toast tea shuddered in the blast of his wrath. “You raise your shirt and lower your trousers! Wife, this government is going to the bathroom all over us!” And my mother, blushing pink through the black, “Janum, the children, Please,” but he had stomped off, leaving me with a clear understanding of what people meant when they said the country was going to pot.”
Now our hero, Saleem, is nine years old going on ten. He has a prodigious nose, graphically described as being constantly running with goo; he has also acquired the ability to read people’s minds. His father, Ahmed, whose assets were frozen has become impotent because his genitals were consequently turned to ice. His mother, Amina, answers the telephone of the Wrong Number only to flee so that she can meet her older lover, Nadir.
As to Saleem? He has met his ‘twin’ in Shiva. “Saleem and Shia, Shiva and Saleem, nose and knees and knees and nose…to Shiva, the hour had given the gifts of war (of Rama, who could draw the undrawable bow; of Arjuna and Bhima; the anient prowess of Kurus and Pandavas united, unstoppably, in him!)…and to me, the greatest talent of all-the ability to look into the hearts and minds of men.”
The more Rushdie describes of India’s distress, the more I see of America within his pages. America; the country I once believed in because I saw her leaders as moral, truly working for freedom of the people. Not themselves.
(Read along with us, if you choose. Find Arti’s thoughts here, Gavin’s thoughts here, Janell’s thoughts here and ds’ thoughts here. The second half of Book Two will be discussed on May 31.)
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7 thoughts on “Midnight’s Children Read-along: Book Two (until Alpha and Omega)

  1. It's interesting how Rushdie parallels the growth of Saleem with that of the nation of India… making his descriptions layered with meaning and the occasional satirical observations. It's interesting then that you've related those pages to your own experience with America. Thanks for an eloquent review, Bellezza!

  2. Thanks for your insight, Arti, and the reminder that as we see Saleem grow up we also see the maturation of a new country. I'm so glad to be reading this together as other opinions help so much to fully grasp a “deep” book.

  3. It's interesting how you're using Rushdie's India to highlight your despair on your own nations development & moral compass, adding a depth to the book beyond that it has & a personal element that adds interest beyond the [pages.
    Ps, the cover of this issue is gorgeous isn't it.

  4. Parrish, it seems that lately so many of the books I read (no matter from what nation) are applicable to what I see as a very troubled America. Perhaps this isn't the platform to go on with my dislike of what's happening, suffice it to say it isn't the America I knew!

    I like this cover, too. I'm reading it on my nook so I have no physical copy beyond that. But, I liket his much better than that red snake-ish one.

  5. Good to read another lovely and concise review, heavy with Rushdie's writing. How do you do it — book after book? Makes me wonder it becomes easier with time? Thought I can't imagine it does.

    Your comments about finding common ground between Rusdie's India and the USA today, while sad, are not so surprising I suppose. It's part of the human condition, isn't it? While I don't, even in a weak moment of delusion, consider myself a historian, the rise and fall of empires and human beings seems the nature of our world; whether country or human being, we are so vital in our youth and idealism. While, as we age, we grow thick skin that hardens with pessimism and call it realism.

    Yet, there are those who resist the trend. People like Gandhi. And Mother Teresa. And Jesus Christ. And artists everywhere — however they express themselves in art and life — who never seem to lose their idealism — and that fresh desire to make the world a better place — through truth and goodness and beauty. Thank God, for artists and saints. And good books and reviews that keep us awake, that remind us of the people we are called to be.

    Soapbox rants are not at all me. Wonder what came over me?

  6. I love the allegory of the body parts in this novel, and the many ways that Saleem and India are one. Your comparison of Rushdie's India to today's America is most interesting, Bellezza; I hadn't seen that. The passages you highlight are wonderful. I especially enjoy the one that “defines” Midnight's children. Thank you for sharing your insights. You have deepened my experience of the novel.

  7. I've heard many people say that this is Rushdie at his best. I like the sound of this one and will look forward to hearing the progress of the group read.

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