Friday, March 28, 2008

Book Club: Finally Done

The First ever DCoE book club has officially ended! Earlier this week, I finished our selection, Midnight's Children, by Salman Rushdie. First off, I'd like to say that although it is a great book, maybe even a Great Book, it is not a great book club book. It's very long (my version was 533 pages) and a very slow read- challenging vocabulary and a mish-mash of languages and characters. If we do another book club, I promise to pick lighter fare. So, congratulations to those of you who stuck with it. Here are some of my thoughts about the book:

  • Despite the title and the fact that they are frequently alluded to, the actual Midnight's Children (the 1001 magical children born at midnight on the same day India was granted independence) play a small role in the novel. They aren't even introduced until the end of Book One. Instead, the book is about one man, Saleem Sinai, and his very interesting life.
  • Overall, Midnight's Children was sort of a history lesson for me. I've always thought that high school should offer one modern history class, starting with the present and moving in reverse. Every year, we were inundated with information about explorers, pilgrims, the Revolutionary War, the founding fathers, and whatnot, but never got around to covering major world events after World War I. The end result is that I am shocked when I learn facts like this one: The partition of India into India and Pakistan led to the largest migration in human history. More than 5 million Hindus and Sikhs moved from present-day Pakistan into present-day India, and more than 6 million Muslims moved in the other direction. A large number of people (more than a million by some estimates) died in the accompanying violence.

  • Rushdie really is a brilliant writer. I liked how Padma served as both a character and an audience, and I also enjoyed how certain themes reappear frequently (mecurochrome, for example), sort of like an inside joke shared with the reader. One of my favorite sections of the book is when Saleem and his companions get lost in the jungle...the descriptions are breathtaking.

  • Characters I liked: Saleem's mom and grandfather. Uncle Hanif and Aunt Pia. Picture Singh, snake charmer known as The Most Charming Man In The World

  • Characters I disliked: Reverend Mother, Saleem's father.
  • Most fascinating character: The Widow is often alluded to as a powerful villain, but readers don't learn of her identity until Book Three. She is Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India. Intrigued, I looked her up and was surprised to see the white and the black parts of her hair, exactly as described by Rushdie. No relation to Mahatma, she was the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister. A controversial figure, she served as Prime Minister of India from 1966 to 1977 and for a fourth term from 1980 until her she was shot to death by her own security guards in 1984. Rushdie obviously despises her, and part of the book occurs during the Emergency, a two year period in the mid 70s in which Indira Gandhi ruled by decree, suspending all elections and civil liberties. It was during this time period that, as a method of population control, forced sterilization was implemented in poor neighborhoods. I was curious about Indira Gandhi and asked and asked an Indian coworker about her. His response was something like this: "She was an amazing, amazing woman! I met her twice. So strong, so elegant, and the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Her family members are still major players in Indian politics. She was great. Oh, except when she sort of turned into a dictator, that was a terrible time of fear in India. And she was criticized for how she handled problems in Punjab- that is why she was assassinated."

  • Phrase I hope to never read again: Nose goo. I was happy when Saleem finally had the sinus operation, because I was so sick of Rushdie mentioning snot and drippy noses on almost ever single page. Saleem's nose runs, we get it, OK!

  • Oh, in addition to Indira, Rushdie also has no love for Pakistan. He makes the "Land of the Pure" seem like a land of idiots.

  • One theme of the book that I didn't enjoy was Saleem's obsession with his sister. He is supposedly in love with her (well, since he was switched at birth, she isn't technically a blood relative), but that storyline rang false with me. It just seemed sort of hollow and I didn't really buy it, maybe in part because the transformation of the Brass Monkey into Jamila Singer also struck me as a little unbelievable.

  • A nitpick: Supposedly, the Midnight's Children born closest to the stroke of midnight received the most powerful magical gifts. However, Saleem and his nemesis Shiva are the two born at the stroke of midnight and therefore the most powerful. But their gifts, a telepathic olfactory system and a set of impressive knees, struck me as far less significant than some of the others' powers, time travel, flight, invisibility, etc. ..

  • I did enjoy the ending, especially how Saleem gets reunited with Mary Pereira, but I won't go into too much detail in case any of you are still reading.
So that's it. I'm only aware of one other person, Carolina, who finished the book. But if you did, here's your gold star, and even if you haven't finished yet, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.


Mrs. V said...

I clicked on Gold Star and this is what I got:
You don't have permission to access /education/gold_stars/large_gold_star.png on this server.

Well, excuse me, what the heck?

Looking forward to your next blog entry, I don't read books but I do read your blog.

Here is a link to a professional Blogger, who blogs full time as a sole source of income and voted best blog in Asia etc. etc. Carmen introduced me to her....she is entertaining and different. I love the internet and this is something that the Internet has spawned.
she claims she gets 20,000 hits a day....and she makes a living off endorsements, so who is to argue with success.

Hey, by the way, Maria is in Jamaica, Man. I'm so jealous!!!

eileen said...

Weird, that link just comes up as a picture of a gold star on my computer.

I'll definitely check out that blog- thanks for the link!

It's 36 degrees right now...I wish I were in Jamaica, too.

Kevin said...

Eileen, I agree that the focus of our history classes in HS was out of whack. I think it comes down to what shows up on AP exams etc. rather than focusing on more world-relevant topics. Maybe it's different now, but I don't think we studied anything that wasn't Europe or the US. So no surprise that none of us know anything about India.

Hence, a good reason to go travel the world for a year - so you learn all the things about the world that your HS education failed to teach you! :)