2016年11月27日 星期日

MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN. A Novel of India's Coming of Age Salman Rushdie

“Each book has to teach you how to write it, but there’s often an important moment of discovery.” —Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie was born in Bombay in 1947, on the eve of India’s independence. He was educated there and in England, where he spent the first decades of his writing life.

"Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me."
“I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I'm gone which would not have happened if I had not come.”
―from MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN by Salman Rushdie
A classic novel, in which the man who calls himself the "bomb of Bombay" chronicles the story of a child and a nation that both came into existence in 1947—and examines a whole people's capacity for carrying inherited myths and inventing new ones. READ more here: http://knopfdoubleday.com/book/158932/midnights-children/

--from "Midnight's Children" (1981) by Salman Rushdie

A contemporary classic novel, in which the man who calls himself the "bomb of Bombay," chronicles the story of a child and a nation that both came into existence in 1947—and examines a whole people's capacity for carrying inherited myths and inventing new ones.

MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN. 此書台灣商務有譯本:午夜之子,有詳註。

Salman Rushdie and Midnight's Children


April 19, 1981
A Novel of India's Coming of Age

By Salman Rushdie.

The literary map of India is about to be redrawn. The familiar outline - E.M. Forster's outline essentially - will always be there, because India will always offer the dualities essential for the Forsterian vision: the open sewer and the whispering glade, Mother Theresa and the Taj Mahal. Serious English-language novelists from India (often called Indo-Anglians), or those from abroad who use Indian material, have steered a steady course between these two vast, mutually obliterating realities; hence the vivid patches of local color provided by the timeless South India of R.K. Narayan's novels and the cool pastels added by the later fiction of Anita Desai. The Indian novels of Paul Scott and Ruth Jhabvala also fall comfortably between those two poles. For a long time it has seemed that novels from India write their own blurbs: poised, witty, delicate, sparkling.
What this fiction has been missing is a different kind of ambition, something just a little coarse, a hunger to swallow India whole and spit it out. It needed a touch of Saul Bellow's Augie March brashness, Bombay rather than Chicago-born, and going at things in its own special Bombay way. Now, in ''Midnight's Children,'' Salman Rushdie has realized that ambition.
If I am to do more than describe my pleasure in this book, if I am to summarize and interpret, I would have to start by saying that ''Midnight's Children'' is about the narrator's growing up in Bombay between 1947 and 1977 (and about the 32 years of his grandparents' and parents' lives before that). It is also a novel of India's growing up; from its special, gifted infancy to its very ordinary, drained adulthood. It is a record of betrayal and corruption, the loss of ideals, culminating with ''The Widow's'' Emergency rule. As a growing-up novel with allegorical dimensions, it will remind readers of ''Augie March'' and maybe of Gunter Grass's ''The Tin Drum,'' Laurence Sterne's ''Tristram Shandy,'' and Celine's ''Death on the Installment Plan'' as well as the less-portentous portions of V.S. Naipaul. But it would be a disservice to Salman Rushdie's very original genius to dwell on literary analogues and ancestors. This is a book to accept on its own terms, and an author to welcome into world company.
The ''midnight's children'' of the title are the 1,001 children born in the first hour of Indian independence, Aug. 15, 1947. Two of these babies are born in the same Bombay nursing home on the very stroke of midnight: a boy born to wealth and a boy born to the streets. And, of course, a nursemaid switches babies: a street singer cuckolded by a departing Englishman is given the aristocratic Muslim infant and names him Shiva; a wealthy Kashmiri-descended family, the Aziz/Sinais, is given the ''cucumber-nosed'' English-Hindu and names him Saleem. Shiva and Saleem (the narrator) are destined to be mortal enemies from the stroke of midnight.
Saleem receives all the attention. His birth is celebrated with fireworks, and Prime Minister Nehru sends a letter saying that his fate will forever be entwined with that of India. Growing up on a Bombay estate, he bumps his head one day while hiding in his mother's laundry hamper and discovers a gift for telepathy. From the age of nine, he can enter other lives at will, see through walls, plumb all secrets, including the secret of his true parentage. But his telepathic gifts bring death and destruction and very little happiness. He discovers that every one of the midnight children is miraculously gifted; only Saleem is telepathic, but some can travel through time (and even report that India is destined to be ruled by a ''urinedrinking dotard'') and one can change sex at will. The extravagance of Mr. Rushdie's inventions will call to mind the hovering presence of Gabriel Garcia Marquez; call it a tropical synchronicity.
The midnight children are the hope of the nation, and they await Saleem's calling of a ''midnight parliament.'' The only thing inhibiting Saleem from embracing his political destiny arises from his fear of the murdering street tough Shiva, whom he knows to be the rightful inheritor of all his privileges. And so, because of Saleem's fear and guilt, the gifts of the midnight children are never pooled. When they do finally meet, it is during Mrs. Gandhi's ''Emergency.'' Because of the threat they pose to the Only True Succession, the 581 surviving midnight's children are sterilized, and then treated to an even deadlier procedure: They are sperectomized - drained of hope.
(Perhaps you wondered about the real reasons for the Emergency, the various Indo-Pakistani wars, the deaths of certain Indian and Pakistani political figures? Simple: to destroy Saleem, the Sinais and the gifted extended family of midnight's children. The plot of this novel is complicated enough, and flexible enough, to smuggle Saleem into every major event in the subcontinent's past 30 years. Saleem the Nose - variously called Snotnose, Stainface, Baldy, Sniffer, Buddha and Piece-of-the-Moon - knows).
The complex plotting of the book can be gauged (and its playfulness appreciated) by observing how closely an old seer's prophecy is followed. Of Saleem, it is predicted shortly before his birth: '' 'A son ... who will never be older than his motherland - neither older nor younger. ... There will be two heads - but you shall see only one - there will be knees and a nose, a nose and knees. ... Newspaper praises him, two mothers raise him! Bicyclists love him - but, crowds will shove him! Sisters will weep; cobras will creep. ... Washing will hide him - voices will guide him! Friends mutilate him - blood will betray him! ... Spittoons will brain him - doctors will drain him - jungle will claim him - wizards reclaim him! Soldiers will try him - tyrants will fry him ... He will have sons without having sons! He will be old before he is old! And he will die ... before he is dead.' ''
As a Bombay book, which is to say, a big-city book, ''Midnight's Children'' is coarse, knowing, comfortable with Indian pop culture and, above all, aggressive. Salman Rushdie assumes that the differences between Colaba and Chembur are as important, and can be made as interesting, as the differences between Brooklyn and The Bronx. ''We headed north,'' Saleem notes, ''past Breach Candy Hospital and Mahalaxmi Temple, north along Hornby Vellard past Vallabhbhai Patel Stadium and Haji Ali's island tomb ... We were heading towards the anonymous mass of tenements and fishing-villages and textile-plants and film-studios that the city became in these northern zones. ...'' Its characters speak in many voices: ''Once upon a time there were Radha and Krishna, and Rama and Sita, and Laila and Majnu; also (because we were not unaffected by the West) Romeo and Juliet, and Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.'' Much of the dialogue (the best parts) reads like the hip vulgarity - yaar! - of the Hindi film magazine. The desiccated syllables of T.S. Eliot, so strong an influence upon other Anglo-Indian writers, are gone. ''Midnight's Children'' sounds like a continent finding its voice.
How Indian is it? It is slangy, and a taste for India (or a knowledge of Bombay) obviously heightens the response. Here is a description of a cafe where Saleem's mother goes secretly to meet her dishonored first husband: ''The Pioneer Cafe was not much when compared to the Gaylords and Kwalitys of the city's more glamorous parts; a real rutputty joint, with painted boards proclaiming LOVELY LASSI and FUNTABULOUS FALOODA and BHEL-PURI BOMBAY FASHION, with filmi playback music blaring out from a cheap radio by the cash-till, a long narrow greeny room lit by flickering neon, a forbidding world in which broken-toothed men sat at reccine-covered tables with crumpled cards and expressionless eyes.'' Very Indian.
Of course there are a few false notes. There is a shorter, purer novel locked inside this shaggy monster. A different author might have teased it out, a different editor might have insisted upon it. I'm glad they didn't. There are moments when the effects are strained, particularly in the early chapters, when an ancient Kashmiri boatman begins sounding like ''The Two-Thousand-Year-Old Man.'' On a more serious level, Mr. Rushdie at first has a difficult time endowing the villains of Indian politics with mythic stature (Grass's Germany made it so easy); petty household intrigues seem more momentous than the misaffairs of state (Marquez's Latin America made it easy too). But with Ayub Khan, the Bangladesh war, ''The Widow'' and her son, the later pages darken quite handsomely. The flow of the book is toward the integration of a dozen strongly developed narratives, and in ways that are marvelous to behold, integration is achieved. The myriad personalities of Saleem, imposed by the time, place and circumstance of his extraordinary birth (''So much, yaar, inside one person,'' remarks a Pakistani soldier, of the Saleem then known as Buddha, the tracker, ''so many bad things, no wonder he kept his mouth shut!''), are reduced to a single, eloquent, ordinary soul. The flow of the book rushes to its conclusion in counterpointed harmony: myths intact, history accounted for, and a remarkable character fully alive.
Clark Blaise's most recent books are ''Lunar Attractions,'' a novel, and ''Days and Nights in Calcutta'' (with Bharati Mukherjee), a memoir. He teaches at Skidmore College.

Books of the Times

Published: April 23, 1981
By John Leonard MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN. By Salman Ru shdie. 446 pages. Knopf. $13.95.
IT is impossible to resist a novel that contains the sentence ''My sister the Brass Monkey developed the curious habit of setting fire to shoes.'' Or one that will pause to observe, as it considers an unhappy India, ''Sacred cows eat anything.'' According to ''Midnight's Children,'' guilt is a fog, optimism is a disease, freedom is a myth, fried spiders cure blindness and ''Gandhi will die at the wrong time.'' Nevertheless, Salman Rushdie chortles.
We have an epic in our laps. The obvious comparisons are to Gunter Grass in ''The Tin Drum'' and to Gabriel Garcia Marquez in ''One Hundred Years of Solitude.'' I am happy to oblige the obvious. Like Grass and Garcia Marquez, Mr. Rushdie gives us history, politics, myth, food, magic, wit and dung. He adds, in no particular order, a blind art lover, a poet who is verbless and impotent, some vultures and cobras, a peep show and many clocks, telepathy and the nose as a genital organ.
His children of midnight were born on Aug. 15, 1947, at the stroke of independence for India. Saleem Sinai tells us, ''From the moment of my conception, it seems, I have been public property.'' And why not? Didn't Nehru himself send a personal letter of congratulation? Won't Saleem himself be a ''mirror'' of the new nation? 1,001 Gifted Children
Of course, there are two new nations, whether they like it or not. One of them is Pakistan. And Saleem understands himself to be a Moslem. And when, at the age of 9, in a laundry hamper, he comes to appreciate his telepathic powers, he comes also to understand that there were 1,000 other babies born on that same stroke of midnight. Each has a secret resource which consorts with the occult. Notice: 1,001 gifted children; we have enough tales for Scheherazade. And those siblings, India and Pakistan, would murder in the crib.
Mr. Rushdie, whose other novel, ''Grimus,'' I haven't read, was born in Bombay and now lives in London. Bombay is the viscera of this novel, as Danzig was for Gunter Grass in ''The Tin Drum.'' But the ice-blue eyes of Saleem, a Kashmiri, look back at a history of lakes and mountains, of red sails, at memory itself, which, like fruit, is saved ''from the corruption of the clocks'' by the act of writing.
Partition - into India and Pakistan - is a fraud, like the parted middle of the hairpiece on the bald head of the Englishman Methwold, who insists on observing his particular amenities until the clock ends the colonial occupation. ''The baby in my stomach stopped the clocks,'' says one character. Saleem, considering the future, wonders: ''Was genius something utterly unconnected with wanting, or learning how, or knowing about, or being able to?'' Such a subcontinent doesn't have a chance. Since 1947 it has been a bad Indian movie.
Fragmentation is the theme of the novel, from the sheet with the hole in it through which Saleem's grandfather is permitted to glimpse portions of the body of the woman he will marry, all the way to a dismembering of history. ''We are a nation of forgetters,'' Saleem says, and he isn't even sure of his own father. He is reading aloud, like Scheherazade, his dreams, as if to impress a departed wig.
Mr. Rushdie isn't nice, although he is funny and vulgar. The world of ''Midnight's Children'' is not at all genteel, as the world of Anita Desai tends to be. It is the shadow in Paul Scott's mirror or, perhaps, what E. M. Forster heard in the cave, with a lot of symbolic curry added - the clocks, the dreams, ''the ambiguity of snakes,'' the moon and the silver spittoon, the fishermen and the clowns. He is asking: who broke us apart, and why must we die, fragmented, for a failed India? And 1,001 Plots
Why failure? Mr. Rushdie plays many games; the reader needs to be a loyal modernist. ''Midnight's Children,'' with its 1,001 plots, is an exercise in criticism. Saleem is at once Superman, Sinbad and Pinocchio, not to mention Buddha. Eating, he speaks of ''pickled chapters.'' We are reminded that ''no audience is without its idiosyncracies of belief.'' Unspoken words cause bloat. His ear, the woman Patma who must listen to him read aloud his autobiography, deserts him for a while, and he is unmoored. Of himself, he says:
''I was a radio receiver, and could turn the volume down or up; I could select individual voices; I could even, by an effort of will, switch off my newly discovered ear.'' The signals he is receiving are from the children of the midnight clock; they will die with the nation; they will burn like shoes.
If I understand Mr. Rushdie, he is equally outraged by (1) the English imposition on India; (2) Indira Gandhi's ''emergency,'' which did away with liberal democracy in India, and (3) the novel itself, which can't find out how to explain partition and fragmentation and a hole in the spiritual heart. We occupy this hole, and laugh while clenching fists. I wish Mr. Rushdie's children, all of them orphans of history, would take over the world at dawn. This novel - exuberant, excessive, despairing -is special.