A boy born at the moment India became independent again, Saleem Sinai, acts as a symbol of his country’s character: at times magical, venal, banal and violent.
(Jonathan Cape, 1981 – I read the Picador paperback)
Salman Rushdie’s Booker winner got a hard time recently, as Fresh Meat‘s Vod laid into it. Clearly not a fan of magical realism. I loved the stories within stories and the fantastical elements, such as Saleem being able to telepathically link together all of the children born at the moment of independence.
I do think the novel loses its way somewhat – like the amnesiac Saleem – in the forests of the 70s. That may be a side-effect of making a single person carry the narrative symbolism of an entire country’s history. Or it may be because the earlier historical sections are granted more context whereas the sections set during the Emergency are so contemporaneous to publication that Rushdie – through Saleem – doesn’t think it necessary. Or in part it could be that my own knowledge of 1940s history is more rounded than that of the 1970s: I was previously unaware of the Bangladesh Liberation War, for example.
Overall, a book I wish I’d read sooner, when its magical tricks were fresh and new to me.