Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Salman Rushie - Midnight Children: Magic Realism

Salman Rushdie at a breakfast honoring Israeli...

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In 1981, Salman Rushdie published Midnight Children, a novel that one can say belongs to the genre of magic realism. Though the genre has been totally dominated by Latin American writers —Garcia Marquez, Juan Rulfo, Isabel Allende, and Laura Esquivel— the Indian author Rushdie holds his own.

Not only does he use magic realism —the fantastic, the magical, the strange— as a useful technical tool, but he transcends it to portray the almost unreal and surreal dimensions of the Indian subcontinent. And much like the Latin American writers, he brings a magic and refreshing view of the effects of colonialism.

Though far from being a work immersed in social realism alone, Midnight Children, contains a great deal of parody and satire of India—but all done with artistry. Given to paradox and the absurd, it is hard at times to tell the serious from the comic. All in all we can say that humor prevails. And when we are in doubt we accept that the author means well and we read his humorous antics with goodwill—much as we do with Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.

For those who are language-oriented, the novel owns a treasure of hyperbole, similes, and metaphors: as when he refers to “pickles of history.” Pickles, for those who like them and eat them, leave a sour taste in your mouth, just like some episodes of Indian history.

To present his own interpretation of reality, Rushdie tells us that “Sometimes legends make reality, and become more useful than the facts.” And he goes on the insert a series of tales and legends within the novel. Saleem, the busy and tireless narrator, is an almost incredible character. No sooner has he told us a few verities than he quickly jabs at us with exaggerations; no sooner he treats a fact than he contradicts it; no sooner he falls asleep than we see him acting in real life; no sooner he awakes than we know he’s dreaming. And if that wasn’t enough, the witch Parvati changes Saleem into an invisible being for some time. Ah! What a fine writer can do with language!

When Saleem says:
“Midnight has many children; the offspring of Independence were not all human. Violence, corruption, poverty, generals, chaos, greed, and pepperpots…. I had to go into exile to learn that the children of midnight were more varied than I—even I—had dreamed.” (333)
Three points catch my attention: the enumeration of abstractions is capped with one concrete noun—pepperpots. On the surface this is an innocuous juxtaposition, but on deeper scrutiny we can see that Saleem is appealing to our sense of taste and smell, for pepper can be pungent and explosive. Just as we chuckle at “pickles of history,” we smile at Saleem’s magical nose (or perhaps divine as in the elephant-headed god Ganesh): “Using my nose (because although it has lost the powers which enabled it, so recently, to make history), it has acquired other compensatory gifts….” Next, we can only imagine how psychotic the other children could be to outdo Saleem. And next, we are confronted with the problem of chaos.

As readers, we are forced to keep track of time; a task that is easier said than done. Time in the novel is circular, fragmented, mythical, and cyclical—never linear. I cannot help thinking that all this is deliberate to simulate the chaotic societies that form the Indian nation.

Much of what was prophesied of Saleem —a symbol for India— has come to pass:
“Newspapers shall praise him, two mothers shall raise him.! Bicyclists love him, but crowds will shove him! Washing will hide him- voices will guide him! Friends mutilate him- blood will betray him! Spitoons 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.”
With one exception: India will never die, for very much like China, India is a thriving force and the economic heart and pulse of the planet. Not only is Salman Rushdie a true child of Scheherazade’s, just like her he will also go on telling stories to go on living one more day.
The writing techniques I use in this article are all explained in Mary Duffy's writing manual--an indispensable guide.
Augustine, City of God
Austen J, Pride and Prejudice
Austen J, "Marriage Proposals and Me"
Austen J, Emma
Borges, The Aleph
C. Bronte, Jane Eyre
Burroughs E,Tarzan
Cervantes, Don Quijote
Chaucer, Wife of Bath
Coelho P,The Alchemist
Coyle H, They Are Soldiers
Dante, New Life
Dickens C, David Copperfield
Dostoevsky, Crime&Punishment
ConanDoyle,Hound of Baskervilles
Dubner S, Superfreakonomics

DuMaurier D, Rebecca
Ellis B. E. American Psycho
Fitzgerald S, Great Gatsby
Flaubert G, Madame Bovary
Fleming I,Doctor No
Freud S, Leonardo Da Vinci
Friedan B, Feminine Mystique
GarciaMarquez, Of Love & OtherDemons
Guerrero M,ThePoison Pill

Grass G, The Tin Drum
Harris T, Hannibal Rising
Heidegger M,House of Being
Ishiguro K, Remains of The Day
Johnson S,Rasselas
Kosinski J, The Painted Bird
Lee H,To Kill a Mockingbird
McBain Ed,Gutter and Grave
Murakami H,Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Nabokov V, Lolita
Meyer, S, Twilight
Ortega,Dehumanization of Art
Poe E A, Gordon Pym
Prose F, Reading Like a Writer
Rushdie S,Midnight Children
Sabatini R, Scaramouche
Spark M, Prime of Miss Brodie

Stendhal, Red and Black
Sterne L,Tristram Shandy
Stevenson R, Dr.Jekyll & Mr.Hyde
Stoker B, Dracula
Thackeray W,History of Pendennis
Tolstoy L, Anna Karenina
Trollope A, Autobiography
Unamuno M, Tragic Sense of Life
Voltaire, Candide
Webb J, Fields of Fire
Wharton E, The House of Mirth
Woolf V, To The Lighhouse

The secrets of 'no-doze' prose:
Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers

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Lindsey Vonn

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