Rushdie, (Ahmed) Salman (Vol. 23)
(Ahmed) Salman Rushdie 1947–
Indian novelist and science fiction writer.
Rushdie's novel Midnight's Children is considered an extraordinary piece of writing. A complex, allegorical work, it focuses on the identity and development not only of its protagonist but of India, taking also as its subjects the nature of history, literature, and reality.
Midnight's Children, awarded the 1981 Booker Prize, places Rushdie among the great chroniclers of India's political, social, and cultural history for, in addition to its stylistic brilliance, the novel is in many ways an ambitious summary of the plight of the modern Indian, torn between an attraction to Indian culture and the ideas and values inherited from the British.
Through his use of multiple and overlapping allusions, Rushdie demonstrates his mastery of literature, Hindu mythology, and politics. The style and narrative technique of Midnight's Children is often compared to that of Laurence Sterne's Tristam Shandy and Günter Grass's The Tin Drum, among other works.
The novel as global metaphor is currently unfashionable, except when it comes in the guise of science fiction or political satire. Grimus is neither of these, though it spills over into both areas. Dimension-fever, thought-forms, a mysterious Effect haunt the book like the monoliths of 2001: forces to be reckoned with because they are never quite accounted for. But Salman Rushdie doesn't posit a hypothetical future, or warn of things to come: indeed, he makes it plain that what he is writing about is, approximately, the here and now. His ambitious, strikingly confident first novel is a convoluted fable about the human condition: more particularly, about the enduring need for myth and its constricting effect on the individual.
Like most fables, Grimus is cast in the form of an odyssey in search of an ultimate truth. Flapping Eagle, a renegade Red Indian, is given the blessing or curse of immortality (it comes in a bottle) by a pedlar who may be God or just a reflection of the Indian himself—not quite his alter ego but the self with whom he will eventually have to do battle if he is to realize his infinite potential….
Flapping Eagle meets whores and hunters, fading Russian aristocrats and a professor of philosophy, Ignatius Quasimodo Gribb, a gnome in corduroy trousers whose magnum opus is "The All-Purpose Quotable Philosophy". If one has doubts about the world Mr. Rushdie has created they don't...
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The hero of [the] intricately plotted [Grimus] is Flapping Eagle, an outcast Indian weary of the immortality conferred on him some 700 years ago by a mysterious elixir…. Rushdie unwinds solutions to his various conundrums—involving a misappropriated alien artifact and a plurality of probability-continuums—with inventive wit and an elegant sense of pacing. The story is ultimately overburdened with ingenuities, but for the most part they are real ingenuities. An imagination to watch.
"Fiction: 'Grimus'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1979 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLVII, No. 11, June 1, 1979, p. 664.
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[The characters and plot elements of Grimus] comprise a pretty flashy bunch of ingredients which could easily have yielded silly melodrama. In this artful first novel, Rushdie manages not only to turn them all into a good story, but also to present it all seriously without pomposity via notably witty prose. There are a few passages where he seems to be trying too hard, but in general, after a slow start, the book takes off like Flapping Eagle's namesake. Rushdie is a talent to watch.
"Science Fiction: 'Grimus'," in Publishers Weekly (reprinted from the July 30, 1979 issue of Publishers Weekly, published by R. R. Bowker Company, a Xerox company; copyright © 1979 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 216, No. 5, July 30, 1979, p. 53.
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[Because Midnight's Children relates] the progress of the political juggernaut through the Indian subcontinent—the juggernaut being literally a religious procession taken through the land in celebration, although said to leave behind a wake of destruction—one might expect a dark and somber treatise. It is nothing of the sort. On the contrary, Midnight's Children burgeons with life, with exuberance and fantasy. It has the same effect on the eyes and the ears as a magnificent circus performance—a scene that is brilliant with color, zest, dare-devilry and loud bravado. The language is as full and copious as a flood or fire of tremendous proportions. If Midnight's Children is sprawling and untidy, then it shares these characteristics with such natural phenomena. If there are many deaths and acts of destruction in the novel, then every death seems merely to fertilize the Indian soil so that 10 heads spring up in the place of the one that rolled. If the last third of the book reveals a slight dwindling of the creative spring, then this is a part of the great design, for by then Rushdie's hero claims to be "disconnected, unplugged, with only epitaphs left to write" and ends, resignedly: "New myths are needed; but that's none of my business."
Before ending on that elegiac note, Rushdie has painted a full portrait of "India, the new myth—a collective fiction in which anything is possible, a fable rivalled only by...
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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. (p. 1)
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 "Tristam Shandy," and Céline'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. (pp. 1, 18)
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…. Much of the dialogue (the best parts) reads like the hip vulgarity—yaar!—of the Hindi film magazine. The...
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India is so big, so crowded, so jammed full of the fascinatingly particular, so awingly representative of human variety, that a novel pretending to India as subject can't avoid the question of how novels in general may claim truthfully to cope with the daunting vastnesses, the multiplicities of things and persons. What makes Midnight's Children so extraordinarily important, and moreover (for literary importance isn't always matched by a fetching readability), what makes it so vertiginously exciting a reading experience, is the way it takes in not just the whole apple cart of India and the problem of being a novel about India but also, and this with the unflagging zest of a Tristram Shandy, the business of being a novel at all. "Is this an Indian disease, this urge to encapsulate the whole of reality?" speculates writing narrator Saleem Sinai. No, he implies, by way of reply, it's a novelist's disease; but one to be opened up for inspection, foregrounded as they say, nowhere more aptly and revelatorily than in an ambitious fiction of India….
If Indians are, as [Rushdie] says, "obsessed with correspondences"—"Similarities between this and that, between apparently unconnected things, make us clap our hands delightedly when we find them out. It is a sort of national longing for form"—then Saleem's narrative exhibits the national craving in super-abundance. It writes history, we might say by way of compliment, on the...
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In the bleakness of its vision, Midnight's Children is in many ways the counterpart of V. S. Naipaul's India: A Wounded Civilization, which appeared three years ago. While it is possible to agree or disagree with Naipaul's sobering nonfictional assessment, it would be pointless to do either with Rushdie-Saleem's hyperbolic vision, which is that of a novelist who might at any point begin to laugh at his own intensity.
[In isolating any particular cluster of figures, events, and themes, one neglects scores of others.] Bombay movie stars, millionaire boy gurus, snake-charmers, soothsayers, sadhus, pop singers (Saleem's sister becomes one), purposefully deformed beggars, contortionists, extortionists, merchants, magicians, and servants…. The episodes in which they appear—some of them consisting of hardly more than a paragraph—are wonderfully brought to life, often charming, often shocking. One must not underestimate the novel's playfulness, its absurdities, its highjinks—elements that continuously undercut the despair of its political vision. This playfulness extends to the literary echoes from the West—to the preoccupation with nose-size (blatantly, a phallic "displacement") from Tristram Shandy, to the extremental and olfactory exuberance of Rabelais, to Forster's Dr. Aziz, and to Proust's madeleine, which, in Midnight's Children, is transmogrified into a certain grasshopper-green chutney that serves...
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K. B. Rao
Rushdie attempts to swallow all of India in his epic novel [Midnight's Children]. Therein lies his ambition and his downfall. He is authentic when he writes about Bombay, the place of his birth, the city where he grew up. Probably there is no other Indian novel that captures the sights and smells of Bombay as Midnight's Children does, but when Rushdie writes about the rest of India, he is neither so forceful nor so authentic.
Rushdie attempts to answer the question of one's identity, both individually and nationally, but the story gets lost in his myriad digressions. Up to a point, the digressions are "entertaining," but they seriously detract from the form and the flow of the novel. In trying to be too clever, Rushdie loses control both of himself and of his art. Midnight's Children is a brilliant piece of writing, but as a novel it lacks direction and a point of focus.
K. B. Rao, "Asia and the Pacific: 'Midnight's Children'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1982 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 56, No. 1, Winter, 1982, p. 181.
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One of the more curious aspects of the annual Booker Prize is the fact that in the eleven years since its inception it has been awarded four times to novels set in India with the connecting leitmotif of the decline and fall of the British Empire…. [The fourth novel in this group,] Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, takes in most of this history yet is altogether different. It is the view from within, of colonial and independent India from the midnight hour of 15 August 1947, the birth of Independence, and of a new generation of Indians….
For those born after Independence, the inheritors of the Indo-British sensibility, as for Saleem Sinai, the hero-narrator of Midnight's Children, the search is for the validity of this legacy in modern India, where, as in all developing countries which have emerged from their colonial past, economics, religion and culture are all consumed by the great maw of politics. The novel poses the problem of culture and identity in terms of politics and morality, leading Saleem to seek his identity in terms of connections and places outside the chronological framework of Indo-British history, in the primeval time of India's villages. He uses the English language which he and so many of his contemporaries inherited, plucking out of its richness the words and patterns to convey the human situation of his generation. That he does this so vividly is as much an accomplishment of his feeling for...
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