Midnight's Children is a novel in three books, with the action taking place over several decades. It is often called epic, and, while this is a word which can be used rather loosely to describe any long novel, Midnight's Children both follows and subverts the epic structure of the hero's journey. The protagonist, Saleem Sinai, is closely identified with the fate of his country, because of the time at which he was born and the special powers this gives him. However, he is quite unlike a typical epic hero, being ugly and weak. His characteristic epithets are not "brilliant" or "many-witted" or "pious," but, as he tells the reader, "Snotnose, Stainface, Baldy, Sniffer."
The nonlinear structure of Midnight's Children may recall that of the Odyssey or the Aeneid, but it is even more reminiscent of Sterne's Tristram Shandy. Saleem, like Tristram, is forever losing his way in the narrative, forgetting the sequence of events and apologizing to the reader for his failure to record a definitive history of such important matters. Also like Tristram, he buries important events in a mass of digression, detail, and verbiage. A few key moments in history, from the Amritsar Massacre through Independence and Partition to the Emergency of the 1970s, provide structural connections between Rushdie's fiction and the facts of twentieth-century India.