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Midnight's Children summary

Salman Rushdie

Experience a Magical Journey Through India’s Tumultuous History

3.8 (105 ratings)
21 mins

Brief summary

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie is a captivating novel that follows the life of Saleem Sinai, who is born at the exact moment of India's independence. His story intertwines with the historical events of the nation, showcasing the magical realism and tumultuous history of India.

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    Midnight's Children
    Summary of 4 key ideas

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    Independence

    There’s almost too much to say, Saleem Sinai, the narrator of our story, tells us. The tale we’ll be hearing has a vast setting: the entire Indian subcontinent. The facts we’ll learn – and Saleem insists that they are facts – span an “excess” of lives, events, and places. It’s Saleem’s story, but it’s also the story of India, a nation of 600 million inhabitants at independence. 

    Saleem, then, starts with a question: where to begin this sprawling story? 

    He chooses the year 1915. Neither India nor its neighbors, Pakistan and Bangladesh, had been born – they were still gestating in the British Empire’s stomach. The first character we meet is a doctor who has returned to his native Kashmir from medical studies in Germany: Aadam Aziz. 

    We watch Aziz unfurling his prayer rug beneath Kashmir’s snow-capped mountains. He kneels, places his forehead on the ground, and then bangs his huge nose on the frost-hardened earth. Blood flows from his proboscis-like appendage, congealing into ruby-red droplets in the icy air. In that moment, he resolves to never again prostrate himself before a God. 

    Aadam Aziz’s nose is significant, but we have to fast-forward to understand why. 

    It’s August 14, 1947, and we find ourselves in an affluent suburb of the port city of Bombay, India’s window to the west. We see a young couple in a hospital room. The husband, Ahmed Sinai, paces back and forth; his wife, Amina, the daughter of Aziz, lies in a bed, clutching her swollen stomach. Both the city and the Sinais are expectant. 

    Britain, the power on whose empire the sun was never supposed to set, is relinquishing its hold on the subcontinent. The Muslim-majority state of Pakistan is two days old – at midnight, its Hindu-majority neighbor, India, will celebrate its own independence. While crowds light fireworks in Bombay’s bustling streets, the Sinais await the birth of their first child. 

    He tumbles into the world at the stroke of midnight. A second boy is born at exactly the same time in the adjoining room. These are the first of the 1,001 children born in the opening hour of India’s independence whom Saleem will later call “midnight’s children.” 

    These two boys’ futures are mapped out: the first, the son of a Hindu beggar, will grow up in poverty in Bombay’s backstreets. The second, the son of a Muslim landowner, in the comfort of a well-appointed villa. However, a nursemaid, discontented with a system that fixes their fates from the start, secretly exchanges the infants. The beggar’s boy receives the Muslim name of Saleem and goes home with the Sinais – their actual child is given the Hindu name of Shiva and goes home with the beggar. 

    The switch isn’t noticed for many years, though. Saleem, everyone says as they admire the baby’s huge cucumber-like nose, looks exactly like his grandfather!

    ANALYSIS

    There are lots of errors in Midnight’s Children. Saleem, for example, gets everything from the date of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination to the routes of Bombay buses wrong. 

    Mostly, these mistakes are deliberate – not, as some early readers assumed, the product of sloppy fact-checking. As Rushdie put it in an essay in 1983, memory and history – the overlapping themes of his novel – are “always ambiguous.” Facts, after all, are hard to establish and open to interpretation. The realities we construct from them are just as likely to reflect prejudice, ignorance, and misconception as they are perceptiveness and knowledge. 

    Saleem is engaged in the business of remembering, and one of the “simplest truths” about memories according to Rushdie is that many of them are false. That Saleem begins his story with a fact – his grandfather’s huge nose – that leads directly to a misconception about identity is Rushdie’s way of warning us to take what we’re about to hear with a grain of salt. 

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    What is Midnight's Children about?

    Midnight’s Children (1981) is the tale of Saleem Sinai, a child born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947 – the exact moment of India’s independence. This biographical and historical coincidence shapes his destiny, connecting him to a thousand other midnight’s children endowed with miraculous powers and intertwining his own fate with that of his nation. 

    Midnight's Children Review

    Midnight's Children (1981) is a captivating novel that takes readers on a journey through postcolonial India and Pakistan. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • With its rich historical context and intricate storytelling, the book offers an immersive experience into the events and struggles of the time.
    • The unique narrative perspective, as seen through the eyes of Saleem Sinai and the other "midnight's children," adds a fascinating layer to the story.
    • Salman Rushdie's vivid and poetic prose brings the characters and their experiences to life, making the book a memorable and thought-provoking read.

    Who should read Midnight's Children?

    • Readers who enjoy historical fiction with a touch of magical realism
    • Individuals interested in exploring the themes of identity, nationalism, and postcolonialism
    • Those looking to delve into a complex and imaginative narrative that challenges conventional storytelling

    About the Author

    Salman Rushdie is an Indian-born British-American writer. He is the author of fifteen major novels including The Satanic Verses, Quichotte, and Midnight’s Children. The latter won both the Booker Prize and the Best of the Booker. Rushdie is a former president of PEN American Center. He was knighted in 2007 for services to literature.

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    Midnight's Children FAQs 

    What is the main message of Midnight's Children?

    The main message of Midnight's Children is that our personal histories are deeply intertwined with the history and culture of our country.

    How long does it take to read Midnight's Children?

    The reading time for Midnight's Children varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary, however, can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Midnight's Children a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Midnight's Children is a compelling and thought-provoking read. It explores themes of identity, destiny, and the power of storytelling, making it a book worth reading.

    Who is the author of Midnight's Children?

    The author of Midnight's Children is Salman Rushdie.

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