Book Review: ‘Midnight’s Children’

A review of Midnight’s Children by Tariq Ali for New Left Review, Nov-Dec 1993

Midnight’s Children has been widely acclaimed as a literary tour de force. It has won plaudits for its author, Salman Rushdie, from critics throughout the Anglo-Saxon world and has been awarded the prestigious Booker Prize. Rushdie has been compared, at different times, to Gunter Grass and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose influences, openly acknowledged, are evident in Midnight’s Children. Saleem Sinai, the semi-autobiographical narrator and central figure in the book, has definite affinities with Oskar in The Tin Drum; and it would not be difficult to find the Latin American equivalents of the sub-continent’s generals in Autumn of the Patriarch. However, these analogies are not of prime significance. Danzig/Gdansk and Macondo are not Bombay.

Rushdie’s work provokes comparisons not only with Grass or Marquez, but with other writers who have made India their subject. The reason this has not been done so far is because English critics and commentators have tended to downplay the politics of Midnight’s Children. Whether this is the result of guilt, embarrassment, ignorance or a combination of all three is a matter for speculation. What is beyond doubt is that Rushdie’s novel is centrally an attack on clearly identifiable targets: the indigenous ruling classes in South Asia. His book is not simply a pleasing mosaic of everyday life in the South Asian sub-continent. read more