A reader's guide to Midnight's Children

Salman Rushdie's 1981 Booker Prize-winning novel Midnight's Children traces India's transition from British colonialism to independence.

By: Dr Stephanie Forward (English Department)

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The expression ‘magical realism’ was first coined by a German critic called Franz Roh, in the 1920s. He was describing art which was realist but which, at the same time, had a strange, supernatural quality, and the term was applied to the work of a school of artists.

Later, in Latin America, ‘magic realism’ became associated with a literary style. Subsequent exponents of the genre have included Peter Carey, Angela Carter, John Fowles, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie. They blend opposites, fusing ordinary characters and events with fantastical and mythical ones. The effect conveys a sense of something that is simultaneously familiar and dreamlike.

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Midnight’s Children is the story of a child who is born at the moment of India’s independence, on 15th August 1947. The boy, Shiva, assumes the identity of another, Saleem Sinai, after being swapped by a midwife. He and one thousand other infants born at this time have special powers, his being the ability to see into people’s hearts and minds.

In this exuberant comic allegory, Saleem’s life becomes inextricably linked to the course of India’s development. His hope is that ‘midnight’s children’ will contribute to the nation’s future; however he then has to contend with Shiva, his alter ego...

Rushdie’s novel caused controversy because it was regarded as portraying Indira and Sanjay Gandhi unfavourably. It won the Booker Prize in 1981 and went on to scoop the ‘Booker of Bookers’ awards; yet in last year’s Big Read competition Midnight’s Children came last in the list of 100.

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