Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Top 20 Books, #13

After a one-week hiatus, the top 20 book list returns with number 13, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.

My junior year at Occidental, I took an amazing class called "World Literature" from Prof. Modhumita Roy, an associate professor of English who can best be described as a tiny, sari-clad, with bright, shining eyes and a winning smile. She was a wonderful professor who taught a magnificent class covering world literature, but with an Asian influence. I wish I still had the syllabus from this class and I have even toyed with contacting Prof. Roy (now at Tufts) and asking for a new reading list.

To the best of my memory, she introduced us to Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's Heat and Dust, J.M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians, Saadat Hasan Manto's short story collection Kingdom's End and Other Stories, and Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.

There were other titles in there, but these are what pop to mind. Alas, I read them all, but due to some circumstances, did not get to or through the Rushdie title. I still feel guilty about missing that opportunity.

In fact, a year later, I think I ran into Prof. Roy at some English Department function and confessed that I had managed to skip the book in her class. She appeared distressed, not that I had traversed her class without reading an assigned text, but that I had not read this particular one. "It's such a wonderful book," she quipped in her proper Queen's English,"you really should give it another go. You won't regret it."

It took the Ayatollah Khomeini and his fatwa against Rushdie to finally get me to read Rushdie, and then it was The Satanic Verses. This title, much maligned, was very difficult, but I discovered while reading it how wonderful Rushdie's writing was. I struggled through it, driven by the fact that, despite the tough narrative, I would give Midnight's Children it's due.

Like someone kicking himself after falling in love with someone who's been under his nose for years, I embarked on this remarkable novel and Rushdie skyrocketed to the top of my favorite author's list. I have since read nearly everything by him (except for his last book Fury and the recently-released Shalimar the Clown), but Shame, The Moor's Last Sigh, and The Ground Beneath Her Feet all followed on my reading list through the years and Rushdie seldom disappoints. Ground Beneath Her Feet is also truly remarkable.

Midnight's Children tells the tale of the children of India born in the moments after India attained independence from the British. These children, spread out across the subcontinent, by chance of their birth, have each obtained unusual and mystical powers that separate them from the world. It is a truly wonderful story and I strongly recommend it to all.

And no, I do not have a hardcover 1st edition, signed or unsigned, of Midnight's Children. A true first, US edition, unsigned, is $1000 and up. So if you win the lottery, think of me. Channukah is just around the corner. In the mean time, read the book! You won't regret it.


Tattoosday said...

The Satan Verses probably deserves another reading from me. As I mentioned, it was the first Rushdie I read, and as I've read more and more, it recedes in memory. I do remember enjoying it, despite the difficulties I had with some of the text. I also remember wondering what all the fuss was about. The scenes/plot involving the prophet Mohammad seemed minimal and, not as blasphemous as I expected. Then again, I'm not a Muslim, so I can't say what should or should not be offensive.

Then again, a zillion people seemed to have a heart-attack over a millisecond of Janet Jackson nipple during a halftime show during the Super Bowl, so who can say?

In retrospect, I'd recommend The Satanic Verses, but not wholeheartedly. It's not his best, but then again, the writing was of such a quality that it prompted me to read more Rushdie.

"'To be born again,' sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, 'first you have to die.'" is the opening line and the premise, the two survivors of a terrorist-struck jumbo jet, falling from the sky, is enough for me to fondly remember this book. That first scene in the first chapter hooks you and makes you want to read more. Unfortunately, it's a tall order to live up to.

Anonymous said...

you should email professor roy...im in her class right now

she's amazing :)