Midnight's Children

Midnight's Children is an awe-inspiring novel of epic proportions. Rushdie tells the story of Saleem Sinai, born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the moment of India's independence. Saleem becomes linked to India; his life is inseperable, at times indistinguishable, from the history of his country. What drew me to this book was (apart from its critical acclaim and place on Modern Library's Choices) but the promise of a magnificent story. Filled with magic and mysticism; Saleem and the 1,000 others born during the initial hour of India’s independence (Midnight’s Children) possess magical talents; the more potent the gift, the closer to midnight they were born. Saleem is telling his story to Padma, looking back on the past thirty years of his life (and of India’s history). As Rushdie writes in the introduction to the 25th anniversary edition, “Like all novels, Midnight’s Children is a product of its moment in history, touched and shaped by its time in ways that its author cannot wholly know.” Midnight's Children concerns itself with the character and history of India and Pakistan. It goes into detail about the struggles between different religions, classes, languages, and geographical regions. Out of the 13 books I've read so far this summer, Rushdie's novel has taken me the most time to read by a long shot. I don't think this is due to the difficulty of the story but the complexity of it. The novel is both old and contemporary; tradition is juxtaposed with modernity and both mythology and religion play large roles. It was a fantastic novel, to say the least. Fun fact: it's being made into a movie, premiering this fall. Rushdie helped with the screenplay, so the adaptation is bound to be good. I'm going to leave you with one of my favorite quotes, with Saleem discussing Snakes and Ladders. Snakes are a motif throughout the novel, and here, Saleem is hinting at Shiva, the other boy born at midnight, destined to be his counterpart.
“All games have morals; and the game of Snakes and Ladders captures, as no other activity can hope to do, the eternal truth that for every ladder you climb, a snake is waiting just around the corner; and for every snake, a ladder will compensate. But it’s more than that; no mere carrot-and-stick affair; because implicit in the game is the un-changing twoness of things, the duality of up against down, good against evil; ... but I found, very early in my life, that the game lacked one crucial dimension, that of ambiguity—because, as events are about to show, it is also possible to slither down a ladder and climb to triumph on the venom of a snake...” 161
Rating: ★★★★★


The Chosen

The Chosen tells the story of a friendship between two Jewish boys growing up in Brooklyn at the end of World War II. Reuven Malter, the narrator, is an Orthodox Jew. Danny Saunders, the other protagonist, is a Hasid. Hasidic Jews are the most conservative members of the Orthodox branch of Judaism. Chaim Potok, an American rabbi and scholar, was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in 1929. Potok takes you on a journey as these two boys come of age and become friends. The outside world groups Reuven and Danny together due to their shared religion; but in reality, they are quite different. The Chosen highlights the tensions between Jewish tradition and modern American life. Potok explores this theme by writing about the ways in which Reuven and Danny's Jewish communities attempt to strike a balance between tradition and modernity. The Chosen traces the intellectual, moral, and psychological growth of Reuven and Danny; they develop along parallel lines due to their strong friendship. What I really liked about this novel is the fact that it immerses its readers in the time period effortlessly. World War II is ending and stories of the Holocaust are just beginning to emerge on the shores of America. The impact that this monumental loss of life has on the American Jewish population varies from community to community and Reuven and Danny's fathers react very differently. Which is interesting to me, growing up where it seems like American Jews are united in their basic perspectives on the Holocaust and Israel. This novel is profound and very well written. I highly recommend reading it. Rating: ★★★★★


Primary Colors

Primary Colors is truly "A Novel of Politics." The novel is a roman à clef, a work of fiction "that purports to describe real life characters and events." The book is a version of Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign in 1992. It has been compared to the other definitive novel about American politics; Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men (which I read earlier this year and absolutely adored). I began reading the novel with the thought that it would take me a while to finish; it was just over 500 pages and all about politics. But to my astonishment, I was drawn into the story from the first page, and I could barely put it down. The book is narrated by Henry Burton, who describes the primary campaign with southern governor Jack Stanton. As the back of the book says,
Primary Colors puts you inside the hotel rooms, the bedrooms, the cell-phone conversations, the power plays, the media frenzy. And leaves you wondering: Is this man just an insatiable political animal? Or is he America's last best hope?
The novel itself is an American classic. It is more current than Penn Warren's All the King's Men because it focuses in part on the 24/7 news cycle that is such a part of politics today. It is also a true testament to the behind the scenes work that goes on constantly during political campaigns for office. Behind every politician is a large team that the public barely knows about. If you haven't had the chance to read this novel yet, I highly recommend it. Rating: ★★★★★

The Dubious Salvation of Jack V.

The Dubious Salvation of Jack V.  is South African Jack Strauss' debut novel of 11-year-old Jack growing up in apartheid South Africa. As one reviewer writes, "Childhood innocence can be hilarious. And brutal. This searing debut by a young South African writer captures the grotesque horror of apartheid in daily life." Strauss' novel takes the issue of apartheid indirectly. For Jack, politics is not an issue. The story is a light read, definitely aimed at young adult readers. Jack narrates the novel, looking back from an older age. The premise of the story is how, at the age of eleven, he “betrayed Susie, our housekeeper, my friend, my second mother.” He gives readers a sense of what South Africa was like under the last days of apartheid (though that word is never mentioned in the novel). It is very interesting to see this through a child's eye; children have different a perspective from adults on the way the world works. Change may have been imminent, but there were still housewives in Jack’s neighborhood in a white part of Johannesburg who said, “A dishwashing machine? What would I need with one of those? All you need is a little black magic.” The story really revolves around Jack and Susie, his housekeeper. Overall, an easy young adult read. Rating: ★★★★