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30th September 2013

The Booker of Bookers

Books Editor Annie Muir looks back at the ultimate Booker Prize winner, Midnight’s Children

Salman Rushdie is a British Indian novelist and essayist, born in Bombay in June 1947, the same year as Saleem Sinai, the fascinating protagonist of Midnight’s Children. The novel was written whilst Rushdie was a copywriter for an advertising company, and then in 1981 the Man Booker Prize brought him to fame.

The narrator describes the life of a child, or Children, born at midnight on August 15th, 1947 – the exact moment that India gained Independence from British Rule – and the story is set in context of the historical events surrounding that night.

The story is told in first person by Saleem, who constantly addresses the fact that he is telling his own story rather than the story of his country; however, it becomes clear throughout the novel that the two births cannot be neatly separated. At one point Saleem realises an error in his own chronology of historic events and asks: “Am I so far gone, in my desperate need for meaning, that I’m prepared to distort everything – to re-write the whole history of my times purely in order to place myself in a central role?”

The narrator dips backwards and forwards into past and present and past again, between memory and history and fiction. The book screams like a baby when you put it down, each sentence exploding inside your head with images and colours but then leaving it plagued with questions and confusion.

Unlike a history textbook, Saleem does not ask to be trusted, and using historical facts and events Rushdie masterfully sets up a story of magic and wonder which is both fictitious, truthful and symbolic depending on who is reading.

In 2003 the prize celebrated its 35th anniversary by appointing a group of three previous judges to select the best novel out of all the winners: Rushdie’s novel won. And for the prize’s 40th anniversary in 2008 the novel’s glory was revived by a public vote naming the novel, again, the ‘Booker of Bookers’.

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