Saturday, April 08, 2006

how rushdie's saleem was born


Salman Rushdie photographed at the South Bank Centre, London - 29 November 2005.

It's 25 years since the publication of the book voted as the 'Booker of Bookers', Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children. In a new introduction to a special edition of his novel, Rushdie remembers how the character and the book came into being...

In 1975 I published my first novel, Grimus, and decided to use the £700 advance to travel in India as cheaply as possible for as long as I could make the money last, and on that journey of 15-hour bus rides and humble hostelries Midnight’s Children was born... I had wanted for some time to write a novel of childhood, arising from my memories of my own childhood in Bombay. Now, having drunk deeply from the well of India, I conceived a more ambitious plan. I remembered a minor character named Saleem Sinai, born at the midnight moment of Indian independence, who had appeared in the abandoned draft of a stillborn novel called The Antagonist. As I placed Saleem at the centre of my new scheme I understood that his time of birth would oblige me immensely to increase the size of my canvas. If he and India were to be paired, I would need to tell the story of both twins. Then Saleem, ever a striver for meaning, suggested to me that the whole of modern Indian history happened as it did because of him; that history, the life of his nation-twin, was somehow all his fault. With that immodest proposal the novel’s characteristic tone of voice, comically assertive, unrelentingly garrulous, and with, I hope, a growing pathos in its narrator’s increasingly tragic overclaiming, came into being. I even made the boy and the country identical twins. When the sadistic geography teacher Emil Zagallo, giving the boys a lesson in “human geography”, compares Saleem’s nose to the Deccan peninsula, the cruelty of his joke is also, obviously, mine.

Read the rest here.

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