Thursday, January 8, 2009

Mistah Kurtz, he dead.

Current book: Midnight's Children
Pages read: 374-429

You know what this book was missing in order to fulfill the requirements of a bad soap opera? (Hah. I just realized that's completely redundant.) Amnesia. Luckily, Salman provides. That's right, ladies and gents, our narrator has completely forgotten who he is. All right, it's not as ridiculous as it sounds, but still - amnesia? Really? Anyway, after Saleem's family moves to Pakistan, the conflict between India and Pakistan starts to escalate, and eventually breaks out into war. Saleem finds himself courting death by wandering around the city during bombings, and eventually gets knocked unconscious and rendered amnesiac by one such outing. Oddly, though, he keeps referring to himself as purified by it, somehow. (Well, I guess that makes sense. If you forget everything you've ever done, you're guilt-free. Catholicism should try that. Frontal lobotomy as the path to salvation.) It's actually a thought-provoking plot element, this idea that Saleem has surrendered his roots to his home country and, as a result, can no longer remember who he is. In fact, the loss of his memory is inflicted by direct violence from his past (and, if we would believe his narrative voice, the whole of his very identity).

I found myself thinking, during this discussion of identity as country, of how connected I am to my own native country. Do I identify myself with the United States? To some extent, I feel American (though not in a shorts-wearing, flat A, fanny pack kind of way), but if I renounced my citizenship, would I really lose anything? I don't know. The U.S. is home, and I don't know that any other country could ever be, but it's far from the most defining characteristic of my identity. Even when it comes to loyalty, I put many other kinds before that of my country - friends and family are easy enough, of course, but also personal integrity, morality, environmental responsibility...lately, all of those have seemed to be in discord with the agenda of the nation. Then again, providing a dissident voice is loyal, too. This is a complete digression, but the point is that country and identity don't necessarily go together in my head, so for Rushdie to assert the connection so strongly makes me examine my own feelings about it. (Kind of the point of books, isn't it?)

Well, after the amnesia strikes, Saleem ends up joining the Pakistani army, and using his outsize proboscis and its accompanying uncanny aptitude for scent detection to act as a kind of bloodhound for finding the enemy. We hear about his daily army life a bit, and then the eventual downfall of his unit after they massacre hundreds of refugees and get themselves lost in the jungle. The parts about killing people are oddly detached, and by the time the troops wander into the jungle and start hallucinating goddesses and monsters among the Sunderban islands, you get the feeling that Saleem has completely lost his mind. I have to say, as weird and difficult as it is to read, I feel like it's a fairly accurate portrayal of the ravages of war on the human soul. I'm expecting somebody to gasp out, "The horror! The horror!" at any minute.

There's definitely a feeling of winding down going on, and I'm disappointed that we haven't seen more of the children of midnight and their magical powers. Things also feel a bit rushed, like the author is struggling to cram everything he can into the last hundred pages or so. I feel like that a lot with books, and I remember thinking the same thing about The Satanic Verses. (Maybe it's me, but I'm going to blame the authors. Charles Dickens never had this problem. Then, again, his books are interminable journeys through a foggy Victorian purgatory, so there you go. Also, he was paid by the word.)

I might actually finish tomorrow. Expect some sort of spectacular finale! Or don't. I'll probably fail to live up to your standards.

1 comment:

  1. Lookit you being all thoughtful and analytical.

    Also: Lobotomy!



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