Saturday, January 14, 2012


Harrowing and brilliant, but as I told a friend the other day, it's a bit like riding a bicycle downhill with your hands off the handlebars. You surrender temporal logic and just leave off expecting conventional sentences; right off, the narrator, 31-year-old Saleem Sinai says his book is "an excess of intertwined lives events miracles places rumors." The novel doesn't follow the usual first-person-narrating-his-life line--born in 1947 in India at the same moment the country became independent, lived, and almost-died quite a few times, including a nightmarish episode in the jungle and by a sniper's bullet during the war in the 1970s. Instead, the book has its own inner logic, metaphorical and associative rather than linear. So in the chapter called "Snakes and Ladders," we get Saleem writing about his boyhood, when he liked to play the game "Snakes and Ladders" (Chutes and Ladders), although his father would prefer he plays chess because it's a smarter game; but in the same chapter, there's a rumor that a mad Bengali snake-charming was traveling the country, luring snakes out of captivity; there's a man who raises snakes for research living in a room above them; and a description of how Saleem nearly died on his first birthday and was saved by being given a mixture containing snake venom (so not all snakes are bad, unlike the game); and (though the ladders in the game go up) a servant who stole things is sent down a ladder out of the house. The effect is more like a web than a line. Another thing I loved about the book was Padma. While Saleem is writing the book, she cooks and cleans around him, and she's a wonderful, no-nonsense foil. "But what is so precious," Padma demands, her right hand slicing the air updownup in exasperation, "to need all this writing-shiting?" Throughout, the language is playful, two-edged, something to relish. "I was born ... on the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came." "Saffron minutes and green seconds." Dense, wide-ranging, and not a fast read, one to savor.
Has anybody out there read his non-fiction?

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