Reading this book is like learning to speak another language. It is frustrating, illusive, and so densely furnished in its culture as to feel utterly inscrutable. The first part of the book attempts to teach you, albeit impatiently. It gives you characters, some grammar to toy with, and when part two arrives you are thrust gasping and screaming into the throes of true maniacal creation. What you saw in part one has evolved, doubled, sometimes tripled, in size and complexity. Phrases and idea begin to intersect rot, mold, and weave through each other.
This is just one of the many reasons reviewing this book is such a hard thing to do. It’s complex, intricate enough that were I to read it twenty times I would be no more sure I understood even a fraction of the genius lurking and bobbing across the book’s pages. To review it at all after a single reading feels like something of a disservice to the work itself. I didn’t love it, in fact I’m largely certain I hated it, but…it’s bloody brilliant. I know this and I know very, very little.
While Saleem Sinai’s importance feels overblown to the point inspiring my unrelenting hatred, its necessity as a coping mechanism in a world without touchstones only makes sense. When you have no external force to place a hand on your shoulder and tell you insincerely that you are not insane, not alone, there is no other option. When the book’s tangents indulged themselves into making up a net total of 65% of the book, I grew indignant, but when the pressures of mortality loom on every side, I can only agree that, yes, from a writer’s perspective that is indeed what is required. Combine that with the way every anecdote interacts with and emboldens the main story I’m left only with the gnawing certainty that it’s my own intellectual shortfall that makes this book bother me the way it does.
Approaching this book was like an ant approaching the Acropolis. Soaked in culture and intelligence, it sits above me and in my time I saw only snippets, pieces I could latch onto and say, “Aha! I recognize you!” but these moments were ridiculously fleeting. I am too small, too ill-tuned to the frequency of this tome of tomes.
It focuses on the mundane, glances through the magical, and I wanted so badly for the story to become the inverse. Something magical ensconced in history. An escalation of powers and settled strangeness that would culminate in some sort of unity. That was asking too much. That is the book I would write, but it is not the book I was reading. That is a western book, this is an eastern book. A book forged from the manic, scattershot films of Bollywood, running the complete gamut of emotions, sometimes in a single page. It is messy, it is fluid, and reeks of something I will continue to grapple with until I can bring myself to sit down and read it again and again and then once more, with a library of eastern religion and historical textbooks by my side.
“I fell victim to the temptation of every autobiographer, to the illusion that since the past exists only in one’s memories and the words which strive vainly to encapsulate them, it is possible to create past events simply by saying they occurred.” ― Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children