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03Apr

Salman Rushdie on Midnight's Children at 40: 'India is no longer the country of this novel'

Four decades after his Booker-winner was published, Rushdie reflects on the Bombay of his childhood – and his despair at the sectarianism he sees in India today

Longevity is the real prize for which writers strive, and it isn’t awarded by any jury. For a book to stand the test of time, to pass successfully down the generations, is uncommon enough to be worth a small celebration. For a writer in his mid-70s, the continued health of a book published in his mid-30s is, quite simply, a delight. This is why we do what we do: to make works of art that, if we are very lucky, will endure.

As a reader, I have always been attracted to capacious, largehearted fictions, books that try to gather up large armfuls of the world. When I started to think about the work that would grow into Midnight’s Children, I looked again at the great Russian novels of the 19th century, Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina, Dead Souls, books of the type that Henry James had called “loose, baggy monsters”, large-scale realist novels – though, in the case of Dead Souls, on the very edge of surrealism. And at the great English novels of the 18th and 19th centuries, Tristram Shandy (wildly innovative and by no means realist), Vanity Fair (bristling with sharp knives of satire), Little Dorrit (in which the Circumlocution Office, a government department whose purpose is to do nothing, comes close to magic realism), and Bleak House (in which the interminable court case Jarndyce v Jarndyce comes even closer). And at their great French precursor, Gargantua and Pantagruel, which is completely fabulist.

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