by Salman Rushdie
Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Pompous, Satirical, Hilarious
I did this, and I did that, and I'm responsible for a coup d'état, and it's my fault that the Indo Pakistani war started. No one can deny that about 9/10 of this novel is pompous. Saleem just goes on and on about how awesome he is, even when more important historical things are happening. For example, he doesn't tell us about the political struggles for India's independence but he says instead, "I shall avert my eyes from the violence in Bengal and the long pacifying walk of Mahatma Gandhi. Selfish? Narrow-minded? Well, perhaps; but excusably so, in my opinion. After all, one is not born every day" (1.8.25). Seriously?
Lucky for us, the tone of the book veers wildly, and it's just as likely to be pompous as it is to make potty jokes. When Tai tells Aadam Aziz about his nose, he says, "'Mughal Emperors would have given their right hands for noses like that one. There are dynasties waiting inside it,'—and here Tai lapsed into coarseness—'like snot.'" (1.1.14) That kind of joke belongs on some kind of Three Stooges comedy show.
For you high-minded types, there's even satire. You just have to know where to look for it. Only if you knew that Sir Walter Raleigh was a famous English colonialist, and that the painting in Saleem's room was a Victorian depiction of his childhood wishing for the happier days of colonialism, would you get how funny it is when this next scene happens:
... and now a memory comes back to me: of a birthday party in which a proud mother and an equally proud ayah dressed a child with a gargantuan nose in just such a collar, just such a tunic. A tailor sat in a sky-blue room, beneath the pointing finger, and copied the attire of the English milords... "Look, how chweet!" Lila Sabarmati exclaimed to my eternal mortification, "It's like he's just stepped out of the picture!" (2.9.6)
Oh silly Indians not realizing that they are celebrating the history of their oppressors while in the middle of a newly freed Indian Republic which could symbolize the downfall of Indian colonialism. Ha ha Ha. Excuse us while we twirl our mustaches, drink our wine, and smoke our cigars. We are fancy literary types who love satire, after all.