Thursday, February 21, 2013

Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie

Midnight's Children is considered to be Salman Rushdie's masterpiece; it won the Booker Prize, and then, in 1993, it won the 'Booker of Bookers', ie the best book to have won the Booker Prize in the first 25 years of the award.

The plot is amazing. At the stroke of midnight on August 15th, 1947, India achieved her independence. 1001 children were born in the hour from 12a.m to 1a.m, These children had magical powers, the potency of which increased the closer the child was born to midnight.

The chief protagonist of the story is Saleem Sinai, born at the exact moment when India became an independent country. He was born with telepathic powers, as well as an enormous and constantly dripping nose with an extremely sensitive sense of smell.  Other  characters with notable gifts are Shiva "of the Knees", Saleem's nemesis, and Parvati, called "Parvati-the-witch,".

The book begins with the story of the Sinai family, particularly with events leading up to India's Independence and Partition. Saleem is born precisely at midnight, August 15, 1947, therefore, exactly as old as the independent republic of India.

Saleem with his Telepathic powers, assembles a Midnight Children's Conference, a conference of lall children born in India between 12 a.m. and 1 a.m. Salman portray the conderence as a reflective of the issues faced by India in its early statehood majorly the cultural, linguistic, religious, caste and political differences facing the nation.

Meanwhile, Saleem's family begin a number of migrations and endure the numerous wars which plague the subcontinent. The story moves forward with each of the wars, playing an important role in moving the plot forward for Saleem's life is inter-connected very much with the story of India. The story end with the Indira Gandhi-proclaimed Emergency. For a time Saleem is held as a political prisoner; these passages contain scathing criticisms of Indira Gandhi's overreach during the Emergency as well as a personal lust for power. The Emergency signals the end of the potency of the Midnight Children, and there is little left for Saleem to do but write the chronicle that encompasses both his personal history and that of this young nation.

Midnight's Children is not at all a fast read. The prose is dense and initially frustrating  with repeated instances of the narrator rambling ahead to a point that he feels is important--but then, before revealing anything of importance, deciding that things ought to come in their proper order.

But I understand why this book got the 'Booker of Bookers'. Its Beautifully written, The primary characters are intriguing and unforgettable. Salman Rushdie's ability to tie the story to history and his ability to overlap events, religions, and mysticism is amazing. The details created vivid images: beautiful Kashmirian landscapes, putrid slums and titillating love scenes.Midnight's Children is littered with politics, religion, and "real-world" events from India, Pakistan, Kashmir, and the sub-continent.

I loved the book, but I feel its not for everyone. Its not for anyone looking for a light read while lying on the bed. But this book is a must for any serious Literature fans. I give it a rating of 3.5 / 5.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Made In America - Sam Walton

Walmart - The giant retailer almost everyone knows about. I have not yet entered a Walmart yet but with all the hype about FDI in retail going on I felt it would be good to read about the company which is like the King of Retail. In this book Made In America - Sam Walton offers many invaluable recommendations for business men and entrepreneurs.  Walton does a nice job of telling a clear, concise story about how he built the business of Walmart.

Sam Walton is the guy who made Walmart happen. He build up the Walmart empire from a single store. He started building the empire first by learning the tricks of the trade a store by store. The business model he created is simple: always offer the lowest price possible, and depend on higher sales volume to generate the profit. We all know that Walmart is famous for its logistical superiority, in both a distribution system and computer-aided controls. As the company grew, it was able to use its power to force suppliers to sell at ever-lower prices. Its stores spread slowly, always supported by the distribution system.

Sam Walton comes off as this humble guy from rural USA who made it big by his hard work. In this auto-biography we are shown the same. But personally I felt at times Sam Walton never took what is said by critics properly and brushed it off. I agree with Walton that Walmart was built with really good intentions but  not everything born of Walmart's rise to dominance is an unmitigated good. Walmart has done a lot of positive things for American consumers. But Walton refuses to contemplate the impact of his company's power, forcing conditions on suppliers which can bring them to their knees. But this aspect of Walmart has captured me, how it has been able to shift the power away from the manufactures into the retailers hands. Another thing I felt is Walton doesn't actually listen to his employees (or "associates). He views unions as bad influences rather than legitimate players and potential allies. 

I give the book 2.5/5. Walton appears to believe in his own myth and he presents it well: his tone is down home, expresses a genuine humility, and believes in small-town values. I agree there are many who see things differently. I suppose that that the absolute confidence in the system he created is part of his entrepreneurial genius, but it is also a clear statement on its limits. I would highly recommended this book to those who would like to understand the motivations behind Walmart being what it is today and a great business story to boot.