By Gail Low, Marion Wynne-Davies (eds.)
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Born with red cheeks, Sufiya is the carrier of her mother's shame at not having mothered a son, and more generally of the various and violent sexual and political repressions that dominate the text. Her 'stinky blushes', we are told, are 'like petrol fires' (her very name, Su-fiya, registers this incendiary image), and smell of burning, blistering those who try to kiss her. At the close of the novel, Sufiya's repressed shame ignites, and 'the fireball of her burning' reeks havoc in the form of frenzied, inflammatory serial killings across Pakistan.
What is important however, is the notion that the migrations which alter cultural perspectives in the twentieth century do not emerge from isolated moments of Mike Phillips 25 inspiration or compulsion. Instead, they are the resolution of processes which were set in motion during preceding centuries by the operations of the most powerful nation states. After all, what did the empires of the nineteenth century give their subjects? Well they gave them modernity in the shape of speed, industrialization, the irresistible export of capital, instantaneous communication, centralized authority, universal surveillance, and a culture of quaSi-liberal despotism.
1? As Rushdie suggests later in the essay, something is lost, but also gained, in translating India from his migrant location within London. So what is gained? Or what might be gained in reading Rushdie's notoriously nebulous notion of hybridity in conjunction with the authoritarian homogeneity of Thatcherism; his heterogeneous crowds alongside London's riotous black population; Mrs Ghandhi alongside Mrs Thatcher? A book about memory and forgetting, the preservation and repression of the past, Midnight's Children makes a peculiarly apposite allegory of amnesiac Britain in the early 1980s, as the trauma following the aftermath of empire set in.
A Black British Canon? by Gail Low, Marion Wynne-Davies (eds.)