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Category Archives: The Book on The Nightstand
I came to this conclusion after reading “The Heart Goes Last” in which Atwood describes a dystopian world quite close to reality. Charmaine and Stan are a young married couple trying to make ends meet after a big financial crash left them with no jobs and living in their car. Charmaine found work in a bar (because, after all, when everything goes to hell, sex and booze is all we want) and Stan’s main occupation is to make sure nobody steals their car. It’s a derelict existence. It’s survival. It’s not much of a life. That is until Charmaine sees an ad on TV in the bar where she works. There is a city named Consilience/Positron and anybody can apply to live there. There are jobs to be had, a free house, food and clothes, everything that was taken away by the crash. A clean bed with ironed sheets! Heck, a bed! Even that seems like a dream. The catch: once you’re in, you can’t get out. But Charmaine is a “glass full” kind of person and she wants in. Why wouldn’t she, when every night she sleeps in fear of her life as the violence has escalated and she’s always afraid of being beaten or raped or God knows what. So she convinces Stan and they get in.
For Charmaine, it’s a perfect place. She finds comfort in routine, in the cleanliness of the house, in cooking meals, in doing her job. It’s a routine, yes but this is so much better than their other life. So, so much better. Until it isn’t.
There is so much going on but things really start to get weird in the second half of the book. It’s like this book has double personality – half grim, half really funny. It was really depressing to read the first half and I seriously considered giving up but then I hoped things would pick up later. No city is perfect, especially one that’s so perfect on the outside. I imagined the place looked like in the video for “Chained to the Rhythm” by Katy Perry. Even the lyrics match. I wanted to quote them here but I’m not sure it’s allowed.
My patience was rewarded. The gloomy Orwellian atmosphere was dispelled. There were prostibots, Marilyns and Elvises, vampire references, a prison, and teddy bears. The blue, knitted ones, the kind you’d give a child. But oh, how Atwood twisted that into something disturbing and hilarious. It’s very likely next time I’ll see one in real life I’ll burst out laughing.
I enjoyed following Stan’s thought process as he was faced with some hard decisions. Charmaine was tough but in a superficial way – she seemed like a no-nonsense woman when it came to making sacrifices and it was entertaining and at times scary to watch how far she would go and the lies she would tell herself so she could keep what she had. There’s some trauma in her past but it’s only hinted at, a possible explanation to why she seemed so willing to accept anything to stay in Consilience/Positron.
I found interesting the duality of things – the city for a start, Consilience/Positron has a double name because everybody lives a dual life: for one month they live in their beautiful houses, then other month in prison. The irony does not escape me.
Life in prison is seen more like a succession of chores: there’s a laundry section, a knitting circle (for knitting blue teddy bears), even exercise classes. The city is soon to be franchised, there’s big money to be made and possibilities are endless. Just like possibilibots, life-like sex robots that are being made in the city. Because when the world goes to hell, yes, sex and booze is all we want. And maybe headless chickens, just because it’s better if we don’t have to decapitate them in order to eat them. More humane.
It’s interesting that Atwood sees only two possibilities: either a harsh life where everything is volatile, your job, your money, your transport, but you at least have your freedom, or a secure, sedate, domesticated version of a life where you get what you want but you’ll have to follow the rules. However, the human race being what it is, unpredictable, rules are broken and things really go to hell. There is no middle ground, unless you’re willing to compromise because every bit of comfort and happiness has a price. And you pay and pay and pay until there’s nothing left of you to pay with, no dignity, and no personal freedom.
Some of the things I saw coming but they were still entertaining to read and they had a satisfying twist. There are endless topics for discussion but that would mean giving away more of the plot and I’d rather not do that. I recommend it if you like dystopian fiction with a lot of swear words thrown in.
My rating: 4/5 stars
Read in June, 2017
I must confess, I expected a lot from this book. With a title like that, I thought, this must be a great book. As it turned out, it really was. There are four stories and I loved them all but one truly stands apart.
Don’t Look Now is about a couple on holiday in Torcello, Italy. What seems like an innocent holiday game of making up stories about strangers begins to be more than that when John and Laura spot two elderly ladies at a nearby table. And when one of them claims to see the couple’s recently deceased child, a girl named Christine, things really get interesting. Told through vivacious dialogue and dropping clues one after the other, the story reaches the end and everything comes full circle, leaving one more mystery behind but providing satisfying closure nevertheless.
The narrator of Not After Midnight is Timothy Grey, a 49 year old bachelor who remembers his fateful trip to Crete and the horrible incident that changed his life. He’s not an unreliable narrator, plagued by bouts of madness concealed into the folds of everyday routine. On the contrary, the accuracy of detail makes him a highly credible story-teller and I couldn’t help but sympathize with him and wishing things had ended on a different note. Timothy seems like the kind of person who’s almost pedantic in his routine. It’s obvious he likes things done a certain way and he highly values his privacy. That is why, when he meets an odd couple – the big, drinking man and his silent wife, he tries to keep his distance. I really liked how the author gave a new spin to a famous snippet of Greek mythology.
A Border-Line Case is about Shelagh, a young woman who tries to find out more about her father’s best friend. The men had had a falling out after Shelagh’s father got married. Her mother can’t stand the man. And following her father’s death in such strange circumstances – he was watching his daughter when it happened – Shelagh decides to employ her talents as an actress to fabricate a story that will allow her to find out the truth. What’s really behind the mysterious, reclusive man living on an island with a few trusted companions? And why does he have a picture of her parents on their wedding day but with himself as the groom? As Shelagh finds herself caught in the mystery, it is Shakespeare who ultimately unlocks the past and reveals the terrifying truth. This is perhaps the most dramatic story in the book and also my favorite.
The Way of the Cross takes place in Jerusalem. A group of people under the supervision of young reverend Babcock visit the holy city. They are quite a mix – the young couple on their honeymoon, an older couple from the high society and their spoiled nephew, a businessman and his wife, and an elderly spinster. It’s obvious from the start that things aren’t as they should be. Reverend Babcock had to take the place of an older and much beloved reverend on this trip, a fact that will have devastating consequences for all in the group. With uncanny precision, the author unveils the insecurities, weaknesses and secrets of all involved. Shocking revelations, betrayal and humiliation follow in rapid succession. Come here all, and have yourselves be stripped to your very soul – this seems to be the motto of the story.
I was fascinated by the stories and only wished there were more in the book. Du Maurier doesn’t waste any time in lengthy descriptions or flowery turns of phrase. Straight to the point using dialogue for the most part, this seems to be the best way to tell the stories. A clever manipulation of clues dropped here and there throughout make them almost seamless. It was not until quite close to the end that I remembered them, and when the ending came it was as unexpected as it was natural. Of course this is how it happened, I told myself, there couldn’t have been a better way. I went back and forth a couple of times, because I had forgotten some of the clues that were vital to the story. Who knew Shelagh’s love for acting and Shakespeare in particular were more than just a literary allusion? Or that a half-god’s legacy would find a new victim in poor Timothy? Or that a strange prophecy of an old blind woman will prove to be so accurate? The characters are exposed, their flaws and hopes and desires revealed. There’s cruelty but also love and vulnerability.
I couldn’t praise this book more. I had no idea such a little gem was hiding in my library. The edition I have is a Romanian translation from 1983 which I discovered one night when sleep was slow to come. If you’re a fan of mystery, I recommend you give this book a try.
My rating: 5/5 stars
Read in February-March, 2016
A few days ago I was ver excited to read about a Romanian Writers Challenge on Bellezza’s blog. The challenge is hosted by Snow Feathers, a Romanian blogger, and lasts until 1 December 2016, so there’s plenty of time if you want to join. Coincidence or not, I found out about this event not long after I finished a Romanian book, Why We Love Women, by Mircea Cartarescu, so this event seemed too good to pass up. As soon as I’m done with Dan Brown and the mysteries of the Vatican (I’m about halfway through “Angels and Demons”) and write a review for Cartarescu’s book, I’ll see what other Romanian writers I can read for this challenge.
I was downtown a couple of weeks ago looking for a pharmacy when I stumbled upon a tiny bookshop with big Sale signs plastered all over its windows. I went in, of course I went in, because well, I was on my own so I didn’t have to drag anybody with me and because it had been a while since I visited a bookstore and because…never mind, we don’t really need a reason now, do we?
As I made my way past the table in the middle and near the bookcases lining the wall, admiring all those books waiting to be taken home, I noticed two things:
1. The books were translations, mostly classics and romance (Dickens, Barbara Bradford Taylor, Jackie Collins among them).
2. Most of the books cost less than two US dollars and they were new and neatly wrapped in plastic foil.
Now I prefer my books in English if that’s the original language the author wrote them in but when I saw these two volumes, I conveniently ignored my preference and bought them. They were, after all, the sequels to two of my favorite classics, and English books are a lot more expensive here in Bucharest. I read the books one after the other and enjoyed them both.
Jane Rochester by Kimberly Bennett is the sequel to Jane Eyre. The book begins with a summary of the main events in Jane Eyre and continues with the story of the two main protagonists after their wedding.
Edward Rochester is nearly blind and missing a hand as a result of the terrifying fire that consumed Thornfield. Jane is now his wife, confidante, friend and caregiver. Their relationship is marred by Rochester’s demons – people and events from the past that seem to torment him, resulting in mood-swings and arguments with Jane. His passionate nature and Jane’s reserved one don’t seem to mingle very well. It is only in time and after a few soul-baring conversations that the two manage to truly understand each other. There are echoes of Jane Eyre – a mad woman, a love story, ghost-like visions and tragedy.
I found this story a bit stretched and I’m in two minds about it. Perhaps it was to be expected that the contemporary author would not follow in the same style as the original story. Still, the shade of modernism it brought to the old story made me think that “fifty shades of Jane” would have been a better title. What bothers me is the blurb which proclaimed this to be indistinguishable from the style of Charlotte Bronte. I don’t know if it’s a translation gimmick but I hardly read such boasts without a raised eyebrow. On the other hand, I appreciate that the author wanted to show us what happens after the happily-ever-after and that things are not as neat and romantic as the ending to Jane Eyre implies but somehow this book made me feel like I’ve stumbled onto something I wasn’t supposed to see. Despite all this, I enjoyed the story – Edward and Jane didn’t seem so very different from the characters I read in Jane Eyre and I was glad to read about them once again.
H – The Story of Heathcliff’s Journey Back to Wuthering Heights by Lin Haire-Sargeant is, as you may have guessed by now, the sequel to Wuthering Heights.
I read Wuthering Heights a few years ago and immediately fell in love with the tormented souls of Catherine and Heathcliff. A love like that, strong, willful, obstinate and doomed to tragedy appealed to my need for drama, romance, and a Gothic setting. I always wondered what happened to Heathcliff after he left Wuthering Heights that fateful night and what kept him away from Cathy for so long.
Writing a sequel is tricky, but writing one nearly two hundred years after the original story is even more so.
I was captivated by the narrative told for the most part as a long letter from Heathcliff to his beloved, a day before he planned to come see her and ask her to marry him after which they would go and live together happy for all eternity.
The author reveals the story of Heathcliff’s absence, his rise to fortune and his education as a gentleman, and also the origins of his birth. In this way, it was a quite satisfying read because it answered many questions I had while reading Wuthering Heights. It is obvious, even through the layers of translation, that the author wanted to keep the writing as close to that specific period as possible (the 1800’s) and there is a melody to the words that, while not as perfect as in Wuthering Heights, it is somewhere in the vicinity.
Heathcliff’s benefactor, his education, his carefully constructed plans reveal a cunning nature, perhaps not entirely evil but driven and passionate. There was one moment where I absolutely hated him but considering I had the same feeling when reading Wuthering Heights I say that it was in keeping with the original.
What I found the most interesting was how the story was weaved, yes, that’s the word that comes to mind, in such a way as to include the Bronte sisters, Charlotte and Emily, and even characters and events from Jane Eyre. I can’t say this book is on the same level as Wuthering Heights. When I started reading I told myself I should let go of such hope. But it did provide answers (not all of them) and did so in such a way that they seemed plausible (even if sometimes a bit too convenient) and I read it remembering how much I loved Wuthering Heights.
*I gave 3/5 stars to both books, although Heathcliff’s story deserves more, perhaps another half star.
*Read in February, 2016
It’s been a few weeks since I read the book and I’m still in love with it. I love the glossy gorgeous cover, the off-white page color, the drawings, the cover art, but most of all I love the story. As a fan of horror and fantasy (Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Robin Hobb are among my favorite authors) I often wondered if there was a Romanian author who would take elements from Romanian mythology and/or fairy-tales and use them to tell a magical story. To my pleasant surprise, such an author does indeed exist.
“Haiganu. The River of Whispers” is the first volume in “The Cursed God” trilogy. It’s a story that uses elements from a famous Romanian fairy-tale about Harap Alb (which is also the name of the story) – the son of a king who travels to his uncle’s kingdom to be crowned king. On his way there he falls prey to an evil man who takes his place, swears him to secrecy and has him fulfill some dangerous tasks, one of them being the killing of a deer whose bejeweled skin and especially his head are supposed to hold some of the biggest and never before seen precious stones. Harap Alb manages to overcome all the obstacles with the help of some unusual friends who posses incredible talents that come in handy in time of need. All ends well, as the hero of the tale resumes his rightful place and he lives happily ever after. But that’s the oversimplified version.
Haiganu is the name of the hero in this new tale. Proud and defiant, he wants nothing to do with the mortals, spending his days in solitude, away from them. He is one of the Great Ones, a god with a single eye, cursed to wander the earth, never to find rest but to forever be tormented by the voices in his head. Voices of mortals, each with his own predicament, crying, cursing, shouting, all in pain, a never-ending stream of lamentation. Until one day he hears a voice that is different from all the others. It’s the voice of Zourazi, a child with wizard blood in his veins. Suddenly Haiganu has a purpose, to find this child, an orphan taken from his family and forced to serve his master, the cruel Dekibalos. With the help of Moroianu and his spells, Dekibalos is building the Orphans’ Army, comprised entirely of children whose only purpose is to kill and eat the flesh of their enemies. It’s a cruel world, bloody, tormented, on the precipice of change, where griffins are more than just a means of transportation and the secrets of the great wizards not as safe as they once were.
The author combines elements from the story of Harap Alb with bits of Romanian history and to this he adds a dash of horror to create a new world that has all the makings of a great fantasy. This first volume felt a lot like warming up. We get to know the characters, there are a few twists and turns but it feels as if the great mysteries are yet to come. Reading this I was reminded of Robin Hobb’s “The Farseer Trilogy”; the two stories seem to have some things in common – the ability of some of the characters to bond with animals (I particularly loved such a scene that is described with exquisite detail in Haiganu), and the prisoners of war that are captured, transformed into soulless beings and used with the only purpose of destruction.
I loved the book. I had to re-read the original story of Harap Alb because it’s been so long since my last reading and I’d forgotten some of the details. I’m glad I did because it helped me understand how the author used the original story to forge something new. My only complaint is that I’ll have to wait another year for the next volume to come out. So far it’s only available in Romanian but I’m hoping that one day soon it would be translated so more people can enjoy it. And with it, the story of Harap Alb. It would be useful so see where it all began.
I had the pleasure of meeting the author at a book signing during Gaudeamus International Book Fair last month. We chatted a bit, he signed my copy and I took some photos. It was one of the best days I had this year.
My rating: 5/5 stars
Read in November 2015
Mr Mercedes is a departure from the usual shiver-inducing stories of Stephen King that I am used to. There are no spirits or other supernatural elements. For once, this novel doesn’t feel like a piece of fiction written for the delight of horror fans, although King has written some novels that are not horror. Nevertheless, when I say Stephen King my mind goes straight to Needful Things, Salem’s Lot, Misery and of course The Shining, one of the scariest stories I have read.
In spite of that, Mr Mercedes, King’s first hard-boiled detective novel (the first in a trilogy), still manages to infuse the reader with a sense of uneasiness. It’s a very real uneasiness, because it feels so anchored in reality it’s scary. Perhaps King has decided that some monsters are real. This is the fictional story of one of them.
Bill Hodges is a retired detective who spends his days watching TV and playing with his father’s gun. The idea of suicide is never far from his mind, if only he had the courage. But one day he receives a letter that shakes him from the torpor he had been steadily sinking in. It’s a taunting letter involving an unsolved case. Suddenly Hodges has something to wake up for in the morning.
Brady Hartsfield is an apparently ordinary guy working two jobs which provide him with ample opportunity to study the people living in the neighborhood and their habits. His relationship with his alcoholic mother verges between that of a dutiful son and something else. Something not quite right. But then, there are plenty of things not right with Brady, and King is masterfully showing the readers just how messed up this character is. One of the things I like about King’s villains is how he manages to make them sympathetic to the reader to some degree. It’s a murky zone – I want to hate the guy for what he had done and also what he plans to do, but in a tiny corner of my mind I can’t, not completely. Brady is a meticulous planner – what he has in mind is destruction, and he doesn’t care what happens after. Unfortunately for him, his careful planning backfires a few times. Luckily for him, this also creates problems for his enemies, so all is not lost.
It’s a race against time that plays nearly to the end of the novel, as Hodges tries to avert a disaster that is going to destroy many lives. Two people are helping him, Jerome and Holly, unexpected allies in this battle against evil. Ultimately, this is what this novel is, good versus bad, those who try to destroy lives and the ones who try to save them. It’s a good action packed thriller, and my only complaint is that this is a little too close to real life. People are shooting each other these days, planes crash, bombs go off, and terrorist attacks are not just a thing of imagination. This is real, this is the world we live in. For my part, I’d rather read about a haunted hotel or a loved one come back from the dead. Or even a crazy fan willing to kill for the books they love. Which brings me to the second book in this trilogy:
John Rothstein is living his old age on a farm in New Hampshire, when one night three masked guys break into his house and steal his precious treasure, his notebooks that contain a lot of unpublished material written since he went into seclusion, years ago. Now it’s 1978 and just like Annie Wilkes in the famous novel Misery, Rothstein is about to meet his greatest fan.
This time however, there will be no prisoners, and this time Rothstein’s greatest fan is a guy, Morris Bellamy. Morris has a plan – to steal the writer’s notebooks and perhaps discover another novel about the famous Jimmy Gold, the character who made Rothstein famous. Morris isn’t happy with the way things ended for Jimmy Gold. He is, in fact, quite upset and disappointed, but then maybe the notebooks will reveal what he had been hoping for – a comeback of his favorite character as the former badass that he was.
Things veer off course for Morris, and the carefully constructed ambitious plan falls by the wayside. The irony, Morris thinks as he spends the best years of his life locked up, is that he isn’t even jailed for what he did that night but for something he doesn’t even remember doing.
Years later, when he gets out of prison, all he can think about are those notebooks and how he’s going to read them, unpublished material read by only one pair of eyes: his. But what he doesn’t know is that once again, plans don’t work out the way you want to just because you want them to. And Morris is still the same guy, stopping at nothing to get what he wants, not caring if people might get hurt in the process. Morris Bellamy’s obsession had become his life goal.
Like in Mr Mercedes, there is a part of me that doesn’t like the bad guy but also a part that pities him. I love books totally and completely, I love being lost in a story, and I could see (to some extent) why Morris did the things he did just to hold in his hands the work of a beloved author. I feel that this is the very idea that sits at the foundation of this story. Like in the first book, King doesn’t shy away from unpleasant scenes – if you’re squeamish about graphic scenes you’ll be uncomfortable at some point in reading this book.
There is no strong connection between these two stories – the only thing they have in common is three of the characters who now work together to solve a new case. These characters have an emotional connection but knowing their background is not necessary to enjoy this story. In fact, I’d say that I liked Mr Mercedes more because I felt the suspense King created was dispersed in good doses throughout the story and the finale was worth waiting for. King also left room for more creepiness to come, so it didn’t feel like a finished story. Finders Keepers however, feels complete.
I’m really looking forward to reading the third installment in this trilogy, End of Watch. One of the characters from Mr Mercedes is going to make a comeback and I can’t wait to see how it will all end.
*Read in July-August 2015
*My rating: Mr Mercedes 4/5 stars Finders Keepers 3/5 stars
The Artificial Anatomy of Parks is the story of a family secret. Tallulah Park gets a phone call from the hospital. Her father has had a heart attack and is now unconscious. She decides to go and see him.
It is clear early on that Tallulah did not really get along with her father, and so the story begins, alternating between events from Tallulah’s childhood and the present, where she is working as a waitress, living in an old building and trying to avoid her relatives. Her father’s ill health is the reason she decides to once again come back and see her family, even though she’s been away from them for years. Why she’s stayed away for so long is explained in the end as is almost everything else.
This book was a mixed bag for me. I liked the skipping back and forth in time – the narrator, Tallulah, has an engaging voice and the breaks in her story come at the most interesting points, something I found equally intriguing and annoying. It’s like someone is about to tell you a secret but suddenly the phone rings and the moment is lost. There are plenty of moments like that throughout the story which only made me impatient to get to the end. There are family squabbles, a strained relationship between Tallulah’s mother and her father’s sisters, and then there’s Jack, her father’s brother, whose return after a long absence causes turmoil within the family and brings about a tragic incident.
Tallulah seems apathetic for most of the time, and I did not find her a particularly likeable character. After going away to live by herself she seems almost lifeless and I couldn’t help comparing her with her father, a seemingly cold and uninteresting man who seemed to do anything in his power to avoid spending time with his daughter. Later on in the story I felt pity for her, for the tragedies she had to go through, and a tiny bit of admiration for the way she had managed to survive, but overall I wished I liked her more. Uncle Jack was the real mystery of the book, and the part he had to play in Tallulah’s life. It seems that even if he tried to do good, all he was able to do was to bring about more heartache.
From dealing with abuse to anatomical references concerning the workings of the heart (my favorite part), this novel manages to be somehow heart-warming and almost indifferent at the same time, an odd combination which works startlingly well overall.
There is a mystery to be revealed at the end but the part that is finally revealed is easy to see coming because of all the events leading up to it. The other part, the most interesting part concerning a death, is left unanswered and I’m still thinking about it because I felt there was no closure. On one hand I agree that not everything needs to be resolved in a novel but on the other hand I really wish I had the answer to this one. But then, thinking back to the name of the novel, this seems like a fitting way to end the story.
I got this book from the publisher, Legend Press, in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: 3/5 stars
Read in June 2015
Nothing to Lose by Lee Child was one of the first books I reviewed on this blog back in 2011. It was a fun book to read, despite a few issues I had with the main character. Still the idea behind the story, this Wild West cowboy of modern days traveling all over America solving cases appealed to me, and that is why when author Scott Blade emailed me and asked if I would like to read his novel I was curious enough to say yes.
First of all, I must say I was relieved to see the story is about Jack Reacher’s son and not about Reacher himself. That was a bonus point. I’m not sure I would have liked to read about a known character from another author’s point of view.
Cameron Reacher is Jack Reacher’s son. His mother, a small town sheriff, dies when Cameron is eighteen, leaving clear instructions as to what path her son must follow. He, like an obedient son, does as he is told, leaving behind the town he grew up in, on a quest to find his father. Just like his father, he walks and occasionally hitchhikes until he reaches a small town where a man is desperately looking for his missing wife. The only problem is, nobody seems to remember her and someone in the town wants the husband gone or dead. Cameron decides to help and in the process he survives some pretty impressive life threatening situations. One in a jail cell involving a rope was my favorite because I did not see how he could get out of it which obviously he had to otherwise the book would just end with the main character dead. In fact, this is the appeal of this story, the ability to surprise. The writing is straightforward, and at times becomes technical, with a lot of information about guns that I wasn’t particularly interested in but other readers who know a lot more on the subject will probably appreciate. Detail is one thing this book abounds in. At times it felt like Cameron was a little too fixated on things – like how many minutes and even seconds it took him to do certain things, how he could tell the time without looking at a watch, and how he was always keeping his calm and never got beaten up by anybody. Sure, he was a massive guy, with long black hair and hands like a “human gorilla”, something Blade insisted on a little too much (I got the point early on) and everybody was afraid of him except the people who gave him a ride.
Also, I got a chuckle out of seeing that he named one of the characters Ann Gables.
Overall this was a good thriller with plenty of action and an interesting character. The author did a good job of creating a background that was believable, and in this way tying the story back to Jack Reacher. I’m curious to see if Cameron finds his father and what happens when he does. I just hope it won’t take ten novels to find out.
Many thanks to the author who provided me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: 3.5/5 stars
Read in June 2015
And the Mountains Echoed is Khaled Hosseini’s third and latest book. The first one was The Kite Runner, followed by A Thousand Splendid Suns. I have read all three of them and have to say there are plenty of echoes of The Kite Runner in Hosseini’s latest novel.
Once again, this is a story of Afghan people – a poor family, a father who makes a hard choice, children separated for decades, promises broken, memories cherished and finally, the sweet moment of reconnection. There is forbidden love and a terrible family secret. The action takes place over a period of more than fifty years, spanning countries – from Afghanistan to France and the U.S. The story weaves its way from one character to the next – from inseparable siblings Abdullah and Pari, to their uncle Nabi, to Nabi’s employer and his wife, to a Greek doctor, and then back to the beginning.
The theme of the immigrant, something Hosseini has explored in The Kite Runner, is also present here. In fact the books are quite similar – children protagonists, a terrible secret, decades spent in another country, letters, emotions, family connections. Maybe that is why I felt this third novel followed a familiar pattern. Unfortunately, the raw emotions that were so powerful in The Kite Runner felt a bit forced here, a little too polished and glossed to fit the expectations of a western audience. Except for a brief moment or two that were unexpected, this time the story did not feel new but more like something written for an audience who was already familiar with the author’s previous work and expected more of the same. Maybe this is why I do not feel like going into too much detail. It’s a good story told in simple words which create vividly colored scenes – walking through a bazaar, an interview with a poet, brief moments of beauty and lingering sadness, but its beauty would probably be appreciated more by those who are not familiar with the author’s previous books.
There is a scene however which I enjoyed very much. In it, a boy takes a picture of a girl at the beach using a homemade camera. The boy has to count to one hundred and twenty before he drops the shutter but at intervals the author fast-forwards through the years and tells us what happened to the boy who wanted to be a photographer. By the time he drops the shutter we find out he has made a life altering decision as an adult. Then the story resumes its rhythm. I thought that was a beautifully executed scene, the numbers going up to the final scene, a crescendo of events marked by the passing of time, condensed in the space it takes to take a photograph.
I also liked the explanation behind the name of the book. I’m not going to say any more on that except that I am again impressed by how poetry has inspired so many great novels; Stephen King’s Dark Tower books and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire are just two names that come to mind.
Overall, I enjoyed this book but not as much as the previous two novels, which are quite different from each other. There lies their beauty.
My rating: 3/5 stars
Read in May-June 2015
Every May, Neilson Hayes Library, the only English library in Bangkok that I know of has a book sale. Hundreds of books, most of them in good condition, some quite old and marked by the passage of time (and possibly some book-hungry bugs, judging by the intricate “designs” they left behind) await patiently on long tables under a big heat-trapping tent. Even at 11 in the morning it’s so hot that no matter what you’re wearing you’ll be sweating in no time. But that’s not a reason to stay away.
I had waited for this particular Saturday for weeks. And to make things even better, the same weekend, Dasa, my favorite second-hand book store, had a 20% off of all books. I guess it’s not hard to imagine what I did. First I braved the heat and bought five books from the library sale, then I went and spent some time browsing in the air-conditioned interior of the book store where I bought 5 more. The great thing about Dasa is that they have a list of the books available that you can download and browse through before going to the book store itself. I did that, and went there with a list and I’m happy to say I was able to come away with all the books I hoped to find. There were more I would have liked to buy but I decided to save both my money and my energy for a future visit. Buying 10 books sounds romantic until you actually have to carry them around.
I came away with a few westerns – I was able to finally find a good copy of Winnetou by Carl May, a book I read as a teenager and wanted to re-read again ever since. Also In the Desert by the same author sounded too good to pass by and so did One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus. I liked the historical fact One Thousand White Women was based on. From the Author’s Note:
“…the seed that grew into a novel was sown in the author’s imagination by an actual historical event: in 1854 at a peace conference at Fort Laramie, a prominent Northern Cheyenne chief requested of the U.S. Army authorities the gift of one thousand white women as brides for his young warriors. Because theirs is a matrilineal society in which all children born belong to their mother’s tribe, this seemed to the Cheyennes to be the perfect means of assimilation into the white man’s world – a terrifying new world that even as early as 1854, the Native Americans clearly recognized held no place for them. Needles to say, the Cheyennes’ request was not well received by the white authorities – the peace conference collapsed, the Cheyennes went home, and, of course, the white women did not come. In this novel they do.”
The Ruins by Scott Smith is a book I’ve been looking for since I heard it’s supposed to be a fine work of horror and now I can finally read it. And because I enjoyed Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian I decided to get The Swan Thieves as well. I’m very curious to see if it’s just as good or maybe even better.
I also bought two very old books, which I was told were donated to the library by the son of an Indian doctor after his father passed away. You can see the stamp with the name on the first one, Tolstoy’s Twenty-Three Tales. I’m not a great fan of Russian authors (ever since I had to drag myself through Ana Karenina) but this made me want to give Russian authors another chance. Hopefully this collection of short stories will be more enjoyable.
I bought The Deerslayer, by James Jenimore Cooper because I’ve wanted to read it ever since I read The Last Mohican, and because it has a very nice looking hardcover. Just looking at that intricate design on the red cover makes me sigh with happiness. I’m very fond of old books.
I loved Joyce Carol Oates collection of short stories in Give Me Your Heart so when I saw The Female of the Species – Tales of Mystery and Suspense, I knew I had to have it.
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier whispered of love and secrets and that sounds like a great combination (and, to be honest, I can’t remember if I read Rebecca so I thought this might be a good choice when I’m in the mood for a classic).
Hard Laughter by Anne Lamott, was a nice surprise. She’s an author Vishy told me about and I was curious to see if I would like her novel so I decided to take it home.
Have you read any of these books? Did you enjoy them?
For the last month or so, I’ve been caught between three books. I started Books v. Cigarettes by George Orwell, thinking I’d take a break from trilogies for a while, then joined DolceBellezza for a read-along of Little, Big, by John Crowley which I abandoned after reading about 10% of the story on my Kindle (I blame the Kindle, naturally) before deciding I really can’t wait to find out what happens to Fitz and so went back to the next trilogy that follows him on his adventures.
I strongly recommend you read my review of The Farseer Trilogy before continuing with this one. I have tried to stay away from major spoilers – you’ll find more by reading the blurbs on the back covers of the books themselves.
After the end of the Red Ship Wars, Fitz disappears. His role in aiding the Farseer line seems to have been completed – the Outislanders commanding the Red Ships have been defeated, and the people of the Six Duchies are slowly rebuilding their lives. A new heir is to be born to the ruling house of the Farseers, and although King-In-Waiting Verity is no more, the future seems to run on a promising course again.
For fifteen years, Fitz lives in seclusion together with his wolf Nighteyes and later on, Hap joins them. He’s an orphan boy Fitz adopts as his own. Then, his old mentor, Chade, comes for a visit and brings dark tidings. Once again, the Farseer throne is in jeopardy and Fitz is required for a mission. He has to find the missing prince, Dutiful, and restore him to Buckkeep Castle before a delegation from the Out Islands arrives with his betrothed, Narcheska Elliania. After being at war for years, the marriage between the prince and the Narcheska is the key to a long lasting peace.
Book One is about retrieving prince Dutiful from the hands of his captors. This will once again bring together Fitz and The Fool who together with Chade, must act to bring Dutiful back alive. It will also be a time of loss – Nighteyes is dead. By the start of Book Two, Fitz is mourning the loss of his wolf companion but he doesn’t have time to do so for long as a new challenge presents itself – he must accompany the prince and the Narcheska to the cold icy island of Aslevjal, where Dutiful has to cut off the head of the dragon Icefyre and bring it to Elliania’s family if he is to win her hand in marriage.
In Book Three, a small group of people make it to Aslevjal. It’s a cold and dismal place, and finding Icefyre is no easy feat. They encounter an enemy and an unexpected friend, and when they finally complete their task, it’s not exactly as they planned. All I can say without giving away spoilers is that at the end everybody comes out with what they wanted.
The Fool has a much more active role in this trilogy. Although he remains a mystery, some details about his past emerge, enough to fit the puzzles of the story together but not all of them. His many faceted personality and ability to transform himself serves him well, as he has made a transition from King Shred’s Fool to rich Lord Golden, an exotic man with a penchant for flashy clothes and witty conversation. His friendship with Fitz will suffer, but like a wound, it bleeds and then closes, leaving them both with a new outlook on their relationship and bringing them even closer. As it was stated in The Farseer Trilogy, The White Prophet (The Fool) and his Catalyst (Fitz) can change the world and this they do, setting it on a new course.
I liked Book Three the best. The revelations, the decisions, the harsh conditions and challenges that Fitz and The Fool have to face made me read most of it during last weekend. Although I’ve enjoyed The Farseer Trilogy more, that could also be because it was a new story. Now, I feel like I already know the characters to some extent which made it possible to see ahead in the story, but I guess that is to be expected. There were enough turns and twists in the last book to satisfy the pickiest reader, even one with an appetite for drama like myself. I was happy for Fitz because in the end he got what he desired most even if it had to come with the price of one good friend and a lot of heartache. A little too convenient but it fit the story nevertheless.
If in The Farseer Trilogy I liked The Mountain Kingdom, this time I was intrigued by the customs of the Outislanders. Their world could not have been more different than that of the Six Duchies. According to their customs, men were raiders, going out to the sea to plunder other lands, while women owned the land passed on through maternal line. Women had the power to make the important decisions, and they were organized into “mothershouses”, each belonging to a clan, living in tight-knitted communities. Paternity was not an issue as children were seen as belonging to a house rather than to a man, and the women were the ones who choose their partner and how long they lived together.
As usual, magic was represented by The Wit and The Skill, two very special abilities that could allow people who possess them to bond with an animal (those people are called “Witted”) and to communicate and even influence and heal others or travel through special pillars to distant places for those who possess the gift of “skilling”. There are those who have either one or the other and those who have both. Thick, Chade’s aide, a “half-wit”, has strong skilling powers, and while he can be difficult at times, he can also be funny.
Another interesting aspect of the story is the presence of dragons. The Fool sees them as the only animal more powerful than man and he’s determined to do anything in his power to see them restored to earth. Without them, he thinks there is no balance and man becomes the most powerful creature, something he wants to prevent at all costs. I found the idea intriguing and I’m curious to see what will happen to the dragons in the next three books.
Now I’ll have to wait patiently for the next trilogy to be completed – “The Fitz and The Fool” is still a work in progress but I was very excited to find out from Goodreads that the second book in the trilogy is coming out this year and the last one in 2016. I’m really looking forward to reading them.
I’ve read this for the Once Upon a Time event hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings.
Read in: April-May 2015
My rating: 4.5 stars