3 in 1.
I haven’t really had time to make a separate post for all these – so here’s what I’ve been reading lately. Oh, and tonight’s the Emmys, so I’m looking forward to seeing if any of my favorites won.😀
A very typical Paul Auster novel: quirky personal histories, odd coincidences and chance encounters. Two men dealing with growing without a father – and two fathers struggling with the idea that their sons have grown without them end up more closely connected than they would ever have imagined. Marco Stanley (MS) Fogg goes from squandering his inheritance (after his uncle’s death leaves him saddened and drained), looking on as his bank account gradually diminishes to living in Central Park. Saved by the kindness of strangers, and with the help of his last remaining friend Zimmer (ironically enough, Zimmer did provide him with a place to stay) he gets back up on his feet and starts working as a personal secretary (sort of) for Thomas Effing. This is where we enter the second part of the novel, centered on Effing and on MS’s relationship with him. Effing is the typical cranky, grouchy old man with a significant and secret past, who will eventually open up and get close to MS. After his death, MS will fulfill his last wish and send his autobiography to the son who had never known him: Solomon Barber. Of course, this provides the final connection between the 3 men, as Barber turns out to be Fogg’s long lost father (Confused enough? This last twist was a bit too much for me – at least). After going back to the desert where it all started, Fogg is the only one who can continue his life settled – Effing had traveled & lived in France for a very long time, Barber was a university professor who kept changing schools – all this probably symbolizing the internal turmoil and search for their roots – or their future. It takes 3 generations to complete this search and, while it’s a compelling narrative, their motives (especially Fogg’s and Effing’s) and life decisions don’t really add up to something whole and coherent. (Speaking of coherence, you should check out Alin’s review if you want to get a better idea of what the book is like).
A thousand splendid suns
I usually don’t pick books labeled as best sellers, but this I found at Oxfam and though it couldn’t hurt to try. Now I have no doubt as to why it’s a best seller: drama, death, love lost and found, heroic acts, plot twists, local (and exotic – as exotic as Afghanistan can be) culture and politics – all generously sprinkled with schmaltz. Plus, it is pretty well written. Everything that happens to Mariam is appalling: her life seems nothing but a long series of injustices, which inevitably end with her death – and if the year wasn’t mentioned every once in a while (or events such as the Russian invasion or Titanic fever – here are a few especially good fragments), I could just as easily have pictured it all happening in the 1800s (well, maybe not as far back, but certainly not the 2000s). The sadder thing is that the women’s daily toils depicted in the book are not figments of Hosseini’s imagination – but based on facts. It puts a pretty harsh perspective in front of you and makes any complaint you might have look petty and small. Of course, there are plenty of over-the-top or downright soap opera-ish moments (like Tariq’s return) but other are real and heart wrenching and stay with you (like the image of the torso falling near Laila after her house is bombed – the torso that had belonged to her father). In the end, when all was said and done and the reasonably happy & uplifting ending had taken place, I felt slightly manipulated into feeling bad for the characters – like I never really had a chance to make up my own mind. Rasheed (Laila & Mariam’s husband) is evil, the women are good and only the changing political regimes are a more reliable grey.
The movie version (which will, obviously, come out soon) is apparently being penned by Steve Zaillian. Looking through his filmography, I can’t really decide if that’s a good thing – I can only hope he’ll get rid of the extra sugar.
Faust Eric is good old Terry Pratchett – reliably enjoyable and funny. And since Death & Rincewind are some of my favorite Discworld characters, a book which combines them (though they don’t interact) can only be hilarious. Bonus points for hell is other people the bureaucratic demon and Quetzovercoatl.