Sunday, March 2, 2014

Can you hear the echo?

Khaled Hosseini's storytelling is simply amazing. Ever since Kite Runner I have loved his writing. It touches you deep inside your heart and draws out such emotions that you can barely follow. I didn't think he could outdo himself with his next book but along came A Thousand Splendid Suns which is still one of my favorite books of all times seven years after its initial publication.
Needless to say And the Mountains Echoed was so eagerly awaited that I was nervous about reading it in the first place. What if it isn't as good? What if it's not good at all? And if it is that good, after it's over, I'll have to wait for the next one forever again so... Either way I was screwed. Yes, I know. White world problem, right?

"I suspect the truth is that we are waiting, all of us, against insurmountable
odds, for something extraordinary to happen to us."

The key code of this book is - love. This time it's not just a tale of parents and children or two star crossed lovers or friends. This time it encompasses parents, children, brothers, sisters, cousins, caretakers, strangers and friends. This time Hosseini is discovering family dynamics, how they love, honor, protect, wound, betray and disrespect. The central story follows a brother and a sister who try to find each other across all the mountains of this world. It's packed with emotions, details and characters that come alive the very moment you read their story. With every word you read, they become more real.

There is no denying that Khaled Hosseini is one of the most powerful storytellers of the current time. And there is no doubt I will be eagerly awaiting his next book, whenever it may come. But this is the weakest novel of the three.
I think he had too many stories in his mind that he wanted to convey. He couldn't manage to contain them all and perhaps save them and give them their own book. Among those that added nothing to the story, despite them being wonderful and outstanding, was the Greek story, for example. All in all there were too many points of view and too many storytellers and characters. I got lost in the number of them and missed the gist of the brother and sister. How that main, core story developed and resolved itself was amazing, I could not have anticipated anything better or more unbelievably wrenching at the same time. And yet I felt he needed a stricter editor who would tell him he went a step or three too far and needs to return. But then again, that's just me.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A slave's tale

"I don't want to survive. I want to live."
12 years a slave is a strong contender for this year's sweep at the Academy awards. As someone who struggled (and I mean struggled and stalled and forced oneself) through the book, despite its notoriety as one of the most important slave tales, I am probably not the target audience for it.
Let me first state that slavery, which is a huge problem even today all around the world, is one of the most horrible atrocities that humanity has come up with. There is no excuse for it and there is no explanation for it, it is pure evil. Nothing will ever make it okay, nothing will sufficiently apologize for it and it is not understandable under any circumstances.
Slavery tales are always heartbreaking. Seeing (or reading) how some people were treated like objects and property solely for the color of their skin, their religion, their ancestry or pure misfortune is horrifying. It could happen to any one of us. We are all different and we could all be victims of being discriminated to the worst degree.
So this review is not a review about the terrible ordeal that slaves had to endure at the hands of their "masters". It is purely about how the story was told. And that is dreadful. Getting through a 300 page book is not a difficult thing. But the writing is dry because of course Solomon Northup did not have a ghost writer (which could make for a better told story) but did have a writing assistant (who was white!). I am not downplaying the horrible ordeal he went through but there are many even more horrible stories like that, written in a much better fashion. His narrative was dry and bordering on boring which was an insult to the horrors, in my opinion.

"If you want to survive, do and say as little as possible. Tell no one who you really are and tell no one that you can read and write. Unless you want to be a dead nigger."

This is a case of where it's better to watch the movie than suffer through the book. It's over faster and you learn the same amount of information. There are not many underlining nuances. The movie is shocking because of its story, because of its horrors and because of evil characters that are there by the dozen. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a wonderful actor who will most likely win an oscar for his portrayal of Solomon Northup. I don't think his portrayal was that outstanding. Neither did I find Lupita Nyong'o's performance that moving. And it is quite possible she too will win an oscar. Her character was very sympathetic and was suffering much more and much longer than Solomon. 
Brad Pitt's production Plan B Entertainment is behind this movie, directed by Steve McQueen and unsurprisingly, he portrays the only truly and through and through kind person in the story. I am still waiting for Brad to take on a role of a thoroughly bad man who is in no way sympathetic to the audience. Then maybe he'll even get his oscar. Benedict Cumberbatch is going places and taking on the world and so is Michael Fassbender whose oscar nomination is very well deserved. But that is all.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

How far would you go to protect your children?

"Pray for the best, but prepare for the worst."

The love which we get from our parents is the first that we ever experience. It's pure and unconditional, with some saying that they can do anything for their children. But what does that anything cover? How far would one go to protect his/her children? The wonderful director Denis Villeneuve takes on this topic.

"I am not going to have Christmas without my daughter."
Prisoners talks about Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), an independent contractor, who lives in a quiet part of Pennsylvania with his wife Grace (Maria Bello) and two children. Jackman is shown as a god fearing man who loves his family. His life turns into every parent's nightmare after his six year old daughter Anna gets kidnapped while they were celebrating Thanksgiving with their neighbors, Franklin (Terrence Howard) and Nancy Birch (Viola Davis). The Birch family are not spared of this nightmare as their daughter Zoe gets kidnapped too and thus begins the tale of sadness and desperation of parents who have no clue where their daughters have disappeared. The agony and the helplessness of a father whose daughter is kidnapped is portrayed brilliantly by the intense Jackman. When a top detective by the name of Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) takes this case in his hands he is unable to provide Dover with any positive developments. There is a suspect who was found lurking around in his van at the possible kidnap scene but there isn't enough proof to make him confess. The fact that this suspect, Alex Jones (Paul Dano) possesses an IQ of a ten year old doesn't help Loki nail him and get information about the girls' whereabouts. Dover, a father who is emotional and powerless as the police struggle to find his daughter, decides to take matters into his own hands. Along with a reluctant Franklin, he makes it his sole intention to make Dano talk, one way or the other.

"And every day, she's wondering why I'm not there to f **king rescue her!
Do you understand that? Me, not you! Not you! But me! EVERY DAY!"
The movie shows the extent to which grief can lead a parent to bring back a child. There are moments when I was stuck between supporting Dover and his actions to find his missing daughter and hoping that he stops what he is doing to achieve just that. Jackman has proved his mettle as a gifted actor and his role here certainly adds to his credentials. A warm and loving family man turns into a helpless but enraged father, going through the most horrible ordeal one can imagine and then is forced into the role a ruthless maniac who is willing to cross all limits in order to find his child. He is well supported by Gyllenhaal, who exhibits similar intensity and at the same time manages to come across as slightly loosened. The drama is fittingly crafted for an unexpected twist in the end. There are a couple of loopholes along the way but if I were to question each one of them and add my two cents of logic to it then I might as well erase all the good things that I have written about this movie. I looked at it as a struggle which a family has to go through during a difficult situation and it showed me how exactly that struggle could change the lives of the people affected.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What is too sharp, anyway?

Gillian Flynn is a gem. That's why (given that she has so far only published three novels and is busy adapting them into movies) I have decided to savor her books and not devour them all at once. It takes a lot of self control but knowing it's going to be special, is totally worth it. Because there is no doubt in my mind anymore that this lady will produce lots and lots of great terror.
Some dare to put her in the same basket with Harlan Coben, who is a great author and knows how to write but honestly, I can read seven of his books and not know what happened in any of them in the week after I'm done with them. They are thrilling, they pull you in, they are criminally well researched, everything holds, there is nothing wrong with them. They are just not too memorable.

"Sometimes if you let people do things to you, you're really doing it to them."

But Ms. Flynn coaxes you into her world bit by bit, like a mean granny living across the street, who invites you in for some cookies with a smile and a big cup of hot tea and while you're nibbling on them, you realize that the stench you can smell all the while her knitting needles are clicking away, is coming from dead cats that she shoved under the couch you're sitting on. Get the picture? Gillian Flynn will give you an ever present sense of dread that makes you afraid of reading on because you know something really bad is just around the corner but you just simply have to know.

"Sometimes I think illness sits inside every woman, waiting for the right moment to bloom."

The same thing happens with Sharp Objects, which is her debut novel. That is obvious if you're comparing the story-weaving to Gone Girl but nonetheless quite brilliant. It is much, much darker than Gone Girl. I am not sure how they'd make this one into a movie but I am intrigued because I feel it is bound to happen. It tells the story of a deeply disturbed young girl, who carries secrets no one really knows but many suspect. Camille Preaker is a cutter. But not like a teenage girl's cry for help kind of cutter. No. She went all the way and made her body into art. She (still) cuts words into her skin and there is barely any room left. She is condemned to long sleeves and pants and hiding her wrists from strangers and covering her shoulders and back to not let people know she seeks relief through basically bleeding herself. She works as a reporter, is practically estranged from her family and just back from a short stay at a psychiatric hospital, quickly burdened by a new assignment. Her hometown has suffered the murders of two preteen girls. Because she knows the surroundings, she is sent back and is therefore forced to face her neurotic mother and a strange half-sister that she barely knows. She is also forced to face the ghosts of her past, roaming the mansion of her family and pushed to come to terms with what happened all those many years ago or this will be a homecoming she will not survive.

Everything in this book serves the purpose of release. Or relief. Perhaps catharsis. Conversations, looks, cuts, sex, food. Nothing has any other meaning. The only thing that keeps me from giving this book five stars is a slightly predictable ending which will still, however, leave you feeling chilled to the bone. Poor Camille, so fucked up, she never even really had a chance, did she? But then again, do Gillian's characters ever stand a chance?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Trials of Kingsbridge

artwork from the 1999 edition of Pillars of The Earth, by Petra Rohr-Rouendaal
Years before I had the opportunity to read Pillars of the Earth, I had read one of Ken Follett's other novels. One of the spy ones. I wasn't very impressed, to be very honest and was therefore not very inclined to try any of his other, supposedly better ones. The 1000 paged Pillars were facing a grim life on my bookshelf because - let's face it - if a poor 300 paged book gave me such a snooze, what is bound to happen with this one? I turn into Sleeping Beauty?
Luckily a time came in my life when Middle Ages took center stage of interest and I decided to give this book a go. And boy was I surprised. 
It is my firm belief that Ken Follett has found his true calling in historical novels. Honestly. Because no matter how he weaved the other books, I am willing to bet m favorite pair of shoes that they can't hold a candle to these. Both Pillars of the Earth and World Without End (now bound into Pillars of the Earth "collection" which I rather call Kingsbridge collection) tell the trials and tribulations of the fictional English town called Kingsbridge. The books are not intertwined nor do you really need to read the first before you read the last and quite honestly, you don't actually need to read both of them. Just read one. I cannot exactly tell you which I'd pick if I had to choose but I liked them both very, very much.

"The duck swallows the worm,
the fox kills the duck,
the men shoot the fox,
and the devil hunts the men."
Pillars of the Earth talks about the time between 1123-1174 and revolves around the building of a cathedral. That was my favorite part. The carefully researched building of magnificent buildings that are no longer being built today when we have so many more means and machines to help us do so. It tells the story of many wonderful characters who try to survive poverty, invasion, wars, and burning at the stake. The characters face troubles that we now face every day, except that their surroundings are a bit different. They fall in love, they mourn their loved ones, they run from conflict or seek revenge. The poor remain poor, the rich fall, the mean kept avoiding their punishment and the destiny surprises everyone. I cannot even tell you one little instance from the book and avoid saying too much at the same time. I loved these characters so much, I carried the book everywhere with me a month after I had finished it.

"When you've lost everything,
you've got nothing to lose."
World Without End tells the tale of the same town, only 157 years later. It focuses on the hundred year war, on the grip of royals on the farmers and peasants, on the greed of both, on secrets that will be uncovered and on (again) a love story. In Pillars you have to love the main protagonists, here I had a difficulty liking the female protagonists because she seemed a bit ... well, too annoying and a bit inconsistent within what was presented (this might be a spoiler but I had trouble accepting she would ever truly believe the reasons she named for not marrying her sweetheart). Other than that the characters are consistent, including her and the story is full of little tidbits of their lives and how things were handled on a daily basis. It also covers the time of Black Death and shows the narrow-mindedness of the only true physicians. Yes, the clergy. (eyeroll)

"Proportion is the heart of beauty."

Why is it not necessary to read both the books? Because they have similarities, mainly in characters. A good brother, a bad brother, the meanest kid in town (making it big) that you hate but just won't die, a scheming mother, a greedy and evil man of god, a disaster or three, a fearless female, a clumsy boy, etc. But you learn a lot about the history and you gain amazing stories and wonderful language. And for the love of GOD, do not watch the tv series World Without End. While Pillars is still nicely done, Ken Follett instantly signed a deal for the same producers to make the second installment too. World Without End (tv series) is a disgrace to the book. It mainly just has the characters with the same names and a few similar things happening to them. I was enraged and disappointed. So save yourself the many hours of watching, spend them reading instead.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Interview with Corban Addison

Corban Addison
After reading his stunning debut novel a few months ago, we contacted Corban Addison, the author of A Walk Across the Sun, to tell him just how much his debut novel has touched us all. We were surprised by his response and willingness to answer some of our questions. Some of you have submitted questions and they were all very good but unfortunately since Mr. Addison is in the midst of promoting his new book, The Garden of Burning Sand, we had to reduce the number of questions. The following four questions were chosen with great consideration and immense appreciation for the time the author took to shed some light on the matters that have drawn most of readers' attention.

AoS: First of all, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to answer a few of our questions. We've all read how your wife actually inspired you to write a novel about human trafficking after watching a movie on the subject over four years ago. You've also mentioned that through fiction some issues and causes can touch people who would not have known about them otherwise. Why start in India and why tsunami; was there any response or outrage from the Indian community? At the end of the day, kidnappings like that happen even in the most mundane circumstances.
CA: I started the book with the tsunami for a couple of reasons. First, I had already decided to set a large part of the book in India, both because it’s an interesting place and because human trafficking is a major problem there (worse, by sheer numbers, than anywhere else in the world). Second, I remembered hearing stories after the tsunami happened about orphaned children who were trafficked into the sex trade. From a story-building standpoint, I thought the tsunami would make a powerful opening scene, and I’ve heard from readers that it did. As for the responses of Indians, I’ve been pleased to receive very positive feedback from the Indian community, both in the subcontinent and in the diaspora. By and large, Indians have loved the story and found it culturally authentic.

AoS: I was quite taken aback when Elsie, the runaway from Pittsburgh said that America is the best country on earth. She is in a van, being taken someplace to be sold for sex again and still she holds on to that belief. What were you hoping to achieve with that?
CA: I intended her statement ironically, not literally. Many Americans believe that human trafficking happens somewhere out there, in back alleys in the developing world, but that it doesn’t happen here. I wrote my story, in part, to confront people with the truth that trafficking happens in this country, too, in our own cities and neighborhoods, and that it is often hidden in plain sight. I was hoping that Elsie’s ironic sense of American exceptionalism would reveal the fundamental flaw in the exceptionalist mindset. Human trafficking isn’t a developing world problem, it’s a human problem. And America is far from immune.

AoS: Your new novel came out in September, you have again immersed into research for it, this time violence against women and the location is Africa. Can we expect light being shed on this issue that is again global and not just of the third world and is the same to be expected from your next novel?
CA: Every story I write about human rights issues will be firmly situated in two worlds—the developing world and the West. I am a firm believer that human rights abuses are not culturally contained but are instead human problems universal in their scope. They may take different forms in different cultures (some of those forms obvious and others hidden), but their root is the same—the depravity and venality of human beings. The Garden of Burning Sand is situated largely in Southern Africa and deals with issues of gender-based violence endemic in that part of the world, but the story resolves in the United States and the message in the book is a human message, applicable across the world.

AoS: Do you ever wonder where Ahalya and Sita are now and how they are? Would they be able to trust a man again?
CA: A few readers have suggested I write a sequel to A Walk Across the Sun. At this point, I don’t intend to do that. I believe the story is self-contained and the resolutions as complete as they needed to be. I leave it to you, the reader, to fill in the blanks and speculate about how Ahalya and Sita are faring.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why So Serious?!

A simple sentence delivered by an extraordinary actor who played an immensely intense character named The Joker. Heath Ledger presented us with the best performance of his career as he took over the role of a psychotic villain in the most enthralling fashion ever. There is no doubt in my mind that such a fascinating act will never be replicated, at least when it comes to the role of The Joker.

The legendary Jack Nicholson had played the Joker in an earlier Batman movie and reports had suggested that he was furious over not being approached for the role again. With due respect to his talent, I'm sure that he ended up admiring Ledger's execution of the twisted maniac. Nicholson was not the only one furious as the general public also showed their disagreement over Ledger being chosen to play the part. Little did they know that they were about to witness a mind blowing performance of pure evil. It's not easy to play a complex character and it's definitely not easy to play someone as crazy and dark as the Joker. Ledger nailed it when it comes to the different sides of the Joker's personality, right from his terrifying seriousness to smart and well-timed humor. According to him, the Joker is the most fun he had with any character and it exceeded any expectations that he had. One wouldn't beg to differ after watching his brilliant performance as it exceeded the expectations of many for sure. He managed to bring out the most evil, unpredictable and deranged villain in the history of cinema. Director Christopher Nolan was bold enough to give the Joker more space than the actual hero Batman and it certainly paid off. For a change a villain overshadowed the hero and it's just because of Ledger's immaculate acting and much credit should be given to the way he reinvented the Joker. Of course, he is funny but at the same time he is a sadist and a schemer who has no selfish motive behind the mayhem he creates except mayhem itself. He is genuinely disturbing and there is not one peaceful moment while he is in the picture. Ledger's portrayal of this psychopath is unsettling as he flawlessly delivers.
For me, The Dark Knight is not about Batman, a hero who is loved and adored by Gotham City. For me The Dark Knight is plain admiration of the genius of Heath Ledger, in many ways a love for the evil that he has played, the evil which will be very difficult to forget.
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