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.
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