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?
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