Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) by Khaled Hosseini is a novel set in modern day Afghanistan which by definition means it will be tragic.  It tells the story of two women against the backdrop of war with the Soviet Union, the mujahideen, the rise and fall of the Taliban, and the American invasion of 2001. Part I tells the story of Mariam who is born out-of-wedlock to a wealthy businessman and his maid and grows up on the outskirts of a provincial town.  Weekly visits from her father are a joy in Mariam’s lonely life but as a teenager incidents portrayed in the book lead Mariam to become disillusioned with her father and lose her mother to suicide.  Part II tells the story of Laila, raised in Kabul and encouraged to get an education by her progressive father.  As civil war begins to tear Afghanistan apart, Laila falls in love with her childhood friend Tariq. Unfortunately, Laila’s mother’s misguided devotion to the mujahideen means that Laila’s family are unable to flee until it’s too late.

As a result of the tragic events in their lives, both Mariam and Laila find themselves forced to marry Rasheed, an older man and shoemaker with traditionalist expectations of his wives.  Things are tense between the two women at first, but their shared suffering at the hands of Rasheed bring them together in friendship, and soon in love.  Soon Mariam, Laila, and Laila’s two children are a family under the repressive Taliban regime.  At the end of Part III, Mariam makes the ultimate sacrifice to enable a happier future for Laila and the children.  Unfortunately, Part IV tries to make too tidy of an ending to this story.  I mean we want good things to happen to these characters but at the same time the all-too-perfect resolution is at odds with the gritty realism of the rest of the narrative.

Author Hosseini, Khaled.
Title A thousand splendid suns [sound recording] / Khaled Hosseini.
Publication Info. New York : Simon & Schuster Audio, p2007.
Edition Unabridged.
Description 11 sound discs (12 hr.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.

Book Review: Brisingr by Christopher Paolini

Brisingr (2008) is the third volume in Christopher Paolini‘s Inheritance Cycle following up on Eragon and Eldest.  Since I’m not a regular reader of fantasy novels, I was a bit disappointed that Paolini decided to extend this series from three to four books, meaning I will be compelled to read yet another fantasy novel in the future.  This volume particularly is not a stand alone book and really is a series of episodes connecting together books 2 & 4.  I get the sense that if Paolini could go back to the begining and write the whole thing all over again that he would be able to get some of this detail in earlier and tighten up the cycle a bit.  That said I think this book was necessary as it really develops the characters with satisfying detail.  If Brisingr lacks a bit in the action department (or at least one coherent action narrative), I expect it will be rewarding in how it sets up the (hopefully) final volume.

Author Paolini, Christopher.
Title Brisingr, or, The seven promises of Eragon Shadeslayer and Saphira Bjartskular / Christopher Paolini.
Publication Info. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, c2008.
Edition 1st ed.
Description xix, 763 p. : map ; 24 cm.

Book Review: Freeman Walker by David Allan Cates

I read Freeman Walker (2008) by David Allan Cates on the tails of completing The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, both of which feature young men in slavery in extraordinary situations, but their tales diverge rapidly from that similarity.  The life story narrated by Jimmy Gates, later to rename himself Freeman Walker, tells of a boy born to a slave mother and her master.  At 7, Jimmy is freed and sent to school in England.  When his father dies, Jimmy finds himself in a workhouse in London.  Returning to America in the midst of the Civil War, our protagonist joins a Union brigade, is captured and returned to slavery and is only able to regain freedom by participating in an atrocity.

The rest of the novel is something of a meditation on this sullied freedom as Freeman Walker heads west to the lawless gold rush country.  There he finds himself increasingly bizarre situations supporting Irish revolutionary come Civil War colonel come Territorial Governor Cornelius O’Keefe in his efforts to bring civilization and justice to the west.  Late in the book, a certain element of magical realism descends upon the book with Walker himself deciding he’s a faerie.

It’s a compelling, but odd book, which kind of misses the mark for me. It just seems like it should be better than it is.

Freeman Walker by David Allan Cates. Unbridled Books (2008), Hardcover, 304 pages