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Review Date: 2/3/2011
I've never read anything like The God of Small Things before. The words, the phrases, the structure - all fresh and alive. After reading such magnificent prose, I feel like my writing has changed. I feel like I'm no longer bound by the usual, common sense rules of writing. In this, Arundhati Roy is a genius.
Paragraph by paragraph, the story is stunning and beautiful. I felt transformed into a child again, where words run together and ordinary things have extraordinary meanings. The composition of the novel was unlike anything I've encountered, or even imagined was possible.
It's as if Arundhati Roy wrote the story chronologically on a deck of playing cards, then threw them in the air and constructed the book as she gethered the cards in her hands. The tale is out-of-order, and not in the usual way. While reading, I remained in awe of this new kind of storytelling. At the same time, though, I often managed to get lost and had to turn back a few pages to find my way again. What makes this story brilliant also makes it difficult and sometimes exhausting.
Another interesting aspect of the writing is that you know the outline within the first chapter. There is no suspense for what is coming, but rather how it comes. The reader is taken back and back again to the same events, but is given more knowledge and detail with each revisit. I would almost say that this is a novel best read a second time.
Rating this book is difficult. I feel like it should be read for the extraordinary language and unique construction rather than for pure leisure. It is a must-read if you're a writer or aspiring writer, but probably okay to skip if you aren't
Review Date: 2/13/2011
This is a wonderful book for those who enjoy humor. It just wasn't my kind of thing, though.
Review Date: 1/15/2011
Helpful Score: 2
Dai Sijie's style is unmatched. His writing is quirky, descriptive and funny. He possesses the gift of painting a picture with his words without ever being heavy-handed. I discovered his marvelous writing with Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, and I've re-discovered it with Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch.
Mr. Muo is an interesting character. I've never come across a character quite like him, and I don't think I ever will again. He is the perfect blend of East and West, and he knows it. Muo is perfectly imperfect, likable while still managing to be revolting and disconcerting at times.
With every chapter, the story took a new turn. This book contained so many surprises and unexpected events that I could never predict what was going to happen next. Despite the multiple plot twists, this is not a thriller or mystery novel, but rather a sequence of peculiar happenings in the life of a peculiar man. The narrative moves along quickly and will easily pull you in.
The basis of the novel is that Muo, China's first psychoanalyst, is trying to free the woman he loves from prison. The story is so much more, though. Muo is a student of Freud, and it's apparent in his view of the world and the chronicle of his life. I would consider this to be quite the Freudian tale!
My rating of this book is a 3-3.5/5. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but it's a little light for my tastes. This may have been a better book to read in the summer or between more serious, thought-provoking works. Still, I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a light, humorous and odd little tale.
Review Date: 2/24/2011
Helpful Score: 2
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid is an incredible, mind altering story filled with ominous suspense, and an attentive outside view of America.
The story is told in an interesting way, narrated by Changez to an American acquaintance while sitting at a café in Lahore. I both liked and disliked this style of storytelling. In the beginning I had a difficult time connecting with the characters, but that changed as I came to the middle and end of the story. The conversational tone made the book quick and easy to read.
Changez tells his story of attending college in America and excelling in the corporate world. After 9/11, though, his life in the US begins to unravel as he feels torn between his roots in Pakistan and his new life in America. All the while, Changez engages in a doomed love affair with Erica, this golden girl drowning in her love for her dead boyfriend.
I feel as though the relationship Changez had with Erica was a metaphor for his relationship with America and being American. He fell fast and hard, quickly becoming a part of her world. He accompanied her to many events and parties and was accepted easily, but still felt like an outsider on some level. After 9/11 she withdrew from him, making him less a part of her world and then shutting him out altogether. She longed for something that was no longer attainable; Changez longed to feel a part of her world again, even if that meant pretending to be someone he wasnt.
I loved seeing America through Changezs eyes. I thought that reading this book wouldnt alter my perspective too much because Im a fan of novels set in the Middle East. I thought my perspectives had been changed a long while ago. In the story, Changez talks about how little America experiences the effects of war at home. War isnt fought on our soil. We dont fear for our lives and our safety everyday like so many other people around the world. Changezs home country of Pakistan was NOT at war with America or Afghanistan, yet they felt the impact much more deeply than we did as Americans. In this way, my view of the world has been profoundly altered. I would recommend this book if only just for the new outlook.
Review Date: 12/30/2010
Helpful Score: 2
The Swallows of Kabul is a story illustrating Afghan life in Kabul under the Taliban. Following two couples, we are led through the streets of Kabul to witness poverty, overpopulation and the horrors of everyday life. Yet, amid all the hopelessness, Yasmina Khadra is able to tell the story of these people so beautifully and with gorgeous, poetic prose.
At its essence, this is a story about love and the strength of women. Love is a thing that is universal, yet incredibly varied. These husbands and wives love each other in an entirely different way than American couples love each other. I believe this story shows the validity in this alternate kind of love that is so foreign to Americans.
The women are clearly the group who suffers the most injustice under the Taliban in Kabul, but it was the men in this story who were falling apart. Despite their misfortunes, the women showed incredible strength, both in different ways. I found this to be empowering and it gave me hope that all spirits in Afghanistan are not and will not be broken. Strength and bravery are important characteristics for the future of Afghanistan.
Overall, I would rate this book a 4/5 and I highly recommended it to anyone looking for a fast, beautiful and thought-provoking read.
Review Date: 1/23/2011
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen tells the story of Jacob Jankowski, and almost-veterinarian whose life has just fallen apart. As he comes to this realization, Jacob stumbles upon the Benzini Brother's Most Spectacular Show on Earth circus train and hops aboard. He quickly secures his place on the show as the menagerie vet, a position that will change his life forever.
Sara Gruen weaves an incredibly realistic tale that allows the reader a rare glimpse into the prohibition era circus lifestyle. The amount of tension throughout the book is always palatable. I often found myself clenching my jaw and holding my breath by the end of a chapter. August is a particularly well-developed character, frightening in the most realistic and entirely plausible way. There is a sense of impending destruction and collapse that builds with each paragraph.
This tension is gracefully relieved every few chapters by visiting Jacob, age ninety (or ninety-three), in his current state as a resident at an assisted living facility. Through the telling of Jacob's present story, the reader reaches another level of understanding and can comprehend the meaning of Jacob's earlier experiences in entirely new ways. The tale would be much less satisfying without this continuation of the story, however small it may seem.
An issue that must be addressed when talking about Water for Elephants is the treatment of animals. Some scenes in the book are very difficult to read, but it's worth reading through. You will fall in love with so many of the animals as though they're human, and you will be satisfied with their redemption.
For me, Water for Elephants receives 5/5 stars. I consider it a "must read" that will forever change the way you think. It's the type of story that won't soon leave your mind.
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