“The Kite Runner”, by Khaled Hosseini

Book Reviews

‘The Kite Runner’ is most definitely the most powerful and profound novel I have ever come across, and that’s saying something as a literature graduate! I cried and cried and cried when I finished the book, much to my mother’s bemusement (so much so that she inevitably felt compelled to read the book herself.) This post will detail a lot of spoilers so please do not read ahead until you’ve finished the novel.

The character of Hassan is incredibly moving and my favourite element of the book – every essence of his being touches you. From the beauty of his innocence until the ill-fated event with Assef, to his unwavering loyalty towards Amir right through to the bitter end, the reader is inexplicably drawn to Hassan’s nature as a friend and as a boy. His character encompasses every trait we wish to possess as humans, and the tragedy of his demise is something which haunts me even after finishing the novel. We mourn not only the loss of his bright personality after victimisation by Assef, but the loss of a friendship, a brotherhood between Amir and Hassan as Amir realises he cannot live with the guilt of what he condemned his beloved childhood friend to. The beauty of it is captivating – Hassan continued to protect Amir as a brother and a friend until the end. We, as the reader, grow irrationally angry with Amir for betraying Hassan and Ali as they are inevitably forced by pride to leave Baba’s household. We shed tears as we learn of Hassan’s life and what it came to when Amir returns to Kabul. But most powerfully, we as the reader just as Amir, see the shadow of Hassan living within his son, Sohrab and that gives both us, and Amir, a shred of comfort during this journey.

After I finished the novel, I found myself analysing the incredibly clever and moving elements of the novel that make it a bestseller. As a reader, I naively accepted the friendship between Hassan and Amir to be that of beloved childhood friends, despite them sharing a brotherly love for one another. The affection Baba showed Hassan was something I mistook as a loving respect because of the relationship he had with Ali. How Hassan protected Amir and refused to blame him even after he was attacked by Assef. I marvelled at the implicit nod towards Hassan’s cleft lip scar as Amir is beaten by Amir to near death and is left with a similar scar on his lip, almost identical to Hassan’s. The shocking reappearance of Assef as a highly esteemed member of the Taliban later in the novel – which made absolute sense when thinking back to his inhumane nature and sadistic desire to torture for fun. The fact that Amir was never able to produce children but Hassan gave birth to a son, and the irony of that parallel serving as a metaphor in itself for the karma surrounding Amir’s actions as a young boy. And finally, the most moving scene of the book, the ending. How it so cleverly mirrors some of the happiest moments Amir spent with Hassan during their younger years, almost as if Hassan never left Amir’s life. I still have a lump in my throat as I think back to it.

There was one scene which affected me the most as a reader – the rape of Hassan. The fact that sexual violence was seen as a punishment by bullies is something which shocked me to the core. But the way Hassan is depicted to have handled it, resigned as he was, is truly disturbing. A boy who’s purity remained untouched by the harsh reality of the outside world until the sexual attack, and subsequently was now scarred and tainted for life for his being at the wrong place and the wrong time, ultimately for Amir’s sake. The fact that he never changed his attitude towards Amir, never resented him, makes him the most poignant character in the novel. His loving nature shines through until the end, through the mockery and the violence he was subjected to as a Hazara. I grew increasingly frustrated and pained at Amir’s expression of guilt through his acts of aggression, indifference and eventual coldness towards Hassan. As a reader, we become protective of such explicit and unwavering vulnerability.

I desperately wished for Amir to fight against the impossibility of adopting Sohrab towards the end of the novel, in the hopes of giving Hassan’s son the happy ending his family always deserved. Sohrab’s attempted suicide acts as a testament to the trauma he went through at the hands of the Taliban, grossly overlooked and undermined in today’s society. The fact that he, just as his father did earlier in the novel, did not speak for a year portrays the extremity of the trauma they were both subjugated to at the hands of oppressors seeking to control.

The novel’s ending is a bitter-sweet relief to readers. It allows us the hint of a possibility that Hassan’s son will live a better, safer, happier life than Hassan did, despite not being able to escape the tortures of living in Kabul under an oppressive, violent Taliban regime. It seems right that the novel ended the way it did, although that does not detract from how heartbreaking and moving this novel is. So many of my friends told me this book will change my life forever and they were absolutely correct. It will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I hope in some way I can incorporate at least a few of Hassan’s invaluable traits as a human being into my way of life.

W.P Young’s “The Shack”

Book Reviews

Recently, I decided to make the monumental decision of temporarily stepping away from crime thrillers and venture towards other genres. More specifically, I was attracted to the reviews of Young’s Shack, of which are considerably mixed.

Without giving too much away, the novel surrounds a man whose life is turned upside down when he experiences a family tragedy. The tragedy is of such a horrifying extent, he begins to question how God can live in a world where evil like this exists. His story and his journey address fundamental issues raised by agnostics and atheists on a daily basis, amidst wars in poverty-stricken countries and humanitarian crisis. Justifiably so, the protagonist loses faith in God, and whilst at this lowest point, he encounters an experience which somehow miraculously changes every single perception he had, of religion and of mankind.

My initial thoughts were of a sceptical nature when first reading this novel; firstly, I’m not a Christian and thus, could not take this at face value. However, there were considerable lessons to be learnt by reading this story; even if one isn’t religious, or practising, it certainly speaks to you on a spiritual level. It’s almost as if the author can sense the scepticism the reader feels prior to opening the book, and works with it to create a sensational masterpiece.

Like many other novels with underlying morals that shape the story, it left me questioning a few of my own spiritual beliefs. Religiously speaking, I know where and with Whom my faith lies, but I understand those who discredit any existence of a deity when wars, murder, rape and other evils are present in society everyday. This book addresses this internal strife. It speaks to the believer and the non-believer, without simultaneously shoving the reader’s own religious/spiritual stance down the reader’s throat.

I cannot recommend this book enough; it certainly makes you reevaluate how you look at the world, and the importance of being the best person you can possibly be in this lifetime.

A x

Featured Image: http://wmpaulyoung.com

Life After Death, by Damien Echols

Book Reviews

“If you walk up to a man on the street and punch him in the face, you go to prison for assault. Do the same thing to a man in prison and you get demoted.” (Echols, 244)

“Time is marked with an hourglass filled with snow instead of sand.” (331)

“I am excited today, and happy. Not for any particular reason, other than the fact that good things are coming. Good things are always coming; sometimes we just forget it.” (340)

All my life I’ve heard people say “Why would God allow this to happen?” I think it’s because while we can see only the tragedy, God sees only the beauty. While we see misery, Divinity sees us lurching and shambling one step closer to the light. I truly do believe that one day we’ll shine as brightly as the archangels themselves.” (342)

I’m writing an open letter to Echols in my next post, but I couldn’t leave this one open ended without a little explanation. The quotes above are too breathtakingly beautiful for that.

I’ve just finished reading Echols’ biography Life After Death (2012) and despite the strong probability of me saying this about other books, I feel this one has somehow managed to simultaneously take my breath away and change my outlook on life. These quotes referenced above made me stop in my tracks simply at the sheer beauty of Echols’ mind, and his ability to open up after the ordeal he endured for nearly two decades. His view of the world, which I expected to be so tarnished by his 18 years locked in a cell and awaiting execution on Death Row, is utterly perfect in its simplicity and naivety.

We all have role models and inspirations in our life. Damien Echols: you are mine. You are the epitome of strength and resilience, and I wish you could see for yourself the effect your words have had on me, and my life.

Thank you for sharing your experience with the world, and with me.



“Daemon”, by Daniel Suarez

Book Reviews

Is mankind slowly transitioning into an element of technology? Or is technology taking the place of humankind?

These were the thoughts that plagued me after reading Daniel Suarez’s Daemon (2006). It begins as less of a tech novel and more of a crime-thriller though as it progressed, the reader is exposed to the increasingly concerning power technology can hold, beyond death. In many ways, technology is presented in this novel as a form of eternal life for mankind; we are introduced to the idea that a system can make one immortal, with it’s creator working beyond the grave.

The ‘daemon’ is a system created by a dying Sobol; the interesting conflict presented in this text is the dichotomy between the power of the system in relation to the intelligence of it’s creator. The system did not reflect the genius mind of Sobol as it relied primarily on his knowledge in order to succeed. For example, the ‘daemon’ could not evolve, making it less reliable. As readers, we can interpret Sobol’s creation as an attempt at reincarnation although the motives for this are somewhat unclear; was this a radical attempt to transform society and enforce a digital one?

Nevertheless, the idea of Artificial Intelligence and Artificial Life is not entirely new to us, as mentioned in my previous post; Suarez hasn’t managed to shock his readers by creating a new concept of the devolution of mankind and the evolution of machines and technology systems. Ultimately, the age of technology is undermining human intelligence and work forces but not to the extent underlined in the book, with human life at risk. Therefore, the novel isn’t futuristic in the sense that it is foreboding the rise of technology as the superior species. It does, however, warn the reader of the dangerous effects of exploiting this rise in technological power; the genius of Sobol is shadowed in the daemon through it’s ability to evade being caught and sent to jail. The novel serves as a chilling reminder of the power, and danger, of technology which originates from the creator and the creator’s intentions.

“Tell the Wolves I’m Home”, Carol Rifka Brunt

Book Reviews

Having just finished this novel, I’m full of questions and admiration for Brunt. Written in 2012, set in the 1980’s, it certainly addresses the taboos of society during this era surrounding AIDS, through the protagonist’s journey of realisation and love. June Elbus: the epitome of innocence interlinked with a newfound sense of rebellion. Her journey of learning to accept a wrong love is both poignantly naive and heartbreaking as she understands the ramifications of her unrealistic desires. What’s  additionally poignant is the fact that Brunt outlines the direction of the novel from the first page: we understand that we have to accept a loss before we turn to the second page.

I think the most interesting concept in this novel is we ultimately know what will happen in the end. There’s a foreboding death hinted throughout the second half of the novel, very subtly understated yet very prominent in the actions and decisions of the characters. In many ways, Toby’s death is just as painful as the loss of June’s innocence. We as readers grow to accept Toby for the actions he is accused of and what he has done, and our love for Toby is reflected through the endearing, innocent June and her love for Toby. We learn to admire Toby for who he is and everything he stands for, not for the supposed crime he has committed and what has happened to Finn.

Toby is everything Finn is not and that’s quite possibly what makes him so charming; he’s not an artist, he doesn’t have family in the country and he’s estranged from everyone and everything he knew. He’s learning to make his own way in this prejudiced world, alone and at a distinct disadvantage fundamentally due to his sexuality alienating him. His death hits the reader and June very deeply, almost unfairly snatched from us both as his true identity begins to unravel before us.

The topic of AIDS is so beautifully expressed in this text; Brunt confronts the issue with compassion and fragility, similar to the characteristics possessed by it’s victim, Finn. Times have changed with regards to AIDS and it’s treatments/cures which the reader will recognise whilst following the protagonists’ journeys, but we’re nevertheless transported into a time where AIDS was believed to be as  lethal as the plague and anyone in a close radius of a patient will consider themselves at risk of “catching” it.

I find the character of Greta most compelling, however. She is immediately and instantly dislikable with her cruel and cutting attitude towards her little sister; she’s calculating and malicious once she realises what her younger sibling is doing. Yet, we understand she’s coming of age and is fighting her own battles which torment her, too, thus making her a sympathetic figure by the end of the novel: we admire her and respect her, finally. Her fear of losing her younger sibling to another love she refused to offer results in her acting with cutting maliciousness through cold remarks and sarcastic rhetorical questions. Greta is quite possibly the smartest character in the novel and although she makes mistakes, they’re understandable and forgivable. Her brief snapshots of kindness and mature, older-sibling care are greatly appreciated by us, not so much by June as we understand before she does what exactly she’s going through; quite possibly some of the readers have experienced her internal conflict, too, and the evaporation of childhood towards the rush of entering adulthood.

We laugh with Finn and June as we follow their footsteps, internally grimacing and sympathising with June as she naively mistakes familiar compassion for romantic love and we cry with June as we lose someone we barely know, yet adore nevertheless. The embedded innocence in all of the characters is something conveyed so exceptionally by Brunt, connecting the reader to the character. The loss of two of the most beautiful souls is something the reader struggles to come to terms with, just as June and Greta do, yet we are comforted with the knowledge that they loved and were loved in return, in equal measure. And that’s fundamentally important for every living soul: to love and be loved.

A x

“Wide Sargasso Sea”, by Jean Rhys

Book Reviews

I’ve just finished reading “Wide Sargasso Sea” and I have to say it is now one of my favourite novels. After studying Jane Eyre for two years, I’ve always felt there were so many uncertainties in the book, mostly revolving around Bertha Mason. Rhys has exceptionally filled in those gaps, and given a true voice to such a marginalized character. Not only is Antoinette, or Bertha, dehumanized by Bronte, she was labelled as mad before the reader was even given a chance to form their own opinion. I’m so glad I read this book, it was mind-blowingly thought-provoking and really made me empathise and appreciate everything Bertha Mason stood for. Although, it’s incredibly insulting to still call her Bertha Mason. Ultimately, I felt a sense of relief when she came to a sudden realisation at the end of Part Three. She found freedom in the saddest of ways, but she found freedom nonetheless. Rhys also addresses the underlying issues of colonialism exquisitely; not only is she very accurate, but she paints a perfectly understandable picture of what it was like for the colonized and the colonizer.