Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Kite Runner -- Khaled Hosseini

After ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns (ATSS)’, when I picked this up, I was reluctant to begin it. Not because I doubted that it wouldn’t be a good read, but because the effect ATSS had on me was still fresh. I could still feel the pangs of pain that book gave me, and I wasn’t ready to go through that again (Yea, go on, call me mushy or childish or unreasonable!), but I guess some of out there know what I mean. I just procrastinated reading it. And once I picked it up, I finished reading it in one go. Khaled’s first attempt as an author was an exceptional one. Not a fragment of doubt about that!

Amir and Hassan were two little boys who grew up together in a then trouble free Afghanistan. Their daily routine consisted of any regular boy. Playing, reading, playing, eating, playing and sleeping. But there was a hierarchy which sort of separated them. Amir was the master’s son and Hassan was the servant’s son and above all they belonged to different caste. No points for guessing that Amir was of the superior one and Hassan of a lower one. Their playtime and time together was punctuated by Amir doing his school work and Hassan doing the household chores. They shared an unusual bond. There were almost like brothers but something created an invisible rift between them, with Amir completely conscious of that rift whereas it hardly mattered to Hassan. Although they grew up together, they had qualities as different as opposite poles. Amir was more of a coward sadistic (at times) and selfish whereas Hassan, younger of both was the brave one and an epitome of a loyal friend and selflessness. These qualities formed the foundation for the entire story.

Growing up without a mother, Amir yearned for his father’s attention. He did whatever possible to get his father’s affection but little did he know that the father was dealing with his own demons. Hassan on other hand, also motherless, was happy and satisfied with whatever little he had and had no complaints. He selflessly, along with his father served Amir’s family and always stood up for his friend. And then came the ill-fated evening. The very qualities which outlined each boy till then outlined their entire life they had ahead of them. A moment of cowardice and selfishness started turmoil within Amir which stayed with him for almost two decades. Hassan, who bore the brunt of that ominous evening, tried to look beyond the evening, beyond Amir’s lack of guts and character and lived on with his life. That evening moulded the boys’ life henceforth and forever snapped the bond they shared. It separated them. Guilt, regret and questions stayed their companions. Amir moved to a different country and hoped that it would help him erase his shortcomings, mistakes and for a while that plan seemed to be working. Till a phone call which proved to be another turning point in his physically calm but emotionally turbulent life. The call diverted him back to his birth country and the truths that unravelled there proved too much to handle. What was it that made the coward Amir finally stand up and fight? Did he redeem himself of all the wrongs and finally lead a guilt-free, unburdened life is what you folks need to read and find out.

It is a beautiful story of friendship, betrayal, lost innocence and childhood and a child’s yearnings for affection, friendship and redemption. The loyalty portrayed by Khaled through Hassan almost seems unreal in today’s world, when people are getting more and more selfish and greedy with each passing day. While Amir portrays a dollop of the raw reality, Hassan is that slice of fantasy that people would wish for. This story proves that one moment is enough to alter a person’s entire life and there are some skeletons which just can’t be hidden in closets. They knock till they are dealt with. So sometimes, one just has to pull up their socks, gather the courage and face those demons because there’s no other option other than that. There are heart-wrenching moments and again, they are difficult to shake off. This book has a little more drama and is less heavy read compared to ATSS , but the as expected from Khaled, a beautiful tragedy was created. At some level, all of us would identify with Amir (loathing him at certain instances) and wish for a friend like Hassan and be like him. This is a book that’s worthy of being hailed as benchmark for ‘the most amazing friendship story’.

I saw the movie of the same a few days. Did it have all the scenarios mentioned in the book? Yes. Did it have the same effect as the book/were the emotions portrayed well? A big No. The incidents which felt me utterly sad or had the deepest impact when reading the book, left me with a ‘bleh’ when I saw the movie. So, while the book is totally unavoidable, the movie is better avoided.

 There is a line in the book which says that tragedies make good stories. Weirdly true in this case as this very line proves to be cent percent true for this story. This book will somehow manage to come back to you time and again, maybe when you see two little boys playing, or when colourful kites fill the sky or just when you see two friends who share something very strong yet fragile. If you haven’t read this book, don’t procrastinate like me. Just pick it up now and start reading.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My Friend Leonard -- James Frey


I never anticipated for the sequel of any other book other than this (Harry Potter sequels being an exception of course). The first book by Jamey Frey, A Million Little Pieces, blew me away. It was so intense that I was glued to the book at all times! I was actually scolded me (yea by mum) for the way I was engrossed and obsessed with the book. Imagine my happiness when I finally laid hands on ‘My Friend Leonard’. But alas, it was short lived. Reading the prequel was totally effortless. But this book, well, umm, let’s just say it was not such a delightful experience.

The story starts with James being in prison. He keeps himself aloof and strong during his sentence and he just can’t wait to go back to the love of his life, Lily (a fellow addict), once he’s released. Just before he’s released tragedy strikes and he loses Lily. Unable to cope with the loss, he draws into a shell. Till his old friend from rehab, Leonard, gets in touch with him. Leonard was like a father figure to James and took it upon himself to get back James on track. Leonard was involved with businesses that weren’t really ‘legal’. James had no clear picture about what Leonard did, but he knew that he wouldn’t have to face any problem as long as Leonard was looking out for him. And Leonard stood by his word when he said nothing can hurt, harm or bother James. James swore he would change his lifestyle after the horrible rehab and jail stint. How he tries to live a normal, sober life with an occasional help and ‘mentoring’ from Leonard is what this book all about.

To be honest, Leonard was one of my favourite character in ‘A Million Little Pieces’ and I felt like reading more about him. That was the reason I was overjoyed when I came across this. But this book just failed in doing justice to it. The writing style was the same as before. Repetitive lines, incomplete sentences and intentional lack of punctuation. For those who haven't read 'A Million Little Pieces' and are unfamiliar with his writing style, he adopted that style to implicate what exactly was going on his mind as an addict.As a confused,scared, irritated addict, he tried to reflect all that through his writing.While this style suited more in his first book, it was sort of irritating and unnecessary in this one.  James, this time, mentioned that parts of this book are fictional (guess, he learnt a lesson after the experience of the first book). I’m not sure what part in this book is inspired by real life and what part is fictitious. If it was inspired, then I have no right to comment or judge anyone on the way they lived their life but if it was a fictitious work, James could have much better than this! It seemed more about him with just a glimpse of Leonard here and there. Or cameo as they say in movies. There was nothing that told the readers more about Leonard that what they already knew from the previous book. I actually turned each page with a hope that something exciting or interesting comes up. But no, I was more and more disappointed with every page turned. The life which Leonard lived could have provided fodder to produce brilliant books but James made it boring.

There is nothing to look forward to in this sequel. The title was kind of misleading if compared to the story. It should rather have been named something like ‘My Life after Rehab’! To atleast do justice to the title he should have told more about the lead man, Leonard. Wish James had kept his initial charm and had produce yet another riveting book. Things that worked in his favour before let him down in this book. This seemed more like a desperate attempt to write something. James let down big time. L

An avoidable book.

P.S: If you haven’t read ‘A Million Little Pieces’, pick it up straight away and start reading. It is one of the most intense and addictive books I’ve read till now!