Thursday 22 January 2009

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

This book has been sitting sadly and reproachfully on my shelf for over a year.  Why I didn't pick it up earlier, I really don't know.

It was an enjoyable read - with reservations.  It was easy enough to become involved in the story which moved swiftly along, easy to read and also enlightening.  It seemed to give a fascinating insight into lives, especially of women, during the troubled years before, during, and shortly after the influence of the Taliban, how the everyday lives of ordinary Afghani people were affected.

I have two main reservations though, even while recommending it.  The first is that Khaled Hosseini felt the need to explain the politics of the situation, the fighting between the different warlords and their followers.  That was fine but he did it by having the characters discuss what was happening, and it just didn't ring true. 

"And he's fighting Hekmatyar, of course, who has the support of the Pakistanis.  Mortal enemies, those two, Maassoud and Hekmatyar.  Sayyaf, he's siding with Massoud. And Hekmatyar supports the Hazaras for now."

My eyes glazed over during these passages: too many names I found difficult to remember.

The other reservation was that the characters were either black or white with nothing much in between:  Rasheed was too bad with no redeeming features, Tariq too good.  People are normally made up of so many different shades.  The women were rather better drawn but I still didn't feel I knew them, I didn't know how they thought. 

Don't let my reservations put you off though.  All round it was an easy and enjoyable read.  In spite of the tragedies of Afghanistan, the book ends on an optimistic note.  The real tragedy is that the optimism for the future of the country hasn't yet been fulfilled.
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Friday 2 January 2009

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Synopsis from Amazon
Griet, the young daughter of a tilemaker in seventeenth century Holland, obtains her first job, as a servant in Vermeer's household. Tracy Chevalier shows us, through Griet's eyes, the complicated family, the society of the small town of Delft, and life with an obsessive genius. Griet loves being drawn into his artistic life, and leaving her former drudgery, but the cost to her own survival may be high.

I've found it difficult to review this book because although I found it easy to read and quite enjoyable, I was left with the feeling something was missing, the mystery and genius in the painting perhaps. The characters didn't seem well developed and really, neither did the storyline. In the synopsis above it mentions life with an obsessive genius - well it was hardly touched upon and Vermeer's character was possibly the least well-drawn. The child Cordelia seemed contrived, and the plague appeared to be thrown in almost as an afterthought.

Saying all that though, I cannot deny enjoying it, I just think it has been hyped up and hasn't lived up to my expectations.  I read it in just a few hours - it is a very short book. And it has definitely made me more interested in Vermeer's art, and in Delft.

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