Book Review: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains EchoedAnd the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a difficult book to describe in a nutshell. Beautifully written, but not fast-paced, it’s one you sink your teeth into and relish. Only nine chapters, but they’re long and told from different perspectives as you travel from Afghanistan to Paris to Greece to California and elsewhere. Hosseini doesn’t just tell a story — he truly weaves it, pulling at different threads until they come together in a tapestry meditating on the human condition and how we hurt the very ones we love the most. If you start this book, stay with it until the end. The last pages made my heart well with a sad kind of joy that only a master storyteller can achieve.
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Book Review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“All the Light We Cannot See” is a rich, evocative novel set during World War II. The third person narrator primarily follows two characters: a blind French girl whose father is a locksmith at a museum in Paris, and an orphan boy who is part of Hitler Youth and then conscripted into the Nazi military due to his mechanical gifting, particularly with radios. Doerr is a master of showing, rather than telling, and creates a world with as much texture as the real one. His characters are three-dimensional, conflicted, believably inconsistent. And the story that he weaves between them is equally heart-warming and heart-wrenching, stirring contemplation about how we fit into the world we’ve been given and what it means to have a choice regarding how to live our lives.

It’s only August, but this will probably be the best book I read all year.

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If you’ve read this book, I recommend reading this interview with the author.

Book Review: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A lot of nonfiction books get so bogged down with detail that they have no narrative drive. Unbroken doesn’t have this problem. From the beginning, Hillenbrand’s writing sets the story in driven, organized motion, drawing the reader in emotionally and painting clear portraits of characters, events, and settings. You get to know Louis Zamperini, an Italian-American with unequivocal speed and a childhood marked by thievery. Hillenbrand traces Zamperini’s life from childhood to adulthood, track race to Olympic trials to military service in the Pacific, where his plane goes down and he’s faced with a new war aimed at survival. Along the way, Hillenbrand writes about the necessity of maintaining dignity in the face of suffering and abuse. Human resilience is one essential theme. There’s also the theme of forgiveness, which dominates Part V.

Unbroken is long, but not droning. Every word and passage is merited, there for a purpose and carrying detail and development essential to the (true) story line. It’s a feat of nonfiction story construction that testifies of the author’s incredible understanding of her subject. The story moves at varying paces, but never left me bored. Like all great writing, it’s not just interesting, it’s thought-provoking and spurs inward reflection.

Highly recommend.

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Good Reads: Book review update

In my last post, I had promised a book review for mid-January. That did not happen.

Why?

Because I’m too darn picky. I got 70 pages into one book before practically throwing it in the trash, and I was three-quarters through another when I decided it was too slow and I was sick of it. I wouldn’t want to recommend those books to you, so here are two books I don’t recommend you read:

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards.

Problems: Narrative inconsistency. I was willing to overlook incessant overdescription and unrelatable female characters because the story’s concept was interesting: a doctor delivers his wife’s twins. One has Down Syndrome, which he can’t bear to tell his wife, so he sends the nurse with the baby to a home for the disabled and tells his wife the second baby died. The nurse, horrified by the home, takes the baby and leaves town.

But the concept wasn’t interesting enough to overlook a third-person narrator who couldn’t agree with herself on how a major character coped with her depression — did she avoid people or did she avoid time by herself? Within the space of four pages, the third-person narrator said both. Not buying it.

The Ingenious Edgar Jones by Elizabeth Garner

Problems: Trying too hard to be literary. At its bones, this is a story about a son trying to win his father’s approval despite their many differences. It could be very moving, if it was a short story. There simply weren’t enough layers to the story or plot to carry it over 200 pages. The whole thing (as far as I read) was: Edgar tries to do this thing to achieve happiness and his father’s approval. His father approves a little bit, but then he finds out more and no longer approves. Edgar tries another thing to win his father’s approval. It sort of works for a little while, until his father learns more and no longer approves. And again and again.

Then the description was overwritten and, often, confusing, because Edgar always sees things as creatures — whether a fallen roof or the inside of a clock — and the narration makes it feel like the story could turn to fantasy at any moment, but it’s not fantasy and it’s never creatures, so reading every fantastical description of yet another creature-like inanimate object, I had to repeatedly remind myself, no, in this book that means that’s how Edgar is seeing it. That’s not how it actually is. Many times this left me with a confused idea of what exactly I was supposed to be seeing.

Garner certainly didn’t use a lot of cliches, because every description — even of familiar items — was a brand new word picture. But you know how they say not to reinvent the wheel? Yeah, cubes don’t roll as well.

 

photo credit: Bookshelf via photopin (license)