Monday, November 19, 2007

Book reviews

I've just finished a bunch of books, I better write down my thoughts on them before I've completely forgotten:

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

It took me a long time to get around to reading this, and I know almost everybody else has done already. It didn't take me long to finish the book, which is very beautifully written, lucid and very full of life. The theme of guilt is very interesting; how long do you punish yourself for something you did as a mere child? What does it take for you to forgive yourself? Does good come from guilt?

The book is the story of someone who did something he feels deep shameful of for most of his life, and also the story of what it is like to have grown up in and fled from turbulent Afghanistan.

The author has a somewhat similar background to the narrator, as he also came from a privileged background, and left his home country with his parents before the Russian invasion. It's no surprise then that the characters and settings feel authentic and are rich with illuminating detail.

I found the story very moving. About 2/3 in it seemed like the book was about to meander to a dull and predictable ending, yet the opposite was the case. In the final third much is revealed and loose ends are wrapped up neatly and thrillingly.

Tending to avoid books that invoke mass hysteria and dominate book clubs, I nearly missed this one. I'm so glad I didn't ultimately.

I saw what I thought was a new book by Guns Germs and Steal author, Jared Diamond. "The Third Chimpanzee" is actually a much earlier work from 1993. My mistake, yet I felt somewhat cheated to read a lot of the same material again that is present in GG&S. Yet still there was plenty or interesting new material.

My favourite idea in the book, was that of how peoples view of the past is profoundly shaped by their own history and professional interests. He describes this as 'paleopoetry' or looking at relics from the past as a Rorschach ink blot test, telling you more about yourself than about the people you are studying. I liked that analogy. People do seem to become very dogmatic, and view everything from their own corner, imprinting their own priorities and philosophies on everything they see.

I'd say GG&S is a must read, simply because it's filled with great ideas and is beautifully written. This book however is a lot more preachy, and a lot less important, at least in my humble opinion.

There are some more recently read books that I will cover shortly.