Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini

I really had no expectations of this book as I hadn't taken the time to learn what it was about.  I knew it was a best seller and it's been on my 'to-read' for about four years now.  I did purchase the movie not too long ago and sat down to watch it with my mother-in-law who was living with us at the time.  She had suffered a stroke and was unable to read the subtitles so we turned it off very early in.

That's what I knew about the story before I started.

Basically nothing.

I was drawn into the story almost immediately upon starting the book.  I tried to analyze why I was.  The story was about Amir, a privileged little boy in Afghanistan who was very insecure about his father's love.  His best friend was the uneducated son of his father's servant. As he was raised playing with Hassan, the servant's son, his father was also raised playing with Ali, his now faithful servant. Although Hassan is a servant himself, he adores Amir and would do anything for him. Indeed, Amir's cowardice presents many opportunities for Hassan to prove his loyalty.  Even so, Amir's insecurities cause him to bully Hassan almost mercilessly.

I asked myself again, what is so riveting about this tale that calls me back to the book each time I set it down?  Obviously, it's the author's voice and how well he tells the story before he even reveals the very meat of it. 

The story starts prior to the time of Russia invading Afghanistan and spans to the early 2000s. Sadly,  I'm not a student of history and therefore wasn't very well informed regarding all the changes of the Russians being thrown out by the Taliban and the quick end of the Afghanistan jubilation as they realized the Taliban was as bad or worse than the Russians. Amir and his father are smuggled out of Afghanistan after the Russians arrive and eventually migrate to America.  Their lives are very different in America, no longer of the privileged class, but his father was a well known man in Afghanistan and still very respected in his new American/Afghanistan community.

Early in the 2000s Amir returns to Afghanistan and finds a world very different from the one he left 25 years earlier.  No spoilers, but he at once finds himself face to face with the past he has tried hard to forget and finally must make amends with.

The Kite Runner is an amazing story full of unexpected twists and turns.  Heroes die and villains live, but there is always a feeling of hope.

I give The Kite Runner 5 of 5 shots.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Book Thief

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak

Third on my 20 book challenge, this selection is exactly why I created my challenge.  I know I have added a lot of really fine books to my list and then proceeded to ignore them based on what I've come across or what's caught my eye since.  Who knows how long I may have continued to evade being captured by this book, or maybe miss it entirely. 

I love this book.  It should not be overlooked or missed.  If you also have it on your shelf, pull it out now and put where you can guarantee you will choose it to read next.  You won't be sorry. 

The Book Thief is a war story, centering around Liesel, who is the book thief, in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The narrator of the story is Death, which sounds pretty morbid, but actually was done very well.  Death had just the right amount of sensitivity and disdain and never overshadowed the story.  The author discusses his decision to write from Death's perspective and the challenge.  I think he did it very well.

The story begins when Liesel is about eight.  Her mother is taking her and her brother to stay with foster parents.  Her brother dies on the train and Liesel begins life with her foster family on her own. Although one foster parent is more nurturing than the other, they both clearly love and care for her. Times are bad in Germany and they are a poor family.

When Liesel comes to the family she has in her possession a book that she found/stole when burying her brother.  She does not know how to read and enters her new school far behind the other children her age. Eventually, her foster father helps her learn to read and together they read her stolen book, The Gravediggers Guide.

The story progresses over a few years.  Liesel's reading and love of books enables her to help people in ways she is not even aware of. Life in Nazi Germany is not easy, even for the Germans. To avoid any spoilers, I will end my recap of the actual story with that. 

I appreciated this story in part for the struggles it portrays for the German population at this time.  One did not have to be a Jew to find life difficult and dangerous in Germany.  Starting with a little girl who has lost her parents for reasons she doesn't know or understand and her brother's death.  She lives with a family who is poor and struggling day to day. And the utmost care must be taken at all times to stay on the 'right' side of the Nazi party or pay a price.  Just being the 'person you are' can put one in great danger.

I give The Book Thief five shots of five - and a Tissue Alert.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods
by Bill Bryson

This is the second selection on my 20 book challenge.  I have to say I am a tiny bit proud of myself for following through on this challenge, at least to have read 2 of the impending 20.  (Now "impending 18" - woot!)  To recall, my challenge is to read the 20 books that have been on my list the longest.  Correction, read or remove.  Let me tell you, removing books from my list is not an easy thing.  I'm pretty sure I'll read them before I'll remove them. 

I originally bought A Walk in the Woods for my mother.  She is the person who instilled in me a love for the outdoors.  She made sure we went hiking a few week ends every spring, summer and fall. And in the winter, too.  And she is the one responsible for me learning how to camp, cook over an open fire and back pack.  I owe her a great deal of appreciation for learning and loving those things. Not least of which, she also passed onto me her love of reading.  

Mom came to live with my family in her final years and I thought this book might be one she would enjoy.  I don't think she ever read it but it's been in my home for years now.  I'm pretty sure that's how it also made it's way to my list. 

I need to learn to have no expectations of books.  They are rarely what I am expecing of them, and usually that leaves me pleasantly surprised.  A Walk in the Woods was not what I was expcting to read.  However in this case, it fell short of the mark.  I feel a little sad writing that since so many friends told me how much they loved it and how laugh out loud funny it is.  I won't deny I had at least one laugh out loud moment, but not enough to say it set the tone of the book. 

Bill Bryson writes this book based on his experience walking the Appalachian Trail.  A hiking trail of over 2000 miles of east coast mountains.  I love the premise and often thought how cool it would be to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, the west coast version of the AT.  Sounds like a book made for me!

Bryson accepts his friend's, Steve Katz, offer to hike the trail with him. If Bill Bryson is not prepared for what this folly will involved, his friend Steve must then be absolutely clueless.  Nevertheless, they start off on their "adventure."

It's not long before they realize that walking the entire trail just isn't in the stars for them.  They are miserable and broken and decide to take a break and walk only portions of it.  Bryson analyzes this decision and rationalizes that even though they don't set a foot on every single mile of the trail, they have indeed "hiked the Appalachian Trail."  I don't disagree, but I did find it disappointing.  (In his defense, he hiked nearly 900 miles of it!)

The book is full of history of the AT itself and of the politics, economies, ecologies, communities and resorts surrounding it.  I found it interesting, but unexpected. 

What I didn't find in this book was a lot of hiking and camping stories.  The hiking stories were more of the sort of, "How soon can we find the next town and get a shower and a meal?"  There were times of hardship and worry, but no bears.  We find early in the book that Bryson has a great concern of meeting bears.  Bless his heart, he never ran into one. 

I give the book a 3 of 5 shots. It simply wasn't the story I was expecting to read.