The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Summary:¬†Estha and Rahel are twins born eighteen minutes apart in India. When they are seven years old, their cousin Sophie Mol visits from England; a cataclysmic event happens which tears the family apart. Estha and Rahel are reunited again years later as adults, and must deal with the fact that when they were young, their lives were destroyed by the “Love Laws”, which lay down the rules of “who must be loved, and how, and how much”.

My Thoughts: No summary could do this book justice. Winner of the 1997 Man Booker prize, Roy’s novel completely blew me away. I was bored by the synopsis on the back cover, but thought I would give it a try anyway (not that I had much choice; I was in Guatemala with a very limited number of English books).

Roy creates a lush, enveloping, buzzing, and foreshadowed world in The God of Small Things. She tells the story out of chronological order, and continuously references the event known as The Loss of Sophie Mol, a mysterious happening that everyone tiptoes around. There are flashbacks and tangents all over the place. Webs of stories and snippets of life spread out everywhere. Even now, after finishing it, I’m not sure how she pulled it off. It was a delicate net that settled down over me. And it worked. Perfectly. Tragically.

I wouldn’t describe many books as A Work of Art, but The God of Small Things definitely was.

The God of Small Things is about love, and forbidden love, and class, and betrayal. There is also history and politics, smoothly woven into the background of India, where the story takes place.

Highly recommended. Strange and different from anything else I’ve ever read. Another best book read in 2011.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Rating: 7 out of 10
Summary: (From BN.com) “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.” So begins The Kite Runner, a poignant tale of two motherless boys growing up in Kabul, a city teetering on the brink of destruction at the dawn of the Soviet invasion.

Despite their class differences, Amir, the son of a wealthy businessman, and Hassan, his devoted sidekick and the son of Amir’s household servant, play together, cause mischief together, and compete in the annual kite-fighting tournament — Amir flying the kite, and Hassan running down the kites they fell. But one day, Amir betrays Hassan, and his betrayal grows increasingly devastating as their tale continues. Amir will spend much of his life coming to terms with his initial and subsequent acts of cowardice, and finally seek to make reparations.

Commentary: This book has been on everyone’s mind since it was published (and subsequently made into a movie) but I actually read Hosseini’s second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, first.

The Kite Runner did not disappoint me, even with all the hooplah surrounding it. Hosseini’s style is clear and emotional, everything is well-paced and descriptive. A good, solid read and great glimpse into Afghani culture and history.

Even with all the destruction and warfare and devestation throughout the novel, it retained a sense of hopefulness which I think is especially crucial. At times it was a little too wound up and weepy, but generally smooth and I recommend it.

Soul by Tobsha Learner

Rating: 8 out of 10
Summary: In nineteenth-century Britain, young Lavinia Huntington’s older husband appreciates her lively intellect and seems eager to extend his wife’s education from his study to their bedroom. Lavinia absorbs all he has to teach and glories in the birth of their son.

In twenty-first-century Los Angeles, Julia Huntington studies the human genome, seeking the origins of human emotion. As passionate about her marriage to her beloved Klaus as she is about her life’s work, Julia is delighted to discover that she is pregnant.

Separated by nearly 150 years, Lavinia and Julia suffer the same shock when their men abandon them. Their powerful love becomes painful hate; their intense passion transforms into icy logic. The genes of the Huntington women have formed their emotions–now their life experiences drive them to make decisions that they, and those they love, may long regret.

Commentary: I started reading another of Learner’s novels quite awhile ago, The Witch of Cologne, but I never finished it. However, I really enjoyed Soul–finished it in a day. Learner did a great job of interweaving two stories and two conflicts, transitioning well between one narrative and the next.

I think the best part about this book was the emotion and intensity involved–Learner takes the reader through a whole rollercoaster of ups and downs, and you can feel every single thing that happens to both Lavinia and Julia. I don’t want to reveal too much, but I’m not sure I would have been as strong as Julia, strong enough to hold back from dealing revenge at such a horrible betrayal.

Usually a novel with two narratives can become unbalanced–I’ve read books before where I become far more interested in one story than the other. But Learner did a good job of paralleling Julia’s and Lavinia’s stories.

The one thing I can really pick on is Learner’s central, scientific idea that supposedly tied the two stories together–the question of nature vs. nurture, of whether or not our DNA and basic genetic makeup can determine our behavior. It may be because I am personally so biased (I favor nurture over nature) but I felt that the scientific arguments and evidence presented in Soul were weak and not particularly engaging. The science and genetics weren’t what linked these two related women–their situations and decisions did.

Maybe in the end, especially considering the climax, that is what Learner intended to prove.

Great read, fast-paced and very, very interesting.