For the past week or so, I have been immersed (or as immersed as one can be, sitting in a cushioned chair with a book in one's lap) in the culture and history of Afghanistan. Quite by accident, I have found myself concurrently reading The Kite Runner and The Bookseller of Kabul. The Kite Runner was...surprising. I read the first 100 pages with only adequate interest. Not badly written, a fairly sympathetic if somewhat whiny narrator, and the tidbits about life amidst recent history were interesting. Then things picked up a little, but I still wasn't completely hooked. The last third or so was surprisingly emotional, even riveting at times, and I applaud Khaled Hosseini for a fine first novel. Some things were predictable, but there were moments of foreshadowing that I missed, meaning surprises to come. So much tragedy--near the end you almost must skim ahead. A lot of situations seemed contrived, but then that's what fiction does. It molds and massages what may once have been fact into things that tell the story, and perhaps, sometimes, impart a great Truth. For fact, we must turn to The Bookseller of Kabul, Asne Seierstad's controversial work of literary journalism about a Kabul family. It is really an amazing book in many ways, especially in the detail and intimacy with the Khan family, but although it is very readable, the sparse, short-sentence style leaves me wanting. Apparently Sultan Khan (not his real name) was very upset over his portrayal in the book and is planning on writing his own, which I am very eager to read. Reading these two books together was interesting and even a bit confusing at times, but overall good--The Kite Runner informed my understanding of The Bookseller of Kabul and vice versa. A nod to them both for not making a spectacle out of 9/11. That may be the only reason Afghanistan's politics are so well-known now, but books need not be written to capture that part--that we get enough of from the newspapers. The underlying culture and the earlier history was the focus, and for that I was glad.
Anyway, it's always satisfying to finish a good book. Now I supposed I'll finally finish The Return of the King and of course I now have The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende on my plate as well. After that, who knows?
Have been reading a lot of The New Yorker and The New York Times online. I feel very cultured and liberal.
Anyway...perhaps I should actually do some homework or something.