The Night Circus is not your usual circus. For one, it arrives without any kind of announcement or hype. One day it is not there, and the next day it...moreThe Night Circus is not your usual circus. For one, it arrives without any kind of announcement or hype. One day it is not there, and the next day it suddenly is. On the other hand, it is open only at sunset, and closes at dawn. And thirdly, the tents are all black-and-white striped, and not the usual colorful ruckus you would expect to see in a circus. Against this mysterious setting are two young magicians, Celia and Marco, battling out a challenge made by their guardians, years ago. A battle that brings them closer, sends their imaginations wild with possibilities and may or may not end the way they expect it to.
There. That synopsis probably reveals nothing much about a book that everyone knows enough about and that went viral in the book world sometime last year. I wanted to review this book soon after I read it last year, but initially I blamed it on lack of time, then on a possibly vague recollection, and finally on the fact that it was shortlisted in the Indie Lit Awards. If the Awards had a "Book I am Most Likely to Reread" award, The Night Circus would have been my incontestable choice. In fact, I had half a mind to start rereading it right now when I was writing this review, before I remembered that my copy was with my brother.
I'm not sure what it was about The Night Circus that I loved. I started reading it on the train at 7 am in the morning, when I was going to New York, planning to read a couple of pages and then nap a bit. But instead, I bought a cup of coffee and spent the next couple of days reading the book at all possible opportunities. I usually hate reading books about the circus, but this was more a book of magic than a book of circus tricks.
Celia, a magician by birth, and Marco, a magician by learning were bound by magic to battle out their skills until a clear winner emerged. Unfortunately, the two end up falling for each other, and as they find out, the challenge cannot be broken, nor was a future between them really possible. While part of the story followed their endeavors, another part followed a boy named Bailey in a different time period. Bailey wanted nothing more than to be a part of the circus. He befriends twins Poppet and Widget during his exploration of the circus, and while the friends have fun for as long as the circus is in town, there is something strange brewing - something that will need Bailey's intervention.
The Night Circus slips to and fro between the two time periods. It is necessary to be aware of the dates as you read - I know it has bothered some, but for some reason it didn't bother me in any way. I loved the characters that made up this book - there were so many of them with their own independent minds and thoughts, so much so that I did feel disappointed that some of them didn't have bigger roles. There were a few like the contortionist, Tsukiko, and the tarot reader, Isobel, who intrigued me enough to make me want for their own stories. Unfortunately, this is where the book failed - the characters become a pawn to the plot. In trying to the move the story to the conclusion, the characters that don't matter to the story anymore get sidelined.
When I finished reading this book, one of my first reactions amidst all the thrill and excitement and wonder, was disappointment that there was no explanation of the "theory of magic". For me, one of the pull of Harry Potter was the feeling that it was possible for a world like Hogwarts to exist, if someone developed a means to made a wand that can do spells. To me, that was the only impediment to a world of magic - such was the amount of details J.K. Rowling put into world-building. The Night Circus didn't do that. It was understood that there was magic, but not how. Marco spent a lot of time learning magic, but it was never revealed what he was learning. This disappointed me at first, because I like to look at the theory of anything. But later, I realized that it was all part of the mystery of the book. Even the characters didn't fully understand magic, but their every action echoed magic. In keeping with the theme of the book, some of the actions were deliberately and understandably skated superficially, as if mysterious.
My favorite aspect of the book had to do with the tents themselves. Each tent had something magical about it - there was a tent where the genuine illusionist made you see things, another tent where you got your future told (remarkably accurately), yet another one which was a maze, and another one which was made entirely of ice, and so on. Moreover, keeping with the mysterious setting of the book, even several plot elements of the book take on that air of suspense. This is one of those books you have to read twice if you want to solve all the mysteries within. You know, like one of those rereads, where you go "aha, so that's why she did so-and-so". I haven't read it twice, so I still have a few questions that I don't know the answers to yet. I just know that I will read it twice, soon as I see some breathing space in my review list and I get my hands on a copy.
That's been a long review, and I haven't even talked about the groupies, who wear a red scarf and keep track of where the circus is, each time!(less)
Julie Otsuka's The Buddha in the Attic tells the story of a group of young Japanese women who were brought to San Francisco as picture brides in the e...moreJulie Otsuka's The Buddha in the Attic tells the story of a group of young Japanese women who were brought to San Francisco as picture brides in the early 20th century. Their journey starts by boat, where they discuss their many expectations from marriage, exchange photos of their husbands whom they haven't met yet and share their deep fears about the unknown future towards which the boat chugged forward. What they arrive to in San Francisco was mostly very different from what they set out expecting, but going back to their lives in Japan was not an option as they wouldn't be welcome there either anymore. But the women somehow manage to lead and adapt to their new lives, working daily and keeping their husbands happy. Eventually, WW2 arrives to throw everything they earned and lived for into the abyss.
It's been a while since I read this book, so I'm not sure my review will be as articulate as I want it to be. What I strongly remember is enjoying the voice of the narration - the narration is from a plural first person perspective - through "we", "us" and "our". As similar as the stories of many of the women were, they were just as disparate. It took me a while to get used to the style, but once I did, I enjoyed it. I expected it to get boring after a few chapters - I wasn't sure how long the author could sustain interest in that manner of narration, but it held my interest throughout, probably because of the rich diversity in the lifestyles of the brides, which all seemed to go along similar phases of life at the same time.
The Buddha in the Attic shows the prejudice of the times very well - it isn't overdone. While some of the families are able to get "better" jobs, many still worked in farms, subject to the occasional ridicule and striving to do an honest day's work. This book is primarily a collection of the women's stories, although after the first chapter, when they are united with their husbands, the women's stories are intertwined with those of their husbands and children. The passage of time is well captured in this book - even though this is a slim and quick read at 120-odd pages, by the time I turned the last page, I felt as if I read about someone's long life story.
My favorite chapters of this book were the last few - when the WW2 rolls around and many Japanese folks are moved to internment camps. I felt that the collective voices tool is made more powerful here - when the people try to react to missing neighbors and share their fears, uncertainties and worries about their families. The reactions of the American neighbors were even more intriguing to read. Reading these chapters made me realize yet again how easy it is to have a Holocaust-like event right under your nose and still look bemusedly at what's happening. Within days, the memory takes on the vague sepia tones of the past, and then it's like it never happened. The Buddha in the Attic eventually left me feeling sad and indignant but not depressed. Since it's one of my top reads from last year, I strongly recommend it.(less)
Kat Marino was returning to her Queens apartment from her shift at a local bar at 4 AM in the morning, when she was attacked by a man, who was hiding...moreKat Marino was returning to her Queens apartment from her shift at a local bar at 4 AM in the morning, when she was attacked by a man, who was hiding beside a tree nearby. Kat had never met the man before and is completely taken by surprise and shock. A few of her neighbors whose apartment windows face the courtyard, where the action was unveiling, hadn't yet gone to sleep and were watching dazed, having been interrupted from whatever argument or conversation they were preoccupied with at that hour. None of them however make a move to help her. None call the police either. While Kat screams for someone to help, and every observer assumes someone else is making that 911 call, this 280-page short book gives us a brilliant insight into the lives of all the people, whose paths cross Kat's, however marginally, between 4 and 6 am.
This is one of those books I wish I had reviewed right away. I know my head was buzzing with thoughts to share with you but somehow I'm only getting to it now - a good month after reading this book. Even now, I cannot stop thinking about how brilliant this book was and how much I would love to reread it. Good Neighbors is based on a true incident whose details are very much similar to that of this book's. If you don't want to be spoiled by the details of the real crime, skip the rest of this paragraph. New Yorkers will probably be aware of this incident better. 29-year old Kitty Genovese was returning home at 4 am in 1964 when she was attacked by a man thrice, the last time fatally, over the span of a half hour. A lot of the neighbors saw some part of the attack but no one saw the whole thing. Nobody called the police believing that someone else was making that call, though a few claimed to have called. There's a term for it - bystander effect. The New York Times posted an interesting article on this tragedy a few days later. A lot of the facts about this murder are disputed, but it does appear apparent that very few people responded to her calls for help, and although one man did call the police, they didn't turn up. "I didn't want to get involved" was the predominant sentiment.
Good Neighbors is a work of fiction. Although it is based on the Kitty Genovese murder, all the characters in it are fictional. In Good Neighbors, Ryan David Jahn sets an incredible array of characters against this tragedy. On one side, we have Kat making her way home, only to be attacked by a man who then just runs away, leaving Kat shocked and immobile outside. On the other side, we get an inside look into some of the neighbors who see a part of the attack. They are each however plagued by their own problems, so much so that they only feel an odd sense of curiosity over what's happening in the courtyard, before they return to their problems. There is a 19-year old boy who has been ordered to report for the Army's Physical Examination, but he also has an ailing mother he has to look after. Another couple is playing swinger for the first time, until it goes horribly out of control for them, making them question their own relationship. Yet another man is trying to come to terms with his homosexual orientation, but is finding himself reluctant to. Another man, who knows Kat very well, had just left in his car when his wife returned home panicking after hitting a stroller. His own actions form a subplot within this book, opening the pages to more characters - a paramedic, a corrupted cop and his equally corrupted chief, and a paedophile, while they get themselves involved in a car accident just down the road and in an attempted murder.
The huge number of characters is the main asset of this book. While it would have been easy to end up with cardboard cutouts instead of solid characters, Ryan manages to carve out intricate characters, none of whom get 'boring' for the reader. The primary sensation you get is that of the role of fate or chance in life and people's beliefs that they are the center of the world and hence their problems are the most important ones in the world. I found it very interesting to read about all the problems the other characters were having, while a woman was dying outside and calling for help. The last chapter left me thinking a lot - was it worth trying to fix your problems while a woman was losing her hold on life minute by minute? When is it okay to say that "my problem is important, because it affects me and only I can fix it!" Would you be selfish for thinking that or just looking out for yourself? Would you be happier having saved a life, but in return lost everything that meant the world to you? Or would you end up feeling resentful towards life for how things turned out for you? It's fascinating how complex we humans really are. There's plenty of gray in every picture. This book could be an intriguing theater production - I'm sure the questions it raises will be quite humbling. Quite a few of the stories come to some interesting conclusions by the time the clock strikes 6 am. I did feel very curious as to how their stories led from there, because many of the lives did change drastically.
Good Neighbors is one of the best books I've read this year, and I think waiting a while to write this review was a good thing in one respect - in that I know the book has withstood the test of time, wherein sometimes you find you loved a book immediately after reading it, but days or weeks later, your perspective changes a lot, and you start criticizing the book quite a lot, but this book has managed to leave me still impressed a month later. Have any of you watched the movie Crash? The story-telling technique is very similar here - a multitude of protagonists with their own issues, apparently unconnected, but they all have something that ties them together. If you haven't watched the movie, you should. I hope I have convinced you to pick this book right away!
(If you're interested in reading about the real Kitty Genovese, this piece on TruTV is fantastic.)(less)
Lek and Sarai try to make ends meet, managing a small resort in Thailand's Ko Phi Phi island, but money is short, their buildings and surroundings nee...moreLek and Sarai try to make ends meet, managing a small resort in Thailand's Ko Phi Phi island, but money is short, their buildings and surroundings need maintenance, and their children need to be put through school. In addition, one of their tenants, an American man named Patch, has already been staying at their resort for much longer than is allowed on a normal visa, making Sarai nervous. Patch, however, is trying to stay low after attacking a cop who had busted him when he was buying marijuana. His do-the-right-thing brother, Ryan is on his way to the island to convince Patch to turn himself to the authorities. Ryan, on the other hand, is having difficulties with his girlfriend, Brooke, who has also accompanied him to the island. While the individual characters battle out their personal problems, the readers (we) know that they are running on a timer - the 2004 tsunami is just round the corner.
As a personal policy, I never read books set against a recent catastrophe, like the Katrina hurricane, or the 9/11 or even school shootings, unless it is nonfiction or my memory of the event is vague at best. I find it difficult to get over the feeling that the tragic event is being exploited (it probably is not being, it's just too fresh in my mind to make me feel otherwise). But when John Shors offered me his book Cross Currents, I had to bend my own rule for two reasons - one, the tsunami wasn't the major player of the book. In fact, it could have been any tragedy, but the idea behind the story - how you go by your life and its issues and one day you wake up to see everything gone just like that, was very powerful. And second, the day the tsunami happened, I was sitting with my family on a beach in Chennai, where the water came up to half the beach and we were standing there absolutely riveted! Thank goodness there was no major damage!
Cross Currents started out wonderful. I read it first, sometime last year, but didn't get past the first few pages because I wasn't getting the time to read it. And then, I learned that it was nominated for the Indie Lit Awards. So I decided to wait until it was time to start reading the nominations. However, past that beautiful start, I couldn't find much that held me hooked to the book. I pretty much hate saying that because I had a lot of expectations out of this book, but it just didn't work for me.
None of the characters intrigued me. A few were likable, but I didn't feel like rooting for anyone. Ryan bugged me because of how dominating and stubborn he was, but when he began to get attracted to another woman in the second half of the book, and still expected his 'girlfriend' Brooke to be committed to him, I just about got annoyed with him. The other characters felt too do-goody to me to feel strongly about them.
The narrative didn't score too high with me either. Parts of it slogged for me, and I was anxious to get past that to see what would happen next. I also wasn't too impressed with how many times the characters kept mentioning about 'a good future', or '10 more days' or 'a few more weeks', but then I guess my knowledge of what was coming biased me against that. For me the main draw of the book was the fickleness of life. How you can sit and make plans to do a ton of things, and it only takes an instant for all that to be thrashed to rubble. How you can decorate and redecorate your house, and a tornado whips it to shards. How you can make plans to meet a long lost friend, and an accident makes that an impossibility. All through my reading of this book, that thought was heavily present, and it was very humbling to acknowledge it. With that in mind, I wished things didn't tie up so nicely in the end, because I would never have expected loose ends to get sorted out. But I guess, for closure, it has to be allowed.
Still, this was a really fast-paced book - the plot moved quickly too, and Shors' descriptive writing made me want to visit Thailand. The description of the deadly waves was also spot-on and vivid. I would have liked to see what happened next in the aftermath, but I appreciated the ending enough to formulate my own what-next and acknowledge the message of the book. I know I wasn't too moved by this book, but I definitely thought it was insightful and thought-provoking.(less)
When The Secret of Lies begins, we find Stevie Burke abandoning her home, husband and a contented life heading to nowhere specific - she hasn't figure...moreWhen The Secret of Lies begins, we find Stevie Burke abandoning her home, husband and a contented life heading to nowhere specific - she hasn't figured that out yet. All she knows is that she has to address the demons of a past that is slowly but surely overwhelming her. A past that begins from when she was thirteen, and culminates to a horrible tragedy when she turns fifteen. Every summer until that tragic year, Stevie and her sister Eleanor would travel to her uncle and aunt's summer house in the North Atlantic coast for a fun-filled summer. It is during one of these years that they meet deaf Jake, who becomes their good friend. Over two years, however, feminine discoveries and desires catch up with the sisters, until in their last year at the summerhouse, things get out of hand for one of them.
When I first started reading The Secret of Lies, I realized that this isn't my usual fare. But, interestingly, it also turned out to be hard to put it down. I found this book more engrossing than I expected it to be. Something happened to Stevie when she was fifteen, and although it took a long time for that to be revealed, the character developments in the meantime were fascinating. At one point, way before the tragedy, I could already see where this was going, and it even surprised me that the characters allowed it to continue.
The story is told in a mostly linear form, with just the beginning chapter set in the present. I found myself judging Stevie too harshly at the start. Her thoughts appeared to me too rambling and confused, and I couldn't quite figure out why she finds it necessary to leave home. I can't say that I understood it any better in the end, but at least, by then, Stevie turned out to be less one-dimensional and more dynamic than she was at the start.
Although the story is told from Stevie's point of view, the other characters get center-stage opportunities many times. Barbara's writing is very beautiful - that's one of the reasons I found the book very intriguing. Occasionally though, it slips into an overly formal mode that makes it awkward hearing the thoughts of a thirteen-year old girl. Still, that was just few and far between. I felt that some times the buildup to some event was too long and obvious, and the events in between felt too trivial to be written about.
Still, I was glad that I didn't let my taste preferences interfere, because The Secret of Lies was quite enjoyable. My copy had quite a few typos that did bug me, but reading this book was mostly a breeze - I probably finished it in two nights. A nice debut book from the author!(less)
Early last month, there was a new graphic nonfiction book getting a lot of buzz. It's very rare that I see non-comic graphic books getting some much n...moreEarly last month, there was a new graphic nonfiction book getting a lot of buzz. It's very rare that I see non-comic graphic books getting some much needed hype, so I was quite thrilled to see Green River Killer featured. But I wasn't very sure about the subject itself. I prefer reading non-graphic nonfiction about true crime, I wasn't sure how the graphic medium was going to handle that. How sensitive would it be? Words in reference to psychopaths can make me queasy, but pictures, even more so. Sometimes, it helps to be judgmental when you read - seeing the picture of a tragedy breaks open some vulnerable part in you, and can affect your perception of an incident. With pictures, there's usually only one side that's presented. Even in writing, it's hard to present two sides justly. Not that there's anything just or right about killing - but to understand why a killing happened, I find it necessary to understand the killer himself. But I needn't have worried much - this book was less about the killer and more about the detective who took charge of the investigation. And in that respect, I think the writers/illustrators did a genuinely wonderful job in bringing forth a lot of emotions and issues related to the case.
Green River Killer is, as the title says, about the Green River Killer, the serial killer who raped and murdered a possible 90+ women, many of them prostitutes. Most of the murders occurred between 1982 and 1984, and the bodies were disposed off in the Green River area in Seattle, hence the name. The killer, Gary Ridgway was arrested twice on charges of prostitution, but no one had any concrete proof to link him to the killings. When, finally, DNA technology made it possible to conduct more reliable tests, Ridgway was formally arrested and charged with seven murders. However, Ridgway came forward with a plea bargain - he will lead the detectives to the bodies of as many of his victims as possible. Rather than give him the death penalty for seven solved murders and leaving the remaining dozens of mysteries go unresolved and the victims' families without closure, the State Prosecution decided to spare him the axe and get as many answers as they could. Green River Killer is the story of that investigation, particularly from the viewpoint of detective Tom Jensen, as told to his son Jeff.
The book slips back and forth in time, almost unobtrusively - in the present, the detectives are interviewing Ridgway, who isn't exactly having any significant detail or evidence to share. The images set in the past almost always follow the fruitless investigation and the immense effect it has on Tom Jensen. Following a true detective "story" on graphic media was an interesting experience. Some of the guys had been working on the case for years. Jensen had been on it right from the start and following the progress on the case was like cheering on an embattled fighter in a ring, or the valiant underdog team in a high-stakes game. You just wanted him to nail the guy, and go home to enjoy his retirement. But it wasn't easy. What he expected to take "no time" at all, took almost twenty years. During that time, the years catch up on Tom Jensen, though he remains as charismatic as ever and still smoking many cigarettes a day, after having promised to give it up when the case is finally solved. In all these years, he remained the primary investigator in the Green River killer case, which pretty much overtook every aspect of his life.
This book is as much about the detective process as it is not about the killer himself. And that's where I was slightly disappointed. Ridgway was shown as mostly the killer he is with not much remorse or back story. What we hear about him is what's mostly in the public domain already - his troubled childhood, his compulsion to conquer in sex and death, his fascination with committing necrophilia and difficulty to resist it. Although I hoped for a little more insight into this man, this wasn't the book for it, as the writers also made it clear. Still, that's not to say that Ridgway was portrayed as one-dimensional. There are times you can actually see some feeling in him, while you're trying not to feel that sensation of your skin crawling when you look at his pictures. I hated it when he tried to justify his killing habits by saying that he was doing a good thing for the country by ridding it of prostitutes. On the other hand, he loved his wife (his third), and even liked one of the women he killed. When he was trying to provide evidence to the detectives, it was hard to not feel sorry for him while he tried to recollect his memory. The detectives kept accusing him of how they would never forget it if they did something of this magnitude. My guess was more that raping and killing was such a routine exercise for him that it wasn't hard for him to forget the details.
Green River Killer was very thought-provoking and well-done. It had the right amount of mystery, intrigue, and humanity added to the illustrations. The black and white sketches also gave the book a dark gothic tone, well in sync with the tone of the story itself. This is yet another fabulous graphic book that I will strongly recommend to you guys. It's far less disturbing than it might be reading about the killer, and the crime itself is never exploited in graphics - giving it just the amount of truth and sense of tragedy as is necessary, but the people's emotions and reactions lend the tragedy the rest of the weight.(less)
Fifteen-year old Susanna grew up with a sister who was ready to embrace her sexuality the minute she crossed that threshold and a mother who couldn't...moreFifteen-year old Susanna grew up with a sister who was ready to embrace her sexuality the minute she crossed that threshold and a mother who couldn't care less about what her daughters wanted or did. Her mother didn't have a great opinion of her daughters' father either, who she claimed was a womanizer and who wasn't around much. But Susanna was fascinated with the idea of her absent father. Having grown up on tough or no love, under a mother who is only focused on her own love life with a married man and with a sister who moves from one bed to another, Susanna mostly visualizes her life with a father who is always there for her. And then one day, she does find him. Using the flirting strategies she learned and concealing her identity, she seduces and then begins an illicit affair with her father.
When I first read the synopsis of this book, I thought this was a weird and unconventional premise for an award-nominated book. Repeat it Today with Tears was longlisted for the Orange Prize and I badly wanted to read it. Incest is such a taboo, discomfiting and disturbing topic, but it's also an oddly fascinating one - one which leaves the two sides of your minds warring with each other. On one side, you don't want to understand a character like Susanna - if I understood her, does it mean that I approve of her actions? On the other hand, you do want to know why she did it, and to know that, you have to let go of all the inhibitions, prejudices and biases that you bring to the reading experience. I say prejudices, because even though I don't see any legal, moral, ethical or biological good in incest, there is usually more to a picture than meets the eye. And while, during the first half of the book, I was railing against Susanna to not do something like that, and use her common sense instead, halfway into the book I began to empathize with her and really understand her. Eventually, I was able to close the book without judging her, and for me that was very important, because it meant that the author didn't use incest as a plot device or to manipulate a reader but to create a fascinating character who was simply lost.
I had to say the above, because I am not a fan of books that take controversial matters or true tragedies and weave them into fiction. My instinctive reaction is usually to feel exploited or taken advantage of. I didn't feel that here. There's also the fact that incest is a very hard topic to read about. Most of us have fathers, mothers and siblings we love, which is what makes empathizing hard. How do you empathize when you cannot put yourself in the other person's shoes? This book didn't glorify, sensationalize or sully the concept of incest. Interestingly, it felt like reading about any other affair. In addition, the author didn't cast her judgments into the story or the character, or make it appear a right thing to do or a wrong thing.
Repeat it Today with Tears was actually pretty fascinating and intriguing, despite its subject. Most of the time, I was curious about how this will unfold, because there's definitely not going to be a happy ending. Susanna's father had no idea that she was his daughter. He had given up his womanizing ways for years and was surprised to find a young beautiful girl want to even be with him. Since Susanna's mother had all but neglected her daughters completely, there was no one to stop her from doing whatever it was that she wished. I loved how the author constructed the novel - as I mentioned above, I was all anti-Susanna initially. But over time, you could see why Susanna did what she did. I felt sorry for her - any girl who makes sordid life choices at 15 and doesn't think so, didn't have a proper home or guidance. At some point in, I began to see The Bell Jar's Esther Greenwood and Audrey Tautou's Angelique from He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not in Susanna. You could see her erroneous reasoning, her descent into the madness of love and life, her attempts to obsessively protect everything that she considers hers, her jealous-woman reactions to her father/lover's conversations with his wife, her easy willingness to give up on her life even before it has begun. You could see that although just 15/16, she was behaving mostly as someone much older than that, and yet still trapped within the vulnerability of a 15/16-year old mind.
In the end, I thought this book was wonderfully written. Mostly, it's a character-driven novel - a very powerful one - as the author builds the background of the characters and establishes the relationships between them. Occasionally, I felt the writing slip up - as if the author was trying too hard but instead falling flat. The second half of the book felt more intriguing to me, because we learn of the consequences of Susanna's actions - on others and on herself. Here was a chance for a girl to get over the affair, but... I'm not going to spoil it for you. I would strongly recommend this read, which at 186 pages, packs a lot of emotion, intrigue and a wonderful story arc.(less)
Frank Cauldhame is a sixteen year old who has killed three people and doesn't bat an eyelid before torturing an animal or insect. He has an impressive...moreFrank Cauldhame is a sixteen year old who has killed three people and doesn't bat an eyelid before torturing an animal or insect. He has an impressive system of nomenclature for any significant landmark in the dunes behind his house on an island, such as The Snake Park, where one of his victims was killed, The Bomb Circle, where another victim died, and so on. His brother Eric, who was admitted to a psychiatric institution after setting dogs on fire, had somehow managed to escape from the institution, leaving his father and the cop worried. Frank himself doesn't know whether to worry or await Eric's ultimate arrival at his house - he has been perceiving signals around his house that Eric's arrival might not be such a good thing. Should he take the initiative and stop Eric or wait and watch?
When I first heard of this book, I was reminded of Miss Entropia and the Adam Bomb, which I read earlier this year and loved! The Wasp Factory also has a protagonist whose definition of what's normal is heavily skewed, and I love reading from perspectives of characters like these (which also include serial killers, psychopaths, depressed/bipolar people, etc). Reading about these characters makes me realize how fragile the thing called the brain actually is, and how a tiny snap is all you need to careen from being a sensible person to someone still intelligent but highly irrational, emotional or antipathetic, and incapable of leading the life that was. On that grounds, I felt that Iain Banks succeeded in creating a character whose reasoning was flawed and yet very sound, who explains his killings without any remorse, and who left me worrying about the plight of the other characters, despite his promise not to kill again.
Frank has a lot of prejudices - he despises women and doesn't shirk from thinking venomous thoughts against them. He had a calculated calm manner to doing things, and could explain away even the most stray occurrence as a sign from the Wasp Factory. And the Wasp Factory itself is an intricate invention of this kid who except for possessing such disturbing thoughts is otherwise a genius in many ways. I had been waiting to see what this factory was all about, after it being mentioned a ton of times all throughout. I guessed, of course, that whatever it was, it was not going to be pleasant, seeing as Frank reveres it and the author wasn't giving away too much. After all the buildup, when I finally reached the chapter, it turned to be sort of anti-climatic, because I was expecting a whole lot more in there, but let me just say that the wasp factory in itself blew me away. I did end up feeling way too sorry for the wasps, and I'm just glad that Frank didn't invent something like that for bigger living things.
Although I wouldn't classify this book as creepy, despite its contents, (and it didn't leave me with any kind of nightmares), the author does succeed in giving Frank's actions a kind of real-world feeling. At some point through the book, I had to keep telling myself that this was fiction. Frank had all the tell-tale signs of a future serial killer, and I desperately wanted someone to take note and do something about it. His brother Eric was another enigmatic character, and half the time, I was left wondering who I would choose to keep home, if I had to. Their conversations were hilarious when you think that you wouldn't go to either people for advice. It was just totally mind-blowing how no one wised up to Frank's actions, his own father spends most of his time drunk and leaving Frank to his own devices. Of course, his father has a bigger secret locked up in his study, which Frank had been trying to enter for years. When he finally manages to enter the room, I totally never saw that twist coming even from a mile away, even with all the hints dropped through the book. That ending somehow eased up some of my worries of Frank's possibly shady future, but it didn't feel very convincing.
This is my first experience with Banks' work and I didn't know until recently that he had published a lot of known works. This book took me a while to finish - I would have appreciated a map of the island, because I had trouble picturing some of the descriptions of the island and the dunes. It is however a book that I hope to reread at some point, because I'm sure I didn't get the significance of some aspects. I did feel that some questions weren't answered and am still left wondering about them, but I could just as easily have overlooked them while reading. Overall, The Wasp Factory was a nice literary sketch of a cold, impassive mind.(less)
In 1954, a pastor named Jim Jones opened a new church in Indianapolis called the Peoples Temple. Being charismatic and fully aware of how to influence...moreIn 1954, a pastor named Jim Jones opened a new church in Indianapolis called the Peoples Temple. Being charismatic and fully aware of how to influence people, he began preaching his idealistic beliefs and managed to quickly gather a good number of followers. Over the next twenty years, as the church moved from Indiana to California, and ultimately to its deathbed, Guyana, Jones would amass a huge number of followers, many willing to follow him to the ends of the earth, in the hopes of making the world take heed to their socialistic beliefs. Their temple did make history in 1978, but for its role in the largest mass murder/suicide of Americans, when close to a thousand people either killed themselves or others, in answer to Jones request to commit 'revolutionary suicide'.
I had never known something this horrific had even happened. I ordinarily wouldn't have read this book because of its heavy leanings into religion, but the tragedy behind this book kept popping in my radar. If there's one thing I struggle to understand, its how people can stop trusting their instinct or listening to their inner person, and do something so outrageous as kill themselves. And this isn't one or two people we are talking about - the statistics are incredibly hard to believe. Moreover, this tragedy wasn't the result of a war or a religious faction taking control - instead these people had free will and the freedom to do as they wished. But, as Julia Scheeres shows in this book, A Thousand Lives, it's one thing for me to tell my friends that I'm not interested in joining them for something. It's a totally different thing and an impossibly hard one to walk out of a huge violence-capable mob, with your freedom and dreams intact. And that's why riots are hard to control.
A Thousand Lives chalks the intertwined histories of Peoples Temple, Jim Jones and many of its members. It is written based on the diaries, letters, and several tons of paperwork left behind by the people of Jonestown, recently declassified by the FBA. Some of these documents contain evocative dreams, hopes and wishes, while others are devoid of feeling and very robotic. From very early on, Jim Jones and his temple made for fascinating news material. Stuff about Jones' healings and miracles attracted people. These staged miracles did find him a lot of believers who couldn't wait for him to pull a magic trick on them and ease their sufferings. Jones also seemed to pull in more African Americans with his call for equal rights for all, at a time when America was going through an intense segregation period. And he even had some interesting but disgustingly cheap tactics to discourage people from leaving his temple. From the moment Jones had the eureka moment of taking his power a step beyond, his followers were doomed. And this was many years before the actual tragedy.
Scheeres shows how Jones started off as a perfectly reasonable, though idealistic person. It would be hard to refute his claims, especially by someone looking for some identity, something to belong to. His intentions were initially noble, he genuinely wanted to provide his people a place where they can all be equals and find in others a companion rather than an adversary. And despite what horror he cultivates in the end, it was hard not to see in him what people like to see in some leaders. But power is a dangerous thing in highly influential minds. And paranoia soon starts becoming him.
At the outset, the reader (at least me) doesn't know who manages to survive the tragedy. Although there is no single protagonist, some victims/survivors take the reins of the story occasionally. Some are highly religious people and have always been so, others are looking to find something to help overcome a recent tragedy in their lives, yet others are barely religious, but Jones' teachings made perfect sense to them and hence they decided to join the group. While most of the principal 'characters' in this book sounded sane to me, it is the ones who are always in the background but playing important roles in Jonestown that didn't sound so sane. Almost all the information on them are third-hand, which makes it hard to know exactly what they were thinking or why they felt compelled to partake in Jones' paranoia. Religion and socialism are the two major characters of this book, apart from the architect Jones himself. The author paints a clear picture of how even sane people like you and me ended up committing the unbelievable act.
Ultimately, I'm glad I read this book. Full suspension of belief in some religious people has always boggled my mind. Having been fiercely independent for most of my life, I find it hard to fathom someone else making a decision for me and deciding what I will do each day. There's usually a word for the kind of behavior described in this book - cult. The author makes it clear at the start that she wouldn't be using that word in the book, because it isn't the right word here. The book does justify her perspective (of course she wrote the book), and although I do think it's not too hard to write a story to make it look both cult-like and non-cult-like, I am inclined to agree with her here. There was nothing cultish in the behaviors of the people here, except for maybe their final action, which I'm still struggling to understand on so many levels.(less)