Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Book Reviews

Keenan joked the other day that he has neglected this blog. I told him he should write on his flat-hunting experience, bank experience (thanks NatWest!), and his trips to Germany for work. The truth is, while I am blogging away, Keenan is spending time reading. For those of you who've been to our Rockridge apartment, Keenan built up a pretty nice library. But since we weren't sure where and how big our flat would be in London, we decided not to ship the books. Instead, they are sitting at my parent's home in Sacramento. In Oxford, while I was working away at the IASTE conference, he spent hours at Blackwell's Bookshop, a wonderful bookstore off the High Street to pick up a few novels, though he still insist that his beloved Moe's on Telegraph is better.

Here's his latest reviews, taken from his Facebook page:

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Mohsin Hamid

"Basically an allegorical tale of the narrator's tumultuous relationship with
America, this is a short, but dense story and would be worth a second read, if only to pick out some details which may have been glossed over initially. The delivery is candid, but tense and the content is both timely and relevant with implications on both geographies of experience, his original Pakistan and his adopted America. The title of the book can be interpreted in a couple of different ways. At first glance it seems that our protagonist is a budding political or religious fundamentalist, struggling with memories and unresolved personal torments from his time in the States and headed towards an unquestioned destiny of Islamic or nationalist extremism. However, during his flashbacks of New York he makes frequent reference to his valuation firm’s mantra, “focus on the fundamentals”, in this case the fundamentals of finance and valuation. His eventual rejection of the corporate world and of America generally begins with an initial hesitation to focus on the fundamentals of a particular work engagement, and develops into a reluctance to fully accept a communion with this lifestyle. At first enthusiastic towards his job offer, circle of friends, and his day to day routine, his commitment seems to dwindle almost at the same pace of his deterioration with his romantic interest, Erica. Pay close attention to the events he experiences with her just prior to his business trip to Manila and his subsequent reaction to 9/11 while there. When their relationship is on a high, he experiences euphoria for his American life. As their relationship becomes more complicated, with instances of rejection and twisted forms of forced intimacy his views and feelings towards America change.

Further to this last point, I don’t think it is a coincidence that Hamid chose the name “Changez” (the Urdu form of Genghis) for our protagonist, as it can also be mispronounced or interpreted as “changes”, reflecting an ongoing process of development and devolution, or perhaps evolution, into another state of mind and frame of reference.

Overall, this is a strong book and was worthy of its consideration for the Man Booker. I would highly recommend it to anyone with a mild curiosity in it."

Gregory David Roberts

"At times self-aggrandizing and unbelievable and with prose and style that isn't anything worth clamouring over, this is a good novel overall, an interesting plot and a quick and easy read, despite coming in at just over 900 pages.

My main criticism is that Roberts demonstrates throughout the novel that he is capable of a higher writing form, but he usually devolved back into a style that I found hurried, untimely, and sometimes sloppy. Too many plot twists were conveniently placed and predictable. Some of the characters were simply flat with more emphasis on their physical descriptions rather than in the development of their personality and human traits.

Also, scattered with references to what I perceived as popular lollipop philosophy, Roberts does not do a great job of building and supporting his characters' philosophical assumptions on life, something the reader is bombarded with again and again. If this was a primary goal of the book then he would have done well to construct a more thorough and well-thought philosophy. Indeed he could have accomplished this as he certainly didn't seem concerned with the length of the book. Further to this last point, even though the read goes quickly, it was too long and redundant with repetitive sub-plots which only added marginal value to the overall work.

If there is a modest curiousity in this book then I would recommend it. Rumor has it that this is one of a possible 3 or 4 part series. If this is true then I am not convinced that I could commit myself to reading future installments unless Roberts mixes it up a bit and attempts to challenge his readership a bit more than he has with this first publication."

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