We have all discussed Indian authors selling their stories to western audience demands. We have talked about Arundathi Ray and Arvind Adiga packaging India’s poverty, the sufferings of the poor into a story to win Literary prizes. I have participated in many of these debates, and I have found it hard to take a stance for these books, especially God of Small Things. Even, The White Tiger started out to be “Oh, look we are so poor, look at the disgusting conditions we live in” etc, but turned out to be a good story and a well written one at that too.
But now, I have found a book that I can show around and tell, this is how you sell your poverty and pity in a book. Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. It is a thousand times worse than the worst Hindi Family drama movie/mega-serial that you have seen (Ya, Okay, this may be exaggeration, but that’s how much I am pissed that this book got good reviews, what were the reviewers thinking)
If you have read his first book, The Kite Runner, then many among you will agree that Hosseini can write well. But all through this book, he has told a mediocre story poorly. There are some punch lines in the book, lines that were meant to touch your raw emotion kind of lines, and it was as though, Hosseini had concocted the story, just so that he could stuff those lines in there somewhere (Let me make a character called Mariam, and put her through 300 pages of trouble, so that I can write this super emotional line which will get my readers thinking).
The book does not start badly. It opens with a young illegitimate girl, waiting for her father. Pretty quickly, like how hindi movies fast-forward after the prologue about the Angry young man’s father being killed by the villain in front of the kid angry young man’s eyes through a song that backs up for dual purpose scenes of showing a hard working unlucky kid growing up with a sad widowed mother and the credits in the movie, the story shifts through embarrassment, death, rejection and marriage for the illegitimate girl, Mariam. The editor said to Hosseini, you have 50 pages for this story, stuff as much misery as you can.
As suddenly as the story moved from Herat to Kabul, we are stuck with the fact that Mariam cannot bear a child, her grumpy old husband is angry because he cannot have a son, and that, since Mariam is the main character so far, we should feel sorry for her, the character Mariam is forgotten for 100 pages, and we are introduced to Laila.
Everything about Laila is circumstantial. Everything. She had to have brothers killed in war, so that her mother would not love her (longing for her brothers instead), and had to have a liberal dad and a non-existent friend, so that the non-existent friend could be blown up in a bomb to teach Laila the sadness of her mother, her liberal dad to show her the life she could have had, if not for the war, and the mother who would not love her, so that they all could not escape from Afganisthan. Oh! and she had a one legged lover boy too, and the teenage love and the love making scenes are the worst that I have read in a long time.
Ya, so the war kills everyone except Laila, Mariam and her husband, and then Mariam’s husband marries Laila and the two ladies come together to form a thick friendship that helps them survive the bad times. A mediocre plot at best, but the writing after he gets the two main ladies together was appalling. They fight for no reason in the beginning, and for no reason, they are best friends for ever. And, if you thought the misery does had lightened, you were wrong there too.
And to make it even more bollywoodish, Yash Chopra types unbelievable, more unbelievable than the side stories invented to bring the dead alive in hindi mega-serials, was when teenage lover boy resurfaces. I tortured myself for a few more places, and stopped at the most logical place I could finish this most stupid story at. Hosseini rambles on for 40 more pages, but I am sure that it is not worth it.
Some time back, I had written this raving good review for The Kite Runner, and now I am beginning to think if all the praise was mis-placed, that somehow I misunderstood the book to be so great, but after this experience, I have no mind of re-reading that one.
But, I remember predicting that he would be a one-book-wonder anyway. My reply to a comment on the earlier post
FC: thanks. anyway, you can read this book. i kinda think tht this author will be a one-book-wonder. have a feeling he used all his imagination on this one story.