Sunday, August 28, 2011

Children of Dust, by Ali Eteraz

Ali Eteraz, Children of Dust. New York: Harper One, 2009. hard cover, 337 pps.

Ali Eteraz was born Abir ul Islam in a small village in Pakistan. He built his identity around having been promised to serve Islam. He attended madrassa and was beaten. Beatings were routine during lessons if a boy made too many mistakes in his recitation of a portion of the Koran which was set for his memorization that day. And sometimes for other things.

He migrated to the United States with his family, finally settling in the Bible Belt. Abir then became Amir. The young Amir experimented with sex and the secular, then settling into a routine of super-Islam-dude. His idealized self fell short when presented with the responsibility of running a student Muslim organization in college.

He became a lawyer, lost his practice, reinvented himself as Ali Eteraz and went to Kuwait to seek converts to his idea of Islamic reform. A friend enlightens him. He returns to the United States.

This book was not as satisfying to me as A Thousand Splendid Suns was, but still good and worth reading. Ali's name changes seemed to be a bit more than the reinvention of his self. To me there were whispers of fragmented selves rather than an integrated personality. I may be wrong about that. That is the impression the book left with me.

sapphoq reviews says: recommended to those who are curious about life in a small Pakistani village.

A Dead Hand, by Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux, A Dead Hand. New York: Marina Books, 2010. paperback, 279 pps.

A Dead Hand, subtitled A Crime in Calcutta, is a work of fiction and a crime mystery by the great Paul Theroux. (He and Oliver Sachs are tops on my wish list of people to hang out with for a couple of hours drinking tea and talking about regular stuff). As always with Theroux's writings, a sense of place is omnipresent. The narrator is a man reluctant to leave Calcutta because of a mysterious woman. The woman, Mrs. Unger, is an American ex-pat with an orphanage, some knowledge of tantric sex and Kundalini, and a fetish for the blood of black goats. She also has a pair of quasi sons-- Charlie and Rajat. She is a wealthy philanthropist, but not after the fashion of Mother Theresa so it seems. Theroux inserts himself into the book by meeting the narrator and asking if he knows Mrs. Unger. The ending involves a cremation without rain.

This book should be required reading for any fluffy bunny who believes that Kali-Ma is a benevolent protector of women and fluffy bunnies.

sapphoq reviews says: Highly recommended for fans of Paul Theroux as well as for those who appreciate a sense of place.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns. London: Riverhead Books, 1997. hardcover, 372 pps., including Afterword and Acknowledgements.

I found A Thousand Splendid Suns in a rummage sale at a library. The author Khaled Hosseini is noted for his novel The Kite Runner (on my "to read" list now along with all of Paul Theroux's fiction and any future works of J. Marteen Troust) and for his work with U.N.H.C.R. (refugee agency of the U.N.). I found the afterword to be highly informative about the Afghan refugee crisis and I have visited as Hosseini recommends. I regret not having read the afterword first of this fine book.

A Thousand Splendid Suns tells an interwoven fictional story of several Afghani families set against a historical backdrop of three decades. Mariam was born the illegitimate child of a cinema-owning tycoon and one of his servants. He sent Mariam and her mother to live in a small hovel near a stream approximately two kilometers from town. Although he regularly visited Mariam once a week, he did not acknowledge her officially. Thus, she remained cut off from the benefits received by his other children and three wives. Mariam was also visited by a kind elderly mullah who tutored her in the Koran. Mariam the adolescent wanted to attend school like her half sisters and go see a movie at her father's cinema in town. But she was denied these opportunities because she was a bastard child.

Upon her mother's death when Mariam was fifteen, she was briefly moved to the guest room in her father's mansion. Shortly after, her father arranged a marriage for Mariam to a shoemaker who was much older than she. The man Rasheed met Mariam, they married in haste, and moved to his two story house in another city very far away. Thus, the problem of Mariam was gotten rid of.

As the old saying goes, everything worked for the first couple of weeks. Rasheed presented his bride with a burqa. Shortly after, Mariam experienced her first pregnancy and her first natural abortion. Rasheed began to reveal his temper and his pickiness, resulting in regular beatings of his teen wife. More pregnancies and natural abortions followed. Mariam was unable to carry a fetus to term.

Meanwhile, several overthrows of the government had occurred and the Afghanis started fighting amongst themselves based on tribal geography. Down the street, a barely pregnant teenager lost both of her parents to a rocket. Her teen lover had left for Pakistan. Rasheed found her in the rubble and dug her out. Mariam and Rasheed nursed her back to health. Laila, the teen, quickly agreed to be Rasheed's second wife. She was out of options. Laila's upbringing had been more modern. For the sake of her unborn daughter, she donned a burqa and submitted to Rasheed. Her first child, a daughter was born. Rasheed suspected the child was not his. And so, after a time the shoemaker had two women to beat. Mariam and Laila became friends. Mariam got a chance to be an auntie to Laila's daughter by her absent teen lover, and then to her son by Rasheed.

Laila and Rasheed's son copied his father's treatment of the two women. He defied them and would not listen to them as he knew they had no real authority over his. He was his father's
child in many ways. He remained so throughout most of the book. When Laila's teen lover returned, the son ratted to Rasheed. This resulted in a severe beating of both women. Mariam sacrified her self so Laila and the children could escape with Laila's teen lover. They settled in Pakistan for two years and then returned to their hometown.

A Thousand Splendid Suns was an excellent historical fiction. The characters were well drawn, the history presented was accurate, and there was a real sense of place. I found myself involved with the characters. There was enough suspense to hold my interest. The horror portrayed when the Shittites marched victoriously into town chilled me to the bone. What would I do if I woke up one morning to men wearing black turbans in a jeep announcing that all women must now wear burqas and are required to have a male relative accompany them when on the streets?
I had a Muslim acquaintance of several years who startled me one day by telling me that he wanted the United States and other places to be under Sharia law. My acquaintance was educated and well-spoken. My reaction reflected my shock at his viewpoint. [The man has since disappeared]. I have at least one relative who fervently believe that the more fundamentalist Muslims will "take over the world one day." And another who believes that all divisions between fundamentalist and the more modern Muslims are artificial at best. He says that Muslims are more prone to becoming fundamentalist than Christians are due to the lack of higher criticism available related to the Koran. Thus the prevalence of Muslims who interpret the Koran literally is higher than the prevalence per population of Christians who interpret the Bible literally.

There is, I think, a common assumption that almost all Muslim men who embrace Sharia law are violent and beat their wives. I wonder about that, if there have been studies or not. What is the percentage of Shittite men who have beaten their wives vs. the percentage of Sunni men vs. the percentage of men who belong to other fundamentalist religions vs. the general population in various countries? One beating of one human being is one too many. Is fundamentalism of any ilk a contributing factor to probability of domestic abuse or is it merely a correlant?

sapphoq reviews says: Highly recommended for those who like narratives, memoirs, or historical fiction

The Broken Window by Jeffrey Deaver

Jeffery Deaver, The Broken Window (a Lincoln Rhyme novel). New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008. paperback, 596 pps., including Author's Note.

Fans of Lincoln Rhyme and privacy activists are sure to warm up to this novel. The story opens with Lincoln's cousin Arthur Rhymes visiting an attractive woman at her domicile, then she gets brutally murdered. The murderer absconds with her latest collected painting by a minor artist named Prescott. Arthur is unjustly accused of the murder and is sent off to prison. Lincoln is asked to look into the matter.

Lincoln detects a pattern. Underneath the pattern is a giant data collecting corporation and a disgruntled ex-employee. The pattern itself involves several men imprisoned for crimes which they did not commit. The ending involves a piece of historic rock and the healing of the fractured relationship between Lincoln and Arthur. The Author's Note speaks to privacy and identity concerns.

This novel was satisfying and for the most part fast-moving enough to hold my interest. And I liked it. The caveat to watch over one's identity in a time of decreasing privacy is well to heed.

sapphoq reviews says: Recommended for fans of Lincoln Rhymes.