Moth Smoke presented a lively but disturbing portrait of life among the wealthy and privileged in Pakistan. The novel includes a Great Gatsby-like love triangle between the narrator, his best friend and the best friend's wife. The narrator, who is smart and handsome but whose background is less privileged than that of his friends, finds himself in increasing trouble as he tries to exercise the prerogatives of the young and rich without the means or connections. And despite the narrator's strong moral sense, he has a devastating sense of entitlement that ends up creating havoc in his life.
The images of Lahore, with its disparities in wealth and its casual corruption, were informative. A favorite minor character was the narrator's young servant, who comes the closest to a moral center for the novel.
The narration was well done, and the story easily holds up through the end. One drawback: The beginning, with allusions to Pakistani myths and an imagined courtroom scene, is hard to follow in audio. It's the kind of book you have to get in hard copy just to check out what was going on at the beginning. But then, as the novel flows, it gets easier to follow. Overall, a worthwhile and entertaining read.
I thoroughly enjoyed this post-apocalyptic tale of traveling actors and musicians after a flu pandemic wipes out most of the world's population. Kirsten Potter did an excellent job of narrating the novel, easily differentiating the characters' voices without overly dramatizing them.
The book may be difficult to read for those fearful of ebola, enterovirus and the many other potential pandemics traveling the globe. But it is optimistic, showing the importance of art, music, history and ultimately cooperation and caring for others--the essence of civilization. The resilience of the survivors, orphans living and creating new art in a world surrounded by corpses and disease, is moving. The novel is told through the adventures of several interlocked characters, all connected to the actor/celebrity Arthur Leander, who dies onstage at the start of the novel, playing King Lear in Toronto, just before the plague strikes. There is romance, danger, murder and even a false prophet. While it's not always believable, it's always compelling.
This was one of my favorite recent books.
This is an excellent, absorbing novel nearly ruined by a poor narrator.
The story focuses on a young law professor in Bogota who grew up uncomfortably through the violent years when Pedro Escobar's drug gang imposed random violence on all levels of society--even blowing up a passenger plane in flight to kill a politician who was not on board.
There are several plane crashes in the course of the novel, but the "things falling" include more than airplanes--the professor's life gradually disintegrates after a mysterious older man, a friend he met shooting billiards, is shot dead on the Bogota street. The professor had tried to stop the shooting, but he is also shot and seriously wounded. The story turns to the professor's increasingly obsessive search to understand the friend's life. Along the way, we learn the family history of the murdered man--his grandfather was a prominent pilot for the Colombian military, his daughter raises bees in the countryside. We also learn much about recent Colombian history.
But the narrator is the worst. He reads the novel indifferently, as if he were reading a cookbook. You get the impression as he reads that he has not himself read the material in advance. He makes no effort to differentiate the voices of characters or to put any feeling into their conversation. At times, it's hard to tell which character is speaking because they all use the same resigned monotone.
While the poor narration makes it hard to stick with the book, it's worth the effort. "The Sound of Things Falling" is a thoughtful and moving, if tragic, tale of ordinary people trying to get by in extraordinary times.
Euphoria presents a classic love triangle among three anthropologists in New Guinea between the world wars. The main charcter is Nell Stone, modeled after Margaret Mead, a free-thinking, insightful, deeply empathetic student of native cultures. Her husband Fen is her opposite, cynical, greedy and dismissive of local sentiments. Between them comes Bankson, the narrator, looking back years later on their brief time together in a small village, trying to control their lusts but not their ambitions. The story is well told, more absorbing and suspenseful as the book progresses. The author, like Nell, has a quick feel for other characters. Minor characters are well drawn with a few telling details. You especially feel for several of the villagers whose lives are changed by their observers.
The audiobook has a serious flaw, namely, the drab narration by Simon Vance. Bankson should be an energetic, passionate, vibrant young force of nature, despite his failed suicide attempt at the novel's start. Instead, Vance reads as a depressed and weary old man. This drains the novel of much of its excitement. Xe Sands, reading as Nell Stone, is far better, with the right enthusiasm and wonder in her voice. Overall, however, this was an excellent book.
This was a beautifully written, thoughtful book about the very different lives taken for granted by natives of two continents, a troubled region in Africa and a complacent midwestern America. The story follows Isaac, an impoverished African who flees civil war to become a curious, lonely student in Illinois. He is befriended by the equally isolated social worker Helen, and they slowly build a relationship. The best chapters take place in Africa, during the student uprising that inspired Isaac's closest friend. But the most memorable scene takes place in a small-town American luncheonette. Isaac expects little, and in her own way Helen also has muted ambitions. There are many moving moments on both continents. And both narrators are excellent, with the right voices of tenderness and regret. A strongly recommended novel.
Three Brothers portrays a world in which ambition and success lead only to misery. Of the three brothers, the oldest, Harry, makes his way in journalism through connections and by burying stories of corruption that would cause his boss financial problems. Daniel, the middle brother, becomes a professor and critic who is increasingly panicky about hiding his homosexuality. The youngest brother, Sam, has neither goals nor friends, but the author seems to regard his meekness as the greatest virtue. The brothers lose touch with each other early in the book, after their mother mysteriously abandons them. Their lives become three parallel but separate morality tales. The author is especially harsh on foreigners, like the South Indian Asher Roopta, a corrupt landlord. The book aims at a Dickensian flavor, with scenes at every level of society and with oddly named characters and coincidences. But even Dickens' most odious characters (Uriah Heep) were understandable, while Ackroyd's villains are cardboard targets. I confess that I enjoyed the book's first few chapters, until the author became increasingly bitter and his characters increasingly mean. Steven Crossley's narration was very good, as always.
Jo Becker has written a compelling drama, tracing the history of the lawsuit that declared unconstitutional California's Proposition 8, revoking the right to gay marriage. The author has a nice ability to take complex legal concepts--heightened scrutiny, equal protection--and make them clear and understandable. More important, she has a great ear for detail, so the characters all come alive. She focuses on the four plaintiffs--Paul and Jeff, Chris and Sandy--and the depth of their feelings for each other, as well as the importance of the case to those within and outside the gay/lesbian community. She also conveys the hard work, strategic decisions and almost obsessive attention to the case by the key lawyers (mostly Ted Olson and David Boies, with troops of lawyers supporting them) and the public relations groups advising them. Becker highlights the opposition from "traditional" gay advocates, who lobbied to avoid a federal case as they moved forward state by state, for fear of moving too quickly. She also provides an entertaining summary of the parallel Edie Windsor case, which set aside the Defense of Marriage Act, and its legal team. The ending, which was of course covered by newspapers and TV, is quite moving. Overall, the book is filled with lively personalities, nicely drawn, in the context of a very significant civil rights case. The narrator had a light touch.
This melancholy novel focuses on a troop of three actors wandering in the Andean villages of an unnamed South American Country, performing a political play written by one of them years earlier called "The Idiot President." That play had gotten the playwright thrown into a vile, dangerous prison as a terrorist, and now the troop is reviving the play for small mountain audiences. But the novel focuses on Nelson, a lonely young actor who recently broke up with his girlfriend, who somewhat arbitrarily joins the other actors to play the "President's" son, and who suffers the consequences of others' selfishness.
The novel surprises again and again. It is so unpredictable. And some moments are utterly chilling. But it's real charm lies in the mood it evokes, one of fatalism and resignation, one where you long for the characters to do the right thing or at least to overcome their circumstances. But again and again, it seems like no one is in charge and no one bears responsibility.
The narration was very good, too.
The novel is set in a milieu that is ripe for deep consideration of issues of war, home, bigotry, fascism and faith, namely, Lisbon in the late 1930s, a city filled with refugees fleeing Europe and trying to find new countries to accept them. But the novel focuses instead on four shallow, silly people who act like spoiled teenagers out of Gossip Girls. The narrator is a car salesman; the other couple write mystery novels under a pseudonym. The characters are disengaged from the war and nearly oblivious to the tragedies around them, both in Lisbon and in Europe. No doubt there were plenty of dull, disengaged people trying to leave Europe at that time, but it's not something worth reading about. The audiobook narrator had a good sense of voice for the characters.
This was a wonderfully written book, with pitch-perfect characterizations and a compelling plot. I found myself repeatedly surprised by the plot twists and the unexpected developments (like the way the characters' kids turned out). The underlying theme of the strength of relationships built as teenagers was fascinating--the relationships built in a couple of summers prove to be the most important relationships of these characters' lives, despite growth and marriage and fights and the rest. The narration was excellent, with subtle shifts in voice and tone to immediately identify the numerous characters, but without sliding into exaggeration. Minor characters were fun and well drawn, too--the camp founders, the Icelandic counselor, the folk singer. They all seemed real. Surprisingly, one of the most likeable characters was a husband who hadn't gone to camp and who wasn't artsy. He provided a nice contrast to the "Interestings." All in all, a beautiful novel.
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