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Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

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A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Plot Summary (Taken from Goodreads): A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years, from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding, that puts the violence, fear, hope and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives, the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness, are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

My Review: One of the best aspects of this book is how it almost reads like non-fiction. Since it is set during the last thirty years and based on events you hear about in the news, it is like the author is putting you right in the middle of those events. Also, the way the characters lives are documented feels like you are reading a journal in the third person point-of-view.

Another good aspect of the book is the characters. Most of the women and some of the men in this book are some of the most resilient and brave characters ever. Also, the two main characters provide stark contrast that makes the reader think about where their own lives are.

In addition, the author’s writing style brings the story to life. The way he sometimes uses metaphors makes certain moments more emotionally palpable.  A few sentences like this goes, “Each snowflake was a sigh heard by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. All the sighs drifted up into the sky, gathered into clouds, then broke into tiny pieces that silently fell on the people below. As a reminder of how women suffer.”

The only flaw of the book is that because it focuses on the women, some of the male characters were flat. Even though the male characters were secondary characters, there could have been more depth to them. In particular, the character Rasheed deserved a backstory so he wasn’t just a vile man to hate.

Overall, this was a heartbreaking yet beautiful book. I recommend this book to any fan of The Kite Runner and avid readers of historical fiction.

Written by Serena Zola

October 9, 2013 at 9:25 PM

Book Review: Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (Unabridged Version)

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“So long as ignorance and poverty exist on the earth, the books of Les Misérables cannot fail to be of use.”-from the Preface of Les Misérables

Plot Summary: During a historical time period of anti-monarchism in France, life goes on. A charitable and deeply religious priest lives modestly. A loving mother named Fantine desperately tries to support her daughter, Cosette. In the midst of them is a person no one expects much of: an ex-convict named Jean Valjean.

My Review: One of the most incredible things about this book is the characters. The ones I mentioned in the plot synopsis above are just a few of the main charactersThere are several other major characters and several minor characters that have a role in this book’s plot. Since they are so numerous, it is hard to keep track of everyone.

However, just about every character is so well-developed (some of them quite beautifully), this reader could imagine them truly existing in the time period that this novel is set in. If you are reading this for the first time like I was, I’d bookmark chapters  that focus on certain characters and maybe take notes. My favorite characters include Jean Valjean, Fantine, Éponine, and Little Gavoroche.

Besides the characters, Victor Hugo’s writing style deserves the highest praise. This reader has highlighted many lines and bookmarked a few pages or chapters that stood out because they were either very wise or very beautiful. Sometimes, these qualities combined themselves and it feels like you are reading poetry.  In particular, I found it amazing how he came up with an animal metaphor for some of the characters and combined it with a phrase of wisdom to form a motif that is continuous throughout the novel.

While Victor Hugo’s writing style is commendable, the way it was executed is somewhat flawed. There are long paragraphs of description in the book that are sometimes informative and sometimes tedious. Unless you are into architecture, you will end up skipping pages.

Also, there are chapters of historical information that will be tedious for those (like myself) who don’t have an interest it. Lastly, there are digressions in the form of essays that have the author discussing his beliefs. While they may not forward the plot, some of it may intrigue the reader.  Again, it depends on the reader’s interests.

Overall, this was a magnificent read. Victor Hugo has taken piety (i.e. religious faith), familial and romantic love, and many other things people experience and put them together in a powerful novel. This novel may be inspired by France’s history, but it is truly something for everyone and it is especially relevant to today’s trying times. It may have inspired a musical and a movie, but nothing can surpass this book.

Some favorite quotes from Les Misérables:

“Let us never fear robbers nor murderers. Those are dangers from without, petty dangers. Let us fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices are the real murderers. The great dangers lie within ourselves.”

“Yes, the brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over, this fact is recognized that the human race has been treated harshly, but that it is progressed.”

“The supreme happiness of life consists in the conviction that one is loved.”

“Animals are nothing else than the figures of our virtues and our vices, straying before our eyes, the visible phantoms of our souls.”

“Destroy the cavern Ignorance and you destroy the lair Crime.”

“To teach reading, means to light the fire; every syllable spelled out sparkles.”

“To burn without ceasing to fly-therein lies the marvel of genius.”

“Love has no middle course; it either ruins or saves.”

“An awakening of conscience is grandeur of soul.”

“It is nothing to die; it is dreadful not to live.”

Written by Serena Zola

January 26, 2013 at 11:19 AM

Book Review: The Kite Runner

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It tells the tale of two boys growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan. While both of them share the same wet-nurse, they are from different social classes. Amir, the narrator, is the son of a wealthy and important man. Hassan, on the other hand, belongs to a shunned ethnic minority known as the Hazara and is the son of a servant. Eventually, their lives together reflect the tragedies that come to Afghanistan. After a horrible incident fractures Amir and Hassan’s friendship, the Soviets invade Afghanistan and Amir goes to America with his father. However, Amir soon finds that he can’t forget Hassan so easily.

One of the notable things about this book was its honest insight into Afghanistan and its people. The author, who is Afghan himself, displayed the Afghan culture with a little language and a good bit of customs. For instance, Tashakor, which means Thank You in Farsi. A memorable custom from the novel is the traditional Afghan proposal and wedding.

Of course, there is violence, killing, and rape in this book. While it may seem like things you hear on the news, it is more than that. This book goes into some of the events that led to today’s ongoing bloodshed. Most importantly, it shows how innocent people suffered physically, mentally, and emotionally. Moreover, it shows how small things such as storytelling and kite flying can help you heal. From past to present, Afghanistan to America, The Kite Runner is a raw and powerful historical fiction read.

Written by Serena Zola

March 29, 2012 at 10:05 PM

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