Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Kite Runner

Did I hate it or did I love it? I certainly found it depressing, but only because it was so powerful. I never knew much about live in Afghanistan, and now I am a hundred times more grateful that I was born in America. But The Kite Runner was about more than just a foreign country; it was about courage, forgiveness, family, atonement. I loved the deep loyaty and love that held the characters together. Although the romance between Amir and Soraya wasn't a major plot point, it was my favorite part of the book. Perhaps because Soraya was one of the few living female characters, but also because the relationship between her and Amir was so full. It was nothing like the infatuations in The Great Gatsby or, heaven forbid, the Twilight romances: it was true love.

Perhaps I did love The Kite Runner. The relationships of the characters -- Amir, Baba, Hassan, Soraya, Sohrab -- were so strong and vivid; the nastiness of Afghanistan and the Taliban were nothing compared to that. I loved Amir, even when I could perfectly see his flaws. I could see how much he wanted to do what was right, and I could relate to his feeling of weakness and longer for closer relationships. In a way, The Kite Runner rejuvenated my hope for the world. Although it showed a darker side of life than I've ever imagined in reality -- than I even want to believe exists -- it also showed how individuals can rise above it.

The Great Gatsby

I loved The Great Gatsby. It was easy to read, and the voice was incredible.  Fitzgerald replaced cliches with vivid descriptions. Whether it be through metaphors, hyperboles, or similes, the image was immediate and clear. The comparisons were never abstract or simply put in to sound cool. Each one was picked to invoke the exact image and emotion needed. And, often times, the descriptions were ironic, giving the book a sense of dry humor. Just when the book began to become heavy or depression, a phrase would appear with a touch of irony, encouraging the reader to read more.

Besides being well written, The Great Gatsby teaches a lesson well. It shows the dangers of forgetting morals and living only for pleasure in a very real sense. Although it might appear that all ended well for Daisy and Tom, the reader sees the results their actions had on everyone else. Even Nick, who has no part in the affair besides besides that of an audience, is affected. And did not end well with Tom and Daisy; after all, each of them has lost someone they loved. The Great Gatsby shows how guilt and justice work in the real world. Not everyone is caught or punished, but no one is left with no consequences. The Great Gatsby  is no fairy tell where there's one bad guy and one hero, but a reflection of the grayed-out mess of reality. There are no heros, no villains, but in the end, crimes are still paid for. Because no matter who rich or privileged you are, consequences still follow.

Heart of Darkness

After the first page of Heart of Darkness, I decided it must be one of those "discussion" books. By that I mean it's one of those books that hardly has any meaning until it has been discussed by a group. As I read, I could pick up on cool elements -- the story within a story, foreshadowing, themes, common phrases or images -- but I never felt like I completely understood. Why so much distance between the reader and the true story? Why wasn't it enough to simply have Malow tell his story? Who was this unnamed narrator and what was his purpose? And, most of all, why were single paragraphs going on for three pages? I decided that Joseph Conrad and the author of The Scarlet Letter must be twins separated at birth.

There were, however, so points that I did find interesting. Over and over, I found phrases or descriptions indicating a lack of reality. Malow told the story to people who had never seen Africa and most likely never would. Everyone in Africa knew that what they didn't wouldn't make it to the "civilized" world. Other times, as Malow tells the story, it sounds as if he doesn't believe he was really there. Everything takes on a dream-like state. Even the setting, a man telling a long-winded story at night to men who are falling asleep, indicates a non-real quality to his story. This feeling of no reality (and therefore, no consequences) sets up an environment where a good man like Kurtz can become such as savage. Even Malow becomes apathetic because he doesn't believe what he does has any consequences.

Heart of Darkness could be a book about obsession -- Kurtz gets so obsessed with money that he looses himself and becomes evil -- but that obsession came from apathy. Stop caring about the future, stop caring about others, and you're open to be overcome with greed. 

And, as Kurtz so vividly shows, greed leads to destruction.