For the first time I’ve read a book, getting all the way through to the end, without knowing what the bloody hell was going on – but I loved it anyway. The book is ‘Gods Without Men’by Hari Kunzru. What is brilliant about this book is the incredibly deep insight Hari brings to the most diverse bunch of characters you could ever come across – over about a 300 year period – from a Priest of some description in the 1700’s, to a bloke called Jaz, who was brought up within a Sikh community in Baltimore, experiencing all of the cultural, familial and social challenges that comes with it.
When I read the book, apart from the author’s name, I didn’t know where Hari came from – probably Indian, but maybe Middle Eastern? So I looked him up and he’s not even bloody American – he’s an English Indian novelist, of Kashmiri Pandit origin from his Dad’s side, and Caucasian Anglican Christian origin from his Mum’s side – so how the hell does he have the insight into the American characters he’s created in ‘Gods Without Men’? I don’t know, but he definitely understands people and their motivations.
Based around the story of an autistic boy who gets lost in the desert, the book explores cults and how alluring they are to young people with nowhere else to go. It looks at people who get lost along the road of life and find their way back – kind of. It discusses the intense challenges for both the mother and father of an autistic boy and how the child’s challenges impact them both and their marriage. It discusses the insidiousness of the global banking industry. It discusses American Indian culture, including the white man trying to understand that culture, as well as the white man trying to squash that culture. It looks into the intense challenges of a young Indian lad growing up in America within a traditional Sikh family that does all it can to keep America outside, while holding on to Indian values – values the kids struggle to understand or connect with, because on the only visit to the ‘Motherland’ they found it weird, disconcerting, and had absolutely no connection to this place their parents’ hold so dear. Their life experiences in America are also inconsistent with their parents’ views of it – definitely an interesting perspective.
Then there’s the druggy rock star from England trying to make a record in the US, with dismal results – and he’s a character I love but have no idea why he was in it. The Iraqi brother and sister, living with the aunt and uncle (who loves everything about America) and the sister is trying to find her way in this new world after experiencing intense tragedy in Iraq – where her mother remains as she’s unable to leave. But when she gets a job on a US military site, pretending to be an Iraqi villager in a typical Iraqi town for war training exercises – well it’s all just a little bit out there but all the more wonderful for it.
There are so many stories within this book, and if you want to read something that will flip your mind upside down and back to front, this book is awesome. Like I said, I don’t know what it was about at the end of the day, and the spaceships and intergalactic communication was very quirky, but I loved it because it was a discussion on the complexity of the societies we live in today and how we can never really know what someone else has been through or is going through. I just love books where authors really understand people at the end of the day and Hari Kunzru definitely does.
I definitely recommend it if you want to enjoy a good yarn and a head-spin, however for a much better review than mine, check out Douglas Coupland’s perspective in the NYT.
Yours, without the bollocks