June was a solid book-reading month--all three books I read were very good!
And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini
In Khaled Hosseini's third novel, he ambitiously takes on multiple perspectives and stories about family, both biological and chosen, and how one choice can change several people's lives. It starts out as a story about a 10-year-old boy, Abdullah, and his 3-year-old sister, Pari, who were closely intertwined to each other. Their mother died giving birth to Pari, so Abdullah had the primary responsibility of raising his sister. Their father struggled to put food on the table. When given a chance to change this situation, he sold Pari to a wealthy family in Kabul, his brother-in-law's employers. Abdullah and Pari were torn apart tragically.
Hosseni is a brilliant writer--he paints a vivid landscape on the page and his characters are complex, multilayered, and interesting. The book is like a series of loosely interwoven stories, each chapter starting with a different perspective and setting. I am not a fan of short stories, so this was the only fault I found. I want to sink my teeth into a story, and short stories are just not long enough for me to get immersed. The plot jumped around from the Afghani village to Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to Greece, and some of the characters I preferred to others.
This novel is not nearly as tragic as Hosseini's first two, and some of the characters find redemption and reconciliation in the end. Beyond the colorful storytelling and wonderful stories of families and friendship, And the Mountains Echoed opens the world to Afghanistan, not just as a war-torn country of tragedy, but one of real relationships, heartbreak, and love.
Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala
This is a devastating, heart-breaking memoir about grief. Sonali Deraniyagala opens up the book in Yala, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, where she was vacationing with her husband, two sons, and parents over the Christmas holidays of 2004. Within a few moments, the massive tsunami took away the lives of everyone she loved most dearly, and she nearly died herself. Can you imagine what this would be like? Suddenly you see a wave rising up way too high and approaching your hotel and you tell everyone to run. Deraniyagala lost her beloved sons Vik and Malli and her English husband Steve. And parents who she loved dearly. Of course she wished she were dead too. Over the next several years, she passes through the many stages of grief...total depression and devastation, anger, bitterness, alcoholism, you name it.
At first she doesn't want to face her memories, but gradually she starts recollecting the wonderful details of her children and husband. My only quibble with this book is that she sometimes uses run-on sentences divided only by commas. I'm not sure if this was a deliberate stylistic choice but I'm guessing it must have been, I found that to be distracting. (See what I mean??)
Deraniyagala doesn't address the rest of the 230,000 people who died in that tsunami. That's not what this book was about. It's about grief, pure and simple, and how one woman finds her way through it. It's searingly honest and candid...and brave. Some reviewers have wanted more hope or resolution in this book, but that was not the purpose. Grief never resolves. It can fade away gradually, but it endures.
Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir, by Cyndi Lauper with Jancee Dunn
I've always loved Cyndi Lauper's unique sense of style, appealing to this woman whose mom once told her, "Marie--you have a style all your own!" Lauper was a true pioneer in the 1980s, inspiring many of today's edgy artists such as Lady Gaga, Nikki Minaj, and Pink. Cyndi Lauper's memoir is very much like her personality--all over the place. Writer Jancee Dunn manages to capture Lauper's voice and style in her writing. The narrative jumps around a bit, and she digresses, just as Lauper does...you can practically hear her distinctive voice jumping off the page. She has always been passionately committed to her ideals of justice, and she's also been committed to making great art--both musically and visually.
She has become a passionate advocate for LGBT justice, beginning with her friendship with Gregory, or "Boy Blue," who died of AIDS in the 1980s. Her beloved sister Elen also is a lesbian. I also learned that she has a strong connection to Japan, and she landed in Japan right after the big earthquake and tsunami and stayed there to give back to the Japanese people, who were mourning the devastation in their country. I have a much bigger appreciation for Cyndi Lauper's music now...and I'm glad I read this book. Steer clear if you don't like salty language!