Friday, September 25, 2009

Joseph Boyden's Three Day Road

I read about Boyden's book while blog hoping. I can't for the life of me remember which blog it was especially since the post was not a recent one. If it is your blog do let me know and please receive my appreciation for the introduction to this fine book. Since then I heard a lot about it and decided to give it a go. So here I am a newly minted Joseph Boyden fan! Found the book in the Library shelf waiting just for me and it never hit the floor till I finished. A fantastic book by this new author who is blessed with the wisdom and gift of an experienced writer. I know he has many more books waiting to form in his story arsenal and each an experience to treasure for the reader.

It was interesting to find that 'Three Day Road' was also one of David Davidar's first publishing efforts in his capacity as Penguin Canada's President and Publisher. He was richly rewarded with Canada's prestigious Giller Prize being awarded to Boyden for his second book Through Black Spruce which I have not read. It is a sequel to his first book and it seems a third book is also planned to complete a trilogy.

Three Day Road is complex in story and character and quite captivating with its World War I backdrop. I didn't think I could take War activities in my stride but Boyden has succeeded so well that I flew past page after page of trenches, grenades and sniping not to mention all the other grissly details in complete empathy with the characters. Xavier Bird or 'X' as he is known is the narrator that sticks with you to the end. His Aunt Niska and close friend Elijah Weesgeechak (used in story as Whiskeyjack) also are strong in their narration of the events that shape their lives as Cree Indians as well as Canadians taking part in the War on behalf of their country. To me the story where the heroic but quiet Xavier being ignored for the impulsive but well spoken Elijah runs in parallel to Canada's quiet but courageous participation in the War alongside the more eloquent and applauded United States . Read here for an excerpt from the book to get a feel of Boyden's genius and here for more on the book itself.

"The real cold settled in with the moon of the exploding trees". This is how Boyden begins to describe the forest on a harsh winter night when the Cree where going through an extremely severe year. His language is picturesque and deep. Being of Irish Catholic ancestry sprinkled with traces of Metis and Mi’kmaq, Boyden has drawn on the Native American part well enough to have an authentic feel for this book told mostly through Cree Indian insight. If you don't read this book it will be your loss.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Short Stories by Ghassan Kanafani

I was rather disillusioned with a book that lost its storyline and style in the midst of reading. It was historical fiction about the Middle East in the colonial era. True to character I finished the book yet it felt incomplete. A Jordanian acquaintance who is originally from Palestine suggested that I might find reading Kanafani a different experience. Found 'Men In the Sun' in the short story section. It includes a novella of the same name and several other short stories.

Kanafani is a gifted writer and I could see a future O.Henry if only his life was not cut short so tragically early in his career. Like Henry's famous stories, Kanafani's stories too have a life
lesson to teach be it related to the plight of his people or just the normal everyday lives that many of us live.

One aspect of the title story 'Men In The Sun' is a theme familiar to the unemployed who are only too aware of the sufferings and trials to fulfill that elusive dream of finding a job to survive. A lot of the times for many it used to be about reaching the Gulf somehow and this story also describes how some of the Palestinians displaced from their homes reached Iraq in the hopes of making it to Kuwait through means straight or otherwise. It describes how these innocents from all walks of life are played back and forth by swindlers and smugglers who make a living by feeding on their dreams.

The story 'A Hand In The Grave' where two Med students attempt to steal a grave for a skeleton is one that many can identify with. One of them believed that he poked his fingers into the eyes of a dead body through a hole they dug and came off screaming. He eventually quit Med school while the other carried on. Years later they all learned that the graveyard was a fake one. The owner built it as a camouflage for storing wheat and flour and to keep them away from thieves. Reminded me of a recent movie that I watched called Delhi-6 which portrayed the fear that we all carry in our hearts in the form of 'Kala Bandar' aka 'Black Monkey', a phantom rumored to be roaming the streets and the cause for all the troubles. Read here for more on the book.

As the translator points out, Kanafani's success as a writer comes from the humanization of his stories by not limiting them to a particular people but rather presenting them as universal truths. This renders integrity to his stories and makes them classic in nature. I could only wonder what this author could have accomplished had he lived longer. His writing style is evolving and the story endings could use more finesse but the greatness and control of his stories are not easily found elsewhere.