Wednesday, May 24, 2006
SUMMER READING RECOMMENDATIONS
If you liked Howard's End, then you'll love: Forster's A Passage to India and A Room with a View, Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, A. S. Byatt's Possession.
If you liked A House for Mr. Biswas, then you'll love: Naipaul's Mimic Men, J. M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians, Timothy Mo's Sour Sweet, Ben Okri's The Famished Road.
If you liked Midnight's Children, then you'll love: Rushdie's Satanic Verses, Coetzee's Foe (a rewrite, sort of, of Robinson Crusoe) as well as many postmodern american novels out there (Pynchon, Roth) or classics such as Joyce's Ulysses, to which Midnight's Children responds.
If you liked Remains of the Day, then you 'll love: The God of Small Things and The English Patient.
If you liked On Beauty, then you'll love: Zadie Smith, White Teeth, David Lodge's novels (all hilarious).
If you liked The Kite Runner, stay tuned for Hosseini's next novel coming out soon.
others: Monica Ali's Brick Lane (female author, female protagonist), Margaret Drabble's trilogy: Radiant Way, A Natural Curiosity, and The Gates of Ivory (that was actually on the syllabus, but was out of print), Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy (described as an Indian Jane Austen), Annie Proux's The Shipping News (highly indebted to the Victorian novel).
Feel free to add suggestions, comments as you read on. I'll add books as I think of them. I loved having you all in class. It was a great way for me to wrap things up at SLU. Good luck!
Monday, May 08, 2006
Life Goes On...
The ending of The Kite Runner clearly indicates Sohrab’s depression upon being displaced. He wants nothing more than to go back to the life that he is familiar with in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, even if he was in Afghanistan, the life he once knew does not exist anymore. Amir says, "our old life is gone, Sohrab, and everyone in it is either dead or dying" (Hosseini 354-5). Perhaps this novel plays on human emotions a bit and might be considered cheesy, but no one can read that line and not feel the power of those words. Even though this is fiction, it is based on real events, the real situation in Afghanistan. If Hosseini uses these characters to make the Western world see the reality of situations abroad and care more deeply about what our country is doing to help these people, more power to him. Sohrab’s identity confusion, lamentations of his old way of life, and heart-wrenching actions to destroy himself because he is "tired of everything," is telling the story of all Afghani people and all those countries that have been ravaged by power-hungry groups like the Taliban.
Knowing that this is how Sohrab feels and what he has been through makes the smile at the end so important. Amir says, "it didn’t make everything alright. It didn’t make anything alright (Hosseini 371)." He still has a long way to go on his emotional journey to move forward and live the rest of his life to the fullest, but it is hopeful. Amir sees this as a step towards the larger goal of making Sohrab feel like a normal child. He says, "when spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time, and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting" (Hosseini 371). He sees a chance for Sohrab to open up to him and Soraya, establish a connection with them, and foster a relationship that is life-giving. This smile represents a window of opportunity for Amir to save his nephew and make up for the past wrongdoings he committed against his half brother, Hassan.
This novel’s ending is powerful because it is all about being able to overcome adversity. It shows that it is often not easy to do this, but it can be achieved over time. Sohrab will never live the life he formerly knew, but he can create a new, meaningful one for himself through letting go of his past and focusing on his future with Amir and Soraya. These two can remind him of his past, his father and old neighborhood, and can also provide a better tomorrow for him that is free of the hardships of his former life.
Not a Happy Ending; Just a Realistic One
Throughout The Kite Runner, the inhumane acts are committed against the innocent and the most humane people that society could ever produce. Hassan’s execution style death, the slaughter of his wife, and the inner slaying of his son through kidnapping and sexual molestation are moments in which the reader gives up all hope that this book could ever produce a happy ending. From the very moment that Rahim Khan tells Amir “I want to tell you about him. I want to tell you everything” (202), there was hope in my mind that the relationship between Hassan and Amir can be mended and the flame of friendship can somehow be rekindled in. I felt as though it was injustice for Hassan, a virtuous and righteous man to end up slain along with his wife. He remained a loyal and devoted friend until the end to Amir. And for what I asked myself? I guess it was so that Hassan could die with peace of mind. I figured this because when it comes down to “payback time” or revenge, the bible says that the Lord says that “vengeance is mine.” Internally, I think that Hassan knew that whatever a man sows, he will reap. This is exemplified when Rahim Khan told of how Hassan and his wife “did all of the cooking, all the cleaning, etc” (208) and also in Hassan's "final sacrifice" (105) for Amir. Although Hassan always did what was right, and didn’t gain much in life, he did have some bit of happiness during his lifetime. And although his rewards here on earth could not be seen, I believe that he had true happiness and was able to partake in the afterlife with their God Allah. It was unexpected for the character Hassan to die along with his wife and for his son to endure what he had to endure. I felt that although Amir’s guilt ate away at his heart, it did not for long because he was able to go on about his life and begin a new one. Unlike Hassan, his father didn’t die from stepping on a land mind but in the privacy of his own home. On another note, Hassan was one character that I hoped to see again, prospering in life as Amir was. This, I never saw because of how truly tragic life can really be. I’m not disgusted or angry with Hosseini for giving us the truth. I think as readers, we’re so used to happy endings, that when a tragic one comes along, it’s a shocking experience. It's true that the damage done in childhood that have produced inner scars can never magically be healed or reversed. Although there is no typical sunset ending, the reader is left with some glimpse of hope, despite the sadness and irreversable destruction that surrounds it.
In the end, as Amir is running the kite there is a final passage that says“It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn’t make everything all right. It didn’t make anything all right. Only a smile. A tiny thing. A leaf in the woods, shaking in the wake of a startled bird’s flight. But I’ll take it” (371). As Sohrab and Amir are flying the kite together, it's almost as if at that very moment, we are taken back into time on that day when Amir won the Kite Race and Hassan finished running his kite for him. There is no coincidence that the novel ends in the same manner in which the crumbling of Hassan and Amir's unique friendship began. It's almost as if Amir has to pick up the fragmented pieces of his love for Hassan where he left them, so many years ago, at the kite race. One of the last passages as stated above describes my true feelings towards the novel's ending. One can only smile slightly after so much pain and hurt. Although the ending wasn't what one would call a "happy ending," I'll take it considering the sorrowful past of the lives of many of the Afghan's. The last genuine smile that I recall reading about was the same smile that Hassan gave as a child and in that Polaroid picture. For little Sohrab to produce a smile, well, I think as far as happiness goes, that's a start.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
A Justification for an UNhappy Ending
Though I am generally 'ever-the-optimistic' reader (as I have found happiness in all the conclusions of the novels before this) I cannot be happy. And yet, I did not hate this novel. I loved this novel and found the ending wholly appropriate. This juxtaposition of love for the novel and sadness of the story speaks loudly to what I believe is Hosseini’s point: that stories are not always happy, and they often do not end well, but they are nonetheless valuable.
A good ending is not necessarily a happy ending. I would, in fact, argue that sometimes a happy ending is not a good ending. In light of this novel, a happy ending would stick out as a sore thumb. For the sake of story continuity, happiness simply wasn’t in the cards for the ending of this novel. In class it was noted that the Victorian ‘not so happenstance coincidence’ elements of this novel seem already Disney-like. And yet even the saddest ending in a Disney movie (I’m going to go with Dumbo, feel free to disagree :) ) still holds more hope than the conclusion of The Kite Runner. But what would a happy ending do to further Hosseini's story? A happy ending would not resolve the 300 previous pages of sadness, violence, hurt, and agony, it would maybe just force the reader to ask 'where did that come from?'.
So we, as readers, are left at the end of a traumatically sad novel with only a smile. “It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn’t make everything all right. It didn’t make anything all right. Only a smile. A tiny thing. A leaf in the woods, shaking in the wake of a startled bird’s flight. But I’ll take it. With open arms” (371). Amir confirms my claim, that this smile doesn’t alleviate the distress we have witnessed and they have lived through. But a half smile is all Amir is offered from a boy who has been orphaned by the Taliban, violated by a pedophile, moved to a strange country with a stranger, and stripped of his country, family, and culture.
It seems to me that Hosseini's mission was not to tell the readers a happy story, but to rather tell a real story. And by real I don't mean factual, because not everything real is factual. Real stories are not always happy and they do not always turn out like a Disney movie (save Dumbo, as I still maintain it is incredibly sad). Real stories are based in true emotion. They are based on making mistakes, and fixing mistakes, and being vindictive, and eradicating vindiction. They are based on countries in disarry and children that are distraught and wives back home and old friends that are dying. They rely on the audience's emotions: emotions of sadness, and relief, and more sadness, and disgust and hope. Hosseini's story ties together real feelings and real emotions through a story that is likely not reality.
And real stories don't necessitate happy endings. And happy endings can't always follow sad stories. And happy endings can't make everything better... and yet we always look for a happy ending. Because the happy ending leaves the reader with a feeling of satisfaction, with an emotion elevated by positivity. Unless the happy ending doesn't fit the story, that is. Then the emotion the reader is left with is, to be eloquent, "pissed off".
The Kite Runner: A Story More Compelling than the News
"I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years."
From this opening paragraph of The Kite Runner, you find yourself in the shoes of Amir, who was born of the privileged Pashtun social class in 1970s Kabul. His childhood in Afghanistan's capital city is happy and fulfilling. Amir spends almost every moment with his best friend, Hassan. Both of the boys are nursed by the same woman since birth and grow up like brothers. However, they have one large difference between them. Hassan is the son of one of Amir's family servants. He is Hazzara, considered a lowly class in modern Afghan society. Hassan is gentle, kind, trustworthy, loyal and adores Amir, saying to him at one point, "For you anything, a thousand times over!"
Amir wishes deeply to win his father's approval, which has always been given to Hassan instead. The day of the city's great winter kite battle provides an opportunity for Amir to make his father proud. During this scene, Kabul’s sky is filled with colorful kites and the entire city watches as Amir wins, and he finally feels his father's pride. His friend Hassan is happy for Amir and quickly runs off to find the defeated kite as a prize for Amir. In the process, we find out what happened at that frozen creek which Amir regretfully remembers in the book's opening paragraph. This particular moment is the one that changes both boys forever and alters their friendship and the rest of their lives.
Shortly after this incident, the country itself changes drastically as a result of the Russian invasion and the deposing of the king. For their safety Amir's father emigrates to the U.S. with Amir. Here they begin building a new life for themselves in Southern California, where Amir grows to become a man and falls in love. Even though he is happily married to Soraya, he still relives the horrible day by the creek back in Kabul with Hassan. Amir convinces himself that he is "gutless" and tells himself, "Its how you were made…” Amir is now a successful writer, but his life is shifted one morning when he receives a phone call from Pakistan. It's from Rahim, his father's old friend, asking him to return home by saying, "It's still possible to be good." The prospect of some kind of amends causes Amir to promptly fly to meet with Rahim. The old man who’s sick and dying, reveals a bitter secret and tells him of a little Hazarra boy, Sohrab, whom Amir realizes he must find in what's left of Afghanistan. The consequent journey is long and hard, yet in the process he finds the possibility of redemption.
After reading this book, I definitely learned a lot about the harsh part of the world where the story takes place. One can read histories or watch news programs for this kind of information or background on a certain part of the world, but I believe, we can only begin to understand these kinds of stories only through personal experience. This story was written by an Afghan, one who lived the story himself and experienced themes of father and son relationships, the complications of friendship, the value and impact of culture. I found Hosseini’s The Kite Runner to be more real and touching than any news account or analysis I've read concerning the Middle East.
Saturday, May 06, 2006
The Informing Kite Runner
Now that the semester is coming to an end and approximately 2448 pages of postcolonial literature are pumping through our veins (give or take Midnight’s Children), I am glad that we conclude the semester with this enticing, disturbing and educational novel, The Kite Runner. Although Hosseini engages the heroes and villains in a guaranteed page-turner Dickensian style, I would disagree that he cheapens the global issues he brings to light.
In The Kite Runner, Hosseini informs the audience of issues like the ethnicity and religious conflicts in
Although the issue of mental health is less central to The Kite Runner, it also appears within the novel’s “riveting” plot. Leaving the suspense high like a Dickensian novelist would, Hosseini follows the happy news of Sohrab admittance into
Whether this novel leaves you with good or bad feelings, Hosseini should not be criticized for sharing important issue that are personal to him with his accessible populace. Spreading awareness in a way parallel to your talents is an honorable, not cheapening, action. I, personally, do not see it as problematic that Hosseini was successful in writing a best-selling piece of fiction. He enabled, at the least, an American audience to learn about global injustices in a meaningful and effective way. Being aware of global happenings is critical, and Hosseini merely accommodates people that prefer the form of the novel to other sources like media and newspapers. Being the optimist I am, I found the ending of The Kite Runner to be a happy one. Although the ending might have been somewhat cheesy and slightly unrealistic, it generates hope that wrongs can be righted.
To conclude my post about educating audiences about personal and burning issues, I encourage each responder to take this opportunity, at the end of your comment, to post a link to information about a charity, cause, or issue dear to you. Seize this chance to "tell the rest of the world," well, at least class, about your cause.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
Now's the time on Sprockets when we dance!
Given that none of you confessed to knowing anything about the Six Million Dollar Man, I have little faith that you will get this SNL reference. Regardless, I thought it might be helpful and fun as you prepare for the final exam to talk generally about the novels. Did you like them? Which ones? Were they frustrating? awful? corny? breathtaking? Who was your favorite character? Least favorite? If you could have made one change to any of the novels (in terms of what happened in them) what would it be? Anything (related to our six novels) goes!
This is neither a mandatory nor graded part of the blog: comment if you want, or remain silent. In other words, you can dance if you want to!
The Kite Runner
Thursday, April 27, 2006
beauty is in the eye of the painter
The turning point in the novel, and Kiki’s life, comes from Mrs. Kipps after she has passed away. When Kiki finds the note in the Maitresse Erzulie painting that Levi had stolen from Monty, she leaves Howard, something we as readers have been waiting for since we found out about his infidelity. “Kiki- please enjoy this painting. It needs to be loved by someone like you. Your friend, Carlene” (430). This note, with the postscript mentioned above, seems to remind Kiki of how Carlene saw her, and she finally leaves Howard.
Howard is an easy character to villainize; he cheats on his wife twice, seems to think only of himself and even the ideas he has that once seemed revolutionary are now “almost automatic” (118). As the publishing date for his book is repeatedly pushed back, and he fails his wife twice, Howard begins to see his life as a fraud. It is the Maitresse Erzulie painting and accompanying note that gives Kiki the final strength to leave Howard, but it is another painting that begins to redeem Howard in the reader’s eyes at the very end.
It’s telling that Smith chooses to end the book at what is supposed to be the most important lecture of Howard’s career. Howard screws up here, yet again, when he leaves his notes in the car. But it is at this moment that Howard realizes what really matters to him (as Carlene would say, “whom” he lived for, not “what”) when he sees Kiki’s face in the crowd. It is through a Rembrandt painting, Hendrickje Bathing, that Howard makes this realization. In the painting, the woman “seemed to be considering whether to wade deeper.” Howard then looks into the audience and sees Kiki- “her face, his life” (442). At the last moment, Howard is redeemed as we realize that he is truly seeing Kiki for what she is once again.
The Haitian Maitresse Erzulie painting provided a backbone for the life-changing friendship with Carlene that Kiki needed, a friendship that continues to impact Kiki even after Carlene’s death, through the painting. The Rembrandt painting, on the other hand, provides an eye-opener for Howard, the least sympathetic character, and thus a last-minute redemption. The colors of the paint also provides a hopeful ending , like the hay in Howard’s End, “the ever present human hint of yellow, intimation of what is to come” (443).
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
The Happy Ending Blog Project: The Happy Ending Blog Project
“It’s true that men…respond to beauty…this concern with beauty as a physical actuality in the world [is] clearly imprisoning and it infantilizes…but it’s true” (207).These words are the words of Howard Belsey, one of the most – if not the most – selfish and unlikable protagonists that we have encountered in this course. Howard, one of the main figures in Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, is a 57-year-old Rembrandt scholar, who, ironically enough, doesn’t like Rembrandt, and who also teaches at Wellington, an elite, liberal college in the Boston area. Although the novel includes a plethora of differing characters, the plot centers on Howard and his relationship with his family. These relationships (namely, with Kiki and his father) reveal not only the inordinate value Howard places on physical beauty, but also his inability to see how his actions affect those closest to him.
The most important and telling relationship of Howard’s character in the novel is his relationship with Kiki. Despite the fact that they have been married for thirty years, Howard cheats on Kiki. Twice. The first instance of infidelity occurs with Claire Malcolm, one of Howard’s co-workers who is the complete physical opposite of Kiki (Kiki is an obese African-American while Claire is a petite Caucasian). Kiki confronts Howard after finding a condom in his suit pocket, but to Howard’s dismay, his three-weak affair with Claire “had not ended everything, after all…Life went on…the world does not stop for you. At first he had thought otherwise” (109). Howard’s moral inferiority and selfishness are magnified by the fact that Kiki does not pry for the details of her husband’s affair, while Howard himself is responsible for Kiki’s lack of male companions, for “he had bullied, threatened and frozen them all out. And this was despite the fact that Kiki had always claimed (and he had always believed her) that love started with him” (110). Thus, Howard, who cheats, can have female friends, while Kiki, who is faithful, cannot. In Howard’s mind, it is okay that he sleeps with a “tiny little white woman [Kiki] could fit in [her] pocket” because the “slim black woman” he marries is “no longer slim” (206-7). His lust (however brief) for Claire is based entirely on her appearance, while, so too, is his aversion (however shallow) for Kiki.
After betraying his wife and children, one might think that Howard, “the liar, the heart-breaker, the emotional fraud,” would work to save his marriage by never committing this horrible blunder again, but it simply isn’t so (203). Howard cheats a second time. Victoria Kipps – Howard’s 19-year-old student and the daughter of rival colleague Monty Kipps – is the second woman with whom Howard compromises his marriage. In a way, Smith foreshadows this scandal when she divulges Howard’s intense physical attraction for the girl that his son, Jerome, once claimed to be in love with, for Howard “had stopped trying not to look at Victoria Kipps. There’s no point in trying to do impossible things” (255). While it may have been impossible for Howard to not look at Victoria, it was certainly not impossible for him to refrain from having sex with her. Howard should know that it is one thing to admire a painting, but it is quite another to take it off the wall. Yet, Howard does just that – and by doing so, completely and utterly turns his family life upside down. When his daughter, Zora, learns of Howard’s second affair, she is appalled by her father’s actions, yelling, “I defended and defended and defended you… I took your side…Do you [love your family]? Do you love Jerome? How could you do this to him?” (433) As Howard tries to make excuses, Zora bluntly asks Howard, “When have you ever given a fuck about what anyone wants? (433). All Howard can do is hide his face, but no matter how hard he tries, he cannot hide his selfish nature any longer.
While Howard’s relationship with Kiki spans the entire novel, much can be learned about Howard’s egocentricity based on the short, 11-page episode with his father. After Howard walks out in the middle of Carlene Kipps’ funeral (another action that shows he “has just got no borders at all”), Howard goes to see Harold, his father (291). When Howard tells his father that he and Kiki are having problems, Harold assumes that Kiki “found a black fella…It was always going to happen, though. It’s their nature” (301). The fact that Harold assumes Kiki is cheating on Howard because she is black (and apparently he thinks that is what black people do) shows Harold to be a very stereotypical elderly man who is a bit narrow-minded and set in his ways. As Howard angrily gets up to leave upon hearing these comments, however, Harold immediately admits that he is in the wrong, saying, “Oh, no...No. Son, please. Oh, come on and stay a bit longer. I’ve said the wrong thing” (301). It is obvious that Harold, whose wife died forty-six years ago and who lives all alone (the exception being his hired nurse), is lonely and wants to spend time with someone. Harold would appreciate if Howard could just sit and watch television with him for a few hours, but this is unacceptable for Howard, who “did not believe, as his father did, that is how you spend your love…Ten minutes later he left” (302). If Howard cannot spend time with his father in the manner in which he wants, he cannot spend time with him at all. That is simply the kind of man Howard is – self-absorbed and unable to sacrifice his enjoyment for the enjoyment of another.
In the end, Howard retains more than he deserves. Kiki does not leave him, which is frustrating, but is understandable given Kiki’s devotion to her husband and her family. The fact that she goes to his lecture at the end of the novel and smiles at him offers hope that they might be able to work out their differences (provided, of course, that Howard can finally look beyond Kiki’s lack of physical beauty and more greatly appreciate the person that she is). Although no mention is made of Harold, the reader can only hope that Howard will begin to rekindle this relationship as well, and in the process, discover the beauty within that relationship. Howard Belsey is proof that no matter how skewed one’s sense of beauty may be, beauty is, indeed, within the eye of the beholder. While beauty is not absolute, the search for it is unending. Yet, in his search, Howard makes the mistake of allowing his selfishness to turn a blind eye to the beauty that is already present before him.
Beauty Lies Within
Thanks to Smith’s detailed descriptions of our characters’ appearances, the reader can assume that Kiki isn’t considered overly beautiful when compared to our society’s standards. I think that Claire says it best when she describes Kiki as being a new kind of beautiful: she was “natural, honest, powerful, unmediated, full of something like genuine desire…a goddess of everyday” (227). Claire describes Kiki’s beauty in terms referring to her inner beauty, which I believe defined Kiki’s overall beauty. She is a woman that is beautiful on the inside and a woman who must find and connect with this inner beauty in order to be fully happy.
Kiki is more or less an outsider in her own family. Many may say that Howard is the true outsider since he is the only white person in his family, but I would disagree. Kiki often seems lost within her own habitat, partly because she doesn’t feel a strong connection with her family members. Howard is off having affairs, Zora is often at school bugging her professors and the dean and Levi is always out pretending to be who he isn’t. The only person I feel Kiki somewhat connecting with is Jerome because he has such an obvious devotion to Kiki. Because of the lack of connections, it becomes Kiki’s challenge to find herself; to find her own identity that doesn’t include her family. For this reason I believe she leaves Howard living in their house at the end, so she can get away from her previous identity of mother and housekeeper and really learn about who she is. In reestablishing herself, she is able to know herself, which ultimately is a beautiful thing. It is also in knowing herself that she can begin loving herself and then able to love others more freely. This is the only reason I can think of why she would go to Howard’s speech (because I personally wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole after the things he did). But perhaps that is what makes Kiki so beautiful; she is able to find forgiveness deep down within her. Kiki radiates hope, not only to Howard, but also to the reader. She also sends out a message that it is important to know yourself first and then try to love because knowing yourself is really wha