Sunday, June 8, 2008

New Fiction - Good and Bad

Wow! I've just finished 2 books by debut novelists and here I am examining my conscience again because, why oh why am I drawn to the dark side in my reading? First of all I was halfway through this controversial novel, White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, when I received my fourth book in the mail from Library Journal. This too was a debut novel by a Canadian writer, Elizabeth Kelly. Time being of the essence, I dropped the tiger and took up with the Canadian. The review won't be published for a while yet but suffice it to say, this book was too clever by half. Kelly's writing was witty and funny but I felt as if it was contrived. Her characters, yet ANOTHER dysfunctional family, were so completely unlikeable, for no apparent reason, that I was hard pressed to express myself in 175 words or thereabouts. (as you can see, I'm not all that concise!)

On the other hand, the Indian servant Balram, who tells us within the first few pages of White Tiger that he has robbed and killed his master and is now living the high life on the lam from the law, is totally understandable. He proceeds to explain to the reader how he came to be a murderer, the fate of his birth into the lowest caste, destined for the meanest form of labor, his good luck at landing the job as a driver for the corrupt business man Ashok and his wife Ping, recently and unhappily returned from living in the states. Adiga's use of language is exquisite as he portrays the sense of rage and resentment that builds between the servant and master classes in India. Balram sees that the money Ashok and Ping spend on their poodles would feed a family back in his village for years and he wonders how long he can survive in the cage that the caste system has trapped him in.

This powerful book will likely be a great candidate for book clubs with a little gumption. I've discovered, sadly, that mine doesn't have it. A possibility would be to read it in conjunction with a non-fiction book like Fareed Zakaria's The Post-American World which is getting plenty of play on talk radio and, of course, The Daily Show. On my list of "must-reads," along with the pile of about 20 titles I have sitting by the bed, the computer and on my desk at work, Zakaria's book addresses the rise of India and China as global powers and the effect that these countries' burgeoning middle classes will have on the United States and its place in the world. A conversation with an extremely well-read customer yesterday at work led me to believe that there are many more people who are threatened by this flattening of the world's economy than not. Sad but true folks. Kind of like those of us who move to Florida and then want to roll up the streets behind us, letting no one else in.

Luckily, and I've been holding off on rubbing this in as I know that some of my readers supported Hillary, we now have a Democratic candidate who is young enough and international enough to embrace globalization. He realizes as your "leaders" for the last 8 years did not, that the United States is only one small piece of a huge network and that we must work together now more than ever or we will sink together. I'm so excited about the next few years! I'm off to begin a new book.

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