Gods Without Men Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Mar 6 2012
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"A reflection and an embodiment of our new world of flattened time and space. . . . Gorgeous and wise." —Douglas Coupland, The New York Times Book Review
“A beautifully written echo chamber of a novel.” —David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas
“A gripping thriller . . . Kunzru uses his extraordinary gifts as a storyteller—his brightly textured prose, his empathetic understanding of his characters, his narrative flair—to turn a tabloidy tale into a genuinely moving portrait of a marriage and the difficulties of parenthood.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Kunzru is wise beyond his years, [a] novelist in superb command of his craft. . . . In his dazzling new novel, a desert is the setting, hero and villain. . . . Here is where the walking wounded come to pray to Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu, Coyote, the Brothers of Light. Here are cynical veterans from WWII, hard-bitten GIs fresh from Iraq, randy communards, washed-up bankers, wasted groupies. Here is death, sex, and rock-and-roll.” —Marie Arana, The Washington Post
“A stunning achievement. . . . Gods Without Men will undoubtedly prove to be one of the most important works of fiction published this year.” —Darren Richard Carlaw, The New York Journal of Books
“Kunzru weaves an array of competing stories, turning the novel into a kaleidoscope of clashing perspectives. . . . Gods Without Men stands out as a courageous attempt to engage with the complexities of faith and doubt in our postmodern world.” —James Miller, The New York Observer
“[A] pitch-perfect masterwork.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“An astonishing tour de force.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“Gathers momentum, power, and a fierce clarify to deliver a rich panorama while detailing our mutual antagonisms and deepest spiritual needs . . . Extraordinary.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“Mind-bending… [a] thrill ride of a novel about searching for truth.” —Michele Filgate, O, The Oprah Magazine
“A compelling exploration of cosmic-American weirdness.” —Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly
“The prose is beautiful, every character is fully developed… Through devotion to careful diction and seamless fluctuation between a dozen different writing voices, Kunzru’s novel shines as brightly as the desert’s setting sun” —Christine A. Hurd, The Harvard Crimson
“Kunzru delivers a lively and frequently thrilling version of the quest novel.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Compulsively readable, skillfully orchestrated . . . This really is Kunzru’s great American novel.” —The Independent
“Sometimes dizzying, sometimes puzzling, always enjoyable, Gods Without Men is one of the best novels of the year.” —The Daily Telegraph
“The literary skills of Hari Kunzru are evident throughout this complex and disturbing novel.” —Annie Proulx, Financial Times
“A countercultural mind-expanding quest . . . As a virtuoso performance, changing gears and styles every 20 pages or so, encompassing 18th-century friars and Hoxton hipsters, it will appeal to fans of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas . . . Extraordinary.” —The Guardian
“Kunzru’s lively fourth novel tackles its big themes without ever becoming ponderous or heavy-going. . . . Involving, thoughtful and thoroughly entertaining.” —Daily Mail
About the Author
Hari Kunzru is the author of the novels The Impressionist, Transmission, and My Revolutions, and is the recipient of the Somerset Maugham Award, the Betty Trask Prize from the Society of Authors, a British Book Award, and the Pushcart Prize. Granta has named him one of its twenty best young British novelists, and he was a Fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. His work has been translated into twenty-one languages, and his short stories and journalism have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker, the London Review of Books, Wired, and the New Statesman. He lives in New York City.
Top Customer Reviews
Lisa and Jaz Matharu and their young autistic son Raj, are drawn there at the same time as British punk musician and singer, Nicky. When Raj disappears, the three adults lives are pulled together in a parent's worst nightmare.
This is not the first strange occurrence or disappearance in the area. There are written records of such events that stretch back at least 200 years, and the local Indian tribes have stories, perhaps myths that reach even further back.
Much time is spent detailing these past events. While they were interesting, I kept feeling as though they were keeping me from the real story, the story of Raj. I wanted Mr. Kunzru to just get on with it and tell me about that little boy.
We learn very quickly that this is a special place, but that it means different things to different people. Some view it as a religious place, for others has an 'other worldly' pull and for others yet, it is just an excuse to 'drop out' and do as they please.
It was an entertaining read, particularly the parts about the Matharu family and how they dealt with the situation, but the ending left me confused, as though I missed the bigger part of the story. I'm not disappointed that I read it, though a little less ambiguous ending would have pleased me.
In the next chapter, `1947' we meet a former aircraft engineer named Schmidt and a rock formation in the California desert known as the Pinnacles. `First time Schmidt saw the Pinnacles he knew it was the place.' By the end of the chapter, Schmidt is taken away in a flying saucer. Then, in the next chapter we are in 2008 with Nicky, an English rock star, who is in America to make a record in Los Angeles. He has driven into the desert for a break. The fourth chapter is the text of a letter dated 21 August 1778, describing an encounter at the Pinnacles between a friar and `an angel in the form of a man, who conversed with him and revealed certain mysteries'.
Back in 2008 again, where we meet Jaz and Lisa Matharu and their four year old son Raj, who is autistic. We know (from reading the book cover) that Raj disappears when his family visits the Pinnacles. But what, apart from the Pinnacles, connects these stories and those of the other characters that Mr Kunzru introduces? Raj is not the only missing child we encounter within this novel. In addition to the vanishing children, there are flying saucers, and a cult commune lives at the base of the Pinnacles, building a tower to communicate with the Ashtar Galactic Command. What can this mean? Many of the characters we encounter are flawed, and are searching for something to make their lives complete. Children disappear, adults search - for the children, and for meaning in their own lives. Surely there are answers. Bit by bit, we see some of the connections.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
It's hugely ambitious, and much more so that the other Kunzru novels that I have read, although it shares with his other books the playful but insightful writing style. He's a writer that has a real feel for human nature. However, for me, it doesn't quite succeed in rising to its ambition. It leaps back and forward in time frame from chapter to chapter in a manner that is disorienting and I couldn't help wondering if it would have been more effective presented as discrete short stories that shared a similar stimulus - which is effectively what it is.
Where I was most frustrated though was in the imbalance of the weight and emotional connection to the different threads. By far the dominant thread surrounds the disappearance of an autistic son of a wealthy New York couple set in 2008. The story covers both the father and mother's side and the lead up to the disappearance and the subsequent media furore. It's frighteningly realistic and disturbing with real emotional heart. The problem as far at the book is concerned is that it is such a terrifically well told story that I started to yearn to return to these events when Kunzru wants to draw the reader back to another time.
The other main theme was, for me, less engaging. "The Pinnacles" became a focus for the hippy movement in the 1970s and a cult of extra-terrestrial worshipers gathered there. While this element of the book has more in terms of threads to the past and the present day, I was never emotionally engaged in the characters or their plight. It's just a weaker story than the child abduction thread.
Amongst the other elements to the book are a Spanish report from the 1770s about the progress of the missionary attempts to bring Christianity to the native American tribes in the area, the meaning of the rocks to the native American tribes and, once more in the recent past, the story of an English rockstar fleeing his debauched life and, briefly, a young Iraqi girl's role in a local marine camp where she role plays a middle east village for military training.
These last two threads are also potentially interesting but never really get played out to their full extent. Yes there are themes of displacement and abduction throughout, and there are some generational links of the families involved, but that aside, the sense I had was of a story broadening out without ever quite coming back together again.
If you are looking for a multi-layered, complex novel, then Kunzru's engaging writing makes this a good choice - in the hands of a lesser writer this could have been an unholy mess - but my overriding sense was one of frustration that the focus kept drifting from what would have made fascinating stories in their own right which was slightly disappointing.
Each of the various tales is lovingly told and our sympathy is demanded for, and easily given to, each of the characters: from the original Native American inhabitants, to the new-age followers of the UFO cult of the Ashtar Galactic Command, right up to the lost and lonely rock star of today. And our main sympathies lie with the young couple, Jaz and Lisa, whose autistic son, Raj, mysteriously disappears during a trip to the desert - a disappearance that echoes earlier incidents in the history of this strange place.
I think this is a book that may mean different things to different readers. For me, it was about the search for faith. The characters bring so many gods to the desert over the years, and it seems that the desert absorbs them and weaves them into its mystery. Each of the characters is fundamentally changed by their experiences in this place - their existing beliefs shaken by what happens to them there. But the book is not preaching a particular line - the overwhelming feeling left at the end is that, for the author as well as for some of the characters, the question of whether there is something beyond the rational remains unanswered, perhaps unanswerable.
This may make the book sound like a heavy read, but the wonderful prose, the fascinating tales, the occasional flashes of humour and, above all, the sympathetic characters all combine to make this a book to be both savoured and enjoyed.
But I'm not feeling magnanimous, because Kunzru took me on a wild goose chase through that long, hot desert, all the while making tantalizing insinuations about that something bigger without ever taking a stand. Something does happen in this book: an autistic child is mysteriously kidnapped in the desert, mysteriously comes back months later, and mysteriously begins to become normal. And this event mirrors an earlier one in the book in which another child is mysteriously kidnapped in the desert and later returned. Kunzru invents a real mystery, and then surrounds the mystery with many variations on the theme of self-deluded religiosity. So, are we self-deluded, or not? Did something happen, or didn't it? Are our religious myths an attempt to rationalize or explain real paranormal phenomena or the existence of extraterrestrial life? Are all these things true at the same time? Kunzru doesn't say. GODS WITHOUT MEN is a giant cop-out.
The trip itself is mostly boring, filled with disparate, deeply flawed and often unlikable characters who come and go, leaving loose ends dangling, just as the ending and the central mysteries of the story are left dangling. Kunzru takes many chapters to bring us to the central drama of the Punjabi-Jewish couple with the autistic son and how their life implodes when he mysteriously disappears in the desert. It's the only part of the story that feels authentic, which makes sense because the husband, Jaz, comes from the Sikh culture that certainly has things in common with Kunzru's origins. Had it been fleshed out, the tale of Jaz's identity crisis and his struggles to find his footing in a foreign culture would have made a good book. Alas, Kunzru instead decided to saddle us with a huge number of sub-plots, if I can even call them that, some of which might have made interesting short stories, but in this context simply add pointless pages to an already meandering mess. Each time I turned the page and was introduced to someone new from another unrelated time period, my heart sank. I plodded through the book because as a Vine reader I had an obligation to finish it and review it, but I did not enjoy myself and I was glad but disgusted when I was done.
At his core, Kunzru is a political writer. He is deeply disturbed by racism, sexism, imperialism, religious fanaticism, and the good old-fashioned mob rule that permeates both this book and human history. His description of the pernicious effects of internet gossip mongering in fostering a mob mentality is very realistic. Kunzru is furious about these things, and I don't really blame him. But it renders almost all the characters either victims or perpetrators: losers and lesser losers.
On a positive note, I appreciated Kunzru's imaginative allegory about the evils of Wall St. and how the web of interconnections in the global economy might manifest in the unlikeliest of places, providing us with a concrete example of that metaphysical chestnut "All is One." His treatment of the grieving parents' separate styles of response to both the disappearance and recovery of their son was very interesting. The rational, computer geek husband strives for answers and emotional detachment and is practically driven crazy by the absence of an explanation, while the emotional, artistic wife becomes a New Age jargon-spouting zealot who invents and commits herself to a metaphysical explanation to erase her discomfort with not knowing. The nature and patterns of belief in a world full of contradictions and mysteries is a great topic for a book, and Kunzru does a good job of satirizing the phenomenon of religious cults - and religions in general - with their code words, rituals, deification of individuals and "magical thinking."
In the end, Kunzru's overstuffed bag of topics, his unwillingness to tell us whether there really was something extraterrestrial going on in the desert, or what really happened to the autistic child, might have bothered me less if Kunzru had the discipline to whittle down his many subplots into a select few that he explored in depth, if it were more fun to read, if the characters themselves weren't superficial archetypes or stereotypes. It's not just ideas that matter in a book; it's how they're presented. Where was the editor?
I can't recommend GODS WITHOUT MEN.
I picked up "Gods Without Men" due to the advertisement of one of its principle plot points. The unexplained disappearance of an autistic child in the Mojave Desert put me into the frame of mind that the book would be a mystery or an intense personal drama. Yes and no. The family are, in fact, just a few of the many characters that populate a story that spans several hundreds years. It would be impossible for me to concisely synopsize this complex tale that involves occultists, missionaries, Native Americans, military personnel, displaced immigrants, and music superstars. More than anything, this is a story of place. An unusual rock formation, a place of possible otherworldly influence, is the backbone that brings everything into perspective. But as we jet back and forth between time and characters, Kunzru's novel never makes you feel lost. That's a huge accomplishment and I was intrigued and involved in just about every major story.
"Gods Without Men" may not be for everyone, it certainly isn't a light beach read. But if you like your fiction to challenge, provoke, and stimulate discussion, this might make an ideal selection. I suspect different readers will take different things out of the book. I firmly believe it can be interpreted in a variety of ways, and that's a major selling point. But because it doesn't spell out its themes with concrete precision, "Gods and Men" remains relatively open-ended. Some people might loathe that, some will love it. I don't know that this will qualify as one of my favorites for the year, but it is certainly a bold and ambitious endeavor geared toward serious-minded readers. KGHarris, 3/12.
The main characters are Raj Matharu (a four-year-old autistic boy) and his parents, Jaz (an American-born Indian) and Lisa (raised in the Jewish faith). Jaz doesn't embrace the religion and culture of his parents, yet it still manages to become a barrier between him and his wife. His parents' superstitious ideas - especially with regards to why their grandson is the way he is - grate on Lisa, causing resentment bordering on hatred. When Raj vanishes into the Californian desert, the clash of ideologies between Lisa and Jaz becomes more evident than ever. Lisa opens herself to the idea that spiritual intervention could help find her lost child. Jaz, however, remains firmly rooted in the material world. Believing that his son has been abducted, Jaz thinks that only physical evidence can lead the path to finding the child.
Raj's disappearance happens near The Pinnacles, a rock formation which has for centuries attracted those who believe the stones to have miraculous metaphysical properties. Some chapters are set in the 1800s, when local Native Americans thought The Pinnacles marked the boundary between the lands of the living and the dead. Other chapters, set in the mid-1900s, tell the tale of people flocking to the area to commune with higher intelligences, the Ascended Masters, using The Pinnacles to transmit and receive 'light energy'. The rest of the chapters, set in the present day, focus on Raj's disappearance and subsequent return to the world a changed boy. The present-day occurrences at The Pinnacles echo events from the past, and hint at their significance. Kunzru's descriptions of the area's relevance to various people and eras are eloquent and extremely readable. He doesn't spoon-feed the reader, leaving him/her to draw conclusions and fill in the myriad blanks, some of which are a little too vast.
My only criticism is that some of the story's strands are left flapping as loose ends, hinting that they were superfluous padding rather than integral parts of the plot. The myriad storylines and timelines lack a unified sense of interconnectedness, which wouldn't happen in, for example, a Salman Rushdie novel. That said, 'Gods Without Men' is a well-written book which demonstrates Kunzru's incisive understanding of human nature and behaviour.