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. In the case of Raj, the media becomes part of the story, interpreting Raj's disappearance and shaping the lives of his parents. And then Raj returns.
`You are the hero of your own adventure.'
It took me a while to get into this novel and to remember who all of the characters were and where they fitted. The different narratives often belong to different periods in time and, for me at least, some characters made more impact than others. Some things are never explained, and readers will either accept them or not. The power of this book is not in understanding what is rationally inexplicable but in appreciating and perhaps accepting the characters with all of their emotional baggage. Lives and stories overlap, together with influence and impact. People come and go, some come back, and some of the damage done is repaired.
I picked this up expecting something quite different: a story about two parents and their autistic child who goes missing for a while. I found some of the other elements peripheral - until I focussed more on the fact (and different natures) of transition.
What does it all mean?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com
The novel features a fantastic cast of characters who run through time from the late 1700's to 2009. What holds them all together is their connection to the mysteries of the high desert. Most of the mystery can be explained rationally by drugs or privation and mystical fervor, but there is a core of mystery of place that escapes the rational. Coyote, the Native American trickster, appears as in myth-time and later as a brewer of methamphetamines. When the autistic child disappears, he returns months later, mysteriously cured of his autism. There is no rational explanation. There are allusions to intervention by Coyote or perhaps the hippies who seek connection with space aliens, but nothing definite.
Each section of the novel is centered in this one particular place and features some measure of the ineffable, and luminous mysteries. The vast array of characters, too numerous to detail in a short review, are each in their own way fascinating and bound to this landscape.
This is a splendid fable, well-written and endlessly inventive.
His journalism is much better
The novel is about both the trickster known as Coyote and the world of humans, those foible-filled creatures. In a way, Gods Without Men is as much a myth as novel, in that Coyote has set up and been caught in a trap in which humans are involved. During diferent eras, there is the inference that if one creature escapes, another must take its place (there is a similar story in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell that ended up being surprisingly poignant).
But that is the underpinning of the various stories contained within Kunzru's book. The main narratives are of a modern New York couple whose autistic son disappears for a few months while they are out West strolling around the Three Pinnacles rock formation out in the midst of the desert, a group in the late 1950s who seek wisdom from an alien race and a commune seeking wisdom from drugs as much as the aliens. There are connections between these stories, and a few others, that are not forced but which give few hints of how it all might tie together.
The main characters in all of these narratives are well-rounded portraits with compelling storylines. Jaz Matharu is a second-generation American who has given up Sikh ways and used his mad math skills to help develop a financial market software program, Walter, that would recognize 2001: A Space Odyssey's Hal as kin. His wife, Lisa, is a lapsed Jew who gives up her publishing job after it's apparent their son, Raj, suffers from serious autism. Kunzru is adept at letting the reader see how they both got to the ratty desert motel where they stay just before Raj disappears. Kunzru also does both characters the service of letting the reader see their lives from their individual points of view. Neither is the villian. Neither is without fault. And it would be fascinating to discover what happens to them after the novel closes. The sections where they are in limbo when Raj disappears are haunting.
Another child goes missing in the late 1950s. Joanie is searching for life to mean something when she discovers the writings of a scientific crackpot who thinks he is communicating with more intelligent beings from outer space. She becomes part of a group following him, living out in the desert near the Three Pinnacles. Joanie, an innocent, loses track of her young daughter, Judy.
Years later, in the late 1960s and early 70s, Joanie, Judy (with definite ties to Raj's story) and Dawn, a girl from town, all end up at the commune near Three Pinnacles which took the place of the earlier group seeking wisdom from the stars. They've got a wild man, Coyote, who may or may not be the trickster. But he's definitely a snake in the garden figure. As with the other narratives, Dawn's story would make a complete novel on its own. Seeing her at different stages of her life only reinforces this feeling.
Another story is woven into the narrative of how Raj comes back that does not quite have the feel of a complete story but one that is among the most moving in the novel. Laila is a young woman who has come from Iraq to California and then to the Three Pinnacles area to live in a constructed village. It was built by the military to be a fake Iraq for troops on their way over. Laila's story has everything -- a haven of childhood bliss, fear, secrecy, war, tragic loss and escape without the sense of a fresh, new beginning. But within the narrative, she has a role to play that puts her own story in the background. On the surface, there is enough about Laila that her tale holds together.
However, Kunzru weaves hints into her story that show it could have been a sprawling epic on its own, telling the stories of Iraquis in various parts of society back home and here, as well as their life in a strange land and the people they encounter. When a soldier lets Laila wear night goggles to watch an evening training, the reality of what most of us have only seen on the news comes into clear focus.
Reading this section was like a sucker punch, especially with the pressures Laila also faces from her older relatives that have taken in her and her brother. They're strangers here in ways that not even the white men trying to fit in with the tribes they encounter in other parts of the book are. Jaz has something of the same problem. He doesn't feel he fits in anywhere any longer, certainly not with his traditional-bound family and not with Lisa, even though both feel grief and guilt over their son's disappearance.
The individual pieces in the novel, and the connection of various characters either looking beyond themselves for wisdom or having a search forced on them as they weave in and out of time, is worth reading. But the stories of strangers not at home in their worlds could have been an even stronger tale, one not relying on tricks or the trickster.
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