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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Book review: We the Living

'Ayn Rand' - We have heard criticism from some quarters and adulation from others – but the fact remains that her words have the power to make people sit up and take notice, 70 years after she first wrote them. Unlike her later and more famous works like 'Atlas shrugged' and 'Fountainhead', her first novel –'We the living' is slightly less known. A decidedly smaller book than either Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged, this book may be the perfect one to start out with.

'We the living' is set in Soviet Russia in the 1920's. It is a time when the Czar's army has been overthrown by the Communist army. A new political system is being established and the country is changing dramatically. The Argounov family's comfortable days during the Czar's regime as the owners of a textile factory are over. It is the day of the collective when they return to Petrograd. The system in which they ruled the roost has collapsed and they find themselves to be the dregs of the new society.

Despite the hard times, Kira Argounova steps into Petrograd with all the hopes that youth carries with it. She despises the communist ideology - its basic premise of the importance of the collective being against her belief in individualism. But, being a realist, she decides to go with the flow till she grows strong enough to oppose it. She joins the Technological institute to study to be an engineer.

At the institute, she meets Andrei Taganov- a Party member and a soldier of the Red army. Andrei has a deep belief in the ideals of Communism and truly believes that he is on the right path to building a better country. Despite their completely opposite beliefs, a trusting friendship forms between them. Andrei seems to be very similar to Kira herself, but his intentions are turned into the opposite direction.

Circumstances lead Kira to meet Leo Kovalensky and in him, she finds a person worthy of her adoration and love. Leo and Kira begin to live together, but Andrei is unaware of this situation. Life is hard for them - Kira – the daughter of a textile factory owner in the Czar’s days and Leo – the son of an Admiral in the Czar’s army represent what communism had fought against, conquered and still lorded over.

Leo falls ill with tuberculosis and their poor living conditions threaten to be his death warrant. Kira tries to persuade, beg and borrow money to send Leo to a sanatorium, but, is unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Andrei’s feelings for Kira turn slowly from friendship to love. Kira is shocked when he confesses his feelings but seeing a way to save Leo, she accepts Andrei. With money that Andrei gives her for her family, Kira sends Leo to a sanatorium. Both men are unaware of the other's real relationship with Kira.

When he comes back with his health restored, Leo immediately gets into an illegal and dangerous game of speculation. Kira's pleas are in vain. Frustrated by a system that will not let him live the way he wants to, Leo turns reckless and indifferent to the thought of corrupting or destroying himself. Leo’s dangerous business venture leads Andrei to arrive at their house to arrest him and there he discovers about Kira's and Leo's relationship. The three of them are very similar despite the glaring differences and at that point in the story, each chooses a different path to take.

Throughout the book, using her three main characters and a host of minor characters, Ayn Rand describes the life in a communist country - the new regime, the starvation of the body, mind and soul, the disregard for the individual, the demand placed on a person to put the collective before himself and the grotesque forms that people choose to twist themselves into in order to survive. It was not a novel written to merely share the story of the trio - but also to tell the world the truth about communism's effect on a nation. Read More......

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sometimes...

Sometimes, there is so much to do. Keeps me completely occupied, gives tangible results and that sense of satisfaction of time well-spent and a destination arrived at. But, sometimes, my search for tasks like them seems to be an excuse to avoid the difficulties brought out by just thinking and feeling. There are also times when there is so much to do, that I end up doing nothing at all. Read More......

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini’s book ‘The kite runner’ has made a great impact on readers all over the world. It is on every person’s list of ‘Must Read’. It’s as if, everyone who reads it is recommending it to everyone else. I finally picked up the book at my library a few weeks back. And when I finished the book a few days later, I sat and thought about it a lot.

The reason for its success was immediately apparent. The story of the kite runner is one of human beings and their flaws. Real people – the kind who make mistakes, their guilt and the ways they choose to redeem themselves. Everyone can identify with that kind of a feeling, isn’t it? It reminds us of our flaws and assuages our guilt, helps us to go forward and do the right thing.

The story is set in Kabul. The main character – Amir is the son of a wealthy Afghan businessman. Ali is their servant who lives with them with his son Hassan. Hassan and Amir are inseparable friends.

Hassan is the ultimate Kite Runner – someone who rushes to catch the losing kites as they flutter to the ground when their strings are cut by the others. When Amir wins the Kite flying competition, Hassan runs the losing kite for him. However, he is confronted by Aseef – a bully who takes pleasure in harassing the two friends at every opportunity. Amir, who goes looking for Hassan witnesses a horrifying incident but does nothing to prevent it.

Back home, Amir is unable to face Hassan again - his guilt and cowardice gnaw at him and he decides to take the easy way out. He frames Hassan in a theft and Ali and Hassan leave the house. Even at this stage, Hassan does not denounce Amir. His loyalty is unwavering, almost as if to give so much for Amir was an unconscious reflex than a thoughtful action – just as inevitable as the wind and the sun.

The political atmosphere changes in Afghanistan with the removal of the king and it is a dangerous time in Kabul. Amir and his father decide to leave to Pakistan. Eventually they find their way to the USA where they form a part of the small Afghan community. Amir grows up to be a writer and marries. Years pass by and out of the blue, Amir’s father’s friend – Rahim Khan asks Amir to come and meet him in Pakistan.

When they meet, Amir learns of a shocking truth. He struggles with dealing with it – his impressions of several people changing in one instant. What Rahim Khan gives him is a chance - one go at making amends for more than one sin. It is a chance that he can not let go of and one that will not return. This time, Amir chooses the difficult but right path. His journey back to Afghanistan is a journey into his past. What he does there forms the rest of the story.
Amir’s character is wonderfully complex – it shows those shades of grey that we see in ourselves. Neither God nor the devil. Confused. Scared. Guilty. Insecure. Blundering through life, hoping things would turn out ok. Everything to do with being a human in this world. Pick up a copy and try it, if you already haven’t. You won’t regret it. There is a bit of Amir in all of us. Read More......