Thursday, June 07, 2007

five minute book review

"rich man, poor man, beggar man, chief. doctor, lawyer, merchant chief - or, if we were feeling especially pugnacious - indian chief. what are you going to be when you grow up? when we were young this was not simply a question, but the greatest question. and everything i am going to say to you tonight assumes that it is the greatest question still" - frederick buechner, in the introduction to a sermon on 1 peter 2:9

what are you going to be when you grow up? that's a question that i've been asking myself a lot lately. but, for me anyway, this query raises more questions than it resolves, because it is difficult for get a sense of one's destination when so many uncertainties remain about one's origins.

by God's grace, i was adopted into a remarkable family six days after my birth. i love my family dearly and am fiercely loyal to my parents, sibling and extended family alike. yet i have to wonder whether or how adoption has played into my constant questions concerning my identity. uncle henri's reminder that "what is most personal is most universal" suggests that unadopted children wrestle with similar questions, but i have a hard time believing that bio-babies have the same volume and intensity of questions concerning their identity.

ok, before i bleed all over the blog, let me punch out the aforementioned reviews. both of these books deal at great length with the issue of identity. after reading these two ethnic detective novels and watching the dick flick hollywood land recently, i am beginning to suspect that most detective novels are really more about the investigator's internal search than it is about the actual crime committed. i never noticed this about mysteries before and might be wrong. but, as mikey z reminds us, "everything is what it is and also something else."

i read chandra's massive tome throughout the last two months of pix's pregnancy. sacred games is ostensibly the story of sartaj singh's investigation of ganesh gaitonde's mysterious death. as sartaj the sikh detective tries to connect the dots surrounding the gangster ganesh's death, chandra introduces the reader to tangled economic, socio-political and religious culture of contemporary mumbai. as one reviewer noted, sacred games is not only a superb detective novel/international thriller, but also a wonderful introduction to contemporary india. the novel also introduces the careful reader to the wonderful variety of hindi curse words. so go read the book, you blenchod gaandi of a kutiya!

chabon's most recent novel is a philip rothish "what if" cultural study that is carefully framed in an intriguing tale of a murdered, would-be, Jewish messiah and the drunken yet uncanny dick that is seeking to checkmate the killer. as with chabon's amazing kavalier & clay this novel is a wonderfully inventive, superbly written, character obsessed piece that explores yet another "strange time to be a Jew." i was particularly fascinated by meyer landsman, the chief protagonist of the novel, who is almost a bizzaro abraham insofar as in his moment of testing he chose to capitulate to a curse rather than to believe in the possibility of blessing. as meyer's investigation uncovers more truth about himself than it does about the killer, i had the sense that chabon wrote this novel almost from a moses perspective, for while the characters are clearly grounded on the hard, cold disappointment mt. nebo they never can quite seem to take their eyes off the great promise.

of course, i'm not doing either of these books justice and i've spent way more than five minutes writing this review. but what are you going to do?

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