Posted by: billpurdue | February 10, 2010

86 Two good reads

This time I’m writing about a couple of books recommended to me by my cousin in Canada

The stories written by the Norwegian author Per Petterson contain many experiences taken from his own life.  He now lives with his wife south of Oslo in a remote spot with their sheep and chickens just as Trond, the central character of Out Stealing Horses [Vintage, £7.99 9780099506133], retreats to a small house, like a log cabin really. Here the similarity ends as Trond lives alone , except for his dog Lyra. His wife has died in recent years and he has two daughters but doesn’t bother to let them know where he is and is even without a phone.

Moving to such a remote place brings back memories of his early teens when he and his father spent the summer holidays in a similar remote forest location. He spent many hours with his  friend Jon, and they go “out stealing horses” – in other words riding about on  horses in a neighbour’s field . He has never seen Jon since those boyhood days.

Now an old man, he discovers that one of Jon’s brothers is living close by. This stirs up unhappy memories of the time Jon left a loaded gun unguarded at home and one of his young twin brothers was accidentally shot by the other. He is also reminded that his father was involved in the Norwegian resistance movement during the war and was having an affair with Jon’s mother. His father walked out on his family when Trond was only 15 years old.

I didn’t think I would enjoy this novel – it does after all have a sort of melancholy running through it and I like best the books that make me smile, but I couldn’t stop reading it. As with many books that I really enjoy, I had that feeling that I needed something to fill an empty space after I reached the end.

I soon found that something, but it didn’t last long. In fact I was surprised how soon I got through The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid [Penguin £7.99 9780141029542]. This novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2007. It  also has many autobiographical elements in the story. A mysterious stranger, whose name we learn is Changez, invites an American to join him for tea in a Lahore café and tells him of his time at Princeton University and about his successful career with a business valuation company. He tells of his good life in America, but as the evening wears on and night falls his story becomes darker.

After the events of 9/11, as a Pakistani living in New York, people begin to look on him with suspicion. His girlfriend Erica, who mixes in the best circles of New York society, is continually troubled by the death of her first boyfriend and eventually decides it would be better for them not to see each other again. Changez pays a visit to his family back in Lahore and on his return he grows a beard which arouses some suspicious looks from colleagues and passers by.

When Erica retreats to some kind of asylum, he begins to question his sense of identity and  where he belongs -New York or Pakistan – and his work begins to suffer. The pace of the story quickens as Changez accompanies the stranger back to his hotel and then…. Well, I recommend you read this book to find out how it ends. It won’t take you long.

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