Friday, February 27, 2015

Khaled Hosseini and Marjane Satrapi

Natives of enemy lands 
show the truth beyond geopolitical 

     Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed (2013) moves from Afghanistan to California to Paris to Afghanistan and from the 1940s to the 2000s to the 1970s to the 2010s.  It’s epic yet feels intimate and it takes off from E.M. Forster’s mantra ‘Only Connect’ from Howard’s End (1910).  That work was a parable for the state of England.  Hosseini’s third novel is a parable of East-West relations during peace and war.  It’s a novel that feels European in structure – almost like Schnitzler’s La Ronde (1897) or the “Wandering Rocks” episode of Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) – because the inciting incident that involves six
characters reverberates as the narrative moves from one character involved with another and then follows that character involved with another and then follows that one until finally ending with the two characters that were initially introduced.  It’s multi-linear with interlocking narratives.  

     Where The Kite Runner (2003) was a coming of age novel about three boys and the country that became a crucible as Western powers tried to control it and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) was about two generations of women practically crushed by the Taliban, Mountains Echoed is much more contemplative.  The violence plays backstage to the story’s events and that may be why it wasn’t the blockbuster the earlier two books were.  Torture porn sells; novels of ideas aren’t as alluring to Americans.  

Hosseini in Afghanistan
     Hosseini spent his childhood in Afghanistan, but was raised in France and the U.S.  That cross-cultural background partly accounts for his revelation of Afghan history and culture.  He was both a part of it, but can detach from it and objectively present it.  While his first two novels demonstrated Hosseini’s love of Dickens, And the Mountains Echoed moves him past Harold Bloom’s ‘Anxiety of Influence’ to a mature, idiosyncratic voice.  It’s a book I read very slowly because I didn’t want it to end.

     Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Chicken with Plums (2006) recounts a tale from Satrapi’s family history in 1950s Iran, though the country’s citizens still considered it Persia.  It’s a very funny, poignant recounting of her uncle who decided to go to bed for a week and die.  Each day provides flashbacks and glimpses of flash-forwards.  Middle-class life at that time in the Middle East wasn’t so much different from Europe or North America.  

     Satrapi was born in Iran, but left with her family to Paris during the revolution.  She examines loss and nostalgia in both this and her Persepolis series (2003 – 2007).  She possesses a strong sense of humor and her drawing style is inimitable.  She’s broadened her reach by writing and directing movies based on her books.  However, she doesn’t plumb her subject matter as deeply as Hosseini.

No comments: