Three books I recommend without reserve

(Canscene) —This, I’m sure isn’t an original thought but what really grabs me about a work of fiction, whether book, play or moving image, is the fact that it “creates and peoples its own universe” It must reach out to all five senses in its attempt to tell a story.

In quick succession last month, I moved into three of these fictional habitats all of which gave me total satisfaction Each of these novels has been in print for a few years; each, according to the blurbs has enjoyed widespread acclaim.

I’d never heard of them until two were distributed to members by the Spadina Road Library Book Club. The third was the subject of raves from my visiting brother and sister-in-law who left a copy with me when they returned to England.

Bel Canto, Kite Runner, Shadow in the Wind

The multicultural trio of page turners were: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hossein and The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

Opera, invasion and caring.
In Bel Canto, Patchett, who won Britain’s Orange Prize for it, creates a world peopled by an international cast of characters — all confined within the walls of the residence of a vice-president of an unnamed South American country.

To woo Mr. Hosakawa, a visiting Japanese industrialist and opera buff, the country’s government invites a famous American opera singer, Roxana Coss, to perform for his birthday. Hosakawa, lured by his idol, attends although he has no intention of establishing a factory there.

During Roxana’s performance, a horde of revolutionaries, bent on capturing the president, invade the building, only to find their target has stayed at home to watch a soap opera. The women and children are evacuated with the exception of Roxana who is left in the company of 70-odd male guests from a variety of racial backgrounds.

Her presence works a kind of miracle of international understanding and she is aided by Watanabe, Hosakawa’s personal assistant who is a master linguist. There’s a parable here, but served up with artistic integrity and readability.

A literary enigma sparks a fascinating quest.
Zafon’s novel The Shadow of the Wind is a fascinating mystery. Its narrator, Daniel spends his boyhood and teens searching for information on the author of a book he reads at a precocious eight years in his hometown, Barcelona. The story begins in 1945 when Franco is still firmly in control dictator of Spain.

The Shadow of the Wind, as the book he reads is named was written by an author new to Daniel, Julian Carax; having read it in fascination, he begins to search for more titles by the author. But he finds the books he seeks are being systematically destroyed by fire

With a Dickensian gift for characterization Zafon’s narrative sweeps the reader up into a story that combines dark secrets, sudden dangers and sardonic humour into one of the most fascinating books I’ve read in years. Particularly captivating is Fermin, a Republican sympathizer whom Daniel rescues from the gutter and brings to work at his father’s bookshop. Fermin is a character ranking among the best portryals of engaging roguishness in all literature.

The way the plot unravels gave me the same delight as did seeing Welles’ search for Rosebud in Citizen Kane and reading A.J.A. Symons’ The Quest for Corvo. These three prove you don’t have to write a routine whodunit to create an intriguing mystery.
An Intensely human story
The Kite Runner is a wonderful book which even though an informative read because of Afghanistan’s current topicality is much, much more.

It’s is the first novel of Khaled Hossein, Afghan expatriate in the U.S. as a youngster and now a physician.

The story begins in Kabul with 12-year-old Amir son of a wealthy merchant enjoying the companionship of Hassan the son of the family servant but not without self-consciousness since Hassan and and his father are Shi’ites, a lower caste than the dominant Sunnis.

The two boys are closest when indulging in the national sport of kite fighting, with contestants trying to bring down opponents’ kites. Amir and Hassan are frequent winners with the latter possessing an extraordinary ability to retrieve kites– hence the book’s title.

The tale begins shortly before the Soviet invasion and as this bloody event begins, takes its narrator and father on a danger-ridden flight into Pakistan and ev entually to he United States.

The deceptively simple but powerful narrative takes Amir back again to the city of his birth to come to terms with the betrayal of his friendship with Hassan.
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One Response to “Three books I recommend without reserve”

  1. Bill Andersen Says:

    I’ll second your vote for The Shadow of the Wind, Ben. The mystery certainly pulls the reader along and there’s plenty of action. Fermin’s an unforgettable character!

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