Friday, August 13, 2010

The Good Son - Michael Gruber

Summary: Sonia Laghari, a Pakistani-American writer and psychologist, sets up a conference on peace in Kashmir, the most terrorist-infested place on earth, only to have her and her small group of pacifists abducted and held captive by terrorists, who may or may not be manufacturing nuclear weapons. All but doomed to a public beheading, Sonia uses her familiarity with Islamic doctrine as well as her knowledge of Jungian psychology in an attempt to enlighten her deeply conflicted captors. (Summary from, Book given free for review)

My Review: If it weren't for the beginning and the end, this book would be one of my very top recommendations. I nearly put the book down after the first chapter - we enter into the bedroom with Theo, presumably "the good son", and his longtime casual sex partner and thus commences a crude description of the goings on. Not too graphic but unnecessarily descriptive. This scene was the only one I recall throughout the book but I signed on for a political thriller, not a tawdry fiction. Upon reflection I can see that this was used to show Theo as a flawed character but oh, there are so many better ways to do this.

As I read on I began frantically dog-ear-ing pages (Mindy gasps in horror) for future discussion, which is one of my personal signs of a compelling read. My dog-ears include discussions about religion (culture) vs. spirituality (faith), a lot of explanation regarding the abuse of women by extreme Muslims, a distancing of the core of Islam from fanaticism, the separation between tribal tradition and Islam (see culture vs. faith), the influence of place on our sense of self, how the oppression of women leads to women being oppressors, and plenty of insight* into Muslim culture along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.

*Of course the author is a Caucasian professor in America so this begs the question of how accurate is his portrayal of the Afghan/Pakistan (specifically Pashtun) world? My book club often debates if a story is more accurate if told my someone inside or outside a culture. If being "inside" lends authenticity or if being "outside" removes bias. Then follows the question, because I am reading this story from "outside" does the fact that I think it seems realistic have any bearing whatsoever? Oh, so many interesting questions.

And then there is the ending. Eh. It is well done in that it answers the big questions but then leaves you with a few that keep you thinking once you've put the book down. It also makes you question some character assumptions you made throughout the book. But the surprise twist, which one begins to suspect, just wraps everything up too nicely. I just couldn't believe that x, y AND z all happened at the same time and the same place.

My Rating: 4 stars - The meat of the novel is so thought-provoking that, despite the tawdry opening and unbelievable ending, it still merits a recommendation.

In one sentence: Skip the opening, suspend belief at the ending and discuss what is in between.

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