Gods without men by Hari Kunzru

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Gods without men by Hari Kunzru

Postby simonwheeler » Mon Jan 23, 2012 7:35 pm

This is the first book by Hari Kunzru that I have read; I shall be looking for more.

As a piece of writing this book has been described as “a tour de force”, and I can see why. It is such a well-crafted plot with fully-dimensional (in-joke, there!) characters, a good ear for dialogue and beautiful descriptions.

The fact that Kunzru is not only an obviously intelligent man but has direct experience of several cultures- Indian (by birth family, he is the child of an immigrant), English (by up-bringing and education; also working as a journalist in the UK) and American (by residence- he lives in New York)- seems to give him an understanding of the world and breadth and depth of vision that is less restricted and constrained than many of us may have. I was not surprised to read that he has a degree in English from Oxford and a Masters in Philosophy and Literature from Warwick; his journalism includes writing within “popular culture”.

This is a complex novel (and it is a novel, not just a book with a story). The blurb on the back cover describes the book as “branching and multi-layered” and a “heartfelt exploration of our search for pattern and meaning in a random and chaotic universe”. I can’t take issue with those comments. But because it is multi-layered I suspect each reader will bring to it and take from it something different. Looking at other reviews, that certainly seems to be the case.

For me this quote from near the end is apposite:
“The lesson she’d learned….was that knowledge, true knowledge, is the knowledge of limits, the understanding that at the heart of the world, behind or beyond, above or below, is a mystery into which we are not meant to penetrate.”

Kunzru mentions (in passing!) dowsing. He touches on Kabbalah, channelling, American Indian mysticism, Spanish Christian missionaries and shamanism. Central to the book is the notion of extra-terrestrial visitors to Earth and those “hippies” who, in the 1970’s, took residence in the Californian desert looking for something- following in the path of those from the late 1940’s…the immediate post-nuclear bomb era.

The Mojave desert is the main setting for the novel, especially three fingers of towering rock known as “The Pinnacle”. These rocks have a mystical and physical significance throughout the book. The main characters in the book, who link the whole thing together, are a family with an autistic child, Raj. So, straight away we have the notion of pre-determined isolation and lack of connection, contrasting with characters who are aware that they are looking for connections….but with “something out there…i.e. Ascended Masters in space ships”. The father of the autistic child is a banker who has misgivings about a computer program his trading firm invent and run (in the process making many millions) because the program analyses almost random data and finds links and connections in the most surprising places.

Raj goes missing in the desert. But if I say too much about what happens it will be "a spoiler".

Whilst reading I was never certain where the author’s beliefs lay. We have religion and superstition from the Punjabi family of Raj’s father and some from Raj’s Jewish mother. But as a family they go into a Catholic church to pray. The elements of mysticism are not treated with contempt nor scorn, but neither are they openly accepted- they are just there. And they remain there after the ending- leaving the reader to wonder (in both senses of the word).

Chapters are set- out of chronological sequence- from 1775 up to 2009. I found this a little disconcerting but as it was such a good read I never “lost the plot”. Maybe if I had taken weeks to finish this instead of days I would have been confused. Each era is very well researched. Characters include Iraqi immigrants, a British rock star (of sorts), cult leaders and members, bankers, missionaries, drug dealers, Vietnam veterans, Navajos, and American redneck police….to just give a sample! Everyone and everything is connected within this novel.

It does not have a central esoteric message or theme. But, for me, it does examine: faith and belief; the search for meaning; some of the ideas of what God may or may not be; and it manages to do this in an open and almost completely non-judgemental way.

If you enjoy quality writing and something that may remain with you, giving you things to think about, this is a very worthwhile experience.

(As I come to the end of this typing I realise that even the title of the book also has layers- yet more to consider....or am I looking for meaning where there is none?!) :roll:

ISBN 978-0-241-14311-7
Published 2011 by HamishHamilton (part of Penguin Books), London
As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

www.simongordonwheeler.co.uk

Simon
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Re: Gods without men by Hari Kunzru

Postby Helen-Healing » Tue Jan 24, 2012 3:24 pm

It certainly seems to have engaged you, Simon, and most of the reviews I've found are excellent.
His book My Revolutions looks pretty good too.
Obviously an author to keep up with!
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