Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #95: Never Go Back by Lee Child

The latest Jack Reacher novel is centered around a love interest! What?! Reacher hitchhikes his way from South Dakota to northern Virginia because the female Commanding Officer at the old military police unit he ran years earlier has an alluring “come hither” voice, and he just has to meet, dine and—he hopes—bed her. But when he arrives, not only does he discover that she has just been arrested for treason, but that he has not one, but two criminal complaints against him that could land him in military prison for a long time.Great set up, not so great follow up.

Reacher leaps into action, and rigs an implausible escape not only for himself, but for CO Susan Turner, and the two go on a cross-country run together while they try to figure out who’s out to get them, and why? Of course, they are a perfect match of intrepid, fearless, and dedicated, but we somehow know they won’t go off into the sunset together because what would author Child do for his next in the series? In the meanwhile, they have the army, the FBI, the local DC police and four military-like goons on their tail, but every close encounter ends with Reacher handing out broken arms, skulls, legs and fingers like candy, and adding another piece to the endless puzzle they are trying to solve.

The plot itself is ridiculous, [SPOILER HERE] involving a couple of old guys in the upper echelons of military intelligence running an opium den for rich old Washingtonians like themselves, but the repartee between Reacher and his lawyers, Reacher and his pursuers, Reacher and his possible daughter, and Reacher and his lady love almost make it worth slogging through this one. Almost. But not quite. The plot outline held lots of potential, but the story comes off as just plain silly. Note, this is from a die-hard Reacher fan!

Sorry Mr. Child, but it’s time for a reboot. Maybe you can foist this one off on Tom Cruise and call it payback for the terrible job he did with “Jack Reacher,” the movie.

Valyruh’s #CBR5 Review #75: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains Echoed is arguably Hosseini’s finest novel to date, a sweeping saga that extends beyond the confines of his native Afghanistan and touches on the universal issues surrounding parental and sibling relationships under the strain of economic hardship, geographic dislocation, and sacrifice. Hosseini’s novel begins with a poor father telling his son and daughter a beautiful folk tale about a man forced to sacrifice one of his children to a demon for the good of his village. That tale has a happy ending, but the next day, the father gives up his daughter to a wealthy family in the city of Kabul in order to ensure that his own family will survive the winter, threatening a unique bond between sister and brother which somehow manages to endure—almost mystically–over space and time.

Hosseini follows both families—the original one and the adoptive one—over generations, with multiple spin-offs as more and more fascinating characters and their backstories are introduced. We skip backwards and forwards across time; we skip across oceans to Greece, France, and the U.S., and back again to Afghanistan; and we hear—in first and third person, sometimes as narration, sometimes as journal entries, sometimes as an epistolary—how both men and women have been affected by the dramatic changes in their home country.

Once again, the plight of Afghani women is treated by author Hosseini with tremendous sympathy and, more importantly, with genuine authenticity, but in this novel, unlike in his awesome A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini gives the reader a more nuanced reading into the minds and souls of his characters, male as well as female. They are neither victims nor perpetrators, but real people with choices to make and consequences to face.  Yes, there is tragedy on both a large and small scale, but Hosseini’s exquisite writing enables his readers to profoundly share in the lives of his characters and come out the stronger for it.

Owlcat’s CBR5 Review #15 of “And the Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini

I have read Hosseini’s two previous novels and had thoroughly enjoyed both, so I anticipated enjoying this novel, as well, and happily, I can say I was not disappointed.

The book begins with an opening Afghan folk story that is a parable that the opening character tells his son and daughter, and this parable sets the tone for the rest of the book.  The parable describes a father whose must sacrifice his son to a monster, only to discover when he hunts the monster down, that the child is actually better cared for and happier than he would ever be had he remained with his family.  The choice then becomes one of guilt if he if he retrieves his son just to fill the void in his own heart, or guilt and sorrow at leaving him behind.  The so-called monster recognizes the difficulty of his choice and gives him a day to decide; when he chooses the selfless decision to leave his son there, he is then rewarded with a loss of memory so that he does not remember what he has done nor remembers his son;  even so, however, he feels a hole in his heart that he never understands.

This parable is reflected throughout the novel, sometimes obviously, sometimes more subtly, and particularly in the story that follows the three “main” characters, Soboor (the father), Abdullah (the son) and Pari (the daughter).  The novel itself begins in the early 1950s in Afghanistan and ends in contemporary times in Afghanistan, France, and the United States.  These three characters are walking from their village to Kabul, where, unknown to the children, the daughter will be left behind with a couple whose wife desperately wants a child.  Being four years old, Pari quickly adapts to her new life, but Abdullah is so much older that he desperately feels the horrible tear in the fabric of their relationship and he never forgets her, always hoping to find her. Gradually, other characters are introduced and developed, some within their interactions with the three original characters, some individually and among each other.  As generations pass, the predominant theme is this broken bond of relationships and the their effects on everyone who experiences them as lives go on.

The characters’ stories are formed around each other, the events of numerous historical significance (i.e., the war with Russia, the Taliban, the U.S. arrival after 9/11), and the U.S.’s gradual winding down.  This is not a story about the wars, but rather, the conflicts and upheavals from them that contribute to the characters’ development and decisions.  Some escape literally to other countries, the U.S. and France; others remain; others return;  and some of the more peripheral characters who end up being involved with the Afghan characters, come for humanitarian reasons, often on a temporary basis that turns into a permanent one. All have an impact on each other and sometimes it is not clear what their relationships with Abdullah and Pari are or will be.

Hosseini’s characters develop in ways that are remarkably realistic and are clearly formed by their families, their experiences, their environments. Two can face the same experience and/or issue and each has a believable reaction that can be totally different from each others’ and both are understood and easily accepted by the reader.  The emotion within the various stories is at times heart-wrenching and unbelievably sad and yet, watching the characters endure and continue on despite this is a statement of the determination and malleability of the human mind.

There is hope interspersed at times and the story line was occasionally a bit difficult to follow, but in the end, it all tied together very nicely and understandably in a way that demonstrated the good and the bad of the human race, and, as well, demonstrated how everyone in the world really is like everyone else, particularly when family is involved. I highly recommend this book.