Saturday, January 27, 2007

Reader's Diary #223- Anosh Irani: The Song of Kahunsha (up to p. 125)

I have to admit, after reading Lullabies For Little Criminals I both assumed and hoped that it would win this year's Canada Reads competition. I liked it more than Natasha and Other Stories. Then I read Stanley Park. I really didn't enjoy that one. It was beginning to look like Lullabies had it in the bag. But now, I'm 125 pages into Song of Kahunsha and I'm no longer sure. And really, I shouldn't be surprised. Donna Morrissey, who is defending this book, is the same panelist that brought my favourite of all the past winners to the table; Rockbound.

Normally, I don't compare books to one another all that much. Unless there are blatantly obvious similarities in the story, I try to let each book speak for itself. Canada Reads books are different though. The contest itself, if you take the time to read all five books, forces readers to rank each book. Which is my favourite? Which would I like see gone first? and so forth. But with Lullabies and Kahunsha, there are blatantly obvious similarities. Despite the former being set in Montreal and the latter being set in Bombay, they both tell the story of a child's life on the street. And both are thoroughly enjoyable reads.

But compare I must, and despite how much I'm loving Kahunsha, I'd have to put Lullabies on top. And perhaps the only reason I'd do that (at this point in the story anyhow), is humour. Heather O'Neill, author of Lullabies, infuses her main character with a quirky and witty voice that is absent from the more straight edged protagonist of Irani's Song of Kahunsha. This is not to say Kahunsha is void of humour, but it comes across differently. I think the major reason lies in the authors' choice of perspective. Told in the first person, I found myself laughing along with Baby (Lullabies). But told in the third person, it almost feels like I'm laughing at Chamdi (Kahunsha). I'm not implying that Irani is unsympathetic towards his central character, I'm not laughing meanly at Chamdi. But when he writes such lines as "He wonders if Jesus knows that he has left the the orphanage. He did not get a chance to say goodbye" (referring to a statue), it is an entirely different feeling than if he had chosen to write "I wonder if Jesus knows that I have left the orphanage." The first has a slight adult edge of superiority in it, while the second almost gives the reader the same naive sense of superficial faith. Subtle some might say, but enough to make Lullabies the stronger of the two books, in my opinion.


John Mutford said...

Donna Morrisey's other book selections can be found here. Good representation of Newfoundland authors.

John K. Samson's other selections are here. Good for him for really representing poetry.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It's quite fascinating to read all the proponents' book selections. They are quite drastically different from one another.

John Mutford said...

Yeah, and they certainly capture the different personalities, eh? I see that Jim Cuddy has also suggested Michael Crummey book.