Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Reader's Diary #225- Anosh Irani: The Song of Kahunsha (FINISHED)

I'm trying so hard not to make Canada Reads predictions, especially since I still have to read Gabrielle Roy's Children on My Heart. However, if The Song of Kahunsha wins, I will not be surprised.

How would I feel about that? I'm not sure. It is a remarkably good book, maybe even as strong and as well written as Lullabies For Little Criminals. But there are a few insanely horrific scenes. And while I think it's a great book, perhaps even an important book, there are scenes that make me incredibly squeamish. Of course, I'm sure other readers will have varying degrees of sensitivities, but I found myself longing for the more pervasive humour of Lullabies for Little Criminals. Whereas that book had a few of its own ugly scenarios, they paled in comparison and at least O'Neill threw in ample doses of comic relief to keep us sane.

But Kahunsha is a terrific book. If at first I might have found protagonist Chamdi a little square compared to Lullabies' Baby, towards the end I didn't care. If you, as a reader, didn't feel compelled to reach into the book and grab him the hell out of there, I question your humanity. Perhaps that was a part of the appeal (?) of Irani's third person choice. Still keeping close to Chamdi at all times, it made me feel all the more helpless to protect him. Like a powerless guardian angel. It is not a book filled with hope. It's dark and bleak and I'm sure someone on the Canada Reads panel will try and make the case that the book is optimistic. And when they do, I want to hear it. I almost need it. The only solace I got, even at the end, was that Chamdi himself might have some hope despite his miserable experiences. Though I didn't feel it with him, I even felt he had a bit of childish naivete, I was thankful for it. I'd never tell him otherwise. (And yes, I'm talking like he's real. Credit that to Irani's writing).

An intriguing part of this book was the use of dogs as symbols. They came up a lot; sometimes in actual presence, often used as an insult, and there's even the mention of eating one. I guess the connotations are different for everyone depending on whether or not you're a "dog person". However, I'm sure Irani was aware of this, and coming from India he may have had even more associations with dogs than I am aware. Yet the differences do not matter. If you're not a dog person, you probably think of stupidity, subservience, savagery and uncleanliness. No doubt this is the way it was intended as an insult and it would represent how some people did feel about the street children. Yet for the dog people who believe them to be smart, loyal, protective and playful, Irani shows this side of the street children as well. The fact that we, as a species, can be so easily compared to an animal is a great statement about where we've come (or haven't come) as a civilization. Yet we are not dogs and our ability to rationalize makes the cruelty and hypocrisy all the more evil and unforgivable. Sadly, the book is not unbelievable.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

Wow, this sounds like a really powerful book. I'm almost afraid to read it, and not just because I just started Lullabies for Little Criminals either.

John Mutford said...

It is a powerful book. As for being afraid, it depends on the reader. But if you're squeamish about people being maimed for life, maybe you'd want to avoid it.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

No, I can handle a bit of squeemishness, but the pain and tragedy of some lives in books is difficult to put aside. Sounds like this book might be the same.

John Mutford said...

Barbara, I just read an old comment you posted on my blog a while back in which you said you liked books about India. Maybe you should read this book afterall!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I DO like books about India, and oddly it was one of Rohinton Mistry's books that was brought to mind when you mentioned the brutality on The Song of Kahunsha. I believe I will have to read it after all.