Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Millennium Trilogy – Stieg Larsson

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 2005, 600 pages
The Girl Who Played with Fire, 2006, 630 pages
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, 2007, 576 pages
These three novels were originally written in Swedish, and were published after the death of the author, Stieg Larsson. They take place in Sweden.
The story follows Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist in his 40s, and Lisbeth Salander, a strange young girl in her 20s with lots of problems. In the first book their ways are crossed during an investigation of an old crime, and in the second and third book the plot focuses on Lisbeth herself, her mysterious and complicated past and her dealing with its shadows that come back to haunt her.
I am not a big fan of thrillers. Usually I am bored of them, and can’t develop and caring about who did what and what happens with the characters. But this series fascinated me. I could not put the books down (after a certain point, more on that later) I was very curious to know what happens next and I was on the edge of my seat at some parts.
I chose to start with the overall impression because when I think about various aspects of the books I have a lot of criticism, so I want to clarify that overall I enjoyed the series a lot. And now for the criticism.
The books, especially the first two, are extremely violent, with description of cruel sexual (and other) violence. I later read that Stieg Larsson was blame-stricken after witnessing a rape and not doing more to help the victim. It may be the reason for the descriptions in the book. I don’t like books with details description of violence. We have enough if it on the news.
The author died before the books were published. It can explain why the editing is lacking. The books are way too long, with long tedious and unnecessary parts that seem to never end. I wrote before that I could not put the books down. This was not true from the beginning. Actually I kept “threatening” that I will stop reading the first book, and only because I was on a flight with no other book to read I kept on reading. Eventually, way ahead into the book, it did catch, and when I got to the connection I bought the second book, to make sure I have it when I finish the next one.
One reason they are so long is because they contain unnecessary parts, scenes that contributes nothing to the plot or to the books in general, like the first part of the second book. I was glad it was cut from the movie.
The books are so long also because they contain detailed description of every detail – everything the characters wear, eat, their houses, including interior decoration and the furniture. Though some details are nice to get the feeling of the place and time, so much of them are tedious and unnecessary. The descriptions include also the technological devices like cell phones and computers, including the exact model of each and the technical specifications, details that become irrelevant almost immediately in our fast paste technology world. Computer technology is a huge part of these books, and my personal computer expert had to smirk at some of them, but I – not an expert but knows enough about computers – did not find any crude mistakes in this area.
Another main problem, in my opinion, is the main character, Mikael. He is probably the “Mary Sue” of the author. Incredibly capable, always finds out what other failed to find for years, moral, always do the right thing, and irresistible to women – almost each woman he sees just has to drag him to bed, and what choice does a good-heart man like him has other than to agree?
On the other hand, I just loved the character of Lisbeth, and my favorite parts are where she appears. Not that her character lacks problems, but overall she won my heart.
This leads to the next problem: the romance in the book. I can’t even call it romance. It was so heartless, so emotionless, all based around sex and maybe some fondness, not more than that. It was so obvious it was written by a man (though there are some beautiful books written by man with very convincing romance and feelings). I was disgusted by the romance in the book and would rather these parts (like many unnecessary parts) stayed out of the book.
So I have a lot of criticism for the book, but the bottom line wins: I enjoyed reading them, could not put them down, and highly recommend them.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What is the What – Dave Eggers

2006, 475 pages
Valentino Achak Deng was born in a village in south Sudan. When he was a young boy, his village was attacked and destroyed by the northern Arab militia as part of the second Sudanese civil war. Achak had to flee to the forest to save his life. He joins a group of boys, all fleeing for their lives, evading wild animals and soldiers from both sides, reaches a refugee camp in Ethiopia, later moves (or actually flees again for his life) to Kenya, to another refugee camp, Kakuma, where he spends many years, and eventually arrives the US.
Achak, a real person, told his story to the author Dave Eggers, and he wrote this book, where Achak is telling his story. The book starts at present time, when Achak is in his Atlanta apartment, innocently opening the door to a strange woman who asks to use his phone. In the following eventful days, Achak will tell his story to the people he meets, but not in speaking the words. In his head. This is the story he would like to tell them, but he doesn’t, he cannot. He goes back to his childhood in Africa, and to his first days in the US, and so the plot advances in three different times in parallel – his present in the US, his history in the US, and his history as a child in Africa. It is a little confusing at first, especially since he begins by jumping to arbitrary events in his past, but after a certain point he starts to tell his story in order and things start to make sense. From this point on I could not leave the book. It was so fascinating and touching.
Today Sudan is back in the news, with their poll about independence. It is fascinating to go back to the time described in the book and get an inside look at the bloodied events. I was also fascinated by the personal story of Achak. He had to go through so many terrible events as a young child. To see so much evil, the darkest side of human kind that kill and torture or just look at the other side when these things happen. On the other hand, he met amazing people, generous people, people who risked themselves to help the lost kids who had no one else fending for them. I admired the person that came out of him. It wouldn’t be surprising if after all he’s seen as a child he would turn a resentful violent man that only want to grab a gun and revenge all that was done to him and taken away from him. Lots of the other young boys turned out that way, and were killed as young soldiers. But he was different. He avoided joining the rebel army. He knew, with the help of some amazing teachers in the camp, that education is what he needs and what will help him overcome his situation. He had lots of patience, and he needed it, with the many years it took him to leave the camp and arrive to the US. And life in the US weren’t the end of his troubles and misery. He tells, again, about amazing generosity, exceptional people who helped the Sudanese refugees. But also about hardship, racialism, prejudices and kind of problems that sometimes made him and the other Sudanese miss the refugee camp. It seems like the troubles are chasing him, and any kind of hardship and problem finds its way to his life. But he goes on, in a very inspiring way.
The profits from the book are donated to “The Valentino Achak Deng Foundation”, and are used to help other Sudanese, both in Sudan and in the US, the education that helped Achak to get where he is today.