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DETACHED AND TEDIOUS
on 29 August 2011
I have had this book sitting on my bookshelf for many years and I finally got around to reading it. I knew of its iconic status and reputation. I also knew a little bit about the author - a man who seemed detached and a little vain - as if being labelled a great author had some special spiritual significance for him.
The pace and rhythm of the book was like a gentle wave lapping onto some deserted island shore - unrelenting and after a while a little monotonous. The prose was clear and uncluttered. It was certainly easy to read. But for most of the time I was looking forward to finishing the book and nothing particularly captivated my attention and spurred me on with any relish.
The trouble with books that come with a reputation of greatness is that you feel compelled to believe the hype and to recognise the greatness in every sentence and paragraph. For me - a good reading experience does not exist in lingering over the choice of certain words to catch the incredible insight of that choice. That is purist nonsense. Overall I found the reading experience a little tedious and low-key. Undoubtedly it gives an account of the experience of migrants to Africa, of the lack of cohesion in society, and the ever present dangers of bush and village life - and this was insightful - but Salim (our protagonist) was a little dull and detached - which is how I imagine the author to be.
We have philosophical musings about the nature of society and civilisations (especially from Indar - a friend of Salim) - and the concept of individualism is explored in some depth. All very worthy, and I am sure, important.
But - these musings can be better accessed in polemical debates or articles from newspapers.
If greatness lies in the choice of subject matter then for those who regard the African and migrant experience to be important then this is a great book. But it is not a great read - it lacks a strong story line and the characters are remote and faintly drawn.
What is the author trying to convey? I am not sure. But he comes up with no answers to his questions. In my opinion - this is not a Great book as it is lacking in warmth and any real and sympathetic understanding of human kind: too remote and spartan.