“Two Brothers and Two Others”
Dealing with Life and Death
A gay brother and a straight brother move in together after the death of their mother. They try to reconnect after having been separated for six years. This film proves that a lot of money is not necessary to make a good film. This is a sincere and sensitive look at our lives and has extremely good performances. As Chad and Riley try to find themselves and one another, their lives come together with love and reconciliation. While they may never be able to really regain their losses, they do come together. They both find what went wrong in their relationships and the time came to repair that. This is a touching story about dealing with family and with lovers.
Each brother is on a journey to see what their futures will be, and how it would resemble their parents’ relationship. This movie vividly depicts two brothers that have been raised in such a family and they feel as if they are doomed but are willing to go through the pain and with their past and the weakness in their personalities.
Riley Adamson (Norbert Orlewicz) comes to live with his older brother Chad (Cody Campbell) after their mom dies. Chad had some severe problems with their parents and they all come out when Riley arrives. Riley meets Gavin (Kevin Macdonald) and falls in love. Chad has a girlfriend Tobie (Karen Kae) and things slowly escalate and finally explode.
The movie is in black and white and it is grainy, off focus, but that becomes unimportant as we enter the lives of the two brothers. Different stories and very different issues – slowly unfold and as the characters gain more density. It starts with a character’s words about his mother, and it ends with his mother’s words about the characters. In a perfect circle, where at its end everything can happen, like tracing a beginning where the characters have grown, but still do not reach a conclusion.
Included on the DVD are two short films by writer/director Lawrence Ferber. The first “Cruise Control” runs only 6 minutes but establishes so much about character and the theme… and is pretty funny. The second “Birthday Time,” runs 19 minutes and makes the whole DVD worth every penny you pay for it. In just 25 minutes Lawrence Ferber firmly establishes himself as an important talent with an insightful, honest voice.
Daley, James (editor). “Great Speeches on Gay Rights”, Dover, 2013.
Reminding Us of Who We Are
This anthology of speeches should be in every library so that they are never lost. Here is our history in our language in our rhetoric. From the beginning in the late 1800s through the current discussions about marriage equality they represent the important milestones in our community. While they might not seem as powerful reading them, they still hold power. Reading them is reading our history and learning about the major figures who dared to speak out. Through them we get an alternative view of what LGBT community has been through. We also get some references to religion and are reminded of the struggle we have faced to achieve liberation. However there is one glaring omission and that is in the speeches we have here there is little mention of AIDS and three very important speakers— Barney Frank, Vito Russo and Larry Kramer are not included. It may also bother some people that the term “gay” rather than LGBT is used throughout. I believe that the emphasis on gay issues is important but a little more background would have made this a much better book. Below is the table of contents to give you an idea of just what is here:
1. Robert G. Ingersoll: “Address at the Funeral of Walt Whitman” 1892
2. August Bebel: “Address at the Reichstag” 1898 (translated)
3. Anna Rueling: “…Solving the homosexual problem” 1904 (translated)
4. Kurt Hiller: “…An Oppressed Human Variety.” 1928 (translated)
5. Franklin Kameny: “Civil Liberties: A Progress Report” 1964
6. Jack Nichols: “Why I Joined the Movement” 1967
7. Sally Gearhart: “The Lesbian and God-the-Father” 1972
8. Harvey Milk: “The Hope Speech” 1978
9. Harry Hay: “Unity and More in ’84″ 1984
10. Sue Hyde: “We Gather in Dubuque” 1988
11. Urvashi Vaid: “Speech at the March on Washington” 1991
12. Jim Kepner: “Why Can’t We All Get Together?” 1997
13. Eric Rofes: “The Emerging Sex Panic Targeting Gay Men” 1997
14. Elizabeth Toledo: “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” 2000
15. Elizabeth Birch: “Convention Speech by a Gay Organization’s Leader” 2000
16. Evan Wolfson: “Marriage Equality and Lessons” 2004
17. Paul Martin: “The Civil Marriage Act” 2005
18. Ian Hunter: “A Matter of Interest” 2009
Wearing, Alison. “Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: Growing Up with a Gay Dad”, Knopf, 2013.
Her Gay Dad
When Alison Wearing was 12 years old, she realized that her family was not like others. She knew her dad was “different” and when he “came-out”, she understood just how different he really was. This was in the 1970s when being gay was one of the ultimate taboos. No one was more shocked than the town of Peterborough, Ohio and his wife and children. In this part memoir, part history, part diary and lots of heart and love, Wearing brings a story about who we are and our families.
Alison’s father, Joe, was a professor of political science and an amateur choral director. Her mother was a pianist and marathon runner. The two parents took their parental responsibilities very seriously. Things seemed fine but beneath the surface there was something else. Joe was suffering from conflicting desires and when he started to explore his feelings, he remained determined to live as both a gay man and a devoted father. His daughter, Alison, shares those thought with us having learned about them through her dad’s letters and journals and we get to read how he could understand his life and how he worked as a gay activist in Canada.
This is not just the story of Joe’s coming out but Alison’s coming out as well. When her father came out, Alison was dealing with her own quest for identity. She told no one about her father and made up stories about family activities. It took some time for her to realize that was really nothing to hide. It was difficult for many reasons especially those dealing with acceptance. Joe, she tells us, busted down the closet door when he came out. He shared things with his daughter, including his diaries.
Wearing’s writing shows the love and compassion she has for her father and her memoir becomes epic in that she not only writes about her family but of America. She shares many details that both break your heart and also want to revel in the freedom with which she writes. It is amazing to see how she balances history and intimacy and adds her own wit and humor to it. She even shows us the imperfections in. her own family. She touches on the important issues in a family and in a person and, in effect, gives us a taste of a social history of that time in this country. Historically, this is an important book for that reason. Gay life in the 1980s was totally different than it is today and homophobia was rampant. Wearing shows what it was like for her father to be gay in small town America and how his family was, of course, affected by it. We also become very aware of the difference in meaning of the words “acceptance” and “understanding”.
“MUMIA: LONG DISTANCE REVOLUTIONARY”
Sentenced to Death
Mumia Abu-Jamal is an unrepentant communist cop killer and/or a political martyr depending upon who you talk with. Stephen Vittoria takes us for a look at the man who has spent 29 years in solitary confinement on death row. However, his crime is not the subject here but rather the man as a brilliant journalist who cannot be silenced. Mumia has his own analysis of Black history and he sees that struggle for freedom and liberation in larger and non-exclusive terms. He is admired by many and his integrity and politics cannot be separated.
When he was just 15 years old, he was a founding member and communications secretary for the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia. It was here that be began his journalistic life by writing for the organizations newsletter. He denounced the racism in Philadelphia and to see how that was understood we hear from former Attorney General, Ramsey Clark, to tell us about the bigotry, racism and police brutality toward Black citizens. Frank Rizzo was chief of police when Mumia started on the radio and he won many listeners and fans. His relaying of current events and the war against the Move enclave brought about the clash between the Black Panthers and the police and the FBI.
Mumia really gained fame when he was set to prison and gained international attention. His trial for murder was disputed by many organizations including the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The fact that he is still in prison has caused riots all over the world and notably in France and in Germany.
While in prison, Mumia gave many interviews and wrote a series of books about Black history and the Black Panthers and prison. He was lauded by educators and Black activists such as Cornell West, Angela Davis, Alice Walker and Dick Gregory. The government has tried to silence him but to no avail. Here we get to know Mumia. He killed a police officer over 30 years ago and that is all that is said about that. His sentence was eventually commuted from death to life behind bars.
The documentary sets the scene by showing us how life was Philadelphia at the time. There was a huge police presence then and the mayor, Rizzo, had once been chief of police. Since then he was become the symbol of injustice but his guilt is not the subject here. What we see are Mumia’s many supporters and hear them give Mumia their gratitude and admiration.
Rakoff, David. “Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A Novel”, Doubleday, 2013,
The Song of America
David Rakoff left us much too soon; he was incomparable whether on the air or in print. He spoke his mind and it was a mind that was witty and sharp. He left behind this novel—his song to America. He writes of the freedom we have and dares to say it can be brutal. This is a novel and Rakoff was noted for his essays and so it seems as his legacy includes another genre. In it we go to many cities and meet characters that are united by either acts of generosity or acts of kindness. We meet “a daughter of Irish slaughterhouse workers in early-twentieth-century Chicago who faces a desperate choice; a hobo who is offered an unexpected refuge on the rails during the Great Depression; a vivacious aunt who provides her clever nephew with a path out of the crushed dream of postwar Southern California; an office girl who endures the casually vicious sexism of 1950s Manhattan; the young man from Southern California who revels in the electrifying sexual and artistic openness of 1960s San Francisco, then later tends to dying friends and lovers as the AIDS pandemic devastates the community he cherishes. There is a love triangle that reveals the empty materialism of the Reagan years; a marriage that crumbles under the distinction between self-actualization and humanity. As the new century opens, we meet a man who has lost his way finds a measure of peace in a photograph he discovers in an old box an image of pure and simple joy that unites the themes of this brilliantly conceived work”.
Just Too Much
I have no idea why I decided to watch “Starrbooty” again. I saw it when it first came out some seen years ago and thought it was a clever parody of several other films. Basically (although there is nothing very basic about it) it is about a supermodel and secret agent infiltrating a prostitution ring to save her girlfriend from human parts traffickers. It is gross, it is camp and it is very silly. One reviewer said it was little more than an excuse to bring soft porn, Michael Lucas’s penis, and farts to the screen (like Lucas needs an excuse to show his cock to the world). Even with what I said above there is something here if we overlook over-the-top acting, artificially dubbed voices and the separation of audio and visual elements. The movie does not pretend to be an art film or even a good film—it considers itself to be a brainless comedy with the purpose of entertaining. It seems to have been made in a parallel universe reminiscent of early John Waters. RuPaul also pays homage to Tamara Dobson, Pam Grier, Mommie Dearest, The Naked Gun, Paris Is Burning & James Bond in one unbelievable hodgepodge of bad taste and dead gerbils. There was obviously no budget for this film and that makes it all the more fun.
The film is a bit different than the kind of stuff RuPaul usually does—this film is sexually graphic. It is silly and entertaining at the same time.
RuPaul plays a secret agent called Starrbooty. She teams up with another drag queen agent to fight the evil Annaka Manners (Candis Cayne) and get her kidnapped niece, Cornisha, back…or something like that. I mean the plot is a mess and there are nonstop quick camera cuts that make it impossible to focus on anything. The dialogue is not understandable an when you can hear it you still have no idea what it means. There is a lot of sick bathroom humor and RuPaul overacts to the hilt (but looks great). There are a lot of penises and the film seems to be an attempt to parody the black exploitation movies of the 70s. You will laugh, you might cry but you will probably think, “WTF?!” The film gives the word disaster a whole new definition.
Seven times Eight
The “UP” series as about 14 people from diverse backgrounds from all over England. Every seven years Michael Apted meets them every seven years and looks at their lives and their dreams for the future. This is an amazing look at how life is structured and an exciting use of film. “From cab driver Tony to schoolmates Jackie, Lynn and Susan and the enigmatic Neil, as they turn 56 more life-changing decisions and surprising developments are revealed”. The subjects come from different economic backgrounds and with each new meeting, we also return to previous years and especially to that very first when we originally met them. Each of the films consists of interviews and we see vibrant lives at particular moments in time. In watching, we think of ourselves in seven year sequences. The people in the series become our friends and we see a tapestry of the world we live in.
In choosing the subjects, Apted was encouraged to find diversity and the results are amazing. As they discuss themselves on screen, the subjects seem to think of their involvement in the project as a public service. Over the years, some have opted out. Peter, for example, returns for the first time since 28 UP and tell us that the reason for this is to promote his new band. The subjects are allowed to speak freely and they can justify their willingness to be filmed every seven years.
Nick has returned each time and talks about the meaning of the series and his relationship to it. Over a montage of new and old clips we see Nick somewhat and saying that the series “is not an absolutely accurate picture of me, but it’s the picture of somebody. And that’s the value of it.”
Neil, the loner spent years off the grid, living his life on government is the conscience of the series. He is the Liberal Democrat of the municipal works council of a town in a remote chunk of Cumbria. As a younger man Neil appeared fatalistic and miserable. But things have changed and he now values life.
Each subject has his own story and all of the stories are different. Some of them live average lives which are uneventful, some become homeless or face tragedy, and others are successful. Each person’s life is interesting and I am sure that this is because we have watched them grow (much like our own children). The time Apted spends with each subject is limited—seven days every seven years and I cannot help but wonder if that has anything to do with the cycles of seven in the Hebrew Bible. We can only see a small bit of who each person really is. Each personality is explored by a series of banal and intellectually uninspired questions dealing with career, marriage, family and money.
Many of the subjects have pointed out that the original series, begun in the 1964, was intended to serve as a class study, one which showed that the richer children would grow up to do great things and fulfil their station in life, while those growing up in foster homes and out in the country wouldn’t make anything of themselves and would only offer tales of poverty and sadness. As the series progresses, however, all of the subjects grow up to show that the original presumptions do show how diverse and unique every life can be. We really only get a surface look at being human, aging and how different our lives can turn out from how we imagined.
Arendt, Hannah. “Eichmann in Jerusalem”, Penguin Classics Reprint, 2006.
Some of you may be wondering why I have decided to go back and review a book that is now fifty years old. My answer is quite simple. I recently had the chance to view the brilliant new film “Hannah Arendt” and I was reminded that it has been a while since I read her classic “Eichmann in Jerusalem”. It is such an important book and at one time, years ago, a part of my life. I have used it as a text in both history and philosophy courses that I have taught and it is a book that few who have read it can remain silent about. Arendt was a brilliant, brilliant woman and a bit of a threat to the university establishment because she was a true intellectual woman and at the time of her tenure, many did not know how to deal with this little woman with the big, big mind.
“Eichmann in Jerusalem” was originally a series of articles written for The New Yorker Magazine in 1963. Arendt wanted to report on the trial and put her academic career on hold in order to do so. The debate started immediately with the publication of the articles first and the book later. There is no question about the authority of stunning information we get from her writing but a controversy arose that touched many lives and could have discredited Arendt altogether. Her writing was “a major journalistic triumph by an intellectual of singular influence. “Eichmann in Jerusalem” is as shocking as it is informative–an unflinching…look at one of the most unsettling (and unsettled) issues of the twentieth century”.
This new edition (2006) includes Arendt’s authoritarian report of the trial and other factual material that came to light after the trial had ended. We also have Arendt’s own postscript about the controversy her reportage caused.
Eichmann was living in Argentina in 1960 and was kidnapped by Israeli secret agents and smuggled to Israel where he stood trial for crimes against humanity. While Arendt covered the technicalities of the trial, she also explored the wider themes of it—the nature of justice, the behavior of the Jewish leadership during the Nazi Reign of Terror and the most controversial topic of all, the nature of evil.
Arendt maintained that Eichmann was not evil incarnate as painted by the prosecution. She claimed he was just an average man, a petty bureaucrat who was only interested in advancing his career. The evil that he caused, Arendt says, came from the “seductive power of Nazi Germany, the totalitarian state” and his own unthinking obeisance to orders and the Nazi cause. These thoughts are in themselves disturbing but even more disturbing is Arendt’s analysis of the seductiveness of evil. We have more or less believed and been trained to believe that anyone who is responsible for horror is different from us and that it is quite rare and unusual to find atrocities in the world. However, when we look at ethnic groups, we learn that evil is commonplace. (I am referring to the treatment of Jews, Kurds, Bosnians, native-Americans). What Arendt points out here is that in seeing Eichmann as a pedestrian and little man that he was, we see that history is covered very thinly.
Arendt was for many years the Professor of Political Philosophy on the Graduate faculty of the New School for Social Research and a visiting Fellow of the Committee of Social Thought at the University of Chicago. She was considered one of the leading intellectuals of her day and a highly respected author and lecturer. Then she published this book…
Interesting enough is that the book is subtitled “A Report on The Banality of Evil” and Arendt does not use that term anywhere in the text. She was not stating that evil is banal but showing that to be evil someone like Hitler is not necessary—ordinary people or capable of doing evil and while this is a hard idea to deal with emotionally, it is accepted intellectually. Now herein is the problem with understanding Arendt’s ideas. She does not show the ambivalence of human nature to prove that anyone could have been an Eichmann; she, in fact, opposes this idea. She earlier wrote in her classic “The Origins of Totalitarianism” that banality and thoughtlessness are the roots of evil and evil continues because it is rootless as it disregards the world in which it lives. It is not an inevitable aspect of human nature but comes about because people are not willing to understand.
Eichmann hated to lose his identity as a powerful Nazi Commandant. After he was kidnapped he was asked to consent to being charged with crimes against humanity and he agreed. We can suppose that he was having a difficult time living without his Nazi social standing and identity. After all, he fell from an exalted place in the Nazi hierarchy to a clerk in a factory. It almost seemed that going on trial would revive what he considered to be his glory.
The workings of the Nazi machine that was responsible for the torture, rape, and murder of over 11 million Europeans because of religion, sexual orientation, politics and nationality are the issues that Arendt discusses in her book. The trial, however, centered on the role Eichmann had in “The Final Solution” to the question of the Jews.
Arendt first published her reports from the trial, as stated previously, in The New Yorker. She was immediately criticized and some claimed that she was not even present for half of the trial. Her writing nevertheless is considered one of the principal books on the trial and many consider to be the primary one.
Her basic theory is that Eichmann was a “moral eunuch”; “a cog in a large killing machine” and that he never thought about his role or even had the conscience to answer for himself. He simply followed orders and just happened to have a job that was instrumental to the destruction of the Jews of Europe. Arendt maintains that had he not had this job, someone else would have and she patronizes Eichmann as a man who could not form his own thoughts and used clichés, repeated himself, constantly contradicted what he said and was incapable of original though or judgment. She sees him as an automaton who was only interested in moving ahead. She does not blame him for completing his job because he was simply following orders.
The above was one of the three major controversies her book contains. She also criticized David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, Judge Gideon Hausner, the prosecuting attorney and the European Jewish Community. Arendt believed that the European Jewish Community contained organizational abilities and was in some way instrumental in the destruction of the Jews. The organizations were able to document and provide statistics and thereby aided the Nazis. She claims that the Jewish bureaucracy carried out its duties perfectly. Here Arendt was taken to task. If indeed the Jewish community had leaders assigned to these tasks, they were not fulfilled and if they did not than other Jews or Europeans would have done so. This does not totally discredit what Arendt says but it does discredit her theory of blaming the victims and not the criminals when we see that Russian Jews were murdered and killed in much the same way as the Jews of Germany and Poland. There were no Jewish organizations to aid the Nazis and they were able to understand their job without help from Jewish bureaucracy. Arendt’s theory that Jews were leading their own people to death or were just following orders does not hold up. The Jewish organizations did as much as they could.
Regarding Ben Gurion, Arendt is precise when she writes of his handling of the trial. The trial was almost like a spectator sport with journalists and reporters noting every word. She maintains that Ben Gurion used the trial to gain publicity for the State of Israel and because of its nature, this seems correct.
Arendt very cleverly restates the arguments made against Eichmann by the prosecution. When the arguments fall short of her standards, she shows flaws in the judicial procedure, the argument and its place in the trial. There are times when it appears that she is actually belittling the prosecution.
The book was not well received in Israel especially with her view of the role of European Jewry and her indictment of the prosecutors and Ben Gurion. I, along with many other Jews, find the book disturbing in the way it deals with the idea that the horror of the Holocaust did not come about because of the inherent evil of Nazi leaders. These men had the opportunity to commit evil and did so. The even greater horrors were the individuals who may not have been inherently evil but shoved their conscience to the side so that they could advance in a system that was built on evil.
Following Arendt’s view of the Holocaust in different countries, we see that there is a difference in degrees of the destruction of Jewry and it was not defined by evil wrongdoers but by men who put aside their consciences to gain short-term goals. Do we not see here that evil breeds more evil or is it because of lack of conscience and if so, what is the real difference? There is a great difference between the destruction of the Jews of Germany and the survival of Jews of Bulgaria and Denmark and this can easily be seen as due to the Danes and Bulgarians feelings about their countrymen and their desire to save them. Germany had no such men of conscience.
It is quite easy to think that those who were the architects and perpetrators of the destruction of the Jews were madmen. They can be condemned and understood as evil people doing evil deeds. Can the Holocaust be blamed on the acts of evil madmen? To do so makes it easier to believe that the destruction of the Jews could have been prevented. Arendt destroys these rationalizations and raises some very serious questions. She shows that the success of the Holocaust was determined by men who put aside their consciences and therefore the death of six million Jews was not predetermined. If more people had acted on what their consciences said, these deaths would not have been integral to the Nazi conquest of Europe and this is a very disturbing thought.
Arendt does not see Eichmann as a mad man or a sadist. Instead she explains that the prosecutors portrayed him incorrectly. This is not her apology for him. She says that while Hitler was under the illusion that Jews were responsible for the ills of the world, Eichmann was not. He had had friendly relations with Jews in the past yet he was willing and able to forget about this and chose to be part of the extermination of European Jewry. He said he did what he was told to do while Arendt says that he was more worried about not being promoted in the ranks of the Nazi party. This caused him to become the paradigm of Arendt’s term (“banality of evil”). Because of this, Arendt condoned his verdict of death. Arendt is superlative when she delves into the mind of Eichmann and into the reasons that the exterminations were successful in some countries and not in others.
She states that “It was sheer thoughtlessness that predisposed him [Eichmann] to become one of the greatest criminals of the period.” The face of evil does not have to belong to a radically perverse pathological mastermind but it can emerge from “a banal and unimpressive caricature of normalcy”.
At the trial, Eichmann spoke in a tone that was probably meant to cause human sympathy and his defense was full of contradiction, holes in memory and cliché. He certainly knew that he would die in Jerusalem. He knew he had to be taken seriously and this was difficult to do. The trial was based upon shaky legal foundations but the sensationalism of it was contagious. Eichmann had been abducted illegally and prosecuted under an outdated framework that could not fully address genocide.
There is no question that Hannah Arendt was an intellectual. Her book is written with style and elegance and it raises many questions, some of which are very disturbing. It shows us that notions of ethics and preconceived ideas about good and evil are universal and always relevant. Arendt’s book is a classic study of human nature, totalitarian politics and political theory. It is flawed but so is human nature yet it is also an important and insightful commentary on one man in the totalitarian Nazi machine.
“The Ghastly Love of Johnny X”
A Mad Science Fiction Melodrama
Johnny X (Will Keenan) and his renegade group of outsiders have been sent to earth as a form of exile because they refuse to conform to the societal guidelines and tenets of the planet where they live. Not long after they arrive here, Johnny’s girlfriend, Bliss (DeAnna Joy Brooks) steals his resurrection suit that allows the wearer the ability to control others and she heads for a diner where she flirts with the soda jerk, Chip (Les Williams) and convinces him to join her wherever she goes. King Clayton (Reggie Bannister), at the same time, is trying to find a way to fulfill his promise that he would provide a way for Mickey O’Flynn to return to the stage. Mickey just cannot seem to get it together and the only thing that can save the former star is the resurrection suit. I suspect you are confused by all of this but I assure that it will all make sense once this melodramatic musical science fiction film begins.
Director Paul Bunnell takes us back to the 1950’s with musical numbers and smart dialogue. He pays homage to B-movies and cult classics of the 50s and 60s through nostalgic camp. The film brings together juvenile delinquency, science fiction, melodrama, musicals and horror to give us a whole new movie experience. Johnny X and his gang are wonderful.
Paul Bunnell shot this movie on old Kodak stock and we see irreverent nonconformity.
The demented homage to 1950s sci-fi and beach-bop cinema is no doubt going to become a cult classic just as the films of Ed Wood, Russ Meyer and other purveyors of venerated trash have done. The cast is one of amateurs and they are amazing. (As a side note “The Ghastly Love of Johnny X” features “the final performance of acting legend Kevin McCarthy, who lived just long enough to complete his scenes as the Grand Inquisitor before passing away in 2010. His career, which arguably peaked with the original “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” back in 1956, lends special significance to his appearance as a grim, emotionless overlord”). You will also see a cameo by Paul Williams.
Hosseini, Khaled. “And the Mountains Echoed”, 2013.
Finding What Was Lost
How we love and take care of each other is the theme of Khaled Hosseini’s new book. Our choices follow us even after we are no longer on earth. This is a story of family and nurture, betrayal, sacrifice and love for one another. We see how surprising the actions of others can be as we follow the characters here from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco and to a Greek Island; Tinos.
The story begins simply with a father telling a folktale to his two children—a young boy is kidnapped by an ogre but his fate was not so terrible and the story provides the tone of this epic novel. The day after the father tells the story, he gives his daughter away to a rich resident of Kabul and the original story morphs into a series of stories that we hear from different perspectives and viewpoints covering some fifty plus years and moving across continents. In effect this is the story of the Afghan diaspora and of those left behind.
All of the characters are part of one family but divided by years, mortality, language, geography and war. Abdullah, the ten year old Afghan boy and Pari, his sister hold the stories together even though Pari was taken from the family and adopted by her uncle’s boss. It is from these two—brother and sister—that the story starts and brings in more characters each of which could be a book. The book spans generations yet it begins and ends with the same characters. We first meet Abdullah and Pari when they are traveling across Afghanistan with their father in 1952. The father is going after work he has been promised and the children are glad to be together and with him. Their mother died giving birth to Pari and their father remarried and new siblings came into the family. Abdullah took the responsibility of the protection of his sister. Neither child knew that this trip would become the start of heartbreak that will be part of them forever.
This is the story of a family that was split because of poverty. Beginning that day in 1952 in Kabul we are taken into the family where everyone is connected to that day when a father told his children that story. That story and what it says and means is what holds the book together and ultimately the fable becomes the truth. In reading Hosseini we must be ready to have our hearts broken and there are no living happily ever after scenarios. But what he writes is honesty and we know honesty breaks hearts and, in many cases, makes us stronger.
Each part of this book is related from a different point of view and together all of the stories are the story of one family and the people they touch over sixty years and three continents. Filled with wonderful and beautiful descriptions that are evocatively sensitive, we enter the lives of the members of the family. The author looks at trauma of war, lies, crime and illness as it affects the members of the family and this becomes more of an experience than a simple read. We love the characters that become our friends and we laugh and cry with them and want them with us for the rest of our lives.