Thursday, December 21, 2006

Top 10 books of 2006 - no. 10 and no. 9

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini10. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner is a triumph of good old-fashioned storytelling. Supposedly the first Afghan novel to be written in English - an unverified claim - this is a classic story of two people growing up on different sides of the proverbial fence, even if they are in close proximity to each other.

Amir and Hassan are tighter than brothers, although they grow up under different circumstances. Amir is a Pashtun, a Sunni Muslim, a member of the privileged class. Hassan is the son of their servant, an illiterate Hazara, and he has a deformity - a harelip. Despite this, however, Amir cannot help but feel jealous of the attention Hassan receives from his own father, which in turn only increases his feeling of inadequacy at not having a similar effect. He overcompensates by lording it over Hassan, although this does nothing to assuage his feelings of guilt. "I treated Hassan well, just like a friend, better even, more like a brother. Then why...didn't I ever include Hassan in our games?"

Hassan is too good-natured though to react. This changes, one day, in an incident after the local kite-running competition, which will haunt them both for the rest of their lives. Their friendship is severed, and Amir is left to deal with his demons, which follows even when he later escapes to America, in the wake of the Taliban invasion. What follows is Amir's struggle for a sense of redemption, no matter what the cost.

I read this in the midst of reading loads of postcolonial texts for my dissertation, and it was such a refreshing change. No clever narrative tricks or knowing ironies here - just a crackling tale that moves at a brisk pace. Hosseini is a really good writer, I haven't read someone who was able to paint such vivid pictures in a long time. The confusion that reigned in 1980s Afghan serves as an effective backdrop against what is a very personal story, and themes of forgiveness, mercy, guilt, and the cost of peace and redemption abound. Some might object to the characterization of Hassan, who might come across as being overly passive, a few extraordinary coincidences necessary to add more meat to both the plot and theme, and the ending, which seems to tie loose ends together too neatly. It didn't bother me too much. As Amir ran freely with the kite, so I just ran with the story. And what a pleasure it was.

If this interested you, you might also find interesting...: Hisham Matar's The Inheritance of Men was Booker shortlisted this year, and set in Libya. I've heard it called a meatier, grittier, (more literary?) Kite Runner. Yasmina Khadra's The Swallows of Kabul is also set in an Afghanistan under the reign of the Taliban.

Good News to the Poor - Tim Chester9. Good News to the Poor - Tim Chester

Tim Chester was formerly the Research and Policy Director for Tearfund UK, and is now a church planter in Sheffield. In a year where social justice issues have received a higher than ever profile both in the media and national consciousness, as well as within evangelicalism, this book will be a tremendous help to anyone needing a handle on this. Chester aims to "present a biblical case for evangelical social action [and] offer a critique of some of the theology and practice of social action within evangelicalism."

He begins by starting with God himself, pointing out that social action must be rooted in God's character and reign, and our experience of God's grace in Christ. He then argues against a privatised faith, quickly sketching a historical overview of how we ended up with regarding faith as merely a "private" thing. Next, he shows how the the need for proclaiming the gospel to the poor is still imperative, which rejecting an "either-or" dichotomy between proclaimation and action. Following on from this, Chester discusses the kingdom of God as a message of liberation, grace and community. There is a useful chapter at reminding us that the gospel is for the rich too, as we seek freedom from the god of consumerism. He then discusses some practical issues, looking at issues connected with powerty such as powerlessness, and also the political dimension.

He ends by asking "Can we make a difference?" and it's worth quoting a little from his concluding paragraph:
Proclamation will be central to Christian involvement with the poor because the greatest need of the poor - along with all people - is to be reconciled with God through the gospel. But the message we proclaim is best understood in the context of loving action and loving community. We may see reform in society, we may not. The important thing is for the church to witness to the coming liberation of God. We are called to be the jubilee community in which the poor are welcomed, included and strengthened. We are the place on earth where God's future can be seen."
Chester is always clear, and his discussion is wide-ranging and founded on exegetical premises. Lots of real-life examples are included so that we never descend into the abstract. Really, it's hard to think of any book that might be better than this as an introduction. Certainly in the Malaysian context there's much to ponder here. And so it is a 2006 top 10 book.

If this interested you, you might also find interesting...: John Stott's New Issues Facing Christians Today is a reference work that aims to deal with a wide range of issues from nuclear disarmament to the environment to euthanasia. Tim Chester also has a blog.


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Blogger The Hedonese said...

Thanks for highlighting Tim's blog :) some excerpts from his "Justice, Mercy and Humility: Integral Mission and the Poor" were part of my missiology course in MBS - excellent stuffs!

5:48 pm  
Blogger BK said...

Errr...you're welcome! He's certainly become very prolific in recent years, he has another 2 books coming out in 2007 I think.

And aiyoh, this post is full of grammatical errors and such! I'll correct it when I'm not feeling so lazy...

:)

8:55 pm  

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