Sunday, October 4, 2009

Review: 31 Hours

Summary: A woman in New York awakens knowing, as deeply as a mother’s blood can know, that her grown son is in danger. She has not heard from him in weeks. His name is Jonas. His girlfriend, Vic, doesn’t know what she has done wrong, but Jonas won’t answer his cell phone. We soon learn that Jonas is isolated in a safe-house apartment in New York City, pondering his conversion to Islam and his experiences training in Pakistan, preparing for the violent action he has been instructed to take in 31 hours. Jonas’s absence from the lives of those who love him causes a cascade of events, and as the novel moves through the streets and subways of New York we come to know intimately the lives of its characters. We also learn to feel deeply the connections and disconnections that occur between young people and their parents not only in this country but in the Middle East as well.

Carried by Hamilton’s highly-lauded prose, this story about the helplessness of those who cannot contact a beloved young man who is on a devastatingly confused path is compelling on the most human level. In our world, when a family loses track of an idealistic son an entire city could be in danger. From the author of The Distance Between Us. -- Unbridled Books

For October, our on-line book club decided to read 31 HOURS by Masha Hamilton. I had read THE CAMEL BOOKMOBILE a few years ago and found it extremely interesting, so I was looking forward to reading one of Ms. Hamilton's novels. After reading this book in one day, I can definitely say that I enjoyed it -- although I hesitate to use the word "enjoy." Probably a more appropriate way to express my feelings about this novel would be to say that I was awed by it.

31 HOURS is a pretty short book (around 230 pages) but oh my, does it ever pack a punch. I was torn as I read it because I could not put this book down (even though I was nervous about how it was going to end.) 31 HOURS was gripping and powerful while also being thought-provoking; and after I finished it, I was literally shaking. Rarely does a book move me or affect me like this one did. I swear the ending actually took my breath away.

This novel is so deep on so many different levels -- I actually am having a hard time sorting out all of my thoughts and feelings. Thank goodness that I can talk about it with some friends because this book just lends itself to further discussion. One of the first things that struck me about 31 HOURS is how complex all of the characters are and how the author was able to weave their lives together. The most obvious complex character was Jonas, the young man who is so deeply troubled that he is contemplating a terrorist action. I found it extremely interesting to see in side his mind and to try to understand his thought processes and desperation. I also found his mother Carol to be an extremely interesting character. It might be that as a mother I related to her, but I found her mother's intuition to be uncanny -- I don't know if I would have been as persistent in my attempts to find him. In addition, I loved that as a mother to an adult child, she was torn between being a hands-on mom and one who has to take a step back and let her son figure things out. I think the author did an amazing job of showing the complexities of human nature with both of these characters.

Some other things about this book that I appreciated a great deal were how the author wove so much symbolism and so many recurring themes into the story. I loved the concept of prayer and how the author incorporated this theme into each of the characters' lives. In addition, I thought the use of the subway system as a symbol in this book was so well done. It not only represented a mode of transportation but also a way of connecting people that was so much deeper than first meets the eye.

Another wonderful thing about this book is how much it made me think. Of course, I was attempting to understand the characters and their actions, but the story also made me evaluate how others see Americans. In addition, so much of this book made me think, "What if..." Just one word or one telephone call could have made so much of a difference in these characters' lives and changed the story completely. I love it when a book causes me to question things and when it stays in my mind long after completing it.

I don't know if I truly appreciated Ms. Hamilton's writing until I read 31 HOURS; however, I am now a huge fan! This book evoked so many complex and difficult emotions in me, and I'm just blown away by how the author pulled it all off. The characters that she created were all so real to me, and I found myself caught up in their lives within a very quick time. Ms. Hamilton is an incredibly gifted writer to say the least. As I read this novel, I kept asking myself how an author could ever come up with this story; and then I kept wondering how someone could spend so much time in the heads of these characters. I was happy to see that Ms. Hamilton wrote an essay about "the story behind the book" because it definitely answered some of my questions.

There is a very thought-provoking reader's guide for 31 HOURS, and I'm looking forward to discussing it later this afternoon. There are so many things to explore in this novel that I'm sure our meeting will be fantastic. In addition to the traditional reader's guide, Unbridled Books has also set up a webpage where you can talk about the book. If you have any questions about the novel or are curious about other readers' reactions, you can post a question on this page. I think it's a fabulous idea and I'm anxious to see if it catches on!

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

What a nightmare for a mother! I saw a movie that was kind of similar that might interest you: "Paradise Now" (nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2006) (it has subtitles). It was sort of the same, in that you couldn't say you "enjoyed" it but it was so powerful and really had a lasting effect o me!

Scary sounding book! Great review!!!

Melissa said...

I read "The Camel Bookmobile" last year, and loved it. This sounds absolutely fascinating. Great review ... this one definitely goes on the TBR list!

Anonymous said...

It reminds me a wee bit of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Have you read that one?

bermudaonion said...

I thought this book was great too and I could totally relate to Carol! I'm going to check out the author's essay right now.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This sounds gripping. I really want to read it. Great review; thanks

Beth F said...

This produced some some great conversation and I was surprised by the range of responses. I have already recommended it to two people.

Jenners said...

I could see that this book would generate lots of discussion. Your description definitely made me interested in reading it -- though it sounds like a stressful read in many ways.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

Your review is spot on Julie and will be a very tough act to follow. It's definitely a great discussion piece and I have a few other people whom I would like to read it so that I can get their perspective.

Kristi said...

Terrific review - and it reminded me that I read this book last month and haven't reviewed it yet!

Serena said...

Nice review. sounds like an interesting book and author.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

The subway is an apt metaphor for the connection, or lack of, isn't it?!

What a powerful way to start the novel, with the first chapter from Carol's POV ... how could a mother not connect with what she was feeling.

I've added THE CAMEL BOOKMOBILE to my nonfiction wish list, and would like to read other of Hamilton's novels.

S. Krishna said...

Great review. I'd really like to read her other books, despite the fact that I didn't quite connect with this one as much as you did!