four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
58-May-June-2012
By: 
Hari Kunzru
user_rating: 
0

744878.pngIn 2003, Hari Kunzru was named one of Granta’s best young British novelists. A recipient of the Pushcart Prize, he is the author of My Revolutions (3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2008), Transmission ( 2.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2004), and The Impressionist (2003).

The Story: Honoré de Balzac once wrote: "In the desert, you see, there is everything and nothing. … It is God without men." For centuries, a mysterious rock formation in the Mojave Desert has attracted those searching for answers to life’s mysteries. Fray Garcés, an 18th-century priest, interprets the rocks, known as "The Pinnacles," as a sign of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Schmidt, a disabled World War II vet, sends Morse code signals into the sky. Members of a UFO cult converge with wild theories and sinister intentions. And a successful New York couple must weather a media firestorm when their autistic son, Raj Matharu, vanishes during a family vacation. Through their stories and more over 200-plus years, Kunzru explores our search for higher meaning and salvation.
Knopf. 384 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780307957115

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
" [The] precursors [to Translit novels, which cross history and geography,] are, say, Winesburg, Ohio and Orlando, and the genre’s 21st-century tent poles are Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. To these books we can add Hari Kunzru’s gorgeous and wise Gods Without Men." Douglas Coupland

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Dazzling. … [H]e is a novelist in superb command of his craft, singularly equipped to join all the strands of that rich experience in a single story." Marie Arana

Milwaukee Jrml Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"[A]mbitious and wonderful. … Rather than looking for easy answers, Kunzru suggests, we should read instead for the questions—remembering that when you travel in the desert, what looks like an oasis is usually just a mirage." Mike Fischer

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Other than the setting, there’s no firm center—and no linear story line. Still, by some feat of cunning, Kunzru skillfully links together the fully realized lives of his characters by their cosmic ideas and their ongoing search for meaning." Don Waters

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Kunzru is interested in the unknowability of the universe—the human urge to look for hidden forces that explain life’s mysteries. … While Gods Without Men isn’t always narratively satisfying, it’s still a compelling exploration of cosmic-American weirdness." Rob Brunner

New York Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"In recounting the Matharus’ story, Mr. Kunzru uses his extraordinary gifts as a storyteller—his brightly textured prose, his empathetic understanding of his characters, his narrative flair—to turn a tabloidy tale into a genuinely moving portrait of a marriage and the difficulties of parenthood. … In the end, all the philosophizing and subplots are never persuasively integrated here: they attest to this immensely gifted writer’s ambitions but end up doing a disservice to his talents." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

"In the end, no matter how many ways people set about trying to locate ‘the face of God,’ or from what angle, Kunzru shows us that some things will forever remain unknown," comments the San Francisco Chronicle, reflecting on the heart of Gods Without Men. A brilliantly depicted, expertly researched tale about life’s unknown elements, the sprawling novel explores our urge to find answers to life’s mysteries. Because a half-dozen stories populate the novel, the desert setting—beautifully rendered—takes center stage. Readers wishing for a straight storyline may find the leaps in time disorienting and the large cast of characters superfluous. But very few writers can get away with loose plot structures and hopscotching narratives, and Kunzu handles these challenges with great skill and ambition.