Friday, June 17, 2011

Review: Khyber Run

Khyber RunKhyber Run by Amber Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Right from the beginning, this story throws the reader smack in the middle of events. Little is explained; the story, the environment and the characters unfold over the course of the story with background information only given through Zulu’s memories which are strewn in. While this narrative style took a bit getting used to, it added to the overall engrossing reading experience. This story evoked an incredible intense sense of atmosphere and place. There are several scenes which aren’t really necessary to forward the plot, like the encounter with the handless spice dealer, the slave auction or the buzkashi game, but those scenes nevertheless add feeling and “vibe” to the setting. Likewise, the element of contrariness is used in advantage of the world building, the contrast between the seemingly medieval Afghan society and the well-equipped Western troops delivered in a stark matter-of-fact, amazingly non-judgemental view through Zulu’s perception. And as for the locale – the author created vivid images with sparse descriptions, not a word too much, and still a rough kind of poetic quality.

I think the key to loving this book or not is whether or not you’re able to like or at least to relate to Zarak/Zulu. I did, apparently — for me, this character was brilliantly done.

Zulu is a captive between two worlds. His mother was an expatriate American teacher who married a Pakhtun man and was happy to live as an Afghan woman until her husband and oldest son were killed by the Soviets. She then took her four surviving sons and returned to her native Pensacola (and how she achieved this is a remarkable adventure in itself, told in parts through flashbacks).

Uprooted from his native Afghanistan at an age when he had already internalised his forefather’s values and norms, Zulu was thrown into a foreign culture with rather diametrically opposed moral standards. But once he’s back in his native land, he finds his perceptions tainted by his Western education, which makes him a foreigner again. For Zulu, Oscar embodies everything he has ever held dear – honor, strength, maleness. Oscar is the one who can give Zulu purchase, and might ultimately help him grow new roots.

Curiously enough, this story would have worked for me even without the romantic element as a classic action/adventure novel. Nevertheless, the passionate love scenes added depth to both heroes’ characters, and made the book round in a way I haven’t found in the latter. Those were two quintessential macho males at work (even though it took Zulu a while to find his inner alpha ;-) ) Those aren’t men who talk about emotions or put their affection for each other in so much words. Nevertheless, they managed to communicate their feelings so that by the end, I was utterly convinced of their commitment to each other. Who wouldn’t like dark, brooding and handsome? Particularly when, like in Zulu’s and Oscar’s case, the hard crusts actually hide burning cores of passion. What could be more romantic?

This was a deeply engrossing book that took me right out of my everyday life and carried me far away to a place I’ve had a penchant for ever since reading “Kim” when I was little. Highly recommended.

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