Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Khaled Hosseini's favourite book

 Book cover image from the Guardian

When novelist Khaled Hosseini visited Vancouver last December, he read from his work, talked about his work and then answered questions from the audience.

Somebody asked him to name his favourite book, always a poser for anyone who reads. So many he could name, he said. After a moment's thought, he came up with a book by American writer Ben Fountain, called Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.

This is a tragicomic story of a young soldier called Billy Lynn, briefly home from his duty fighting with the American mission in Iraq.  Although it happened before the novel opens, the reader soon learns how Billy got into the army. He got a little carried away trying to protect his sister from a bad hat boyfriend.

When the story opens, Billy and his fellow soldiers from Bravo are on a tour of the US with a film maker who is hoping to make a movie about a recent battle in Iraq where the soldiers of Bravo lost a couple of men and Billy, by virtue of killing "the enemy," became a hero.

This nineteen-year-old Texan protagonist may be poor and uneducated, but he isn't stupid. Along with his comrades, he gives his best to the filmmaker who is planning for a movie, hopes for a moment of reconciliation with his self-centred father, and wants the best for his harassed mother and his sister Kathryn. She feels bitter about the car accident that caused her to leave college and undergo a lot of plastic surgery on her face. She also feels guilty that she caused Billy to end up in the army, however indirectly and unintentionally. That's why she puts him in touch with a group that is encouraging soldiers not to go back to the war.

In his short break from active service, Billy also falls in love with a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. They exchange a few heated caresses when he encounters her at the half-time of the game.

Will Billy get his girl? And what will he do about the war opposers? Will he join them, or stay with his band of brothers? We're with Billy in his strange and sometimes hilarious circumstances. And we're also with him in his thought processes, every step of the way.

This book is a portrait, profoundly troubling but not entirely unsympathetic, of the more bizarre aspects of contemporary consumer driven America and Americans.

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