Thursday, March 08, 2012


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Gods Without Men, Hari Kunzru, Alfred A Knopf, 2012, 384 pp

What could a UFO hippie cult, a British rock star, a Spanish Franciscan priest, the son of a Sikh and his autistic son have in common? The Mohave Desert, for one thing. A search for meaning that connects the earthbound physical plane with the spiritual, for another. In his fourth novel, Hari Kunzru confronts head on the quandries of modern life while walking a fine line between irony and emotion, between serious and lighthearted, without missing a step.

He opens with a piece of flash fiction involving Coyote, Trickster of the World, attempting to make crystal meth. With a little help from his friends Cottontail Rabbit, Gila Monster, and Southern Fox, Coyote succeeds. The author succeeds in purveying a recipe for meth right there in his novel. Dangerous!

Jumping frenetically around in time with incidents from 1947 to 2008 to 1778 to 1958 to 1969 to 1920 and so on, Kunzru reveals the power of a god-like force, emanating from a rock formation called The Pinnacles, to a variety of characters. These people share the quality of standing to one degree or another outside what would be thought of as normal or mainstream.

When any author goes after the big ideas he or she has to anchor the story somewhere. Kunzru anchors his by means of these characters. Jaz Matharu, a math whiz, successful beyond his wildest dreams in terms of income and marriage, carries with him the fatal flaw of personal uncertainty and the Achilles heel of his origins. An American born son of Sikh immigrants, Jaz married Lisa, a stunning beauty of white American liberal sentiments and together they produced the autistic Raj. By the age of four, the child has ruined the idyllic love and life of this New York City couple, driving a deep wedge between their cultural differences.

The cult members, the rock star, the priest and other characters frame the story. The desert itself serves as another anchor. Even readers who have never experienced the searing desolate miles of the Southwestern American desert will feel its eerie power and sense the unease found there.

While on vacation in the Mojave, Jaz and his wife intersect with the history and characters already introduced in the story. When little Raj disappears in the midst of his parents' marital meltdown, the power and disquiet of the location become the forces that will be either the destruction or the salvation of their family. I found it fitting that Kunzru left me wondering whether destruction or salvation was the result of these forces in the final chapter.

This is not a nice, good family saga about people working out their issues. Nor is it a neatly wrapped up story with a hopeful ending. It is as full of strange goings on as is daily life in the 21st century. Along with a large dose of entertainment, Kunzru made me look around and wonder through a different lens than I usually employ.

(Gods Without Men is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. To find it in your nearest indie bookstore, click on the cover image above.)


  1. I, too, found the ending fitting! I've posted my own review here, if anyone is considering this book and would like a second opinion.

    1. Thanks for commenting here Joel. I liked your review and agree that comparing it to Cloud Atlas is a stretch. I think the comparison was born as a marketing ploy and some reviewers picked it up. Reminds me of that book about how to talk about books you have never read.