Gods without Men is a big book with a big heart. It accommodates characters and also abandons them at will and for me that probably was the most striking thing about the book. A book about the human condition spanning from 1778 to 2009 and honestly, nothing much has changed. Lives intersect through the times in the Californian Desert and that is where the action takes place.
The characters in the book are central to the plot – I think each and every one of them. The action takes place when a four-year old autistic boy, Raj Matharu, disappears in the wilderness, while his parents are caught in the media frenzy. There are others whose fate and destiny are linked with the boy and his parents – a rock-star whose career and relationship has failed miserably, a former member of an extra-terrestrial worshipping cult, and a teenage Iraqi refugee who befriends an African-American Marine, while playing the role of an ‘Iraqi village’ at a military simulation exercise camp. Their lives converge and dissect in ways unimaginable in the desert, in a remote and secluded town, near a rock formation called The Pinnacles.
For me as in every other book I have read, the characters and the plot need to be in perfect synchronization to appreciate the writing and Hari Kunzru as usual achieves it with brilliance. The theme of humanity and sometimes its loss runs strongly throughout the book.
The book is multi-layered – spanning across centuries and that is what makes it a great read. Every character has a story to tell and as a reader you only want to know more –sometimes about your favourite character and sometimes about the not-so-favourite character.
The writing is powerful – so much so that at one point I had to keep the book down at certain points. The emotions are all there – raw, isolating at times, and they map the human heart and condition with such empathy and brilliance that your heart goes out to the characters. The reader has to keep a track of which character is where and what is happening throughout the book – in that case the book does keep you on your toes.
All in all, Gods without Men makes you look at the human condition more closely and what it really means to be human.