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Rephrasing the famous opening line from, ‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘it a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of
power, must be in want of more power.’ Power and money are often themes around which entire books or series revolve. Power and money are often motives around which detective stories revolve. But when Jeffrey Archer uses these two aspects in his best-seller, ‘Kane And Abel‘, he fuses other aspects as well such as a bildungsroman theme, ego, hatred, economic empires, economic clout and a concise history of America from the 1900s’ to the 1960s’. This curious fusion creates a thrilling page turner in the form of ‘Kane And Abel.’
The plot is as simple as can be. Two infants-William Kane and Wladek Koskiewicz- are born on the same day on two different continents: Kane with a silver spoon in America and Wladek to a nameless mother in Poland. While William’s life is set out for him by his father who is the chairman of Kane and Cabot bank, Wladek’s life is fraught with difficulties and struggles in the light of which he discovers his strengths and weaknesses as well as his father’s identity. Kane steadily rises to the positions of power in America while Wladek embarks on a life changing journey to America to make a name and a fortune. Kane becomes part of the board of directors in his own bank while Wladek runs a hotel in Chicago after a lot of struggling in low paying jobs. Gradually, these two rise in power and stature, get to know each other by quirks of fate which cements their relation of hate and turns both on to a path to destroy each other. Are they successful in their personal vendettas? Read up the novel to find out more.
Some say that ‘Kane And Abel‘ is Archer’s best work so far. Having read only 1 other book by him, ‘Prisoner Of Birth’, I can’t really affirm this particular claim. What I can vouch for is that the novel will keep you engrossed with its breakneck speed, compelling plot, grasping writing, the twists and turns and the clearly etched out characters and situations. Spanning 60 years, ‘Kane And Abel‘ not only narrates the story of the titular characters but intersperses them with the historic moments of American history- the sinking of the Titanic, World War 1 and 2, Great Depression etc.. This proffers the reader interesting nuggets of history and manifests how history shapes human lives to a large extent.
The downside of the novel is that Archer tries too hard to make the two characters collide. There are too many coincidences that are strewn throughout the story through which their paths cross. After a point, these get too hard to believe. The occurrences of so many coincidences in real life is next to impossible. Archer also has tried to create sympathy for the two characters which at times is at odds with their sole aim for power and destruction. Moreover, there is also an impossible paradox to believe: Both William and Wladek helped each other at some point or the other despite the fact they were hell bent to destroy each other financially and emotionally. This is rather hard to digest.
The worst drawback of the novel is that it is male centric. Women have hardly any role to play in the story other than being mothers,grandmothers, daughters and wives. The only exception is Wladek’s daughter who is assertive and a working woman and not just a rich man’s submissive daughter. Perhaps to make up for this male centric vision of the novel, Archer has extended the story of Wladek’s daughter in the sequel, ‘The Prodigal Daughter.’ This constant association of power with men reiterates the stereotype of empires and power and money being a man’s domain with women only playing arm candy to the men.
Barring the above downsides, ‘Kane And Abel‘ is a fine piece of fiction, one that you can breeze through in a couple of days and elicit oodles of excitement from it as well.
Ken Follett is a well known writer. There is some famous trilogy of his which I am yet to read. He had recently come to a Mumbai bookstore too-I think it was Landmark but I can’t be sure. Anyway, so I heard a lot about him then. I vaguely knew his name too but somehow I associated him with only fantasy related novels which is a genre that after a good dose of Harry Potter, Ursula Le Guin, Narnia series, Eragon trilogy, Hobbit I do not want to read much. But when I read some interviews of his in the newspaper and then some blogs, I realised that my association of Ken Follett and fantasy novels was misguided. He seemed to write mystery novels and historical ones. This obviously got me interested!
So I ended up reading ‘Modigliani Scandal‘ which I found in my library. The book was really well written and I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was appropriate for my thriller/mystery taste of books.
The story is sort of complex with a smattering of characters that have interestingly just one purpose. The novel begins with Dee Sleign, an art historian, looking for a thesis and decides to do one on how drugs induced painters create different paintings than their usual ones. This line of thought somehow leads to a person her boyfriend knows who in turn gives her some information about some Modigliani paintings that are lost somewhere in this world. This gets her brains working and she decides to hunt this lost painting to start work on her thesis. She then feels an urge to tell someone about this. So she writes a postcard to her uncle, Charles Lampeth, a gallery owner. He obviously would love to get his hands on this painting as it would be a valuable prize to display in his gallery. He sends a detective to search for her.
Meanwhile, Dee sets out on a wild goose chase in search of that elusive painting. By coincidence or a pure quirk of fate, several other people get involved in this same mission like Peter Usher, an artist who wants to take revenge on Lampeth, his former employer; Julian Black, who wants to get this painting to impress his father-in-law so that he will invest in his art gallery and so many more people. Who will eventually get the Modigliani?
To find out, read the book yourselves.
‘Modigliani Scandal‘ is a good read, a treat for those who have a penchant for thrillers.
The book’s pace is always a good one. Follett introduces many characters initially and establishes their situation and their background in the plot. But this surprisingly does not drag the novel’s pace. It adds to its complexity and makes the plot thicken and bubble with an impending thrilling search for a lost treasure. A sense of foreboding about a mystery brewing is clearly established when after receiving Dee’s letter, Charles Lampeth hires a detective. The reader will want to turn the pages to know more and get to the end of this mysterious search.There are several loose ends that are also manifested with the introduction of so many myriad characters which Follett ties up brilliantly in the end. It is amazing to know that so many characters are connected in some way to each other and have one single aim that will fulfill their different goals. The end brings all these connections a full circle. When the book is nearing its end, if the reader is smart enough, then she/he can guess who gets the painting and the ingenuity behind a well planned and money making scheme.
One small point I loved about this novel is its distinct sense of an old world charm, of history in the first few chapters which merges with the modern art world-its pros and cons.
‘Modigliani Scandal‘ is divided into four parts and the title of each one is related to painting and gives a glimpse of the basic core of that particular part. I found this aspect quite creative.
There’s one small negative point. Follett has put in several stereotypes about many natives of countries. This is uncalled for and it is sadly reminiscent of several other thriller novels that are liberally sprinkled with such stereotypes-be it about Italians, French, Oriental or British.
P.S. There may be some errors in the plot summary because I read the book long ago and my memory has faltered a bit. For example, I am not sure if Charles Lampeth is Dee’s uncle or father or some other relative. I am 75% sure he is the former.
‘Great Gatsby‘ by Scott Fitzgerald was not a book I would usually pick to read(although my Junior College teacher did recommend this book). And so I read this book as part of my English Literature class.
What did I think of this book?
Frankly, this book is brilliant and proffers a valuable insight into the America of 1920s’. However, in order to actually understand the myriad symbolism, the nuances and the general feel and brilliance of the book, one probably has to read the book more than once(unless one is an amazing reader who can pick up symbolism on the first read itself). A background knowledge of the author and his circumstances as well as his feelings when writing the book will go a long way in helping the reader understand the general purpose of ‘Great Gatsby‘.
That said, I’ll proceed to the story. As the title suggests its about a man named Jay Gatsby who belongs to the the increasing number of nouveau riche people springing up in the US in the 1920s’, who throws a gazillion grand, elaborate parties in his equally splendid mansion. The narrator is Gatsby’s neighbour Nick Carraway. The story represents the utter degradation of American society and its people by weaving its way through Nick’s perceptions and the love between the enigmatic Gatsby and Nick’s cousin Daisy. Subtly Fitzgerald has conveyed why Gatsby is great and has thus, by doing this, justified the title of the novel.
‘Great Gatsby‘ is replete with symbols such as the ‘green light’ and the ‘valley of ashes.’ It can be seen as a love story or as a comment on the hollowness of the American dream or as a symbolic novel. I see it as a mix of all three. I will refrain from reviewing Fitzgerald’s writing style and the characters. The former because I do not think I am qualified and knowledgeable to do that and the latter because I can write pages and pages of character analysis after having studied the novel so thoroughly. And so many pages on just that one topic can be downright boring!
To conclude I would definitely put ‘Great Gatsby‘ on my ‘must-read’ list because of the story, its representation of the Jazz Age from a completely different angle, an angle where the 1920s’ is not all glamorous but in fact quite superficial and status centered; its writing and its unique symbolism. However the book requires mental effort as understanding its purpose can be difficult(I too understood the book wholly only after our English Literature madam explained it brilliantly). So for those reading for pleasure and time pass, this is not the book for you because without understanding the actual purpose, the story will appear merely ordinary(which it is not).However for the classic literature fans and those with an intellectual bend, ‘Great Gatsby‘ is really great!