Like any gentleman of means, I’m fond of gallivanting around the world. Though I may not travel as much as I’d like, what with the estate, the cats and the pending transactions needing looking after, my attache case is always packed with books and monocles so that I may use the wonders of literature to mitigate the horrors of public transportation. On two of my most notable excursions, novels by Hari Kunzru helped eat several hours that would have otherwise been occupied by fretting over what sorts of messes the cats were making in the estate. Given space constraints, my obligation to save the details of my travels for my visitors’ parlor, and two lawsuits, I’ll sum it up by saying that I have a soft spot for Kunzru’s writing. He earned the soft spot, though. It wasn’t just because he succeeded in distracting from the snores of the man taking up most of my seat: Kunzru is a brilliant writer.
“The Impressionist,” which I read when I was little more than a pup easily startled by every ticket taker and fuel-efficient vehicle I saw, is his debut novel, and one that garnered a lot of praise on publication. It’s about a brown boy born with white skin. My memory is fuzzy on specifics, but it was great.
I read “Gods Without Men” when I was not travelling. It was also great. I’ve had to delete several hundreds words in which I thoroughly and entertainingly articulate what makes this book special. I also had to do that in the above paragraph.
Quite recently, on another of my impressive jet-setting adventures, I read “White Tears.” It’s about a boy who loves sound who makes friends with a very rich boy who loves sound. One day, when using one of his “objectively creepy” homemade recording devices in a park, boy one unknowingly records a snatch of a man singing an unknown and grim blues tune. His rich friend puts the tune on top of a guitar recording that’s been made to sound like it’s 70 years old and damaged by the elements. One of those weird blues fanatic message board frequenters contacts the lads, their music production business just beginning to boom, with some disturbing questions.
And the novel, already beautifully written and inspiring the reader to listen to old blues and appreciate the nuances in every sound, takes off from there. (The novel is, among other things, a love letter to sound.) Someone is pulled from their car and beaten into a vegetative state. We go back a few decades to travel with a man dangerously addicted to the blues and heroin. The twin plot threads that pull the novel to its gut-punch climax begin to tangle and overlap. A ghost pulls open and man’s jaw and climbs inside. We get the chance to reflect on all the talented people whose talents and lives were lost due to the prejudices of those in power.