06 August 2014

The Good Son by Michael Gruber

Wow.  The Good Son may be one of the most well-written books I’ve read in a long time.  It had stunning voices, a compelling plot, memorable characters.

It was a good book.  Perhaps even a great book.

The thing is, I’m not so sure that I actually liked it.

The book jacket blurb sums up the plot pretty well: Pakistani-American Theo Bailey, aka Theo Laghari, sets out to rescue his mother, Sonia, when she and her group are held hostage by terrorists while on a peace mission to Pakistan.

There’s so much more to it than that, though.

Theo and Sonia are two of the three threads the book follows.  The third is Cynthia Lam, a translator for the NSA who may or may not have stumbled upon a terrorist plan to build nuclear weapons.

All the characters have full, rich backstories, so rich that I find it hard to distill them in any meaningful way to describe them here.  I certainly couldn’t do it without spoiling major plot points; each revelation, each secret revealed, sheds light not only on what’s to come in the novel, but on what has come before.

All three main characters - plus the expansive cast of supporting characters - were real, believable, but I don’t know that I’d go so far as to calling any of them likable.  One of the themes The Good Son explores - and quite honestly, it seems to me - is the culture of Pakistan, in particular the Pashtun subculture - and many of the characters have to be viewed through this lens.  So while I can usually see where they are coming from, I don’t always approve of their choices.

I’m a bit of a sap, in that I want to root for characters. I want their virtues to overcome their flaws.  I suppose I want that for everyone, even myself.  That somehow, despite our mistakes, we can make better futures for ourselves.

The Good Son was a hard pill for me to swallow in this regard.  Maybe I just can’t articulate it well enough.  It was beautiful, it was thought provoking, it was a page-turner, it was brilliant.

In the end, though, it just wasn't for me. But I don't regret reading it in the least.