Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 11th 2013 Contents B29
August 11, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
Author: K Jared Hosein
Published by: Potbake Productions, 2013
A REVIEW BY SHIVANEE RAMLOCHAN
Writing compelling fiction for children and
young adults is no playground endeavour, if
the lack of engaging YA fiction in the region
is any indication. Children who read frequently
express dismay at not being able to find them-
selves, represented as they truly are, in books.
In K Jared Hosein s debut novella, Littletown
Secrets, young readers will thrill to the sug-
gestion that they can read engaging stories
about themselves---ones that are rooted in
fantasy but retain a sober, realistic heart.
Published in 2013 by Potbake Productions,
Littletown Secrets acts as both a collection of
seven interlinked short stories as well as a
novella. Each story takes the shape of a parable,
focusing on the trials of one of the young
people of Littletown. It s a place where every-
one, adult and juvenile alike, has something
to hide. Since the nature of concealment so
frequently gives rise to unplanned confessions,
one entrepreneurial boy establishes a business
that Littletown desperately needs. He sets up
a modest homemade stand and charges 25
cents to anyone who wants a secret kept.
This intrepid, unnamed narrator promises
not to tell anyone what he hears, but he can t
help but privately record his findings. The
town s children flock to him, revealing their
encounters with fantastical creatures. Each
one of the creatures has mystical origins---
and not a single one of them, it seems, comes
bearing good intentions. How do the seven
protagonists navigate the temptations of this
motley assortment of sinister beings?
One of the simultaneous pleasures and perils
of any short story collection resides in uneven-
ness: some stories will, on their own merits,
declare themselves superior to others, even
when they re all written by the same author.
In the case of Littletown Secrets, the story
you ll like best might hinge principally on
which cardinal sin most preoccupies you. You
needn t be Catholic to cop to the guilty pleas-
ures of several slices of chocolate cake, or the
heady rush of an all-consuming rage. In
Hosein s morally-fuelled story landscapes, the
decisions to err are never demonised---the
writer saves the application of forked tongues
and red horns for the demons themselves.
What may strike an adult reader as signif-
icant are the ways in which these demons are
humanised, rendering them often too close
for comfort in a series of effective parallels.
In almost every instance, the sprites, satyrs
and noxious spirits don t introduce the concept
of sin to these little children; they merely build
on its suggestion.
In The Secret of the Clock Tower s Past, a
story that focuses on envy, the antagonists
are expired humans: a pair of spectres in con-
stant competition with each other. The
end results of envy aren t pretty, as
they both caution Lucas Grape, the
young boy who interrupts their uneasy
confinement: "The envious are so
often consumed by their own pas-
sion...we died with it and now, we
are nothing more than phantoms for-
ever doomed to play tricks on each
other inside this wretched clock
There is much to recommend
Littletown Secrets as a worthy addi-
tion to the long vacation reading
list of young bookworms. The book
is illustrated convincingly by
Hosein himself, in a series of black
and white sketches that add depth
to, rather than detract from, the
action of each story. Hosein s lan-
guage is clear and crisp, making
good use of dialogue, even
though the narrative occasionally
dips its toe into verbose waters.
Hosein is at his best in the
novella when he steers clear of
an academic treatment sur-
rounding language. Many of
the best passages are artfully
worked into the storytelling
in the form of the narrator s rem-
iniscences, in which he directly addresses the
gap between adult and childhood experience.
In The Secret of the Lonely Lantern s Glow,
the narrator muses, "Childhood love can be
so naive, so silly and so unsophisticated, but
anyone who has been in love at such an early
age knows that it is no less wonderful than
a generation ahead, and the hurt that can
come with it is no less cruel."
What may most endear young readers to
Littletown Secrets is this quality: the desire
to portray interesting, intelligent, conflicted
youth with all the sensitivity and grace that
such stories deserve.
It s difficult to look at Khaled Hosseini only
as an author. After writing three critically
acclaimed and popular novels: The Kite Runner,
A Thousand Splendid Suns, And the Mountains
Echoed---our current Sunday Arts Section
(SAS) Book Club choice---it is clear that Hos-
seini has become an unofficial ambassador for
Afghanistan. He has created a forum for readers
to discuss the issues and problems of
Afghanistan as literature. He has given this
war-torn country a face.
His characters are every bit as haunting as
the green-eyed girl from Afghanistan who
made the cover of National Geographic and
became the face of Afghanistan a generation
Hosseini has reminded readers Afghanistan
is more than the Taliban.
It s a place with a noble history, a place
where people have fought for independence
and a decent life for centuries. It is still a place
where people struggle to survive with dignity
in the face of extreme right-wing politics.
Hosseini captures readers attention with
characters that evoke a strong sense of family.
He bombards readers with themes of poverty,
love, loyalty, loss and survival. There is a strong
sense of home and what that means in the
face of changing socio-political situations.
And the Mountains Echoed also explores
the theme of exile.
The story takes place in the tiny village of
Shadbagh, where a father, named Saboor,
struggles emotionally and economically. He
is so caught up in his struggle that he cannot
connect to his children, Abdullah and Pari,
who form an extraordinary bond because they
have been emotionally abandoned.
The heartbreaking story of how Abdullah
and Pari become separated is even more
poignant because it is impossible for this reader
to accept how Saboor abandons his children.
The conflict that creates the energy of the
story is really the children s inability to accept
abandonment. How they survive without ever
forgetting their bond creates a powerful feeling
of hope which prevails over despair.
There are writers who can tell a good story,
and then there are rare writers like Hosseini
who can weave unspeakable emotions through
vivid description and a heart-wrenching plot.
His use of fables in the beginning of the novel
help to set a scene and anchor the story in
You can find out more information about
Khaled Hosseini at andthemountain-
Join us in the Facebook SAS Book
group to discuss And the Mountains
SAS Book Club Questions:
1. What do you think Hosseini s
greatest strength is as a writer?
2. How does he make a story set in
Afghanistan relevant to readers across
3. Do you think Hosseini s novels will
stand the test of time?
4. Do you find the story loses any of
its momentum when Hosseini takes the
characters out of Afghanistan?
5. Can readers take another Hosseini
novel on the emotional level of his first
6. Do you think Hosseini will continue
to centre his novels in Afghanistan?
7. Do you think Hosseini could write a
popular and critically acclaimed novel outside
Next week: The man behind the best
sellers: a look at Khaled Hosseini's life and
how it led him to be a novelist. Get ready
for our next SAS Book Club choice: The
Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (who
is really J K Rowling).
Find podcasts, videos, discussions about
Hosseini's novels and his foundation that
supports causes in Afghanistan at the
following Web site: khaledhosseini.com
A father's choice
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