Author: Hari Kunzru, 2011.
Genre: Contemporary/Period Fiction. UFOs. Religion. Mystery. Drugs. Native American Culture. War.
Other Details: Paperback. 386 pages.
In 'Gods Without Men' Hari Kunzru takes you on a trip to the Mojave Desert, where things are not always what they seem... A small, autistic child goes missing. A British rock star goes quietly mad. An alien-worshipping cult is born. An Iraqi teenager takes part in a war game. In a remote town, near a rock formation known as The Pinnacles, lives intertwine, stories entangle and echo, and the search for meaning, pattern and connection in a dying universe continues. - from UK publisher's website.
The novel opens with modern folk tale about a coyote who takes his van out into the desert in order to cook some crystal meth. Following this intriguing start its chapters recount events in the past from 1775 to 2009 with its main focus on the desert setting and how it impacts on various people that either live there or visit. The longest sections take place in 2008 and set up the disappearance of a small child and the resulting media frenzy that recalls various real life cases.
This was a novel full of interesting ideas in terms of the nature of reality with a mystery at its heart about what has really been going on at The Pinnacles rock formation in the Mojave Desert. Again it reminded me of 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' given the themes of an isolated rock formation, mysterious lights and the disappearance of an innocent that has repercussions on the lives of various characters. The UFO cult established in 1947 does also bring to mind the events in Roswell, New Mexico as well as New Age philosophy.
The appearance of Coyote, the shape-shifting Trickster, does indicate this is a novel in which things may not be what they seem and Kunzru always allows his reader to make up their own mind up about the experiences of various characters. The characters throughout are well-drawn and it is easy to become entwined in their stories. Some only make short appearances in the background stories though pop up again in later references.
As the title suggests there is a religious aspect to the novel in addition to the UFO cult and this is mainly expressed through the responses to issues of culture, religion and faith by its two main characters, Jaz and Lisa Matharu, and how this impacts upon their marriage both before and after their son's disappearance. Kunzru also uses the novel to explore issues of cultural imperialism touching upon the subjugation of the Native American peoples and the war in Iraq.
What surprised me most after finishing it was learning that Kunzru is a British author. He so effortlessly taps into the counter culture of the USA and in critical reviews drew comparisons with notable American novelists such as Thomas Pynchon and Tom Wolfe. Indeed one review called it a "frisky stab at The Great American Novel from a non-American".
I really didn't know what to expect from this novel but found it just fascinating as well as intellectually and emotionally satisfying.