05 October 2009

Review: 31 Hours by Masha Hamilton

Jonas Meitzner, a 21-year-old New York City native, is at the age of questioning. He wonders whether his life will have meaning, whether he will make a mark on the world. Like many young adults, he turns to religion: not the Catholicism of his mother, not the Judaism of his father but maybe Buddhism, yoga, meditation . . . or even radical Islam.

When Jonas stops communicating with his mother, his girlfriend, and his father, they don't immediately notice because they are so focused on their own lives. But one November morning, Carol Meitzner wakes up with a mother's knowledge that something is wrong, and she must find her only child.

Via a series of snapshot peeks at a half a dozen lives, Hamilton takes us through a day and a half in New York City that we won't soon forget. How can the decisions of one young man touch so many people, from the middle-class preteen Mara who misses her father to the self-proclaimed self-employed, homeless-by-choice Sunny Hirt?

It is not clear whether Jonas finds his life's calling as a result of idealism or depression:

He knew what had to be reversed, and why and how. He recognized a will and wisdom greater than his own. The personal wasn't paramount. He was acting out of an obligation larger than himself. (11)

Ever since adolescence, Jonas had suffered from periods of overcast internal weather. He asked so much from life. He demanded stripping away of the skin; he insisted on seeing all the way to the muscles and veins. . . . (83–84)

Or perhaps Jonas hasn't even really made a choice but instead is under the influence of his friend Masoud.

Masoud talked a lot about self-deception and the falseness of what was generally considered reality. And souls—Jonas's soul, primarily. It turned out that talking religion endlessly was not unlike smoking weed; intense, heady, exacting, and finally exhausting. The process had strengthened Jonas's convictions. (56)

31 Hours forces us to stretch our minds to try to understand why Jonas turns from all that is familiar: Do we see merit in Jonas's beliefs that Americans are filled with needless longing and emptiness? Is it true that our country has lost its way? Is violence the right answer to violence?

Hamilton also poses hard questions for parents: To what extent are parents responsible for their adult children's behavior? Is it always the mother's fault when a child makes a poor choice? Is it ever wrong for parents to put their own needs and wants before those of their children?

Even as we hurry to the ending, the novel doesn't let us off the hook. What carries the strongest power: a mother's prayers, a sister's hopes, a beggar's premonitions, or a young man's convictions?

Masha Hamilton has a website where you can learn more about her, her other books, and her work as a journalist.


Published by Unbridled Books, 2009
ISBN-13: 9781932961836
Challenges 100+, 999
YTD: 73
Source: Review copy
Rating: B-

15 comments:

Lenore 10/5/09, 6:37 AM  

Now THAT sounds scary...

Julie P. 10/5/09, 8:18 AM  

Fabulous review. I had a hard time writing mine. There is so much to explore and I found myself thinking about this book long after I finished reading it. I always think it's interesting to hear others' perspectives.

bermudaonion 10/5/09, 8:37 AM  

Excellent review. 31 Hours really made me think about a lot of things and it left me wanting to know more.

Margie 10/5/09, 8:43 AM  

We're having fantastic discussions about this book at our bookstore,and the debate centers around the exact question you posed: "what carries the strongest power?" You hit the nail on the head -- such a great question to contemplate and discuss. http://justthebookstore.blogspot.com/2009/08/interview-with-masha-hamilton-author-of.html

Meghan 10/5/09, 9:03 AM  

This is an excellent review! It makes me eager to read the book so I can think about such questions for myself.

Nicole 10/5/09, 9:08 AM  

You're right on about all of the questions that this book makes the reader ponder and explore. It definitely had me thinking about a lot.

Jenn's Bookshelves 10/5/09, 9:38 AM  

This is one of those books that got pushed to the back burner when I got the flu. Your review is excellent; I am officially removing the book from the backburner and will try to get to it this weekend!

Nina 10/5/09, 12:11 PM  

My first time on your blog!
Great review, never heard of the book before, but it does sound very good. Thank you.

Sandy Nawrot 10/5/09, 12:25 PM  

Holy moly Beth. You just rattled me. This really was a most excellent review. But your question honestly scares the bejesus out of me, and it haunts me as a mother. You try so hard to raise them to know the difference between right and wrong, and to stand up for what they believe in. Often you hear from the parents of the Dylan Klebolds of the world and wonder "what the hell happened? They seem normal". See, Stephen King scares me not in the least. It's stuff like this that keeps me up at night.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 10/5/09, 1:18 PM  

"What carries the strongest power: a mother's prayers, a sister's hopes, a beggar's premonitions, or a young man's convictions?" what a question!! This excerpt from your review is so beautifully phrased!

And, I agree with Sandy, the Stephen King (and others) horror genre is creepy, but the questions raised in 31 HOURS are terrifying!

Margot at Joyfully Retired 10/5/09, 3:41 PM  

Excellent review. I liked the quotes you used. Lots of scary things to think about in this book.

stacybuckeye 10/5/09, 6:05 PM  

Wow this sounds powerful. And troubling. Great review.

S. Krishna 10/5/09, 10:54 PM  

Great review - that question at the end is very poignant. It should be on the book cover!!

Alice Teh 10/5/09, 11:34 PM  

Those are all very valid and thought-provoking questions.

Jenners 10/6/09, 8:59 PM  

I've been seeing so many reviews of this book and it just sounds so thought-provoking and a bit scary from a mother's point of view (and the world's too, I suppose). Good job.

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