Read Monsuuni by Wilbur Smith Free Online
Book Title: Monsuuni|
The author of the book: Wilbur Smith
Edition: Suuri Suomalainen Kirjakerho
Date of issue: 2000
ISBN 13: 9789516439498
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 952 KB
City - Country: No data
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Reader ratings: 6.3
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I seldom read the type of book referred to as a “guilty pleasure.” It’s not because I’m some beret-wearing, croissant-eating, Proust-reading snob. (The fact that I wear berets and eat croissants is coincidental). To the contrary, I’m as comfortable as the next person wallowing in the gutter drinking Yellow Tail chardonnay and reading Ken Follett. It’s just that the books I use to escape are conceptually different. When I’ve had a long day at work, I like to read big fat histories on World War I or the Civil War. The subject matter may be weighty, but it excites my passions. Plus, it reminds me how glad I am we have penicillin, even though I am allergic to penicillin.
Every once in a while, though, I need a break from my own interests. That happened recently, after I finished a string of books that had, among other topics, an exploration of terrorism, and the story of an epileptic child. I needed a book I could breeze through. It had to be ridiculous, but also good, because if there’s no quality I’m just wasting my time.
That’s when I pulled Wilbur Smith’s Monsoon down off the sagging bookshelf that holds all my unread books.
Smith is an internationally best-selling author who I only recently learned existed. (In my defense, there are a lot of books in the world. Also, I drink a lot). He is probably most famous for two series of historical novels revolving around the adventures of the Courtney and Ballantyne families and their adventures in and around Africa. I had randomly read one of his books, Triumph of the Sun, enjoyed it, and had picked up Monsoon on the advice of some Wilbur Smith fans.
It should be noted that Monsoon is not the first book in the series. It should also be noted that this doesn’t matter. Though Smith’s Courtney and Ballantyne novels have some overlap, my near-absolute ignorance about Smith’s “mythology” did not hinder my enjoyment in the least. The plots are self-contained, and though I may be missing out on a bit of psychological shading, I feel confident expressing the notion that Smith’s novels are not fueled by deep-seeded character traits.
(I am a bit mystified as to the exact sequencing of the novels. Wikipedia has a lot of un-sourced information, if you are interested. Frankly, it took me five minutes of reading before it hit me that I didn't care).
Monsoon tells the story of Hal Courtney, the hero of an earlier novel, Birds of Prey. Hal is a doughty old privateer turned merchantman who has built himself a laudable commercial empire. He has four sons. Tom, Guy, and Dorian all have the same mother, while their half-brother, Black Billy, was born of a union between Hal and an Ethiopian princess. In terms of defining character traits, Tom is the oldest, Guy is kind of boring, and Dorian is the youngest. Black Billy is the bad one, but you should have guess that because his nickname is Black Billy.
This is a 600 page novel, plus change, and there are a lot of things going on in it. I don’t think it gives too much away to say that the central narrative involves Dorian’s capture by an Arab pirate named al-Auf off the coast of Africa. There follows a breathless series of chases, escapes, duels, love affairs, betrayals, and battles.
Everything is high stakes, but it never really feels like it. I enjoyed this novel without ever loving it. It didn't grip me. I never cared for the characters, so I never worried about their fates. Everyone is drawn so broadly. For example, Tom is the “good” son, eldest and dutiful. Despite his youth and inexperience, it takes him five minutes to become the best sailor, swordsman, and lover between Cape Agulhas and Bombay. Then there’s Aboli. What do we know about him? Well, he’s loyal, and he seems to have no ambition other than to serve his master. That’s it. There are good guys and bad guys and no in-between guys. Moral complexity is not one of Smith’s strong suits. And in a book like this, moral worth correlates strongly to plot outcomes. Sure, sometimes one of the good guys bites the dust, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the big picture. If there’s trouble, the main characters are likely to wriggle out. This is the kind of book I could read right before bed and never have to fight to put down. It is filled with cliffhangers that I found easy to leave.
That is more negative than I mean to sound. Monsoon’s pacing and breathlessness nullify such quibbles, making them akin to critiquing the construction of the barrel that is carrying you over a waterfall. At his best, Smith does an extraordinary job walking a genre tightrope. On the one hand, he has created a painstakingly researched novel that is firmly rooted in a fascinating historical context. On the other hand:
[Aboli] swung the axe in a wide, flashing arc. It took the man full in the side of his neck, severing it cleanly. His head toppled forward and rolled down his chest, while his trunk stood erect before it slumped to the deck. The air escaped from his lungs in a whistling blast of frothy blood from the open windpipe.
Smith’s novels are punctuated by graphic, over-the-top violence, occasional sex (not nearly as graphic), and several scenes designed to be deliberately provocative (an adolescent boy gets circumcised; a woman is tortured by having packets of chili powder inserted into… well you get the picture). The result is something that is half-throwback (sea chases! swordfights!) and half modern (ultra violence! torture porn!). In a way, it’s like watching an X-rated Errol Flynn movie.
The main villains in the piece are Muslims. I mention this because we live in a world where such things are going to be noticed. It bears mentioning that the Muslim characters share the exact same moral spectrum as the English characters. That is to say, they are either good or evil. The good Muslims don’t have much agency, besides being helpful to the English characters. Then again, most of the characters lack true agency; their destinies are controlled by the storyline. As in Triumph of the Sun, Smith displays a keen interest in Islamic traditions and culture.
One thing I’ve noticed in both the Smith novels I’ve read is the effort that Smith has gone to in creating them. He’s not a slouch. To be sure, his characters are thin, and his plot tends to lurch in places (some major threads take hundreds of pages to resolve; others only a couple), but he is an ambitious craftsman.
I’m not likely to sit down and read Smith’s entire series any time soon. This is a function of limited time and limited speed-reading abilities. That said, it makes me really happy that these books are out there, waiting for me. Waiting for the moment when I need them.
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Read information about the authorWilbur Smith is the bestselling author of many novels, each meticulously researched on his numerous expeditions worldwide. His bestselling Courtney series includes Assegai, The Sound of Thunder, Birds of Prey, Monsoon, and Blue Horizon. His other books include Those in Peril, River God, Warlock, The Seventh Scroll, and The Sunbird. His books are now translated into twenty-six languages and have sold over 120 million copies. Smith was born to a British family in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, in Central Africa, and attended Rhodes University in South Africa. He has homes in Cape Town, London, Switzerland and Malta.
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