Gods without Men [NOOK Book]

Overview

In the desert, you see, there is everything and nothing . . . It is God without men.
—Honoré de Balzac, Une passion dans le désert, 1830

Jaz and Lisa Matharu are plunged into a surreal public hell after their son, Raj, vanishes during a family vacation in the California desert. However, the Mojave is a place of strange power, and before Raj...
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Gods without Men

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Overview

In the desert, you see, there is everything and nothing . . . It is God without men.
—Honoré de Balzac, Une passion dans le désert, 1830

Jaz and Lisa Matharu are plunged into a surreal public hell after their son, Raj, vanishes during a family vacation in the California desert. However, the Mojave is a place of strange power, and before Raj reappears inexplicably unharmed—but not unchanged—the fate of this young family will intersect with that of many others, echoing the stories of all those who have traveled before them.

Driven by the energy and cunning of Coyote, the mythic, shape-shifting trickster, Gods Without Men is full of big ideas, but centered on flesh-and-blood characters who converge at an odd, remote town in the shadow of a rock formation called the Pinnacles. Viscerally gripping and intellectually engaging, it is, above all, a heartfelt exploration of the search for pattern and meaning in a chaotic universe.
 
This eBook edition includes a Reading Group Guide.
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Editorial Reviews

Michiko Kakutani
Hari Kunzru's latest novel…reads like an unlikely mash-up of David Mitchell's willfully complex 2004 novel, Cloud Atlas, and Steven Spielberg's classic 1977 U.F.O. movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, seasoned with some borrowings from David Foster Wallace and Don DeLillo. The book is, at the same time, a wildly ambitious novel that spans centuries; a gripping thriller about a missing child; and a sort of sci-fi tale about pilgrims of various sorts being drawn to a mysterious rock formation in the desert in search of contact with aliens or some sort of higher meaning.
—The New York Times
Douglas Coupland
…gorgeous and wise…The ultimate theme of Gods Without Men is interconnectivity across time and space, just as interconnectedness defines the here and now.
—The New York Times Book Review
Maire Arana
…dazzling…Kunzru's Gods Without Men is a great, sprawling narrative, as vast as the canvas on which it is written…As each story scrolls, characters jounce across the Mojave like tumbleweed, drawn to the Pinnacle Rocks, their lives connecting, colliding, merging, whether or not they realize it. Kunzru has written a big, unabashed salmagundi of a novel…he is a novelist in superb command of his craft…
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
As characters in acclaimed British novelist Kunzru’s pitch-perfect masterwork tinker with machines for communicating with an interplanetary craft circling the Earth, their desperate quest for meaning is interrupted by a nonlinear mélange of other strange endeavors that span centuries and cross the Mojave Desert: British rocker Nicky Capaldi’s escape from L.A. in a convertible with a gold-plated Israeli handgun stowed in the glove box; beleaguered parents Jaz and Lisa Matharu’s disastrous vacation with their autistic four-year-old, Raj; former hippie commune “Guide” Judy’s return to the desert, strung out on meth; and traumatized Iraqi teen Laila’s participation as an actor in U.S. army war game facsimiles of Iraq. Presiding over it all are the Pinnacles, three fingers of rock that bear mute witness to Raj’s disappearance and the ensuing frantic search. Also on board are Fray Francisco Hermenegildo Tomás Garcés, a half-mad Jesuit missionary intent on converting Native Americans at the close of the 18th century; Deighton, a disfigured ethnologist, annoyed by the young, “half-educated” Eliza’s failure to recognize “the distinction he’d conferred on her by asking her to be his wife”; an aircraft mechanic named Schmidt working in the ’40s who feels betrayed by what the Enola Gay unleashed over Hiroshima; a working-class mother seduced by the possibility of fellowship with benevolent otherworldly beings; and a local girl who once lived with the hippies and who—even though she returns years later to run the motel where Nicky, Jaz, Lisa, and Raj briefly stay—suspects she has never quite returned. Kunzru’s (My Revolutions) ear for colloquial speech creates a cacophony that overlays his affectionate descriptions of the desolate landscape, creating a powerful effect akin to the distant cry of urgent voices crackling up and down the dial on a lonely drive through an American wasteland. Agent: Melissa Pimentel, Curtis Brown. (Mar. 9)
From the Publisher

"A reflection and an embodiment of our new world of flattened time and space. . . . Gorgeous and wise." —Douglas Coupland, The New York Times Book Review

“A beautifully written echo chamber of a novel.” —David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas

“A gripping thriller . . . Kunzru uses his extraordinary gifts as a storyteller—his brightly textured prose, his empathetic understanding of his characters, his narrative flair—to turn a tabloidy tale into a genuinely moving portrait of a marriage and the difficulties of parenthood.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Kunzru is wise beyond his years, [a] novelist in superb command of his craft. . . . In his dazzling new novel, a desert is the setting, hero and villain. . . . Here is where the walking wounded come to pray to Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu, Coyote, the Brothers of Light. Here are cynical veterans from WWII, hard-bitten GIs fresh from Iraq, randy communards, washed-up bankers, wasted groupies. Here is death, sex, and rock-and-roll.” —Marie Arana, The Washington Post

“A stunning achievement. . . . Gods Without Men will undoubtedly prove to be one of the most important works of fiction published this year.” —Darren Richard Carlaw, The New York Journal of Books

“Kunzru weaves an array of competing stories, turning the novel into a kaleidoscope of clashing perspectives. . . . Gods Without Men stands out as a courageous attempt to engage with the complexities of faith and doubt in our postmodern world.” —James Miller, The New York Observer

“[A] pitch-perfect masterwork.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
 
“An astonishing tour de force.” —Kirkus (starred review)
 
“Gathers momentum, power, and a fierce clarify to deliver a rich panorama while detailing our mutual antagonisms and deepest spiritual needs . . . Extraordinary.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Mind-bending… [a] thrill ride of a novel about searching for truth.” —Michele Filgate, O, The Oprah Magazine

“A compelling exploration of cosmic-American weirdness.” —Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly

“The prose is beautiful, every character is fully developed… Through devotion to careful diction and seamless fluctuation between a dozen different writing voices, Kunzru’s novel shines as brightly as the desert’s setting sun” —Christine A. Hurd, The Harvard Crimson

“Kunzru delivers a lively and frequently thrilling version of the quest novel.” —Booklist (starred review)
 
“Compulsively readable, skillfully orchestrated . . . This really is Kunzru’s great American novel.” —The Independent
 
“Sometimes dizzying, sometimes puzzling, always enjoyable, Gods Without Men is one of the best novels of the year.” —The Daily Telegraph
 
“The literary skills of Hari Kunzru are evident throughout this complex and disturbing novel.” —Annie Proulx, Financial Times
 
 “A countercultural mind-expanding quest . . . As a virtuoso performance, changing gears and styles every 20 pages or so, encompassing 18th-century friars and Hoxton hipsters, it will appeal to fans of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas . . . Extraordinary.” —The Guardian
 
“Kunzru’s lively fourth novel tackles its big themes without ever becoming ponderous or heavy-going. . . . Involving, thoughtful and thoroughly entertaining.” —Daily Mail

Library Journal
In 2008, Jaswinder (Jaz) Singh Matharu, MIT grad and the rebellious Baltimore-bred son of a Punjabi family, heads to the Southwest with Jewish American wife Lisa and autistic son Raj. Along with drug-hazed London rocker Nicky Capaldi, to whom Raj takes a shine, they find themselves stuck (and coming unstuck) at a motel in a beautifully barren area where, we learn in multiple date-marked chapters, Fray Garcés managed a mission (1778), Mormons murdered intruders (1871), the disaffected Schmidt seems to have seen a spaceship (1947), a community believing in extraterrestrials gathered (1958), a hippie commune emerged (1969), and, significantly, an ethnologist studying the disappearing Natives saw an Indian man walking with a ghostly white child (1920). Woven throughout is the tale of Coyote, who risks all to visit the Land of the Dead, and as time collapses and the multiple stories coalesce, Raj disappears. VERDICT At first somewhat slow as the various stories are laid out, this extraordinary novel by the estimable Kunzru (My Revolutions) gathers momentum, power, and a fierce clarity to deliver a rich panorama while detailing our mutual antagonisms and deepest spiritual needs (met, perhaps, with "a vast emptiness, an absence"). Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 9/11/11.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
Hopscotching across time, looking quizzically at space, Kunzru's marvelous novel uses diverse cultures (Native American, Catholic, Mormon, Wall Street, hippie UFO believers) to speculate on the nature of reality and religion, magic and mystery. The novel is anchored by a time, a place and a relationship. The core year is 2008; we visit several other time periods. The place is the Three Pinnacles rock formation in the Mojave Desert. The relationship involves Jaz, an assimilated American Sikh, and his Jewish-American wife Lisa. Instead of a linear narrative, we have the energizing cross-currents of history. In 1947, Schmidt, an aircraft mechanic and World War II vet traumatized by Hiroshima, is alone at the Pinnacles, hoping to attract extraterrestrials with his message of universal love. Success! A spacecraft lands; he's welcomed aboard. (That same year saw the alleged UFO crash-landing in Roswell, N.M.) Meanwhile in Brooklyn in 2008, Jaz and Lisa are raising their autistic son Raj. Seems it's easier to talk to aliens than for the Matharus to communicate with their four-year-old. Kunzru's portrait of their marriage is finely nuanced. They're a modern, secular couple, yet shreds of old beliefs divide them. When they visit the Pinnacles on vacation and Raj disappears, the marriage almost comes apart. The rocks may be a crossing point into the Land of the Dead; they have witnessed much drama. Schmidt met a fiery end when his homemade space capsule blew up. An anthology professor holed up there and went mad after betraying a Native source to a bloodthirsty white posse. A Spanish friar saw God there in the 18th century. As for our century's tarnished magic, the computer trading program overseen by Jaz generates millions but wrecks the Honduran economy (collateral damage), while our royalty, rock stars, are represented by a worthless narcissist. Ironies abound; mysteries multiply; there's a cliffhanger ending for Jaz and Lisa. Kunzru (My Revolutions, 2007, etc.) just gets better and better. This fourth novel is an astonishing tour de force.
The Barnes & Noble Review

When Hari Kunzru, the British son of an Indian and an English parent, was asked about his literary influences, two of the first three he mentioned were American: Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo. After three earlier novels and a book of stories, Kunzru has, in Gods Without Men, written a distinctly American novel worthy of comparison with the best work of these two forefathers. In its almost 400 pages of disparate but connected narratives, Gods Without Men resembles a compact Mason & Dixon or a condensed Underworld, both of which deal in part with the mythic American West. Like Pynchon and DeLillo, and like Kunzru's accomplished British contemporaries David Mitchell and Tom McCarthy, Kunzru is an anthropological novelist, a writer who presents individual psychology and current society through the long and wide lenses of cultural systems — religious, historical, political, technological — as they are affected by a particular physical environment. In Gods Without Men, it is the Mojave Desert and its Trona Pinnacles, unusual stone pillars that attract, in Kunzru's telling, contemporary tourists, twentieth-century UFOlogists and hippies, earlier historical characters, and ancient Native Americans.

At the end of Kunzru's first novel, the widely praised The Impressionist, early-twentieth-century British anthropologists disappear while studying a remote African tribe. In Gods Without Men, a Harvard-educated anthropologist named Deighton travels in 1920 to the Mojave to record the languishing language of a local tribe, eventually goes mad, and disappears. The failures of Kunzru's scientists don't deter the author from his anthropological approach. Each disappearance is just one more unknown — perhaps a meta-unknown — to which the ethnovelist applies Clifford Geertz's "thick description": Kunzru's field knowledge, theoretical imagination, and linguistic expertise.

Besides, Kunzru seems obsessed with disappearance. Two major characters in his second novel, The Transmission, vanish at its end. The protagonist/narrator of his third book, My Revolutions, is a political activist who reappears after twenty years underground. The plot of Gods Without Men revolves around the disappearance of a severely autistic four-year-old boy, Raj, while his parents — Lisa and Jaz Matharu — are visiting the Pinnacles in 2008. Perhaps Raj has escaped from his stroller and wandered into the desert; maybe he has been abducted.

Raj is missing for weeks, then months. While deftly keeping readers in suspense, Kunzru traces the parents' fear, guilt, anger, and mutual conflicts, all exacerbated by the media frenzy that surrounds them. Television reporters desperate for a solution within their expiring news cycle waylay the Matharus. Know-nothing bloggers accuse them of killing Raj or connect his disappearance with hateful conspiracies. One of the most active literary users of social media, Kunzru has the fantasies and styles of the blogosphere down cold. Insulted and even assaulted, the Matharus try to disappear from public sight, but they can't hide because public appeals may help return their son. In desperation, Lisa, formerly a book editor, turns back to her Jewish upbringing and to mystical texts for solace. Jaz, a former student of quantum physics who applies his knowledge to stock trading, resists the superstitions of his Sikh parents but forgets about quantum uncertainty and wonders if Raj may have been abducted by the space aliens that earlier groups who gathered at the Pinnacles attempted to reach.

Both parents engage in what Kunzru several times refers to as "magical thinking." Although his presentation of the Matharus is psychologically acute, Kunzru's achievement in Gods Without Men — what places him with Pynchon and DeLillo — is moving beyond a personal, emotion-bending story that might be told on a daytime talk show to collect and invent earlier narratives of magical thinking involving the Pinnacles, narratives that create a selective but unique and fascinating history of god-struck America. These narratives are in dated chapters that regularly alternate with the Matharu story, which proceeds chronologically. The "alternate" chapters do not, but I'll describe them in chronological order because, like anthropologists unearthing disturbed levels of a site, readers are meant, I think, to eventually reconstruct a timeline that connects all the novel's shards into a chronicle of spiritual need.

Kunzru strokes into several chapters Native American myths about the Pinnacles as a borderland between the living and the dead, along with legends about preternatural characters. Two chapters purport to be an eighteenth-century report on the explorations of a Catholic priest to whom an angel appeared at the Pinnacles. One Nephi Parr, a hyper-religious but rogue Mormon who kills heretics near the Pinnacles, believes in 1871 that angelic airships are waiting for the saved. After the anthropologist Deighton loses his young wife to a Native American in 1920, he dreams or hallucinates an otherworldly child's kidnap, an illusion that precipitates a murder on the rocks. An airplane mechanic named Schmidt, who watched the Enola Gay take off, goes in 1947 to the Pinnacles to expiate his sin and to found a cult based on communication with extraterrestrials, a cult that an emotionally deprived Washington housewife named Joanie joins in a 1958 chapter. In the high sixties, the Pinnacles morphs into a sex, drugs, and rock and roll commune that hopes to reach the spirit realm through technologically amplified music.

All of these chapters about believers or would-be believers share the appeal of Pynchon's crank characters and his scrupulosity about details of milieu, dialect, technology, and time-stamped paranoia. Kunzru even tips his hat to the master of invented history when Schmidt, attempting to transcend the earth, burns to death in a structure that resembles a gravity-defying rocket.

In the present of 2008, a British rocker fleeing his failing band in Los Angeles stays at the same motel as the Matharus and is, because of the coincidence, briefly suspected of abducting Raj. A local Iraqi teenager named Laila also has her own chapter that describes her work "simulating" an Iraqi in a Potemkin village built to train Marines on a nearby base. A man called Coyote, a refugee from the hippie commune and an avatar of the Native American trickster, now finds the desert a good place to cook and use crystal meth. In these chapters Kunzru channels DeLillo's ability to throw the voices of pop culture, marginal politics, and the criminal underground, as if the family trauma of White Noise alternated with chapters from Great Jones Street, Libra, and Running Dog.

Raj is only one of several characters who disappear in or from the Mojave. But what has most significantly disappeared from the desert in Gods Without Men is connection with transcendence. In the contemporary chapters, the desert is a tourist attraction for the Matharus, a getaway for the musician, a job for Laila, and a hideaway for Coyote. When Raj disappears, Kunzru shows how the magical thinking of Lisa and Jaz resembles and may be influenced by the myths, manias, and delusions of the American past, as well as the Homo sapiens past. But the Matharus' responses lack the fanatic passion and the transcendental ambition displayed, sometimes destructively, by earlier desert denizens. The Matharus' "moderation" may allow them to survive while other characters disappear. But the novel is still haunted by the Satan problem of Paradise Lost, the Ahab problem of Moby-Dick: the self-destructive obsessives are more interesting fictional creations than the survivors.

A colleague of Jaz's named Cy Bachman (a cybernetic composer of sorts) has created a computer program called Walter into which Jaz feeds incredibly heterogeneous data sets to predict the stock market and, according to Bachman, to discover "the face of God." The program eventually ruins the trading firm, and the face of God refuses to magically appear. An up-to-the-nanosecond delusion, the program implies that Kunzru's title, taken from Balzac, is a fiction: there are no gods without men to create them. But, in a witty turn, the program also provides a model for this fiction into which Kunzru pulls together disparate characters and various eras to represent the actions of men (and women) without gods.

Obeying the principle of recursion in the Walter program, Kunzru has Laila buy an old record album that has the same cover as the novel and, careful readers will note, includes references to details in Gods Without Men:

Cocooned inside her headphones, her eyes tight shut, she felt as if was inside a capsule, heading out into space. There was a howling sound, like a dog. There was a child's voice, calling out a word, perhaps a name. There were horse's hooves, an engine, a man coughing, bare feet running across sand. There was gunfire. A whole world.
Not really a "whole" world, of course, any more than Gods Without Men is a "whole" world. By planting the invented album within his fabricated book, Kunzru wryly admits the irony of using fiction to examine humans' desire for a supreme fiction.

The world without God, according to Bachman's Kabbala, is broken, scattered. Gods Without Men is appropriately fractured, multiple lives from different times in the same approximate space. Two more explicitly anthropological novels that feature Native American belief systems in the West — Leslie Silko's Ceremony and Ursula Le Guin's Always Coming Home — are even more fragmented in form and style but also more hopeful about the recovery of transcendence. Although Kunzru is as large-hearted as these writers of magic realism, as sympathetic to humans' need to fill absence symbolized by the desert, he is skeptical of magic in any form.

The Pinnacles appeared when the Mojave's lakes disappeared. Three of the formations may look to some like fingers, but the stones are only stones, possible signposts for humans in an empty land but not signs pointing to the divine. Perhaps even the Matharus realize this, for the last words of their final chapter are "There was nothing out there at all." Even at the end of Gods Without Men there is no end of profound questions as Kunzru, like Joyce's famous fingernail-paring artist-God, disappears.

Tom LeClair is the author of five novels, two critical books, and hundreds of essays and reviews in nationally circulated periodicals. He can be reached at thomas.leclair@uc.edu.

Reviewer: Tom LeClair

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307957498
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/6/2012
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 376,278
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Hari Kunzru is the author of the novels The Impressionist, Transmission, and My Revolutions, and is the recipient of the Somerset Maugham Award, the Betty Trask Prize from the Society of Authors, a British Book Award, and the Pushcart Prize. Granta has named him one of its twenty best young British novelists, and he was a Fellow at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. His work has been translated into twenty-one languages, and his short stories and journalism have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Yorker, the London Review of Books, Wired, and the New Statesman. He lives in New York City.
 
harikunzru.com
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Read an Excerpt

In the time when the animals were men

In the time when the animals were men, Coyote was living in a certain place. “Haikya! I have gotten so tired of living here-­aikya. I am going to go out into the desert and cook.” With this, Coyote took an RV and drove into the desert to set up a lab. He took along ten loaves of Wonder bread and fifty packets of ramen noodles. He took whiskey and enough pot to keep him going. He searched for a long time and found a good place. “Here, I will set up-­aikya! There is so much room! There is no one to bother me here!”

Coyote set to work. “Oh,” he said, “haikya! I have so many tablets of pseudoephedrine! It took me so long to get! I have been driving around to those pharmacies for so long-­aikya!” He crushed the pseudo until it was a fine powder. He filled a beaker with wood spirit and swirled around the powder. He poured the mixture through filter papers to get rid of the filler. Then he set it on the warmer to evaporate. But Coyote forgot to check his thermometer and the temperature rose. It got hotter and hotter. “Haikya!” he said. “I need a cigarette-­aikya! I’ve done such a lot of hard work-­aikya!”

He lit a cigarette. There was an explosion. He died.

Cottontail Rabbit came past and touched him on the head with his staff. Coyote sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Honored Coyote!” said Cottontail Rabbit. “Close the door of the RV. Keep it closed. Do your smoking outside.”

Coyote began to whine. “Ouch-­aikya! Where are my hands-­aikya? My hands have blown off.” He whined and lay down and was sad for a long time. Then Coyote got up and made himself hands out of a cholla cactus.

He began again.

He ground the pseudo. He mixed it with the solvent. He filtered and evaporated and filtered and evaporated, until he was sure all the filler was gone. Then he sat down and began scraping matchboxes to collect red phosphorus. He mixed the pseudo with his matchbox scrapings and iodine and plenty of water. Suddenly the flask began to boil. Gas started to fill the air. It got in his eyes, his fur. He howled and scratched at his face.

He choked on the poison gas and died.

Gila Monster came past and sprinkled water on him. Coyote sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Honored Coyote!” said Gila Monster. “Use a hose. Stop your flask, fill a bucket with kitty litter and run the hose down into that. The gas will be captured. Trap it and watch it bubble and boil, there in the flask. Don’t breathe at all if you can help it.”

Coyote began to whine. “Ouch-­aikya! Where is my face-­aikya? I have scratched my face off.” He ran down to the river and made himself a face out of mud and plastered it over the front of his head. Then he began again. He crushed the pseudo and evaporated it. He scraped the matchboxes and bubbled the flask into the bucket of kitty litter. He mixed the chemicals and cooked his mixture and filtered it and added in some Red Devil lye. He watched his thermometer. He was careful not to breathe. He cooled the mixture down and added in some camping fuel and shook it up and jumped up and down for glee when he saw the crust of crystal floating on the liquid. He started to evaporate off the solvent but was so excited that he forgot to keep his tail out of the fire. He was dancing round the lab, lighting everything on fire with his tail.

The lab burned down. He died.

Southern Fox came past and touched him on the chest with the tip of his bow. “Honored Coyote!” he said. “You must keep your tail out of it! That is the only way to cook.”

“Ouch-­aikya!” whined Coyote. “My eyes, where are my eyes-­aikya?” Coyote made himself eyes out of two silver dollars and started again. He crushed the pseudo. He filtered and evaporated it, he mixed and heated and bubbled the gas. He filtered and evaporated some more, and then he danced up and down. “Oh, I am clever-­aikya!” said Coyote. “I am cleverer than them all-­aikya!” He had in his hands a hundred grams of pure crystal.

And Coyote left that place.

That is all, thus it ends.


1947


First time Schmidt saw the Pinnacles he knew it was the place. Three columns of rock shot up like the tentacles of some ancient creature, weathered feelers probing the sky. He ran a couple of tests, used the divining rods and the earth meter. Needle went off the scale. No question, there was power here, running along the fault line and up through the rocks: a natural antenna. The deal was done quickly. Eight hundred bucks to the old woman who owned the lot, some papers to sign at a law office in Victorville and it was his. Twenty-­year lease, easy as pie. He couldn’t believe his luck.

He bought a used Airstream off a lot in Barstow, towed it onto the site, and sat for a whole afternoon in a lawn chair, admiring the way the aluminum trailer reflected the light. Took him back to the Pacific, the Superforts on their hardstands at North Field. The way those bombers glittered in the sun. There was a lesson in that dazzle, showed there were worlds a person couldn’t bear to look upon directly.

He didn’t sleep at all the first night. Lying under a blanket on the ground, staring straight up, he kept his eyes open until the blacks turned purple, then gray, and the wool was frosted with little droplets of condensation like tiny diamonds. The desert smell of creosote and sage, the dome of stars. There was more action up in the sky than down on earth, but you had to drag yourself out of the city to know it. All those damn verticals cluttering your sightline, all the steel pipes and cables and so forth under your feet, jamming you up, interrupting the flows. People hadn’t fooled with the desert. It was land that let you alone.

He thought he stood a good chance. He was still young enough to take on the physical work, unencumbered by wife or family. And he had faith. Without that he’d have given up long ago, back when he was still a kid reading mail-­order tracts on his lunch break, making his first tentative notes on the mysteries. Now he wanted no distractions. He didn’t bother about the good opinion of the folks in town. He was polite, passed the time of day when he went to pick up supplies at the store, but didn’t trouble himself further. Most men were fools; he’d found that out on Guam. Sons of bitches never would let him be, giving him nicknames, making childish jokes at his expense. Took all he had not to do what was on his mind, but after Lizzie he didn’t have the right, so he’d tamped down his anger and got on with fighting the war. Those saps had flown lord knew how many missions and with all those hours logged, all that chance to see, they still thought the real world was down on the ground, in the chow line, between the legs of the pinup girls they pasted over their rancid cots. Only person he met with a lick of sense was that Irish bombardier, what was his name, Mulligan or Flanagan, some Irish name, who told him of the lights he’d spotted when they were on their way to drop a load over Nagoya, green dots moving too fast to be Zeroes. Asked to borrow a book. Schmidt lent it to him, never did get it back. Kid went down with the rest of his crew a week later, ditched into the sea.

Little by little, the place came together. The trailer was hot as all hell and he was trying to work out some way to utilize the shade of the rocks when he found the prospector’s burrow. Didn’t know what it was until he asked at the bar in town. Concreted over a few years previous when they flushed the old bastard out, some story about thinking he was a German spy. Crazy as a coot he may have been, probably starving to death since there wasn’t a cent of silver or anything else on his so-­called claim, but he knew how to dig. A whole room, four hundred square feet, right under the rocks. Cool in summer, insulated against the winter nights. A goddamn bunker.

After that it was all gravy. He graded an airstrip, sunk a gas tank into the dirt, threw up a cinder-­block shelter and painted welcome in big white letters on the tin roof. Now he had a business. The café was never going to amount to much, but then he didn’t need it to be General Motors. He felt he could have gotten along without another living soul, but his savings weren’t going to last forever. He had another year, perhaps two, before money got tight, just about the right time for an enterprise like that to find its feet.

There weren’t too many passing aircraft. About once a week someone would land. He’d serve them coffee, fry eggs. When they asked what he was doing out there he’d say just waiting, and when they asked what for he’d say he didn’t know yet but it sure beat sitting in traffic, and that was usually enough for them. He’d never take visitors down into the bunker. After a few months the numbers increased. Pilots flying to and from the coast began to hear there was a place to refuel. He bought some chairs and Formica-­top tables, laid in a stock of beer.

There were problems, of course. His generator broke down. There was a confrontation with some Indians he caught clambering about on the rocks, had to show them his shotgun. After they went away he found rock drawings up there, handprints and snakes and bighorn sheep. Another day a dust storm forced a plane down. The wind was blowing sideways across the strip at fifty miles an hour and the pilot did well to land at all—­looked like it would pick up his left wing and flip him as he made his approach. Schmidt ran out to meet him, holding a bandanna over his mouth. Without thinking he took him underground, the logical place to shelter.

The pilot was a young buck, twenty-­one or so, head of dark hair, little dandyish mustache. Rich kid. As he stripped off his jacket and goggles, he looked around in wonder, asked where on earth he was.

By that time the project was well advanced. Schmidt had built a vortical condenser to store and concentrate the paraphysical energies flowing through the rocks. A crystal was set into a gimbal on the tip of the tallest stack, angled toward Venus. He was developing a parallel piezoelectric system, based on his study of Tesla, but for now was sending signals using an old Morse key, with an aetheric converter to transform the physical clicks into modulations of the paraphysical carrier wave. He explained all this to the pilot, who listened intently, taking in the machinery, the piles of books and notes. He seemed impressed.

“And what message are you sending?”

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Reading Group Guide

1. Gods Without Men brings us into the consciousness of nine fictional characters, among them a hedge fund executive; a UFO cult leader; a dissolute British rock star; a homesick Iraqi teenage girl; one historical character, the eighteenth-century Spanish missionary Fray Francisco Hermenegildo Tomás Garcés; and one deity, Coyote, the trickster in many Native American traditional stories.  Why does Hari Kunzru embrace such a wide and diverse cast of characters?

2. Do these characters from different historical eras and different echelons of society share any of the same aspirations? What draws them to the Pinnacle Rocks?

3. Which character or characters do you most identify with? Why?

4. Why do you think Kunzru set this novel in the desert? Could he have told the same story in a different landscape?

5. After reading Gods Without Men do you agree with Honoré de Balzac’s description of the desert: “In the desert, you see, there is everything and nothing . . . It is God without men,” one of the epigraphs of this novel? Has your conception of the desert changed? Do you think “wasteland” is an appropriate synonym for “desert”?

6. Dawn joins the Ashtar Galactic Command in 1970 when she is a teenager because she wants “to be part of something bigger than herself” (page 155). Does she achieve that goal? Thirty-eight years later, teenage Laila draws comfort from the Ashtar record she buys at a thrift shop. Why?

7. Several characters in the novel possess arcane knowledge of mathematics, alchemy, aerodynamics, electrical engineering, or entertainment marketing that enables them to manipulate the material world in their favor, yet they don’t seem satisfied with their achievements. What are the sources and consequences of their dissatisfaction?

8. The character Coyote appears intermittently throughout the novel as an animal, a man, and a deity. What do his appearances herald?  Are other characters comparably skilled at transforming themselves? 

9. Kunzru references three international conflicts in this novel—World War I, World War II, and the second Iraq War. What do the characters Deighton, Schmidt, and Laila, who had firsthand experiences of those wars, have in common?

10. Lisa views Raj’s disappearance as her punishment for her wild night in town. Dawn thinks she was responsible because by taking Lisa to Judy’s place “she’d got her family involved. They were mixed up with Coyote, mixed up in the paths and flows” (page 343). Do you believe that either character is responsible for Raj’s disappearance?

11. Does the little glowing boy Laila finds in the desert at night (page 297) bear any relation to the “glow boy” (page 64) Joanie’s daughter, Judy, was seen playing with before she disappeared in 1958?

12. Why do you think Lisa is able to gratefully accept her son’s seemingly miraculous return and his recovery from autism, whereas Jaz cannot bear not knowing what happened to his son and is frightened by Raj’s changed behavior, believing the boy who was returned to them is not Raj; “It’s as if—as if something is wearing his skin” (page 357)?

13. Toward the end of the novel, Lisa believes she has learned a lesson: “true knowledge is the knowledge of limits, the understanding that at the heart of the world . . . is a mystery into which we are not meant to penetrate. . . . Now she could call it God . . . confident that though the world was unknowable, it had a meaning, and that meaning would keep her safe and set her free” (page 345). Does Jaz experience his own epiphany at the end of the novel when he stands holding hands with Lisa and Raj looking out over the desert?

14. Why does the novel begin and end with an explosion? At the end of the novel, do you gain a clearer understanding of what Coyote was up to in the first chapter?

15. Do you think Kunzru’s postmodernist storytelling technique of presenting the reader with pieces of a puzzle without providing explicit explanations of how the pieces fit together is appropriate for a novel that explores the search for pattern and meaning? Would the story be more or less realistic if he had limited himself to traditional forms of storytelling?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 18 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(6)

4 Star

(4)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 25, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Brilliant

    I haven't expanded my thoughts to such far-reaching borders in many years. This novel explores the journey one must undertake to 'experience' without truly understanding the 'unknowable' god. Such profound ideals are what have kept me wavering between atheism and agnosticism my entire life and have acted as a foundation for any relevant sanity I've maintained in a world where a vast majority of people simply can't be bothered.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 21, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    nietzsche quotes, ufos, pot and talking coyotes. just the kind o

    nietzsche quotes, ufos, pot and talking coyotes. just the kind of book ive been missing

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 8, 2012

    Recommend it

    I had never read this author before. I will now. Just the kind of book I like - complex, many characters, separate stories with a common thread that develops over time and a little crazy. Keeps my mind working.

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2012

    Ever get involved with book or movie where a mystical or otherwo

    Ever get involved with book or movie where a mystical or otherworldly element is central to the plot and then it ends with no resolve or explanation for what's happening? That's this book. It's well written and the development is interesting... until the Author's cop-out leaves you holding almost 400 pages that don't really go anywhere...
    A disappointment for this reader.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 15, 2012

    Not bad, not good. Holds your interest while going nowhere. Inte

    Not bad, not good. Holds your interest while going nowhere. Interesting, but maybe not worth your $.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2013

    Compulsively readable and engaging, Gods Without Men dev

    Compulsively readable and engaging, <i>Gods Without Men</i>
    develops into a multi-decadal puzzle box with which you can't stop tinkering, and which, like real life, refuses to give up its secrets. To this reader's mind, it bears a close kinship with Umberto Eco's <i>Foucault's Pendulum</i>
    , another meditation on the ways we humans insist on finding meaning and pattern behind the chaos of the world, and the follies it leads us to. Like Eco, Kunzru parodies that human drive at the same time as he shows the deepest sympathy with it. Kunzru's wide ranging examples are less self-consciously erudite, drawing more on American pop culture and folklore. That will make his book accessible, after a fashion, to a broader audience. But steer clear if you want an author who will, like a kind grandmother, wrap it all up for you at the end in some Hercule-Poirot drawing room flash of clarity.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2013

    Fabuless

    Any one who talks about this book in a bad way is not worthey to coment on books that involvs with GOD boo

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  • Posted February 16, 2013

    Kunzru delivers again

    Another great book from Hari Kunzru.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2013

    It was greart.

    It was the best book I ever read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted January 18, 2013

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    Posted April 9, 2012

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    Posted October 28, 2012

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    Posted April 29, 2012

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    Posted May 28, 2012

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    Posted January 12, 2013

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    Posted August 22, 2013

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    Posted July 15, 2012

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