Sunday, March 21, 2010

Review: 31 Hours by Masha Hamilton

I am excited to be a part of the first ever Spotlight Series tour, designed to draw attention to small press publishers and their authors who do not get much attention, and, as a result, quite a few quality books fall through the cracks. Unbridled Books is one such publisher. As the publisher's website says, Unbridled is committed to "publishing high-quality works that are moving, beautiful, and surprising. We chose the name to designate a publishing venture that is both energetic and independent." And so far my experience with the books published by Unbridled that I have had the chance to read has been just that.

For the tour, participants volunteered to read any book of their choice by the publisher. I chose 31 Hours by Masha Hamilton because the subject matter interested me. I bought the book through Powell's, an independent bookstore, breaking my buy-no-hardcover-at-full-price rule.

Breathe, she told herself. Rest, and soften the shoulders, and stop the mind's seesawing, at least until dawn. Yes, dawn. And then, young adult or not, she would track him down. She would touch his cheek and hug him tight - mother him until he shrugged her off - so the next time night fell, she could hold assurance close to her like a childhood blanket and rest with vigor of the innocent and the blessed. [pg 3]

31 Hours
by Masha Hamilton
Unbridled Books, 2009
Fiction; 240 pgs

In 2006, I read and reviewed The Attack by Yasmina Khadra, a book that came to mind after I finished reading Masha Hamilton's 31 Hours. That particular book is about the aftermath of a suicide bombing, a doctor discovering he had not known his troubled wife as well as he thought he had only after her death. He goes on a mission to find out why she became a suicide bomber. Masha Hamilton offers a similar perspective in 31 Hours, only she captures the hours when a young man, 21 year old Jonas, is contemplating his own act of violence, before his scheduled detonation.

The novel is told from several different perspectives, opening with a mother awakened in the wee hours of the morning with a feeling that something is terribly wrong. She has not heard from her son, Jonas, in several days and is worried about him. He has become more withdrawn with increased mood swings. Jonas, for his part, is consumed by his passion and anger over the immoralities of the world and is determined to make a statement. He believes that only a violent act will precipitate change for the better. Jonas is not a monster. He is a human being with fears and vulnerabilities like each of us. While he is opposed to the injustices in the world, he is so focused on the ideals he is supporting that I am not sure he really considered the people who might be hurt by his actions. He claims to have clarity, but in reality is confused, lost even, seeking something missing from his life but of which he isn't sure what it is.

The author also introduces readers to Jonas' friend, Vic, who has been so busy rehearsing for an upcoming state performance that she has not had much time for her friend or family. Her young sister, Mara, feels the weight of the family's burdens on her shoulder, caring for a grief stricken mother after Mara and Vic's father walked out. I couldn't help but think of Mara as a young Jonas, with their similar backgrounds at such a young age and with their strong desire to set things right, or, at least, what they perceive as right. Jonas himself identifies with Mara on some level.

The subway system in New York is its own character, the location of where the terrorist act is supposed to take place. As a result, the reader gets to know a few of the regulars who spend much of their time underground, in particular Sonny Hirt, a homeless man who makes his living pan handling. It is through him, that the subway itself feels alive, pulsing with people from all walks of life going or coming from somewhere. A myriad of emotion and experience fills the subway at any hour. It made the story all the more powerful, knowing the impact a terrorist attack on the subway would cause.

What was most powerful for me was seeing Jonas through his mother's eyes. Jonas is everything to Carol and her pain and concern is palpable. I ached for her and for Jonas' father. I also felt for Vic, who had just found love and so suddenly could lose it. It is through their eyes, their memories of him and their love for him, that I came to care for Jonas, as misguided as he was, and even in spite of not agreeing with his logic or choice of resolution.

31 Hours is an intense and beautifully written novel. The countdown continues with every new chapter. And with each narrative by the various characters, the tension grows. The fate of all the characters hangs in the balance as the author weaves their stories together. Masha Hamilton succeeds at putting the reader into the minds and hearts of the characters, making this all too frightening story all the more real.

Rating: * (Very Good)

To learn more about Masha Hamilton, 31 Hours and her other books, be sure and visit the author's website.

To see what other Unbridled books bloggers are reading for this Spotlight Series, check out the Spotlight Series blog.

© 2010, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. Wow, this sounds so good! I always love it when I find a well-written book.

    I'm going to check out the Spotlight Series!

    Thaks for this reveiw; your writing always makes me want to order the novels.

  2. Thanks for participating, Wendy! And what a great review. Wasn't there a Japanese book similar to this, about the Tokyo subway bombing by that cult? I don't remember the title of that one, unfortunately.

    I really like books that show us the "villain" perspective, and make us think about a situation from both sides.

  3. NIce job. This was a difficult book to review because I thought it asked the reader so many questions, many of which have no single correct answer.

  4. I really liked this book, too. I liked the way it showed how young minds can be swayed.

  5. Great review, Wendy - this one's been on my wishlist for a few months already. I'll either wait for the paperback or buy it for my Kindle if it's available - I have a "no hardcovers at full price rule" too :-), unless I'm buying the book as a gift for someone else.

  6. I really want to read this! I loved her other book The Camel Bookmobile.

  7. Great review Wendy. This book really does sound good. I find a lot of the time the books that fly under the radar end up being some of the best I've read.

  8. Wendy, thanks for highlighting this book. It sounds really intriguing. I'll put it on my wishlist.

  9. Great review, as always! :)
    I've to admit I wouldn't give this book another look at first glance but your review has definitely made me intrigued with this book! I'll have to keep a look out for it.

  10. This sounds really good. I like the idea of the tension building, chapter by chapter.

  11. I thought this book was excellent and thought-provoking, but the ending really threw me. I think I wanted it to go in a different direction or a little bit further. Upon reflection, I don't think I did it justice when I reviewed it.

  12. Good review!
    It sounds like it would be the type of book you can "see" as you read it, almost like a movie.

  13. I really enjoyed this book too! Excellent review!

  14. Linda - I'd been wanting to read this one since I first heard about it several months ago.

    The Spotlight Series is a great idea, I think. I hope that more small press publishers will take advantage of it.

    Aarti - I'm so glad you and the others thought up this idea! I passed the site's information onto another small publisher in case they are interested.

    I think I know what book you are talking about in regards to Tokyo. It wasn't one I've read though. And I agree, I like books that offer the perspective of the villain as well. It can be such an eye opener. I remember reading a nonfiction book about the killers in Rwanda. They had been neighbors to their victims--played soccer with them, drank with them . . .

    Beth - It's definitely a book that would be good for a group discussion, I think. Very thought provoking.

    Kathy - Yes! Jonas was so vulnerable and it was easy for him to be manipulated. I am reading a book about a recovered skinhead at the moment and I see similarities between the two.

    Florinda - Hardcover books are just too expensive. :-( I do like it when I can get a good discount on one though. I hope you do get a chance to read this one!

    Carrie - You know, I hadn't realized she had written The Camel Bookmobile until I saw it mentioned on her website. I'm familiar with the book, but never connected the two.

    Darlene - Thank you. I've found that to be true too. Sometimes the true gems can be found in the least expected places.

  15. Kay - I hope you do like it if you read it. It really was a good read.

    Melody - Thank you. I find books like this so interesting. I like getting into the minds of people and discovering what motivates them or causes them to make the choices they do.

    Kathleen - Me too! It definitely kept me turning the pages, and, by the end, I was turning them as quickly as I could. My husband interrupted me four pages from the end and I was so upset. He thought it was funny. Ugh.

    Nancy - I know what you mean about the ending. I actually thought it was a fitting ending, although I wouldn't have minded a bit more.

    Carla - It most definitely was like that, Carla. I also felt that the author did an excellent job of treating her reader like an intelligent person. If that makes sense. It does in my sometimes odd brain. :-)

    Sheila - Thank you! It was really good, wasn't it?

  16. I have heard little about this book, but what I heard was good. Your review definitely made it sound interesting, and I like the countdown idea! I think I'll add it to my list of books to read one day. Great review!

  17. Great review! I love your perspective on Mara being a young Jonas. I think that I really identified with Mara's character when I read the book. Glad that you enjoyed it too!

  18. I'm curious to see how the author made the subway system a character. Intriguing!

    I read The Attack a few years ago and thought it was a very thought-provoking book.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  19. I applaud you for highlighting a small press publishing company!! The book sounds really really interesting and one that I would pick up for sure!

  20. I have read Masha Hamilton's previous book but not this one. It sounds really good!

    Life by Candlelight

  21. Wow! Beautiful review!! This one is a must-read for me. I enjoyed reading how the subway itself has its own character!

  22. I have this book on my shelf and your wonderful review has made me want to pick it up very soon! I have read one other book from Unbridled Books (Last Night in Montreal) and do have to agree with you that they publish some wonderful things. Great review! I will have to come back and reread it after I have finished the book.

  23. Thank you all for your comments! I'd been looking forward to reading this one since I first heard about it. It really is worth reading. I do recommend The Attack too--it's a fantastic book.

    I've really been impressed with the quality of books that Unbridled Books puts out. I'm not really one to follow a publisher-I'm more about the books themselves and sometimes the authors--but Unbridled has made me a loyal reader. I probably won't read every book they publish, but I do keep my eye out for their books.


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