Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: The Hunger Games

OK, I am aware that I am totally late to this party. I know this book has had an enormous success in the United States and the movie had an even bigger one, but since in Italy no one has been talking about it at all I wouldn't even have known it existed if not for TheYoungTurks talking about it. Curious, I bought a copy.

I started reading it at 6AM on the train on my way back from Rome. By 6PM I had read the last page, sneaking pages between washes of my western blot (if you don't know what that is don't worry, it's not interesting at all). I just couldn't put it down, and those few times that I was forced to I couldn't stop thinking about it.

I'm sure you all know the story by now, and if you're a European like me and you don't I suggest you get a copy and see for yourself. Suzanne Collins has this amazing way of transmitting how, despite the dire disgusting social structure that the main characters have to live in, it has become everyday life while you choke down your occasional flares of indignation. It's unjust, it's inhumane, it's sickening, but it's her life, and you believe it. After all, it's not like there is no precedent. The Colosseum, public executions with crowds screaming for blood, human nature has the capacity to turn so feral that this book has a way of haunting your thoughts, that although you tell yourself that such a society could never arise again, you can't actually be sure of that. 

The build-up to the actual games is a mirror of our celebrity-venerating culture in how the "contestants" are fawned over and their every movement choreographed with their marketing in mind. However, there is always this terribly dark undertone, that once in a while you realize this is crazy! They're setting up to kill each other! The injustice of it made my blood boil, trying to imagine what would go through my head if I would be put in such a situation. Imagine if your brother or sister was called up with you, and you are forced to kill or be killed. Imagine being on the other side of the screen, and it being culturally acceptable to wait all year in anticipation for the time when you get to watch children murder each other for your entertainment. It is sickening, and yet not completely outside the realm of possibility, which makes it so much worse. 

Throughout the book I kept thinking, what if the two that were left made a pact and just refused to kill each other? What if they just sat in front of one another, not having any intention to participate in this disgusting game. Could that happen? It brings up the old Prisoner's Dilemma, how can you really trust the other person to not kill you first?

Which of course begs the question, which would you rather be? Would you rather be the martyr, or the traitor?

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