Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is the first book of a trilogy. The story is set in an uncertain time in the future in what is now North America and in the book, the country of Panem.

Panem consists of a Capitol surrounded by 12 districts. Each year, to remind the districts of the consequences of rebellion against the Capitol, the Capitol holds the hunger games. Each district is required to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in the games. To win the Hunger games the participants must eliminate each other within an artificially created environment known as "The Arena" till only one of them is alive. The Games are televised and broadcast across the country as a show of the Capitol's power over the districts. In its setting and premise the book is highly reminiscent of  Battle Royale, the Japanese movie. There too rebellious adolescents are kept in place by a fight to the death.

The Hunger Games begins in district 12, the poorest of the districts with Katniss Everdeen volunteering to take her 12 year old sister's place in the Hunger Games. As a thriller Hunger Games scores full points. There are enough moments, nicely interspersed to keep you flipping the pages, enough to make me want to complete the trilogy.

As an exploration of war and its effects on freedom and morality it falls short. I would have liked to see Katniss make a few more tough choices. The book circumvents tough choices in fairytale fashion with the Capitol relenting almost too easily. Personal conflict is almost absent as Katniss hardly faces a dilemma that calls for her morals, actions or choices into question. What would she have done if it came to her survival vs. that of a friend? Would she value her life more than a past kindness? Would she consciously rebel against the Capitol and the powers that be? There is no choice that Katniss is called on to make that compels the reader to evaluate the ethics of war, dictatorship and rebellion; choices whose consequences are unpalatable for Katniss and the reader.

While there is promise of retaliation by the Capitol in the other two books of the series, I do wish this one had examined the personal choices that people make in situations of extreme stress with a little more depth.

A P.S to the Post: After reading the other two books, I think the only key character who represents the personal crisis that is created by war, dictatorship and rebellion is Gale. At the very end of the tale, it is his choices that are worth thinking about. I wonder if he would have played the Hunger Games differently as opposed to Katniss or Peeta. Sure would have made for an even more engrossing read.

In a P.S that is longer than it should be, I should also say that I think the ancillary characters add much more meat to the story than do the protagonists. They represent the entire spectrum of choices that people must make in situations where Peace is not an option.

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