I picked up these books at the same time, only a little bit because the titles suggest they might be similar in some way. Little Fires traces a series of loosely connected and potentially inconsequential flare-ups in the lives of the characters and concatenates them into a scorched earth conflagration. Small Bombs takes the conflagration--in this book, bombs--and traces their impact on a series of loosely connected individuals. Even if you read only one, these books are worth your time, but I do think they are more thought provoking read as a pair.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
One of my favorite things about this book is the setting, which is itself a motivator of the plot. It is a Stepford Wivish planned community in the midwest, populated mostly by stay-at-home wives, responsible husbands and children who are predictably rebellious in a contained kind of way. At the beginning of the book one of these families' home has just burned to the ground, and the reader knows right away who did it. Or who members of that family think did it. The rest of the book is an exploration of whether that conclusion is right and if it is, why...how did we get here, sitting on the roof of our car watching the fire crew pack up and leave the steaming pile that used to be home. The fire is revealed as the consequence of one lie after another tossed onto the flammable pieces of the home, the community, the family.
It is a good tale well told.
I do have a couple of issues, however. One is the male characters, if you can call them that. "Props" is a better word. They appear, say their lines, and leave the scene. They are without dimension. The other issue is the thematic fixation on babies: Babies that are aborted, babies that are kept when they shouldn't have been, babies that are put up for adoption, babies of surrogate mothers...you get the picture. Between the paper-doll men and the prevalence of babies, the book had less dimension than it might.
The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
This book is about terrorism, and in particular, small-time terrorism--a bomb here a bomb there. The story begins with a small bomb set off in a crowded market in Delhi, which kills two children. There is fallout, within the family and within the community. Time goes on. There are more bombs and more fallout. We meet the bomb makers, the plotters, the on-the-ground bomb planters. They are distant from the consequences of their action, and I was not convinced of their passion for their cause. Maybe that is what it is like to be a terrorist, i.e., disaffected and philosophical.
I am fascinated by India. I have visited about half of its states, and I live in a community (Seattle's east side) with a large Indian diaspora. I love its complex spiciness. Perhaps because of that, what I liked most about this book was the insight into everyday life of middle class up-and-coming India. The acts of terrorism were a way to see inside this complex society.
The Two Books Juxtaposed
The reason for reading both in a relatively short time frame is that it will make you think. Little Fires reminds us that every lie an individual tells and every moral choice he or she makes is tinder. For the unlucky, or maybe the lucky, some day there might be what foresters call a stand-replacing fire. Small Bombs comes at the same theme another way. Individuals' big moral decisions, and I call setting off even a comparatively little bomb a big moral decision, have a monumental, and perhaps ruinous, effect on the lives of other individuals, the ones who were not annihilated in the blast.