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31 Hours by Masha Hamilton
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31 Hours

by Masha Hamilton

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12416143,111 (3.69)16

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When Carol Meitzner wakes up in the middle of the night she is as sure as anything that her son, Jonas, is in danger. Even though she tries to keep calm and give her 21-year old a healthy amount of space in which to live his life and make his own decisions, in the back of her mind she knows that it’s not like him to be out of touch with her. She just knows that she has to get to him. Carol does the best she can to keep her fear in check and to make discrete inquiries into Jonas’ possible whereabouts, but what she doesn’t know is that she only has 31 hours to find him. Or else…

Jonas has always been reserved and sensitive; even as a child he was observant and deeply affected by his interactions with the world. Now, in some undisclosed location in New York City, Jonas is preparing to make a statement in a manner that he believes is the only way to make a difference in a world that is too callous, cruel and hypocritical to meet the needs of its citizens.

There is really something to be said for opening up a book when you are able to give it your full attention. When I first cracked this one open I was in a hotel room in Washington, DC for the National Book Festival, whooping it up with roomies Trish and Amy and definitely not in the frame of mind for a book that would require my full attention. Unfocused, I read the first few pages and saw wolves howling and Manhattan traffic and thought, “Huh? Don’t know if I will like this.” Boy was I wrong.

I picked this book back up once I had returned to NYC and could concentrate, started again from the beginning and I could not put this one down! I would try to move on to something else but somehow just a short time later I would find myself with book in hand. It’s a little novel that through snapshot portrayals examines 31 hours in the lives of not only Jonas and his mother, but also those most likely to be affected by his final acts- his girlfriend Vic, and her sister Mara among them. The novel powerfully moves right into the heart of each character in the present moment and reveals their dreams, aspirations and fears, all the while giving a glimpse into the history they have with each other and how it is has shaped their lives.

The characterizations are some of the strongest I have seen, and for this particular novel they were heart wrenching. Hamilton does an excellent job of portraying Jonas’s parents- one struggling between what might be irrational fear or intuition, and the other believing that their son is growing into a man and just needs his space. The book does an excellent job of exploring different issues facing the characters without being judgmental or preachy. Troubled marriages and questions of faith and religion are put forth to be examined, but are not framed as indictments so much as they are presented as the facts of each family’s situation. I loved seeing the nuances and complexities in all their situations. The character of Sonny Hirt in particular opened me up to a different perspective on freedom and the incredible assumptions that we make about the way all of us should live and function. It was very interesting to see another way.

31 Hours, by Masha Hamilton is a wonderfully written book examining the possibilities behind some of the unknowable facets which drive human behavior and how much we can truly know about one another and the actions of which we are capable. Ultimately it is a haunting reminder of how much each moment and hour of the act of living is an act of trust, and how the fragility of our existence is so quickly and easily unraveled. ( )
  daniellnic | Sep 25, 2013 |
3.25 stars

21-year old Jonas has been missing for a few days and his mother, Carol, is getting worried. Little does she know that Jonas has retreated from everyone he knows and loves because he has something planned in 31 hours.

That's the main plot in the book. We meet other characters as we go: Jonas's girlfriend, Vic and her family - her younger sister, Mara, and their parents, who have recently gotten divorced. Sonny is a homeless man, who spends all his time on the New York subway. He has a sister, though, who he visit on occasion, and has a shower while he's there.

It wasn't nearly as suspenseful as I thought it would be... as I thought it should be, given that you knew something big was going to happen in 31 hours. The first half of the book was set-up and introduction of the characters. It got better in the second half, though, and there was more suspense at the very end. ( )
  LibraryCin | May 12, 2013 |
A fascinating look into the motivations of a domestic terrorist. I would love for the author to write a sequel. ( )
  pidgeon92 | Apr 1, 2013 |
A beautifully written story about a disillusioned young American man, drawn to the moral righteousness of Islam as introduced to him by a terrorist organizer. As Jonas secretly prepares for the terrorist act he has committed to taking in 31 hours, a vivid picture of New York City emerges in alternating chapters about Jonas's mother, his best friend and her sister, and a homeless man who works the subway and observes its unique "life". Hamilton's portrayal of a home-grown but very human terrorist is thought-provoking and troubling. One plot line seems superfluous and the ending will spur much debate among readers, but the novel is hard to put down and the overall effect is haunting. ( )
  bookappeal | Aug 15, 2011 |
I’d describe this book as an understated thriller which is more focused on the characters' internal thoughts than on their actions. As the title suggests, it takes place over 31 hours in New York City as the parents and close friends of 21 year old Jonas Meitzner realize that Jonas is missing and while they weren’t paying attention, his life was taking an ominous turn. Suspense builds as you wonder if they’ll be able to find him in time to stop him from going ahead with his plans.

The interesting thing about the book is that his plans are not described in detail (although it's easy to fill in the blanks up to a point) and the ending leaves the reader with more questions than answers. The book and the ending, in particular, are both thought provoking and anxiety inducing.

"31 Hours" is a relatively quick read at 229 pages and I might have liked it better if it was a little longer. There are six different narrators and I was left wishing I had heard more from them. Hamilton is a good writer and I’ll look for more of her books but there was something about this one that I can’t quite put my finger on that prevents me from giving it more than 3 ½ stars. ( )
  phebj | Jan 25, 2011 |
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Epigraph
I think we should maybe have the courage to identify ourselves with and humanize the torturer. Maybe we should look at ourselves, instead of saying "never again," which does not work. We could mayve try to ask a new question, as well as a very old one: "how is it possible?" We may find the answers in ourselves. ~Francois Bizot, ethnologist captured by the Khmer Rouge in 1971 and author of the memoir The Gate.
And everything, and nothing, is as sacred as we want it to be. ~Beth Orton, "Central Reservation" lyrics
Dedication
To the mothers: Arra Kulinovich Hamilton, Frankie Mayfield Kulinovich, Jesse Krilly Hamilton
First words
A wolf's howl. But more shrill, more prolonged.
Quotations
It occurred to her that she needed to pray. Yet sh had no idea how to do it...If she wanted to pray, she would have to make it up.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
A woman in New York awakens knowing, as deeply as a mother's blood can know, that her grown son is in danger. She has not heard from him in weeks. His name is Jonas. His girlfriend, Vic, doesn't know what she has done wrong, but Jonas won't answer his cell phone. We soon learn that Jonas is isolated in a safe-house apartment in New York City, pondering his conversion to Islam and his experiences training in Pakistan, preparing for the violent action he has been instructed to take in 31 hours. Jonas's absence from the lives of those who love him causes a cascade of events, and as the novel moves through the streets and subways of New York we come to know intimately the lives of its characters. We also learn...
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A woman in New York awakens knowing, as deeply as a mother's blood can know, that her grown son is in danger. She has not heard from him in weeks. His name is Jonas. His girlfriend, Vic, doesn't know what she has done wrong, but Jonas won't answer his cell phone. We soon learn that Jonas is isolated in a safe-house apartment in New York City, pondering his conversion to Islam and his experiences training in Pakistan, preparing for the violent action he has been instructed to take in 31 hours.… (more)

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