Marc reviews ‘The Fallen Angels of Karnataka’ by Hans M Hirschi. This book was released by Yaree AB on September 15th, 2014, 264 pgs.
Why I read this book: When I created my new releases post, this cover drew me in and I jumped at the chance to review the book when it was offered to RGR even though it promised to be a heartbreaking and difficult read. I’m glad I did!
Synopsis: In an isolated mountain town in Norway, Haakon dreams of traveling the world, pursuing adventure, seeing great cities, finding love. His very first trip to London with friends from university offers much promise, yet soon after tragedy strikes. Still young, and mourning the loss of his lover, Haakon is not ready to give up on his dream, so when a rich Englishman offers him the chance to join him on a tour of the world, Haakon takes it, daring to believe that his dream is finally coming true…but at what price?
The Fallen Angels of Karnataka is a novel filled with adventure, life’s hard-learned lessons, loss, despicable evil, and finally, love and redemption.
Buy Link: Amazon
You included a lot of information about different places around the world in your book. It was easy to feel enthusiasm for not only different places and their history, but also for their cultures. Did you write about these or most of these places from personal experience or did you just do a lot of research?
I have been to most places I write about in the book, with a couple of notable exceptions, Bangalore and Road Town.
That made it difficult to write about them, of course, but I had help and did a lot of research. And I’m lucky to be able to see Road Town before the end of this year as I’m going on a cruise which will take us to Tortola… Can’t wait for that day.
This book deals with topics like child abuse and trafficking that are the nightmares of parents across the world. Was it hard for you as parent to confront those fears when you wrote the story or is it easy for you to separate the fiction you write from your personal life?
It is the real life that inspires me to write about it, and in this particular case it was a man we used to be friends with who was convicted of owning child pornography who set the wheels in motion. My brain has its very own way of coping with these things and after a mental breakdown (I just couldn’t deal with my brain superimposing the images of my son at the dinner table with the guy at the same table, even though, in reality, there’s four years in between) the story started to shift, and the Nile incident was a first ‘show’ of how the story was moving into a different direction.
So, how was the story supposed to go initially? Was it just supposed to be about traveling the world and finding love again in an unexpected place?
Sort of. I set out to write about how Haakon evolves as a human through his travels. I had absolutely no intention of writing the scene on Parliament square and what happened next this early in the book. I was very upset with my brain for putting me in that position, because it made the story so much more complex… Needless to say, what came next was hard to stomach, even for me. Then again, I’m usually my books’ first reader, and I cry, laugh or shake my head as I read what my fingers type out.
Do your characters and ideas often disrupt your carefully laid plans by doing what they want?
no, because I have no carefully laid out plans… But yes, I may have ideas about where I want to take the story (see previous answer) and then end up surprised when my unconscious mind has other plans.
How do you begin your stories? With a single scene, idea, sentence, … ?
I’m usually inspired by something, e.g. the idea of travel, or homelessness (The Opera House) or whatever. And I sit down and start writing and things take shape from there. I never know what the first word or sentence is going to be. It’s really hard to describe, but that’s how it works.
It was very interesting for me to find out so much about HIV and AIDS. With all the information about the disease out there, there still seems to be a certain stigma to it and I still can’t donate my blood, because I’m gay – even if it might be badly needed. Do you think this is changing, even if slowly?
Hopefully. And it might be the latest bad guy out there, Ebola and Warburg, who might let ‘us’ off the hook. I don’t know, but yes, there is still a lot of stigma and an incredible amount of ignorance out there. HIV wasn’t the focus of the book, but researching the information to be accurate for the time period was interesting and difficult, because there aren’t that many people out there who still remember what it was like back then. So much has changed, in terms of tests, legislation and what not.
You live in a pretty open-minded part of the world. Do you still encounter people who do not believe gay people should be allowed to be parents and how do you handle such responses?
Luckily, I haven’t personally. No. But that doesn’t mean it’s a smooth ride. People ask about the ‘mother’, they will make assumptions with regards to our ability to raise a child as men (with the assumption that only women can do that job) etc. I was afraid it would be worse, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Besides, we’re only 18 months into the process and it’s going to change once Sascha starts to talk and brings home stories of what others say to him…
Well, I certainly hope that it won’t be too bad and things won’t change too much. I remember our chancellor in Germany saying that while gay parents might be great parents, the children shouldn’t be exposed to the cruelty of their peers and other parents. It seems that it is easier to take the right of gay parents to be treated equally and of children to find loving homes where they are loved, even if the parents are in a same-sex relationship than to confront the problem of discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, I also thing that children will always have to deal with negative comments from their peers, be it for weight, glasses, an illness, or whatever ‘weakness’ other children can find. The most important thing should be that they have a safe home where they are loved and that there should be no tolerance for any kind of hateful comments.
Yeah, it’s easier to remove our right to parenting than remove people’s right to discriminate and be idiots.
if people stopped bullying, there would be no issues. right? but since much of that is rooted in religion (or so they claim), politicians shy away from it.
True. And that claim seems weird if you look at a country like the US, where state and church are supposed to be separate. The acceptance of same-sex marriages by the state does not affect the churches and their recognition of such unions or force them to conduct such ceremonies in their churches, yet they seem to have a lot of sway on the legislators…
It is indeed strange. but the states are falling, one by one.
When I was in High School, my favorite English teacher was arrested for trying to meet a 14 year-old boy for oral sex. The boy was in reality a deputy and the police were waiting for him. He had a son and daughter at the same age. It was hard for me to wrap my head around the teacher I adored being the same man who had the desires to do these things. You not only had a family friend, who was arrested for owning child pornography, you revealed in your afterword that you were sexually abused as child as well. Yet, while you write about the terrible horror that is committed in the book, you also humanize the person responsible for it. Was it hard to feel ‘compassion’ for someone who commits the most terrible of crimes and try to portray his human side, not just the monster that hid in him?
I try to separate the people from their actions. I guess it’s part of my upbringing and our European humanistic approach to justice? Restorative rather than punitive? I don’t know. But I don’t believe people are inherently evil. they may do evil things, but there is always another side. Hitler for instance loved animals, as despicable as he may have been.
I don’t try to apologize or explain their actions, but point to the fact that it’s more complex than it seems… If that makes any sense.
It does and I love that you neither assume you know all the answers, nor made the character one-dimensional. Do you believe that he chose Haakon as companion, because he hoped to be stopped?
Hmm, I never thought about that. There was an episode where Charles hopes that he can groom Haakon to do some of the dirty work of procuring the kids for him, but he soon realized that Haakon wasn’t the right person for that and let it be.
But who knows what people think unconsciously… You’d have to ask Charles… LOL
It was actually suggested by one of the characters in the book and it made me think. Haakon seems very uncorruptable and even when Charles realizes he can never convince Haakon to be his enabler, he wants to keep him around. If he really just wanted to ‘enjoy’ the boys on his voyage there might have been many other ways to do so much more easily. Perhaps he just desperately wanted another friend?
Yes, I’m convinced that Charles was happy to have a companion to travel with, and I think he saw the need and the desperation in Haakon when he first met him in Paris. I believe that it was one of the few occasions when Haakon was just his “raw” self, no pretense, no social rules curtailing him…
Well, I have another question about the unconsciousness, and since Haakon is not around: At several points in the story it seemed like Haakon was deliberately closing his eyes to the things he suspected or at least knew subconsciously that more was going on with his friend and the young men who kept him company. Do you think his friendship with Charles made him blind to a certain degree?
You see, while I know a lot about my characters, I don’t know everything. Just because I create them doesn’t mean I know everything.
Grief and helplessness can strip away a lot of those masks we wear. I think Haakon really needed to get away and move around. What is your favorite of all the cities/countries/locations you have been to?
I don’t think I can choose one in particular. There are often times sites and places that stick with me for a long time. Let me mention the Grand Canyon which we couldn’t visit in the book because it ends before the ban for HIV positive people to travel to the US ended (which sucked, but alas, that’s my brain for you), or Hawaii to just mention two amazing places. But the Taj Mahal in India, the great pyramids and Uluru are places from the book that have affected me deeply.
Which book would you recommend to someone completely new to your work?
I think it depends on what people like to read. If you like love and romance, start with Jonathan’s Hope, because it’s the closest to a love story with a twist that I’ve written. If you like the literary approach, try Family Ties. I have a hunch you’ll keep moving to my later novels which are mustier in terms of the social issues tackled.
And finally, before I let you escape from my clutches and have fun at GRL, which new releases or projects have you lined up and can you tell us more about one of them?
Well, in terms of fiction, I have no clue. I was recently inspired by this dystopian dance performance to write about a future society, but not sure how that works with my ‘promised’ happy ending. LOL We’ll see:
But my next project is to put out a second and revised revision of my management handbook “Common Sense in business and life” which deserves a second chance and better start than it did four years ago. That’s all I know. It all depends how long my darling husband is willing to support his crazy writing husband.
Thanks so much for this great interview
The cover looks beautiful, but sad. The kind of crying angel that expresses the loss and grief in graveyard for the most terrible tragedies, like the loss of a child.
The title in connection with the cover prepares readers that something terribly will take place in the book. Which is good, because even that ‘preparation’ will not be enough, but at least readers have an idea that they need to brace themselves. For me it was intriguing and it fits well with the book.
Before I started reading this book, the author warned me that while it has a happy ending, it is hard earned. I know this book won’t be for all of my friends (looking at you Bethany, skip it) and I don’t think every reader can or wants to handle it.
The book is beautifully written with great skill and an amazing feeling for different places and cultures. In the first 20% we tag along as the main character, Haakon, discovers himself and his desires (for men and traveling) and falls in love. A beautiful love story that brings him to a point at which he wants to pursue his other big desire and travel the world. An offer that someone who always dreamed of doing so, but was never able to afford it could hardly refuse.
It was great to meet Haakon, and he was a very sympathetic character. It was clear that he was from a different region from the world and I enjoyed getting to know the cultural differences and how he experienced his home and different places that he visited.
Knowing something terrible was going to happen, I distrusted pretty much every person he met, like he does distrust most before he really gets to know them.
However, he makes great friends and has important experiences that help to shape him into a person anyone should be proud to call a friend or lover.
The book begins a bit in the past for me and not yet born when the novel starts (I was born in 1990) and it was very interesting to read about things from a time before what is known to me, especially in connection with HIV and AIDS and how it was perceived in the very beginning, something that is not often talked about.
When Haakon got the offer to travel the world, I was happy for him to get the chance. It was his dream and he badly needed a change – however I had a very bad feeling. If you know something terrible is happening, you wait for it.
Interestingly, the travel details soon distracted me. Even before the big trip, I really loved how excited Haakon is about places like England, France and Greece. I was so infected with the lust to travel, that I kept reading parts of the book to my boyfriend, telling him we needed to go here or there, dreaming about exploring these cities with him one day. Readers get to know the biggest sights, but also places that are not known to everyone. You also get a good feeling of the culture, the people and the atmosphere.
So when the trip starts, we see the good about it first. Charles has a lot of money, so we see new, amazing places – some again not open to public and it likely will make you want to travel the world, too! About halfway into the novel, everything changes, though.
The men in Charles’ bed keep getting younger and younger. Haakon at first does not realize or want to realize what is going on. He is quite naive in many things and tries not to see the worst in the man who has grown to be his friend. Until something happens and he can no longer ignore the truth. He struggles to save his friend, yet to do the right thing
However, the truth is much worse than he thinks. The charming older man has a dark monster in him. The author at times lets readers see the point of view of other characters andit was very hard for me to read Charles’ point f view. It actually made me sick to my stomach at times and there were places where I didn’t think I could go on. While the entire book is very well-written and there is great beauty to be found, Charles and his thoughts and actions bring a great darkness to it.
While Haakon wants to save him, Charles commits one crime so vicious, so terrible, that it takes him way beyond redemption and I could not completely comprehend the horror. I have read books with terrible fiends who try to end the world, great monsters from the underworld, wizards of great and terrible power, murderers who kill victim after victim until the heroes can finally stop them. None of them were as sinister, no act felt as evil as what was committed in this book.
For me, I think it was because Charles is no faceless evil. Hans makes us care about him, shows us his good qualities, humanizes him. So when he commits an evil so incomprehensible for us as readers, it feels like a big betrayal. It takes time to process just what he did and the terrible images that are painted by his actions will likely linger for a long time.
Of course, for Haakon it is much more difficult to realize that the same men who became a good friend while traveling for years was capable of such evil. He doesn’t know how to act, how to react and his internal struggle is very apparent.
Often gay men are either portrayed as saints or sinners by the two different camps. I loved that you showed that gay men, like all persons, have the same capacity to do good and evil. I was really glad though that you took the last 10 percent to get the reader to a better place again. Like Haakon, as reader I needed to process all of it and you helped me with that and ended at a very nice place.
At the most unsuspected moment, Haakon finds love again and it is like a ray of sunshine, of hope, that fights its way through the clouds and darkness. A hope that is so very badly needed after everything that happens. Yet it is not easily given. Haakon needs to fight to find is happiness. However, he does find happiness again and the author shows us beauty and love after our hearts were shredded by the darkness and the hopes goes a long way in ‘healing’ readers.
So, I can’t recommend this book to everyone, but it is highly recommended to anyone who believes they can handle the darkness to read an amazingly well-written and multi-faceted book. The main character is very sympathetic and there is a lot of beauty to counter the darkness. It’s a book that you won’t easily forget. And a book you shouldn’t forget! While the changes of POV were done irregularly in a way I wasn’t used to, they were important and did not really bother me in the end. Thus I can give the book full ten pots of gold.
Buy Link: Amazon
Hans Martin Hirschi (b. 1967) has been writing stories ever since he was a child. Adulthood and the demands of corporate life efficiently put an end to his fictional writing for over twenty years. A global executive in training and channel development, Hans has traveled the world and published a couple of non-fictional titles. The birth of his son and the subsequent parental leave provided him with a much needed breathing hole and the opportunity to once again unleash his creative writing.
Having little influence over his brain’s creative workings, he simply indulges it and goes with the flow. However, the deep passion for a better world, for love and tolerance are a red thread throughout both his creative and non-fictional work.
Hans lives with his husband, son and pets on a small island off the west coast of Sweden.