The South Asian Times

17 January 2019 22:39 PM

Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins Scholastic Rs 295 pp 374

In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins takes us to the heart of a dystopian society like no other. North America is a thing of the past, replaced by the nation, Panem. The capital, called the Capitol in the book, is full of affluent people obsessed with a show of austerity to a point that their appearance seems grotesque. Surrounding the Capitol are 12 districts which, at some point in history, had rebelled. Now, each year, they pay the price.

The story starts at the ‘reaping’ — a yearly event where one boy and one girl is chosen from each district to participate in the Hunger Games — a fight to the finish where only one survives. The games — broadcast live and compulsory watching throughout Panem — are a punishment and a warning so that the districts never rebel again. At the reaping, we’re introduced to the narrator-protagonist Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old who takes the place of her little sister in the games. Peeta Mellark, a baker’s son, is the other unlucky ‘tribute’ from District 12.

The Hunger Games works on many levels. Readers may spot parallels between Panem and present-day polities, where those with money and power watch the poor and desperate fight for survival. Collins contrasts the districts with the Capitol, whose facilities — from food to showers with hot water — seem a luxury to Katniss and Peeta.

Then there’s Katniss. A master with the bow and arrow, she is one of the most outstanding female protagonists in contemporary literature. I read this book soon after Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and despite fundamental differences, it’s hard not to compare Katniss with Lisbeth Salander — powerful women not afraid to use, manipulate or even kill men around them if the situation demands. Even the romance between Katniss and Peeta — which, in a way, justifies the book’s ‘young adult’ genre — always shows her as the dominant partner, more a saviour than one who needs to be saved.

Predictably, the games are the high point in the book. Collins describes the atmosphere, the competitors and each kill in such detail that it’s hard not to feel you’re right there in the arena. Midway through the book, you’re almost one with the protagonist, in what can only be a literary equivalent of watching a movie in 3D.

Incidentally, I watched the film adaptation before reading the book and it’s safe to say that director Gary Ross does ample justice to the book, despite taking creative liberties every now and then.

The book makes readers aware that they are no more than voyeurs either. As the Capitol cheers the killing of each innocent, so do we. The games become an exaggerated extension of reality television, a familiar popular cultural trope. Don’t we all love it when contestants defeat and disgrace each other as we watch from our living rooms? And is it only a matter of time before our appetites are not whetted by anything less than the level of violence portrayed in The Hunger Games?

Update: 17 June, 2012