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I'm starting my 4th year in Japan and have been living 6 months now in my new apartment. I have yet to acquire a sofa and a dining table and my reading has been as slow as my furniture acquisition (although a bookshelf was obviously one of my first purchases) so my goal this year is to finally be able to invite people to my home and read more than last year. For those who continue to read my increasingly sparse threads, I greatly appreciate your support and encouragement. Here is to a more interesting thread in 2018!
So far in 2018:
1) John Steinbeck : The Grapes of Wrath
2) Emily St. John Mandel : Station Eleven
3) Ray Bradbury : Fahrenheit 451
4) Margaret Atwood : The Handmaid's Tale
5) Barbara Demick : Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
6) Abe Kobo : The Ark Sakura
7) Sawako Ariyoshi : The Twilight Years
8) Matthew Lewis : The Monk
9) H.G. Wells : The Island of Doctor Moreau
10) Jules Verne : L'etoile du Sud (The Vanished Diamond)
11) Akira Yoshimura : Le convoi de l'eau
12) Ayako Miura : Au col du mont Shiokari (Shiokari Pass)
13) Marguerite Duras : Un barrage contre le Pacifique (The Sea Wall)
14) Colette : Gigi
15) Henri Troyat : La neige en deuil (The Mountain)
16) Stefan Zweig : Le voyage dans le passe (Journey into the Past)
17) 村田 沙耶香 (Murata Sayaka) : コンビニ人間 (Convenience Store Woman)
18) Sayo Masuda : Autobiography of a Geisha
19) Han Kang : Human Acts
20) Kenzaburo Oe : A Personal Matter
21) Tatsuzo Ishikawa : Soldiers Alive
22) 金原ひとみ (Kanehara Hitomi) : 蛇にピアス (Snakes and Earrings)
23) Jules Verne : Vingt mille lieues sous les mers
25) Hoon Kim : En beaute
26) Aki Shimazaki : Azami
27) 椰月 美智子 (Yazuki Michiko) : 14歳の水平線 (14 on the Horizon)
28) よる 住野 (Yoru Sumino): また、同じ夢を見ていた (I had that Dream Again)
29) 智美 畑野 (Hatano Tomomi) : 海の見える街 (Town with View of the Ocean)
30) 理香子 秋吉 (Rikako Akiyoshi): 聖母 (The Holy Mother)
Books read in 2017 - 2016 - 2015 - 2014 - 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009
Good luck with your reading this year - I am constantly baffled when some of your French or Japanese books are not yet translated into a language I can read but I love following your reading.
Ryu Murakami : オーディション (Audition)
Maiko Seo : 天国はまだ遠く (Heaven is still far*)
Hiroko Oyamada : 穴 (The Hole*)
* works not translated into English
Audition brought me back to an author I enjoy, Ryu Murakami, and this book is quite famous in Japan due to its gruesomeness. It's described as psychothriller love story where a documentary maker, Aoyama, decides to go remarry and uses an audition to find his next wife. He is immediately attracted to Asami, a woman he can't stop thinking about, despite everyone around him telling him to be careful 'cause something seems off about the girl. I really enjoyed this. You know what is coming the entire book so it's not the end that is as interesting as much as it is the psychology behind the characters and the sense of voyeurism you have on the situation throughout the book. I was entranced and even forgot I was work at times until someone would ask me a question at which point I would have to raise my head out of the pages. I can't wait to watch the movie now.
The second book was a bit of a palate cleanser as it was an entirely unknown author to me but I was attracted to the title, the cover, the short length and the fact that there was a lot of dialogue in the book so it seemed like it would be an easy read to get through and it certainly was. But surprisingly enough I quite enjoyed the book and it has stuck with me every since. It is about a woman who goes off to an inn in the middle of nowhere to finally end her life as she is unhappy with her life back in the city. She takes a bunch of sleeping pills but wakes up three days letter in her futon having failed at suicide. Instead, she wakes up refreshed and rejuvenated, and decides instead to stay at the inn for a while to reflect no her life. She befriends the young innkeeper, a man who also left the city a while ago to help his aging parents before they passed away. Only the two remain in the inn and at seeing this woman just endlessly roaming around the fields over and over again, the innkeeper decides to take her along on errands, a fishing trip, and a drinking party with other town folk.
I think I enjoyed the book because I saw a lot of my friend in the main character: a good looking woman who enslaves herself to job and despite knowing that her job is preventing her from living life, continues to do so. (And complains about it. A lot. My friend, not the main character.) While the main character doesn't really find the answer to her questions, I applaud her resolution in not allowing herself to stay in this tiny town to live a quiet life in the middle of nowhere and (possibly) starting a relationship with the innkeeper. Instead she's realistic and realizes that such an escape, although easy, would just be another version of her being influenced by her surroundings to lead a life that her surroundings dictate but that she might not actually truly desire herself.
The last book is the one I want to talk about the most but unfortunately I can't remember all the little details I originally wanted to discuss upon immediately finishing the book. This is also something I resolve to change on LT: actually write my thoughts down immediately upon finishing a book instead of months later!
This book was a winner of the Akutagawa Prize, a prize I quite like and follow.
It is about a woman who moves to her husband's hometown from the city due to his job transfer. They end up living in the secondary house behind his parent's home. As her husband spends his days at work, and comes home merely to eat and sleep while spending his waking moments mostly staring at his cellphone, she goes about trying to fill her day as a housewife, wondering if she could let herself be just a housewife instead of going back to work like she did in the city.
One day she is walking along the river when she spots a strange animal and upon deciding to follow it she falls into a large hole in the ground. The hole is taller and larger than her and she has trouble coming out of it but when she finally does she ends up meeting a man who turns out to be the elder brother of her husband!; a brother she never knew her husband had. As the brother enlightens her on certain aspects of the family she has married into, events unfold and we are left questioning if the this man even existed at all.
This book had a wonderful surreal feeling to it that was just heavenly to read and there were so many aspects of Japanese society that were so interestingly written about. There was a scene in the women's bathroom during her last days at work, where she gets into a conversation with her female coworkers about possibly becoming a housewife. Some women are envious of her as they would also like to become housewives, while others say no way, they need to have something for themselves instead of just devoting their lives to a husband and child.
Much is talked about in terms of familial roles and duty: duty to our parents, duty to our husbands, duty to our husband's family; family versus neighbors, large city versus countryside life; loss of tradition, etc.
It was a wonderful little book that throughout I couldn't stop thinking about how much I would like to translate this little gem but unfortunately I have neither the experience nor the connections to go through with such a project. Plus at my deepest, I'm actually quite lazy and could never foresee myself actually finishing the project.
But if I really wanted to talk about the last book, it's because I'm currently reading another (untranslated) Akutagawa prize winner, 終の住処, whose title I'll only be able to translate once I finish the book to know whether is more along the lines of "the last home we live in" or "the last home on the block".
(OMG: minor heart attack as I accidentally pressed the refresh button on this page and though I might have lost everything I've written here. Gasp gasp gasp as I recover.)
This book, although at a short 88 pages, is actually kicking my butt as the reading level is quite a bit above my current level as it has very weird sentence structure, a strange use of words, and an interesting command of language. It takes me a while to parse each sentence but at the end of a paragraph there are moments where I find myself highly rewarded but his skill in writing. But still kicking my butt. In any case this book, although I struggle with asking myself if I should abandon it to read further along in my Japanese life when my Japanese will be even stronger, is quite interesting because it also talks about the wife/husband social structure but this time from a man's point of view. It's almost as if I'm reading from the point of view of the husband from the previous book. In any case, once I do conquer this book I look forward to sharing my thoughts and seeing what I come to finally think of it.
And I just managed to pass the final 30 minutes I needed so that I can now go home. Happy weekend everyone!
Thank you Annie! I baffle myself sometimes with the idea that I'm now (fairly) comfortably reading books in Japanese and I love that I can read things that haven't even been translated yet. I count myself very fortunate to have such access to such a wonderful literary world by reading in so many other languages.
I hope to have more in this thread to keep you interested!
Thank you as well Nana! I'm looking forward to my reading as well this year. I'm feeling quite motivated as long as I can keep social media and Netflix at bay.
The parallel between the book you're currently reading and the last one you talked about seems really interesting. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts once you've fin the current one!
Also, your goal seems completely reachable at the rate that you're at, and even if you don't completely achieve it I'm sure you'll make significant progress!
Audition was a fun thriller read so should serve as a good palate cleanser between other more serious works. As for the Heaven is Still Far book, that one will never get translated. It isn't outstanding enough in prose nor story to get translated even if I managed to get a little bit out of it. But I do have high hopes for The Hole as I'm not the only person (including people in the actual translation industry) who thinks it should get translated and it has a higher chance as it won the Akutagawa Prize, which has seen quite a few of its prize winners translated.
I'm thinking my next in Japanese book I read will be a book that actually has been picked up for translation so that will be fun to introduce you guys as something to look forward to.
Margaret Atwood : The Handmaid's Tale
Robert S. Boynton : The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project
Barbara Demick : Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
Matthew Lewis : The Monk
Ray Bradbury : Fahrenheit 451
Emily St. John Mandel : Station Eleven
So, two books about North Korea as over the years I've discovered a little passion for reading nonfiction about Asian history and war. Atwood is on the list as I've seen her name too much on LT over the years and I really would like to read my first of her books after reading such glowing reviews. I think I'll really like her books. The Monk and its plot has intrigued me for years and I'd like to see where I fall on the love/hate scale. Bradbury is a book that is often required reading for middle school and high school students but it was never included in my syllabus so I've been meaning to read it. And Station Eleven is a book because every once in a while I like to jump on the hype train even if it is several years after the train has passed and often I'm disappointed (as I was with The Vegetarian) although I think I'll like this one.
I've read and liked a lot The Handmaid's Tale and Fahrenheit 451 (but then I'm a sucker for dystopia).
Almost all the others are on my wishlist!
The vegetarian never appealed to me at all, but Human acts I requested (and won) from ER because it did sound appealing and I thought it was brilliant. I steer clear of the hype train too, and I can't say I've had cause to regret it, haha.
>12 lilisin: I'm thinking my next in Japanese book I read will be a book that actually has been picked up for translation so that will be fun to introduce you guys as something to look forward to.
I'll be waiting!
When you read The Monk you *must* follow the tutored read I did of that book with lyzard as my tutor. That was such a fun experience...and you will get *so much more* out of that book by doing so.
Here's the link:
I haven't read a dystopia in a long time so it should be fun to dip back into the genre again.
I was recommended Human Acts as well so I'll probably give that one a go before abandoning the author just yet. But I do follow the translator on Twitter and she often retweets the reactions of others to The Vegetarian and it's just the most melodramatic overreactions as how it "changed their life!". Considering the topic of the book it makes me wonder what is so off about their lives that this book could change. This is where I'll just shrug my shoulders.
Thanks for that link. I'll definitely follow it as I read the book!
Thanks for the validation in my choices!
Just finished my first book of the year and my second Steinbeck. I had only read Of Mice and Men which was only so-so to me, so I was happy to finally get a real feel for the beauty of Steinbeck's writing. I actually started this book three years ago on the plane to Japan -- yes, the one-way ticket when I first moved here. I put it down when I was just too excited with my new lifestyle to bother reading, let alone read about the US, which I had just left. Funny enough I picked this back up for the plane ride back to the States when I went home for the holidays and once I picked it up I couldn't put it back down.
I loved the slowness of the book as we really pitter-pattered ourselves across the US with the Joad family. I really liked Steinbeck alternating the chapters, one a general view of the era and its happenings as a whole, and then following that with the Joad family again. The key word to this book can really be found on the back cover of the book: "human dignity". To see the contrast between the nastiness towards the Okies despite the Okies working hard and showing good to those they love and the strangers (although of course they are only human and they also have their faults and might show similar attitudes if they were to gain position) around them was really wonderful.
One more trivial thing that stayed with me from this book is the fact that pigs can eat babies (no spoiler here for those who haven't read it, the mother of the family is just very careful for this not to happen). I had no idea this could happen and somehow think about it from time to time.
I've been wanting to read this one since it was first getting hyped a few years ago and I wasn't disappointed. It's been a while since I've read a dystopian and such a "simple" read. By simple I mean a book that you can sit down and find yourself a 100 pages in without noticing you've been reading; no rereading passages, no need to reflect on anything; just enjoying the story.
Normally I don't think I would enjoy a book where every person and event and place is linked so conveniently to one another but I actually liked this part of the book quite a bit. There were no coincidences and no tangents and every piece had its place. It made it interesting because you knew where the plot was going to go the entire time so you could just focus on the journey.
The general sense of hope throughout the book was lovely as well. While the characters and their relationship to each other revolve around a single person Arthur, who is hardly a saint of a character and has a tendency to bring out the negative out of most he touches, the characters around him are able to find love and light and a sense of being. Just like the book's plot revolving a negative, the Georgian flu that has caused the majority of the world's population to perish with hours, the characters are able to find love, light and a sense of being.
Interestingly enough there were times where I wanted the book to go darker because when it comes to humanity, it can always go darker, but it all ties together quite remarkably and I quite enjoyed this breath of fresh air in a dystopian world.
And it does seem as if you were hooked and finished this book in almost no time!
Just turned the last page on this short little book that I devoured in just two reading sessions.
This was not one of the books assigned to me in middle or high school so this is my first time reading it. And I think if I had read it back then it wouldn't have been as poignant as it is reading it now, in this current time. I was raised in a fairly prosperous area and so the schools were excellent, the teachers were excellent, the students were excellent. We excelled at everything so I think it would have been difficult to imagine a world so buried in the sand as the one Bradbury paints. As an adult, however, it makes sense. I've seen it, I've experienced it, I'm surrounded by it, and every day with the media screaming at us from the wall, it is forced on me.
Having never read the book before but knowing its reputation I was made to believe the story was about the censure of literature, and while that is included in the book, it's not about that at all. I had imagined a 1984 situation where the government would have been the source of the censure. Instead it was the people. We, the common people, brought this censure of books upon ourselves and that is what I found so interesting, so shocking, and it made so much sense.
It turns out that it is at the request of the common person that the censure of books happens. And not really the censure of books in so much as the censure of knowledge. When knowledge and the hunt for knowledge can lead to so many difference paths that certainly can lead to confusion when you don't know how to wield that knowledge, it certainly makes sense that removing yourself from knowledge and letting yourself be more amused by simple entertainment, sports, and car rides, would provide a greater sense of joy and happiness in your life.
And that was what was so fascinating especially as it is so pervasive in our society now.
- The common people left knowledge behind and pursued ignorance.
(People are going to college but are they really learning? Does everyone just want to be a Youtube star or a reality star?)
- Ignorance led to intolerance of emotion.
(Trigger warnings are emblematic of this. You can't roam the internet without someone complaining about how a lack of a trigger warning has led them "scarred for life!!!!")
- Intolerance of emotion leads to a deeper sinking into nothingness and the void and simple entertainment of a parlor media system.
(Some relate more to people on a television screen or through a smartphone than they do the people right next to them. Can anyone have a conversation anymore without a smartphone being inches away from your fingertips ready to be picked up at any electronic signal.)
- Parlor media systems leads to an easy way to manipulate the public.
(FOX news, CNN, local news, any news show. No matter your leaning, people watch only what agrees with their beliefs and no one is allowed to challenge that. The rest of the world is happening and yet -- from an American point of view -- you would think that football, beer and the Survivor were the most important things in this world.)
And ending with that great image of the phoenix. That we are made to repeat our mistakes continuously but unlike the phoenix, we can remember our past faults and someday, maybe someday, we'll be able to piece all of those past lives together to create a harmonious world together, because through the grim of the story, there is hope at the end.
Really enjoyed this one.
I read it in high-school (or just before that: I was in 3e in the French system) and you're right that reading it as an adult and at the current times probably is more relevant than what it was at the time.
I also did not remember that it was the common people who banned books (as always, I have a very dim memory of it, though I do remember the ending which is very rare), and you're right that it's an important point.
Not so much a review as a sputtering of random thoughts as I was utterly transfixed by this novel. So transfixed that I've pretty much come to a loss of words.
I came into the book not knowing much. I had read reviews on LT and since I tend to skim reviews of books I haven't read to not be spoiled, I only really remembered the impression that the review had on me and certainly continued praise and admiration for Atwood as a writer was also noteworthy. Looking up a brief synopsis I was told it is the story of a world where sterility is in danger and thus the elite class of men, Commanders, can have handmaidens whose sole duty is to provide their body as a vessel for a child. But the story is much more than that, and even more than just the genre of "dystopia".
I say this mostly because of one scene towards the beginning of the book that shocked me almost out of the narrative.
We are being introduced to the handmaiden's world as she has walks us through the town to go on her shopping, where she is, and must be accompanied by another handmaiden as they must always travel in pairs. Not for their safety, but so they can actually act as spies on each other, ready to denounce each other if one does anything against the rules. After having followed the descriptions of her dress and having been introduced to a story that sounds very much like you've been planted in the middle of Salem, Oregon during the Salem witch trials, you are suddenly brought to reality when the two run into an awkward crowd.
An interpreter for the tourists asking to take their picture, and when they say "no", the interpreter tells the tourists "that to stare at them through the lens of a camera is, for them, an experience of violation".
And this was the reality that hit me. This story takes place not on the prairie lands of old America, but present day! This was a new government, an attempt at utopia, that has been placed at a time when Japanese tourists are wearing short skirts, heels and nail polish, and are trying to catch a glimpse at these new geisha of the western world. Are the handmaidens happy? Do they love their commanders? Are they allowed anything from the modern world?
Now, I'm interested in Japanese studies so this tiny little scene made a huge impact on me what with the flipping of orientalism and westernization but obviously this is not really what the book is about.
The rest of the book continues its story as we deal with the handmaiden interacting with her surroundings and trying to decide if she will submit to this new utopia or if she will let herself submit to temptation. And all of this with Atwood's superb writing. I didn't skip a word in this world she created.
Truly a fantastic read.
Glad you liked The Handmaid's Tale, which I liked a lot also.
I had completely forgotten about the tourists, thanks for reminding me of that scene.
I'm not quite sure what to say about this nonfiction work about the lives of 6 North Koreans before and after their defection (but mostly about their lives in North Korea). All I can say is that the book was excellent: excellently presented, thoroughly researched, well written allowing for an overall engrossing read. Of great interest was reading about their ability to believe in their Dear Leader for so long despite the obvious evidence of inefficiency in his government, as well as the sheer tenacity and willpower in finding methods for survival.
It was also an interesting experience to read this after having just read three dystopian books that were practically utopias compared to Kim Il-Sung's and Kim Jong-Il's government.
I highly hope that Barbara Demick will someday write a sequel to this book after a years now that Kim Jong-Un is in power.
In any case, a highly recommended read to anyone who has any interest in the topic as well as highly recommended read for Kim Jong-Un to read himself.
Yes! A roll of good books!
I'm finding that reading books right after you purchase them does wonders to your reading motivation! It's because you were super excited about the books that you purchased them so reading them soon after purchasing means reading the books at the height of your excitement for them. Definitely something to take into consideration.
My only problem is that since I live in Japan buying books in English and French is prohibitively expensive so if I do buy books here I usually only buy when they are on super sale so I'm less picky about what I buy meaning since I can only buy from what is available so there is a greater tendency to allow these books to sit on the TBR pile for a while. Or I buy a bunch of books at once to restock my book pile when I'm either in the US or France which means buying more than I can read at that current moment. Last time I was in France I bought the entirety of Zola's Rougon-Marquart series despite knowing that I definitely won't be reading the entire series one after the other.
But also I must say that since coming to Japan I was forcing myself to NOT read in English to make sure I was properly immersing myself in Japanese and I guess this is showing that I need to let my English-speaking self out sometimes. :)
Oh yay, I'm glad! I look forward to seeing your eventual review!
Bandi : The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea
Masaji Ishikawa : A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea
George Hicks : The Comfort Women: Japan's Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the Second World War
Yoshiaki Yoshimi : Comfort Women
Alexis Dudden : Japan's Colonization of Korea: Discourse and Power
Jun Uchida : Brokers of Empire: Japanese Settler Colonialism in Korea, 1876–1945
And one book slipped in about Nanking because I haven't read a Japanese perspective on the event yet:
Ishikawa Tatsuzo : Soldiers Alive
And of course I can always check out the thorough list of resources that Barbara Demick used to research her book.
Goodness, there is suddenly so much I want to read. I never would have imagined I would become such a history/nonfiction lover. It's interesting becoming an adult, isn't it?
>34 lilisin: Great review of Nothing to Envy. It's going on my wishlist.
>36 lilisin: I'm looking forward to your thoughts on any or all of these books if/when you get to them! I'm not a nonfiction reader myself (and at 40 I think it's sage to say that I have become an adult already, though of course you can evolve at any age :) but I try to read at least a few books each year.
It's funny because every single person I've spoken to about this book has immediately recommended Pachinko to me. I actually already own the book but I left it in the US because it was bigger than I could carry back with me especially considering the mixed reviews I've been hearing about it. I'll be interested to see what you end up thinking about the book since I tend to agree with many of your opinions.
>36 lilisin: Nothing to Envy was such an eye opening book. I still think about some of the things she describes to this day. I wonder now that more North Koreans have access to "limited" smart phones and with the black market for information being what it is, what functional changes are occurring at the most common level in N. Korea?
This was my last book of February and I didn't like it. I've already forgotten I've read it, in fact.
The Mole has created a bunker out of an abandoned mining cave and is on the search for fellow crewmen for his "ark". Upon an outing he decides to invite The Insect Dealer he meets at a mixed brick-a-brack sale. The Insect Dealer is actually a conman and is associated with two other conmen that end up getting swept up into the invitation back to the ark despite The Mole's objection. As the four return to the ark, it is a struggle for The Mole to keep his position of authority as he can't read into these new guests.
As per the typical Abe, the story starts simply and accelerates into a whirlpool of absurd characters and events that surprisingly enough doesn't end up too bad for The Mole. But despite Abe being one of my favorite authors, this book lacked a more intelligent insight into his general theme of individual vs. society that is usually present in his books.
At the end, I was left with a void.
To become senile is terrifying.
This is one of the most remarkable, and strangely disturbing, books I've read in a long time. There are so many things I want to discuss and remark upon that I'm afraid this is going to turn into a huge jumble without any focus, or that, I'll have no words at all and just leave with an uninspiring mess.
Just to have a book not only so deftly describe what it is to be female in Japanese society, but perfectly capture the problems dealing with aging in Japan, and the expectations of women in the household and in society all while instilling in you this most disturbing fear of aging was just fascinating. I was entranced and disturbed, enraged and supportive, hopeful and yet at the same time, desperate to flee Japan.
It's a book I want to thrust into the hands of all my female coworkers to scream don't let yourselves become slaves to men! It's a book I want to force men here to read, pleading them to realize what they are demanding of their wives simply due to "it's our culture". I also want them to see that in life, yes, we have responsibilities, but having responsibilities doesn't have to mean having burdens. Bring joy and laughter into your home, remember life is about living, not working. Call me a typical foreigner for trying to push my western ideals on Japanese culture but I don't care! When you have lunch with your Japanese coworkers who ask you about your childhood and once upon you describe your wonderful childhood jumping into lakes, swimming till the sun sets at 9pm, playing street hockey with the neighborhood kids and catching fireflies at night; once you hear them say with a frown on their face that they never knew a childhood like that could exist; once you hear that you can't help but feel pity and to see that this society they've created for themselves is not welcoming to joy. Ah, yes, typical foreigner. Well pardon me for wanting my friends and coworkers to experience happiness every day. It doesn't have to be my version of happiness but it has to be a version that allows them to experience freedom from their
Because it's not a book about feminism, nor about getting old; it's a book about humanity. We are individuals and we are wives, and mothers, and husbands, and we are young but we get old and every part of our lives should have meaning, should have purpose, and we should be so lucky to have people we love and love us, and support us. Because despite the frustration and disparity in the book it is basically about how we all need a purpose in life. That doesn't necessarily mean a job; it means we need to know that someone needs us, that we serve a purpose in providing love and happiness and shelter and comfort for someone else.
But in this book, until we get to this happy message we are faced with the horrors of the reality of a Japanese household.
Akiko is a typical Japanese wife (with the exception that she is not just a housewife; she has a full time job) who comes home one day to a strange scene: her father-in-law running away from home and her mother-in-law dead of a heart attack in the cottage attached to the house. From that day, Akiko becomes the keeper of her increasingly senile father-in-law without any support from her husband who uses any excuse to retreat from the responsibility towards his father. As her father-in-law becomes increasingly childlike in his mannerisms, no longer able to sleep at night, no longer able to retain his bodily functions, only aware of his desire to eat, Akiko struggles playing the role of wife, mother, and dutiful daughter-in-law. Akiko's husband becomes petrified that he will become senile like his father and Akiko herself starts to question whether it is worth getting old. Is it not best to just die while you still have your senses. What is the point of getting old if this is what you are to become?
And as Akiko's family deals with their first encounter with "getting old" they discover upon talking to neighbors and coworkers that every family seems to have an elderly family member in need of constant care and attention: "It'd probably be best if she died!" "He's such a nuisance I don't know what to do with them." The book gives us hard facts about the state of welfare towards the elderly in Japan as well as the conditions and perceptions of nursing homes.
In the end, there is just too much to this book -- I just want to discuss it more and more; I regret not jotting down notes as I read it. But there is one quote I can leave with:
There's really no solution to this problem. It tears many families apart. The wife simply has to cope as courageously as she can.
How successful will you be in getting your co-workers to read it?
Very unsuccessful. None of them are readers, some might read a crime fiction novel or two per year. I've recommended it to one coworker who is my best friend here and I'll try to get it into her hands despite being one of the aforementioned crime fiction readers.
See for example this article by one of my favourite columnists:
But some stereotypes remain all too true. My partner and I are both journalists and the only way we could be more professionally equal is if we were the same person. And yet I’m still seen by others as the caretaker: I’m the one the doctor calls if something is wrong and I’m the one who other parents contact to make playdates (and by “other parents” I inevitably mean “other working mothers”). If my boys ever skip school, Ferris Bueller-style, I’ll be the one the headmaster calls, even though I work in an office and my partner works from home.
All too true.
Ha, thanks! I had forgotten my Japanese at one point but got it back and my Spanish has been placed on hold before and that also came back (although it's now on hold again) so perhaps there is still a chance for you! Just so you know, I write the titles according to the language I read them in, so these last two Japanese books I actually read in English. So if The Twilight Years sounds interesting I definitely recommend it as it is available in translation! :)
I loved every little bit of this book. It's about the downfall of a revered Spanish monk idolized for his virtue and morality who falls prey to lust and vice. I felt like I was watching the downfall of Frollo, had he had the chance of subduing Esmeralda and taking her as his prize. I was fascinated by the ways Lewis made sniding jeers at religion. Speaking from the point of view of someone who shares a similar suspect of religion, I thought the author captured so magnificently the ego and pride of the monk Ambrosio and applauded his realism when Ambrosio succumbs to his lust and desire. There was no pretense of love and tenderness, just pure lust, pride, and ambition. I was utterly entranced.
I also loved that each character was fleshed out with an interesting backstory that was relevantly included into the story, just like Dumas when he follows the adventures of a servant of a main character; and I loved the sense of adventure and debauchery that was included as if I were rereading Don Quixote.
Even the remark on the trait of one female character being remarkable because she was one to keep silent, "as every woman should remain", made me laugh in agreement with the character making the statement as, despite being a modern woman reading this book, I was so transported into this world that I loved these insights on the thinking of the time period.
Yes, I was just incredibly entranced with this book. Loved it.
I really should start making a note of quotes that I want to keep track of because I have been regretting not being able to refer to them when writing my reviews. I just have been getting so enamored with all the books I've been reading this year (minus the Abe) that I haven't wanted to be interrupted by note-taking. Such a conundrum! What a great reading year so far!
Instead of just jotting down quotes, add them to the book's Common Knowledge data base for quotes here on LT. In that way, you'll be sharing those quotes with LTers for years to come!
I did look at your tutored read and was happy to see your enthusiasm!
However for me it wasn't as useful as I didn't really have any questions during my read and a lot of the things you were asking were quite well annotated in my copy, the Oxford World Classics edition, that I highly recommend for anyone wanting to read The Monk.
I still need to read the end of that thread though 'cause I'd like to at least see everyone's final impressions on the book.
A big book store here in Japan was having a huge book sale so I picked up a few books for cheaper than I'd find at Half-Price Books in the states. So excited at the price I just grabbed big names in the classics that I haven't read yet and know nothing about, including this book. A title I know so very well and yet didn't have any inkling as to what the book was about and that's how I decided to read the book.
And what a shocking little one, this is! Pendrick is lost at sea when he is picked up by another boat, then subsequently dropped off on an island with two other passengers who live there. He arrives on the island, the island of Doctor Moreau, and comes in contact with these strange human-beast creatures created by the doctor. The story continues with him discovering the nature of the creatures and the nature of Doctor Moreau.
The descriptions of the creatures were absolutely terrifying and made me turn the page to escape the horrors of the images created. Although one can easily come up with what is to be the conclusion of the book simply for the reason that no other option exists, I really enjoyed reading through the ensuing chaos. As the novel delved into the question of what separates man from beast, human morality, human responsibility to man, creature, and science, and ultimately the question of playing God, I found myself happy to have read this.
This would have been a great book to read for middle school.
Great review of The Island of Dr Moreau.
Dr. Moreau was my first Wells but I'm now interested in reading more!
Yes, definitely join us!
10) Jules Verne : L'etoile du Sud (The Vanished Diamond)
I didn't read all of Margaret Atwood's introduction to Dr. Moreau, but in it she mentioned that H G Wells was often criticized by Jules Verne for not being faithful to science. So this inspired me to stay in the same time period and same genre of whimsical science and it was exactly what I wanted.
What is most certainly a lesser known book by Verne, L'etoile du Sud is about a French scientist/chemist named Cyprien who has come to the diamond mines in southern Africa for research. During his stay he falls in love with the daughter of his host, Mr. John Watkins, who denies Cyprien's proposal of marriage for not being of enough fortune. Cyprien, disappointed, decides he will win his fortune by mining diamonds but when he fails he is persuaded by his love to go back to what he knows, chemistry. With this new inspiration he starts experimenting in producing artificial diamonds. Once he succeeds in making the rarest, largest, black diamond ever known to mankind, the diamond doesn't seem to want to stay in one place as Mere is taken on a journey across southern Africa full of perils and treachery.
It's much more realistic than his Journey to the Center of the Earth which I read last year, and more compact and to the point which leads to a very fluid storyline. It was such a wonderful book that kept me entertained till the very end. I really loved every bit of it. With Verne, adventure and fun is always guaranteed!
I had never heard of L'étoile du sud, thanks for the review!
A troupe of workers go deep into the mountains to survey a mountain valley that is to be turned into a retaining lake. In the valley however, there is a small village, that until that moment has remained secluded from the modern world. The workers are specifically told not to interfere with the villagers and just to focus on the task at hand. However, the workers are naturally curious as to the comings and goings of the villagers whom they only first see when the reverberations of dynamite causes the roof of their homes to fall apart. As the two groups continue to observe each other as the days pass by, it is a wonder as to what will become of this village once the work is over.
And that is really all the plot one gets from the book as Yoshimura delves on the consequences of society intruding on the natural and on the old. What I love about Yoshimura is his always beautiful lyrical writing that allows you to feel the crispness of the mountain air while you feel the silence that emits from rustling leaves. The beauty of his words paired with the tragedy that is the village's future is haunting and dark and you're left with no option but to say "and such is life, I suppose". Adding to this the us vs. them/inside vs outside element that asks us to debate which side is natural leads to a beautiful moment in the woods and memorable procession out of the mountains.
As always, a real pleasure to read Yoshimura.
(As far as I can tell, this is not available in English.)
Do you have a book that you've never read but it feels like you already have? In fact, no only did it feel like I've already read this book, it felt like I had already felt that I had already read this before. A double deja vu, if you will. The strangest feeling.
In any case, this is the second book I've ready by Miura who wrote the fantastic Lady Gracia about Christianity in the age of samurai. This book was the same story of Christianity in Japan but in a slightly more modern setting. It's the story of Nagano who is a motherless boy raised by his grandmother and father in a standard Shinto/Buddhist Japanese household. Upon the death of his grandmother, however, he discovers that his mother is very much alive and was only thrown out of the the house by his grandmother due to the fact that she was Christian, and would not give up her loyalty to God even to raise her son.
Miura's tale is the coming-of-age story of Nagano as he becomes a man, limbo-ing between the natural religion of Japan, and this other religion that follows a foreign man. His struggles with the concept of death but his devotion to morality leads him to follow a childhood friend to Hokkaido where he vows to marry his friend's crippled sister. But with how far should we stick to our vows being a common theme in this tale, we are left with only one possible ending (that is revealed in the book synopsis on the French version).
A lovely, very easy to read book (mostly dialogue), that led much to ponder about. I still prefer Lady Gracia over this one but still a poignant story and interesting look into the spread of Christianity in Japan.
And with this I finally finish Duras's French Indochina "trilogy".
This semi-autobiographical book is about the life of Duras in Indochina in the form of Suzanne, her brother Joseph, and her mother. It is about the mother who worked 15 years to save money to buy land just to realize that the land becomes flooded at high tide and so crops cannot grow and it is useless. Stuck in their poverty, their only chance to escape this struggle is to marry Suzanne off and hope Joseph finds some meaningful employment. However, all the characters are incredibly miserable and unlikable, who prefer to wallow in misery than swallow their false pride and make an effort to change their situation beyond just waiting for chance.
Even when a certain rich Mr. Jo appears and offers to marry Suzanne, they can't get past his "ugly face" (and the fact that Mr. Jo is probably Chinese although it is not specified in the book) and are suspicious of his intentions, especially after receiving a diamond worth well beyond their means.
It is hard to like the book due to the wretched characters but Duras's lush writing pulls you in as you get a real sense of the real Indochina, not the Indochina that belongs to the rich white colonials, but the real Indochina that belongs to the poor, and the dying. Her observations on the state of the region, colonialism, rich vs. poor, corruption all leads to a book full of passion, even if it's the passion of the miserable.
Very interesting reviews of the Miura and Duras. I've read L'amant and Un barrage contre le Pacifique, and have yet to read the third one.
(skip to the line below to go to the books if you want to skip the following more personal reactions to my trip)
My trip to Hawaii was a strange one in terms of reality vs. expectations, and feelings that started to well up, and a struggle between weather and my cold (I went through an entire box off tissues). I came in from Japan and my parents and one brother flew in from the mainland to meet me. We started off on the big island where it drizzled the entire time leading to an anticlimatic beginning to the sunny, blue sky expectations that come with anyone planning a trip to the state. I realize a little bit more research (I really did no research going into this trip) would have taught me that this is the rainiest island in Hawaii. However, I did get to swim once and then I did my favorite part of the trip: a great 12 mile hike on lava fields to go see fresh glowing lava. I loved seeing the fresh lava but I found I loved even more the patterns created by pooling lava that cooled. Also the sound of the crunch of the hardened lava as you walk on it as if you were crushing corn flakes under your feet. What a fantastic experience and happy to get to do that with my brother. We left the island on Monday, which was fortunate for us as you might all be aware that part of the island is under evacuation from the volcano creating new fissures of lava in the middle of the neighborhood.
The next island was Kauai where my oldest brother joined us with his girlfriend. Here the trip got a little better adventure-wise as having two cars now allowed us to separate from my parents for more adventurous times hiking and swimming under waterfalls. We got two half-days of sun to enjoy the beach but the weather soon turned back into doom and gloom, everything was wet and humid, and we couldn't find anything good to eat at various food joints. We ended up having to give up and buy groceries to just make our own dinners. I also started feeling the weight of my feelings as I watched my brother and his girlfriend having a great flirtatious time, while I continue to wallow in my singleness. Family vacations are great but being 33 and having been single for 5 years now, I couldn't help imagining how fun here and there would be with a significant other.
This feeling continued into our journey into Honolulu when my older brother left and we were left again with my parents driving, and my other brother and I in the back seats, as if were 10 years old again. While I was finally met with warm blue skies, while a lot of driving was done, little adventure was felt, and the excitement of my trip was dropping fast as I actually looked forward going back to Japan to start work again. Continuing with more bad food, then a disappointing drive up the beautiful west shore and seeing beautiful beaches abandoned to the homeless, abandoned cars stolen of all their wheels and parts, the poor and traces of gangsters (not just graffiti but an actual car riddled with bullet holes) and driving past a car on fire in what looked like a case of arson, I just felt saddened and uncomfortable with seeing such beauty mauled by greed and selfishness.
I think in a month I'll remember the trip in a more positive light as I really had some nice, fun moments, but currently I have mixed feelings.
Since my parents were coming from the mainland I asked them to bring some of the unread books I left behind. They brought me:
Jonathan D. Spence : The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution
Fyodor Dostoevsky : The Brothers Karamazov
Upton Sinclair : Oil
John Steinbeck : East of Eden
Natsume Soseki : Kokoro
Kenzaburo Oe : A Personal Matter
Victor Hugo : Bug-Jargal
Then after a visit to the wonderfully done Pearl Harbor memorial I picked up some nonfiction from their gift shop. I was very looking forward to this as I knew there would probably be lots of tempting books. I wasn't disappointed! (And just now noticing two are by the same author.)
Gordon W. Prange : At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor
Gordon W. Prange : God's Samurai: Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor
Lester I. Tenney : My Hitch in Hell: The Bataan Death March
Kazuo Sakamaki : I Attacked Pearl Harbor
And then at the airport book shop I managed to pick up one more book.
Han Kang : Human Acts
I didn't enjoy Han Kang's The Vegetarian but I was told to read this one before giving up on her so I was happy to see it at the airport. Now I need to go read all of these! I've just added 3500 pages to my TBR pile so I've given myself quite the task!
You brought back a great book haul. Some of the books I have here in my house to read (Kokoro, Human Acts, A Personal Matter). I'm not sure when I'll get to them, though.
My older son will be headed back to Tokyo (for his fourth trip) this winter just for fun. He visits friends there and attends Komiket and concerts.
Hawaii is one of the few states in the U.S. that I've never visited. My only volcano climb (on a live volcano) was in Guatemala. I didn't get too close to the crater because it was getting windy, and I didn't want to be blow in! Climbing (or visiting) a volcano is sure a bucket list item for anyone. Glad you got to do it...and got out of there before that volcano became unruly!
East of Eden is one of my favorite books ever. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it!
To make up for lack of reading and to make sure I don't fall behind too much I slipped in three very short novellas that I will only briefly discuss as quite a bit of time has passed since reading these.
14) Colette : Gigi
This is my second book by Colette and I still haven't come to a full conclusion as to how I feel about her but I'm leaning towards uninterested. I fully understand the point of this particular book and why it might have been the talk of the town. I liked the premise: two former concubines grooming their daughter/niece so she can fully manipulate men to gain all the privileges that should bestow a woman, but only for them to end up disappointed when their disciple chooses love over manipulation. I think my main gripe was the length of the book. I thought it could have been fleshed out more and not had such a linear development. Perhaps I was just betrayed by the length of the book I was holding which made me think Gigi should be longer than it should be but actually the book was just Gigi plus three short stores of which I read L'enfant malade (The Sick Child) with which I was also meh about.
15) Henri Troyat : La neige en deuil (The Mountain)
This book on the other hand I quite enjoyed. This is the second Troyat I've read, and this is the most famous of his work. I had loved his storytelling and writing in the first book I had read and was not disappointed. It is the story of Isaie, a mountaineer retired after a series of devastating events has struck his confidence level (and possibly mental(?) as he seems a bit slow perhaps as a result of brain damage?). He has become content with living the life of a berger (sheephearder) and doing various little tasks in the village but he is disturbed by his brother Marcellin's hunt for money at the sacrifice of others around him. When a plane crashes in the mountains and Marcellin suggests they go loot the plane for treasure, Isaie is trapped between his desire to respect the dead, and his desire for brotherly love from Marcellin.
This was such a beautiful book with perhaps themes we've seen before (there are only so many plots about mountaineering possible), but done with lyricism and pity for Isaie.
16) Stefan Zweig : Le voyage dans le passe (Journey into the Past)
A journey into the past, and a journey back to one of my favorite authors. This is not Zweig's most amazing book but any Zweig fan will find delight in delving back into his writing. It's the story of a man who falls in love with the wife of his employer but he is sent on assignment to Mexico right when he has learned that she loves him back. They make a promise to meet up again but 9 years have passed in which a war started and ended, and upon getting back together one wonders if one can relive the past in the present or is it a moment that was meant to fade away. A quick read with a deeper hidden look into if Germany can reclaim it's prewar innocence but not the first Zweig I would recommend.
I've never read anything by Colette and your review doesn't make me wish to hurry up and remedy this. ;)
This book won the famous Akutagawa Prize for new authors in 2016 and is a prize I follow with enthusiasm. I haven't yet been dissappointed with a prize winner I've read and really hope to read more. As two authors are rewarded every year (spring and fall), I have much to catch up on especially at my reading pace. The (current) jury is made of famous names that I have almost all read and are highly cherished in Japan and in translation.
17) 村田 沙耶香 : コンビニ人間
(Sayaka Murata: Convenience Store Woman)
This is the story of Keiko Furukura, who due to her oversimplified way of seeing the world around her realizes she is not like the others. She doesn't fit into society and doesn't understand her role. She ends up spending 18 years working at the same convenience store she joined as a part-timer in college -- and she is perfectly happy with her life there. She has a purpose there, as a working cog in human society, making sure the convenience store is run to perfection. While the employees have come and gone, she is now on store manager number 8, and the items they sell, while they are always the same, the stock has changed over the years, but she remains a constant.
However, as she has hit her mid 30s, while her coworkers praise her consistency and dedication the store, her sister Mami's (her sister's name has two potential readings and the author does not clarify which it is in the book so Mami is just one possible reading) concern for her sister's wellbeing continues to put pressure on Keiko: will Keiko not find another job; can't she be normal; won't she get married; what about children? Keiko is running out of excused to tell people as an excuse for her still working at a part-time job so when a new employee arrives at the store, she thinks she might have found a solution.
I loved so many aspects of the book that was filled with so many details and nuances that we all recognize in Japanese convenience stores, whether that be Lawson, Family Mart, 7-11, etc... And don't think this is the gas station connected 7-11 of the United States. While 7-11 is originally American, in the 80s the stores was in serious debt and was mostly bought by a Japanese investor who improved the 7-11 business model and improved on it drastically back in Japan. And since then Japan bought the rest of the American 7-11.
So while yes, you can buy food and snacks and drinks at a Japanese 7-11, you can also pay your bills, get concert tickets, pick up your delivery packages, eat healthy lunches and all done with remarkable efficiency as the employees cry out "welcome to our store" when they hear the chime of the door opening and thanking you for your purchase upon giving your change back, always over the receipt which they place in the palm of your hand. And it's of no surprise that the details of the convenience store are so perfectly portrayed as the author herself also worked in a convenience store.
But most remarkable is the book's reflections on Japanese society: the different expectations placed on men and women; how being a part of society is much more valuable than being an individual even if being an individual leads to greater happiness; how individuality is squashed early during school; society trumps happiness; age discrimination and the waste of an unused uterus. It's all there and it's all well told through the eyes of Keiko's frank and brunt manner of speaking.
All highly recommended. And it makes me happy to see that early reviews on the English book are already coming in high as the book is conveniently coming out on June 12th! Oh how I would have loved to have translated this one myself!
And on an amusing note, a new 7-11 had just opened up in my neighborhood while reading this so here's a picture.
With the bright blue and pink theme, using the cute onigiri rice ball to lure potential readers in, this cover looks like it belongs to the book "Easy Japanese home cooking recipes for non-Japanese!!".
Beautiful cover with the bright red and the very Japanese fugu blow fish but I'm not sure how it relates to the story of the individual vs Japanese society with a convenience store as the focus.
The Japanese edition I can hardly tell what it is. I can only assume the brick wall with all the weird things (for lack of another word) coming out of it is supposed to reflect the mind of the main character as it battles against the brick wall that is Japanese society but it's just not a very engaging cover and gives you no clue as to the content inside.
Call me very puzzled.
I also really enjoyed the little detail of two of the newer employees at the convenient store having Vietnamese names and the last soon to come in employee being from Myanmar, reflecting the current immigration situation in Japan where many from Southeast Asian are coming to Japan to go to Japanese language schools and are working at convenient stores as part time jobs. This huge influx has created an abundance of articles related to the topic and it's true that every time I walk into a convenience store I'm often greeted by someone with a Chinese, Vietnamese, or Nepalese name. These details might be glossed over by people reading in translation not knowing what these little references are.
Foreign part-timers at Japan’s convenience stores rising
Debate grows over the plight of foreign staff at convenience stores in Japan
How Japan’s service industry is trying to adapt to the worst labor crunch in 25 years
The number of non-Japanese workers at convenience chains has also surged. Around 44,000 foreign nationals, including many students, were working at three major convenience store chains — Seven Eleven Japan Co. Ltd., FamilyMart Co. and Lawson Inc. — as of August, accounting for about 6 percent of all part-timers at their outlets.
It shows that “service sectors are no longer sustainable without help from foreign workers,” said Hisashi Yamada, chief senior economist at Japan Research Institute.
“The problem is that many companies see foreign workers merely as a source of cheap labor,” he added.
Japan is reluctant to accept such people officially as “immigrants.” Unskilled foreign workers in Japan often join the labor force through the back door — for example, as technical intern trainees or foreign students. And some trainees have been forced to work under harsh conditions at extremely low wages.
“Japan’s service sectors tend to think it’s always good to provide their services as cheaply as possible, and they have done so by cutting labor costs,” Yamada said. “But it’s more important to increase prices if they are confident in their services, and give the profits back to their employees.”
Do you feel like it makes more sense with respect to the book content?
BTW Konbini, the French title, is how I was told these stores were called. Is it the Japanese word for them?
I've read a few geisha books now and this was the first time visiting the onsen geisha; unlike the geisha of Kyoto who lean further to the arts side, an onsen geisha is more or less a glorified prostitute but is more interesting than a prostitute as she can also provide a bit of entertainment and flirtation. But Masuda actually doesn't spend so much time in the geisha world and instead writes a lot about her life after leaving, where she is thrust into the real world and poverty.
What makes the book interesting is Masuda herself, rather than the world of geisha, as she had to make it in life despite her illiteracy. Her strength and determination is note-worthy but I was ready to leave the book at an average three stars but bumped it up a half star due to the epilogue which allowed us to revisit Masuda in her 70s.
A good book, a fun perspective, but I wanted more insight on the onsen geisha and their customers.
This was a mesmerizing book about the Guangju Uprising in 1980s South Korea, where democratization protests turned deadly. The book centers on one boy killed during the protests and the people surrounding him as the perspective shifts from character to character as they relate their experiences. Although the descriptions of the brutality are indeed brutal, Han Kang does a wonderful job of getting you to keep turning the page with her skillful writing. This is a skill I had noticed in The Vegetarian but thought was wasted on the plot of that book so I was happy to see it used on this new topic. The book takes you on a journey that ends up in Han Kang's hands as she debates the word "humanity".
An excellent read.
This will not be a book for everyone but I loved it but I don't know too well how to describe it and there are much more brilliant reviews on LT even if they didn't even like the book.
Oe is a writer who likes to look at the natural instincts behind humanity when faced with a difficult situation and his characters never take the gallant moral side. Instead Oe puts you in a situation where you can understand and feel for the miserable main character even if you don't wish to admit it.
Here, Bird is a raspy male in his late twenties who takes the form of a roadkill picking vulture rather than a plump songbird. He is, however, an intellectual of sorts and dreams of spreading his wings and exploring the plains of Africa. However, his plans are put on hold when his wife gives birth to a baby. A former ruffian in his youth who has turned into a meak, alcohol-guzzling, selfish excuse of a man, he has little of the qualities required of a father. Even less so when the doctor tells him the baby has a brain hernia and has very little chance of living, and if it did live, it would likely be a vegetable for the rest of its life.
Frantic at the idea of being encumbered by such a poor example of human life, and followed by encouragement from others around him that believe such a life would be better off dead than have to suffer through life where they would provide no benefit to society, Bird, in agreement with a doctor, decides to let the baby die instead of giving it an operation.
As his baby is left behind being fed a sugar water diet instead of milk, Bird runs of and escapes into the arms of a former college girlfriend and bottle of whiskey as he tries to process his past life, his current life, and his future life.
All bound up in some of the most colorful writing I've read in a long time, I was captivated and couldn't take my eyes off the whisky-smelling, vomit-inducing text before me. Beautifully translated (kudos!) not a word was in excess in this frantic look into the world of a man in fear of his vegetable child. This book wasn't afraid of delving deep into the deepest fears an individual can have as they loose their freedom and must be responsible for the reactions, and a parent who has been given the worst possible fate for their child.
I'm glad you liked Human Acts and were willing to read it, given how little you liked The Vegetarian. I'm looking forward to the latest of her books to be translated, The White Book.
It's looking like The White Book is leaning more towards the style used in The Vegetarian so I'll probably skip that one but I'll of course keep my eye out for any other of her books.
I hope you enjoy it.
Yes, as I mentioned it's very much a love/hate book but it can be respected at least for its writing!
I'm back from my vacation and am 7 hours through my 9 hour work day and since I'm falling asleep I thought I'd update LT to help keep my fingers moving and me awake. Compared to my Christmas vacation and my Hawaii vacation, this vacation to my parents' house in the Alps was fantastic: two weeks of beautiful weather, soaking up the sun, eating all the food I can't get abroad, and hiking up the beautiful mountains. I finished reading Jules Verne's Vingt-mille lieues sous les mers and got 200 pages into At Dawn we Slept which is a very interesting nonfiction about Pearl Harbor but was also very good for taking little naps every 10 pages since it's a very large book. I probably should have chosen different books since I read all day when I'm in France for vacation but I so very much wanted to get through these two tomes.
Of course, since I was in France I ended up taking home some books.
Henri Troyat : Faux-jour
Jean Giono : Un roi sans divertissement
Guy de Maupassant : Le Horla
A.J. Cronin: Le jardinier espagnol
Jules Verne : Le rayon vert
Voltaire : L'Affaire Calas
Alexandre Dumas : Le docteur mystérieux
Alexandre Dumas : Le Chevalier de Maison-Rouge
Stefan Zweig : Destruction d'un cœur
Amélie Nothomb : Riquet à la houppe
Yan Lianke : La Fuite du temps
Yan Lianke : Un chant céleste
Duong Thu Huong : Roman sans titre
Kim Hoon : En beauté
Aki Shimazaki : Azami : L'ombre du chardon
I didn't quite know what to get so I mostly just got books from authors I already know and like, or that I'm familiar with. I'm very much looking forward to reading the Kim Hoon which is a short 96 paged fiction that has the plastic surgery phenomenon in Korea as its topic. The Voltaire was also a surprise buy. My flight out of Geneva was at 3pm and since Voltaire's home is just minutes away from Geneva we decided to spend the morning there as it was just renovated. The outside of the home is indeed very nice but the inside isn't worth a visit at all. But the gift shop obviously had a lot of Voltaire's books and upon thumbing through them I noticed that Voltaire didn't seem as convoluted as my image of him is so I ended up picking one book upon perusal. It looks quite interesting so I hope I'll actually get to it soon.
One more hour till I can go home. So tired. Someone get me a pillow!
I absolutely loved Un roi sans divertissement. It is the only Giono I read and I heard it's quite different from his other books. I don't know if you have read any.
21) Tatsuzo Ishikawa : Soldiers Alive
This book is about the Japanese approach on Nanking and their feelings as they change from ordinary Japanese citizens to soldiers. The book, although it was supposed to be a landmark at the time it was written, however, failed to stimulate me and I thought it fell a bit flat. It also didn't cover the topic that I really wanted to delve into. I did skip the intro before reading the book and this is probably one of the few instances where I'd recommend definitely reading the introduction first as it gives you a good background into telling you why the book was of importance. But at the end of it all, two months later and I remember very little of this book.
22) 金原ひとみ (Kanehara Hitomi) : 蛇にピアス (Snakes and Earrings)
I read this one because I needed something easy to read in Japanese and this also happened to be short so it was perfect. It is the tale of Lui who falls for Ama due to his unconventional punk style and split tongue. As a part of Lui searching for meaning in her life, she decides to get Ama's friend, Shiba, to pierce her tongue as well. Shiba, however, has alternative masochistic intentions for Lui that will lead Lui, Ama, and himself down a treacherous road.
As someone who has seen the movie three times before I even read the book I admit there was always something very attractive about the story. Perhaps because it is a milieu that I'm not familiar with and don't truly understand. Or rather I do understand as I know that we can sometimes get lost in our lives and become attracted to the darker sides of sex and body mutilation as a means of compensation. So perhaps my weariness is due to the age of the characters which made the story never truly feel believable.
In any case, it's a book and story that has consistently grabbed my attention and had me turning the page even if I can't really say why.
23) Jules Verne : Vingt mille lieues sous les mers
A classic upon classics. Other than the obvious title giving me a setting, I spent my life never actually knowing what the book was about. Combine that with the Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea ride at Tokyo Disney Sea which made me think the book was about mystical underwater creatures, I'm glad to have finally met the fearsome Captain Nemo. What a superb adventure this was that tickled my imagination. And kudos to all the translators out there that had to tackle those massive lists of latin names of all the sea creatures. What a monumental feat! As a reader we can graze our eyes past those parts but you, you translators, have to look up each and every one. Inspiring!
24) 乙一：ZOO1 (ZOO)
I have finally read the second volume to this collection of short stories (all combined as one volume for the English translation). Otsuichi writes suspense and horror while also combining some dark humor in his tales full of plot twists and surprises.
Two twins: despite being identical twins Kazari is beloved and spoilt by their mother, while Yoko is beaten and loathed. We follow Yoko in her every day life where even at school her classmates ask how she can be related to the enchanting Kazari. One day however Yoko discovers Kazari doing something that will change their fate forever. This plot twist was predictable as only so much can be done to a story about twins but I did really feel bad for the characters.
This was the best of the bunch and was pure horror. A brother and sister are kidnapped and placed in a room with nothing in the cell but a water waste drain cutting across the room. With no window and a knobless door, there is no possible means of escape from their actual cell. But when they realize the brother is small enough to fit in the drain, he is sent on a reconnaissance mission upon which he discovers that their's is one of 7 rooms. 7 rooms, 6 occupied with other young girls like his sister, and one empty room. When he and his sister figure out why one room is always empty, despair is the only thing that remains. This story was such a huge page turner! Really liked it.
A happy family of three is torn apart by an accident one day. The boy can see his parents but they can't see each other. The boy realizes they both have died in a train accident and have returned as ghosts but with limited ability to interact with their environment. The boy works hard to get them to be able to see and communicate with each other when we realize that there is something else happening behind the scenes. This one was also a bit predictable.
A story I've seen done before but I quite enjoyed it nevertheless. A human creates a woman for the sole task of being there to bury him when he dies. However, the woman slowly develops human emotion and tries to figure out what "death" means. But over time she discovers the meaning of something else, leading to quite the sad ending. The 2nd strongest story in this collection.
This one started off well but I was a bit jilted by the ending.
A man is sent every day a picture of the decaying body of his girlfriend. Who is the killer? Why are they sending him these pictures. Well, he is the killer. He killed his own girlfriend. But if he is the killer, why is he sending himself these photos? And why is he still going out in the street pretending to be looking for the killer? Interesting, but came up a bit short.
I must admit I have only the vaguest of notions about what goes on in 20 000 lieues sous les mers. Is there a giant Kraken involved?
Zoo seems interesting (but I think the touchstone leads to the wrong book).
There is a kraken in the book but that is like saying there are windmills in Don Quixote! The book is actually about the mysterious Captain Nemo, a captain of a secret submarine, angry with the civilized world, longing to spend his life exploring the waters. When he discovers that the man he has captured (our protagonist) is the author of a book on the ocean world that he much respects, he decides to take our protagonist on a 20000 league journey under the sea. But we are not to forget that the protagonist was captured, and not invited, and at some point the adventure will have to end in one way or another. I really loved the book but I can see where some might become weary and tired of the descriptions of ocean life and can see that an abridged version would probably be just as good.
Thank you. I have fixed the touchstone for Zoo to make it link to the English translation. It's a fun volume if you're into reading some creepy stories. However, there is nothing literary about it and the language is very simple.
I still have two more short books to review!
And to answer your question in post 95, I have not read any Giono!
About creepy stories: I guess that I'm into it but I really haven't been exposed to the genre until very recently, so I'm really unsure. But I'm sure I want to explore in this direction! There's an anthology that's very high on my wishlist : The weird: a compendium of strange and dark stories edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. I liked their anthology about time travel so much I really want to read this one.
25) Hoon Kim : En beaute
I definitely misread the blurb to this book because it was not at all what I thought it was going to be about but it was actually a lovely little book that has stayed with me more than I thought it would.
The blurb reads as such:
Alors que son épouse vient de décéder, le patron d'une entreprise de cosmétiques doit gérer, depuis les salons funéraires, l'urgence d'une campagne de lancement publicitaire.
Which translates roughly to "Despite having just lost his wife, the chief of a cosmetics enterprise must work on an advertising campaign from the funeral home".
I thought from the blurb that the protagonist would be this soulless corporate manager who prized his job over his personal life but it was actually an interesting look at a man, emotionally and physically torn down by the degradation of his beloved wife by an aggressive cancer, and the unexpected release he feels upon her death. While at first I thought the descriptions of the withered vagina of his wife, contoured by dry sagging skin as putrid feces dribble down her leg, was a bit unnecessary, the contrast with the young supple skin of the woman he admires at work made sense and you could feel his despair as he tries to remember his wife as the beautiful woman he married. Because as his wife continuously apologizes for her state, you can feel the sadness they feel at having to part from each other in this most dehumanizing state.
A poignant little story worth the hour or so it takes to read.
26) Aki Shimazaki : Azami
Azami is a little book that I would consider "traditional Japanese literature", not in a Yasunari Kawabata praising traditional Japan kind of way, but in its look at a Japanese marriage on the brink of falling apart and the husband starting to look outside his marriage. Our protagonist is a copy editor who finds himself in a sexless marriage after his 2nd child is born. He has become frustrated with his situation but remains faithful to his wife and has no intention of divorcing. However, when he is taken to an entertaining bar by a childhood friend he hasn't seen in ages, he finds that his first childhood love Azami is working there as a hostess. His curiosity to discover why, despite having been such a good student, she has fallen into the entertaining business leads him down a path to infidelity. But in the arms of Azami he finds a resolve to change things between him and his wife.
A good little book to see the life of a very common marriage situation in Japan, followed by a look at the real everyday Japanese culture: not tea ceremonies, not geisha, but the backstreets of sexless Japan.
I'm currently reading a in-Japanese book called 14歳の水平線 which translates to "14 on the Horizon" and I'm really enjoying this book of a coming of age story which takes place, not in Tokyo, not in a big city, but on a little (made-up) island in the Ishigaki Islands area off of Okinawa. It has made me realize that I read primarily books about adults so this book looking at young 14 year old boys in the middle of their start to puberty has been a real refreshing viewpoint. I look forward to sharing this book once I finish reading it.
My reading has most definitely slowed down in the latter half of this year for many reasons. The main reason is that I mostly only read at work so that puts me at only 20 or 30 pages a day possible. I've also switched over to Japanese reading and so that naturally takes a bit more time although the times where I was approaching the end of the book I found myself engrossed and reading up to 80 pages in a day so reading in Japanese -- at least the books I've finished -- is not such a big excuse. However, the other big reason is probably the fact that now I've read a record breaking 30 books in one year (beats my record of 28 and is a huge improvement from 4 years ago when I read only 5 books), I have been slowing down because I've been trying to read more difficult books. So I've started and dropped a lot of Japanese books because although really interesting, the Japanese was just too hard at my current level. I look forward to picking them up again some day and I hope that some day comes sooner rather than too much later. Also I've been trying to read a lot of nonfiction in English but it would seem everything I own is ridiculously academic so I put those down really quickly.
So the past few months has been a slurry of picking up and abandoning multiple books. Am I even going to get to read an entire book in the month of November? Not my looking at my current read where I've only done 20 pages in 4 days and it's 420 pages long. I haven't quite picked up the rhythm with that one so would hope it'll go fast once I get into the story but there are a lot words I can't read in it.
I have, however, since August, read 4 books and all in Japanese and all very interesting in their own way. In fact, I had so much to say about all of them that I kept waiting for the right moment to talk about them to make sure my thoughts were all collected but that has only resulted in me being super late with my thoughts and thus unlikely to be able to properly express my feelings about the books individually.
But the books I read are the following:
27) 椰月 美智子 (Yazuki Michiko) : 14歳の水平線 (14 on the Horizon)
28) よる 住野 (Yoru Sumino): また、同じ夢を見ていた (I had that Dream Again)
29) 智美 畑野 (Hatano Tomomi) : 海の見える街 (Town with View of the Ocean)
30) 理香子 秋吉 (Rikako Akiyoshi): 聖母 (The Holy Mother)
And with only 10 minutes left in my lunch break I'm going to have to stop here so I'll try to use my lunch break tomorrow to reflect my thoughts on these books.
So now I'd like to finally jot down my thoughts on these books I read. I'm happy to say that I enjoyed all of these and I enjoyed them even more because I read them at the perfect time when the season I read the book matched the season in the book. Love with things match up like this as it just adds to the immersion. My thoughts will be disjointed and not very persuasive or rather I should say I won't be able to do justice to the books that deserve it, as it has been a while since I've read these but as I doubt they'll get translated anyway, that's okay I suppose.
27) 椰月 美智子 (Yazuki Michiko) : 14歳の水平線 (14 on the Horizon)
I read this one back in August and finished it in early September, right at the end of all the wonderful summer activities Japan has to offer, and before the typhoon season hits. This was my favorite of the four books.
It is the perfect coming of age novel -- a genre I don't typically read -- following 14 year old Kanata. Kanata's grades have been slipping, he quit the soccer club, and he's been acting up, all without his father, Yukito, noticing. So after a meeting with his teacher, Yukito decides that the two will spend the summer vacation back in Yukito's hometown on an (not-real) island within the Ishigaki Islands (which are inbetween Okinawa and Taiwan).
Kanata joins a four day camp on the island along with 7 other boys. The boys immediately don't get along so they split up into two groups: the soccer club boys, and the outcasts, which Kanata belongs to. As the boys explore the island, Kanata starts to loosen up as he discovers his father's past, the island's past and its superstitions, and starts to embrace his future. As the book also jumps into Yukito's past, we are brought to an enchanting book about the similarities between father and son and how the island has grown with its inhabitants.
I was so engrossed in this book and found it a magical coming-of-age story. I loved seeing the interaction within the boys, I loved their exploration of the island and the respect given to it, while also allowing the boys to enjoy childhood as every kid should. The exploration into Yukito's past was also touching and heart-breaking and I loved how this introspection leads him to question what kind of father he wants to be to his son.
I've been recommending this book to all my Japanese-reading friends since.
28) よる 住野 (Yoru Sumino): また、同じ夢を見ていた (I had that Dream Again)
This book I thought I wouldn't enjoy when I quickly discovered the main character was a young precocious child. Not my favorite protagonist in a book and I admit the beginning had me wonder if I would continue on but the easy read made me push through and it ended up being a delightful little book even if not one I would go back to over and over again.
The child is certainly precocious, wise for her age, typically withdrawn from her classmates, feels like she must always give her opinion because it's right, and doesn't quite understand why her classmates and others don't understand this cleverness of hers. Followed by her black cat with its clipped tail, every day she walks along the embankments of the river and goes to visit the most important people in her life.
First is Ms. Hoar whom the child first met on a rainy day when she met her black cat. Frightened for the cat, she had looked for the first available person. Looking at the handwritten nameplate on the door and thinking Ms. Hoar was some foreign name but actually it was an attack by someone calling the woman a whore, the child came to meet Ms. Hoar. The child comes to love Ms. Hoar for her ability to talk about books and her ability to play games and generally respects the woman.
The second person is an old lady who lives alone on a hill. The woman always feeds her cookies and is also able to talk to her about her favorite books. The child also comes to love a painting in the old lady's room and feels great respect for this awe-inspiring woman.
Then one day the old lady isn't home so the child takes a different path and meets a teenager cutting herself on the top of an abandoned house. The child befriends the teenager and comes to great respect the teenager for her ability to write books and her intelligence.
But the book is enriched with magical realism and we come to realize that these favorite people of the child are all representations of herself, if she continues the path she's on - vanity, ignorance, and lack of patience. The child respects each of these women because they all have the same characteristics of herself, but she can't see the darkness and sadness that lurks behind them.
So the story of a precocious child became a story of self-realization and the realization of what empathy means. It also dealt with the heavy topic of what happiness means; what it truly means to be content in life. And that is what this child has to learn before it's too late.
A lovely book.
End of my lunch break. Will continue again next time to describe the last two books!
Pearl S. Buck : The Good Earth
Naomi Alderman : The Power
Tarjei Vesaas : The Ice Palace
Sheila Heti : Motherhood: A Novel
Laurie Foos : The Blue Girl
Larry McMurtry : Lonesome Dove
Yoko Tawada : The Emissary
Yoko Tawada : The Last Children of Tokyo
Tara Westover : Educated: A Memoir
Meghan MacLean Weir : The Book of Essie
Donnie Eichar : Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident
I think I have a good variety here and unintentionally I've managed to choose mostly female writers which is interesting. The only ones I'm unsure of getting now is Educated and The Book of Essie as I really want to read them but they're still in hardback edition which is inconvenient as those take up too much room in bookshelves and are unnecessarily heavy. I might wait to see what those look like in the bookshops to see how unwieldy they are. Any other recommendations people would like to pass along?
(And I still plan on reviewing the two other Japanese books I haven't reviewed yet. That is coming I promise.)