It is telling that I didn't realize Oryx and Crake was a trilogy and was upset to discover its open ending...even though two of my friends (including the book group member who nominated this book) had told me it was the first in a trilogy. I think I heard "science fiction," and I just blocked out the rest. :) But it's the kind of science fiction I'm drawn to: dystopia.
In fact, Margaret Atwood prefers to call this "speculative fiction" rather than science fiction, because science fiction involves things that are unlikely to happen or impossible, while speculative fiction is about things that could actually happen or were possible on earth...not about outer space. And that is exactly why this book is so frightening.
Oryx and Crake are actually minor characters in this book...the protagonist is Jimmy, or Snowman, and much of it takes place after most of humanity has been decimated by a plague brought on by humans' obsession with genetically engineering everything that moves (and doesn't). Cloning has gone wild, as has the pharmaceutical industry. Corporations run the world, and the powerless live in the "Pleeblands," like the "districts" in The Hunger Games. Crake has invented a new breed of (sort of) humans, who are like an open book--they are innocent and dull, and they lack drama or sexual longing. In short, they are incredibly boring, and they are all Snowman has for company in the end of the world.
The characters are deeply flawed and did not experience childhood love, and as we discussed at my book group meeting, brilliant scientist Crake and ethereal, distant Oryx are not particularly likeable or easy to understand. Jimmy/Snowman's and Crake's love for Oryx, whom they first encounter while watching kiddie porn (yes!), reminded me of the shallow foreign men who went to Japan to meet women, and often stayed there...they sought the type of woman who adored them unquestioningly, were more submissive, and didn't question their actions or words. I have a difficult time understanding men who fall for these types of women, like Jimmy and Crake. And I found it all too disturbing and depressing that kiddie porn and sexual trafficking would exist into the future. But as we know, desperate times call for desperate measures...and sex is a commodity.
While I was toward the end of this novel, I read about a timely, depressing NASA-funded study that predicts the collapse of civilization in a few decades and warns about the depletion of the world's resources and society dividing into the elite and commoners (all of which are essential elements of this book). (Now NASA is trying to distance itself from this study, probably because the agency doesn't want to be accused of being fatalistic, even though Margaret Atwood doesn't mind that.)
I've been reading Margaret Atwood for 30 years, and she is an exceptional writer. I've heard that the books only get better as they progress...and now that she's gotten me hooked, I will be reading the rest of the trilogy. But I might have to recover from this one first. It makes me truly worried for my children and grandchildren, because I can see these things happening so easily.(less)
I LOVED this book...in fact, it's my favorite so far in 2014. I would not have been drawn to the title, but it was my book group selection for the month.
The story is about "Verity," a female British spy, is captured in Nazi-occupied France, and her best friend Maddie, the pilot who flew her into France. The Nazis torture and interrogate Verity (or "Queenie"), and she writes about her friendship with Maddie and their training before and during the war. Slowly, the reader learns the pieces of her story...at least, what she is telling the Nazis.
I don't want to say much more about the book for fear of giving any details away. It did take me a bit of time to get into (I'm not terribly interested in flying airplanes--so the beginning bored me a bit at times), but it is SO WORTH PERSEVERING.
I finished it in the middle of the night before book group...and I found myself crying in the living room at 5:00 a.m. The book is not only beautifully written, but it's cleverly crafted. It's one of the few books I've read that makes me want to go right back and reread it now that I know the ending...it will stick with me for a long time.
I think next time I will listen to it so I can hear the English and Scottish accents. It's one of the few books I've read that has the word "gormless" in it (one of my English husband's favorite words, which I'd never heard before I met him).
Some have called it as a "love letter to female friendship," which is an excellent way to describe it. I do think it's one of the most beautiful homages to friendship I've ever read. This is one of my favorite lines from the book:
"It's like being in love, discovering your best friend."(less)
Sujata Massey, author of the wonderful The Sleeping Dictionary and the Rei Shimura series, has written a novella about the relationship between an Ind...moreSujata Massey, author of the wonderful The Sleeping Dictionary and the Rei Shimura series, has written a novella about the relationship between an Indian ayah and the English children under her care.
The role of a child care taker is a complicated one. During a few summers in college, I worked as a nanny taking care of my two cousins in Seattle. I also babysat extensively during high school and formed strong attachments to many of my charges. When I left my two cousins at aged 2 and 4 to go to Japan, I sobbed because I knew how much I would miss them. I had grown very attached to both of them.
My situation was different than Menakshi, who was forced to drop out of school and take up a job as an ayah (nanny) because of her father's death and her family's poverty. Although she had great potential, she had to give up her own dreams to help her family.
Even though the children in her care were privileged and spoiled, she becomes attached t to them and they to her. What the children (especially middle child, Julian) don't understand is the complication in this attachment. The children's mother, Marjorie, is snobbish and shallow, and disengaged from her children's lives and inner thoughts. She doesn't want to spend much time with her children, but she also feels resentful because of their attachment to Menakshi, their ayah. The children don't understand that Menakshi is paid to be with them: it's not her choice, and she has her own life.
I always enjoy reading stories that take place in locations where I've lived or visited. Menakshi's story starts and ends in Georgetown, Penang in Malaysia, a place I visited in 1988. Sujata Massey beautifully depicts the life of an Indian ayah and the complicated relationships that people in the employ of their colonial employers had to deal with--and in fact, still deal with in many countries.
Even though Menakshi endures great hardships in her life, she finds love in these pages and a more hopeful future than working as an unappreciated ayah. So even though her life improves, she feels some sense of loss as she misses these English children who came to love her.
I'm looking forward to Sujata Massey's next full-size novel. I prefer novels to short stories and novellas, although this was a fun one to read!(less)
Or as I call it, A Game of Endless Unlikable Characters.
My husband DEVOURS these books. When he's immersed in one of them, he doesn't pay attention t...moreOr as I call it, A Game of Endless Unlikable Characters.
My husband DEVOURS these books. When he's immersed in one of them, he doesn't pay attention to much else. He loves them.
Then my 17-year-old son, who used to be such a great reader but in recent years has been deterred by electronics, also read the whole book and is now watching the show.
Plus one of my close friends, who doesn't usually go for fantasy, became obsessed with the show and the books, and she told me that I should give them a try.
So I gave Book 1 a try, and I will not be reading any more of the series. Remember, I finished Book 1 of the Lord of the Rings series and gave up during The Two Towers. Fantasy is not my thing, unless it's something fun like Harry Potter. I can take the violence, and I have read many dystopian sci-fi novels. It's just that this didn't hold my interest.
I should have known better when in the beginning, every single chapter was told from the perspective of a different character. I have a 50-page rule (ala Nancy Pearl). I was about to give up, but then on Page 49, we returned to a character that I had seen before. So I plowed on, thinking I might become more engaged.
When I took a break at around Page 625 to read The Chaperone and enjoyed it much more, I should have known better.
I also should have considered that my husband never thought I would like these books.
But I was determined to finish the book, much like I felt that I needed to read Twilight. It's such a part of our popular culture, and I wanted to know why everyone seems besotted with it.
So here are the 10 reasons I wasn't crazy about A Game of Thrones:
1. Far too many characters! I know Martin provides lists at the end of the book, but honestly, why did there have to be so many? I lost track. Many of the characters are mentioned in passing only once or twice. Why include them at all?
2. Lack of character development Very few of the multitude of characters are fleshed out fully. Even the primary characters...we get very little back story on how they became who they are, with only a few exceptions.
3. Lack of sympathetic characters The only person I cared about in this book was Arya Stark. That's it. I didn't care what happened to anyone else. Daenerys was interesting, but she was brutal too. Ned was better than most of them, but even he was not loyal to his wife and had a dark past. Nearly everyone in this book lacks morals, compassion, or kindness. These people are unlikable!
4. Rape and brutal treatment of women I had heard that Game of Thrones had lots of sex, but I didn't expect the huge amount of rape and horrific treatment of women...constant child bride rape, incest, gang rape, and forced prostitution. Is this typical of fantasy? No thank you. I'd heard that this series has more strong female characters than other fantasy books, but even those strong female characters are often powerless in such a patriarchal, misogynist culture.
5. Too much detail Martin goes way into detail about political posturing, history of various families, and geography, while sacrificing real, valuable information. And then there's the endless, repeated titles of royalty, such as "King Joffrey, the First of His Name, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm," blah, blah, blah.
6. Way too long I am not scared of long books. In fact, I loved Vikram Seth's 1,500-page long A Suitable Boy. But you've got to keep me interested to make me feel like the length is worth it. This book could have used a good editor. (See #1 and 5.)
7. Endless plots From what I understand about this series, each book does not end...it just goes on and on into more books. I need closure.
8. Lack of geographic perspective I needed a map, like Tolkien provided. I am a visual person. Where in the heck is "The Neck"? How does the wall divide the kingdom? So much of this book and series is about place and kingdoms. I didn't know where the heck anything was, except sometimes "north" or "south."
9. Does not compel me to read any more I'm not interested in seeing where this series continues.
10. Very sad outlook on humanity J.R.R. Tolkien wrote wonderful villains and complicated characters and had redemption in his books...the friendship in the fellowship of the ring, the rip-roaring fun in the Shire, the wisdom of Gandalf, the great adventure, the beautiful Elfen lands...so many more things to like about that series, even though those books were not my cup of tea either. As one reviewer wrote, "I have bums and alcoholic friends that blaze like Gandalf the White compared to most of Martin's characters." That reviewer went on to say "It is a story mired in filth and obscenity and shines the light on the worst conditions of human experience and offers them up as plot lines, dialogue and personal, social and political interactions."
As I mentioned above, I've read my share of dystopian literature (The Hunger Games series, The Road, A Handmaid's Tale, etc.), but even those types of books have some redemption in them, usually in the relationships between the characters. If I'm going to read a dark, dark book, I need to get some satisfaction out of it.
My apologies to the Game of Thrones lovers! (less)
I love novels like this, when I learn about historical figures through fictionalized accounts of their lives. The Invention of Wings is based on the lives of Sarah and Angelina Grimke, abolitionists and feminists long before women's suffrage or the Emancipation Proclamation.
Sue Monk Kidd quotes Professor Julius Lester in her notes at the end of the novel, "History is not just facts and events. History is also a pain in the heart and we repeat history until we are able to make another's pain in the heart our own." Kidd expands beyond the facts and events to put flesh on the stories of four women.
The novel begins in the early 1800s, with Sarah Grimke turning 11 and her mother "giving" her ownership of her very own slave, Hetty, or Handful. From the beginning, Sarah is deeply uncomfortable with her family's legacy as slave owners, and she also chafes against her role as a girl and woman. All she wants in life is to study and become a lawyer and a judge, but her family throws cold water on her dreams. As a female, all she could hope to become is a wife and mother. She rebels in her own way, by teaching Handful to read and write.
The novel weaves the story of Sarah with that of Handful and her mother Charlotte. Both Handful and Charlotte are highly talented seamstresses, spunky and spirited and seeking a way out of their own lives. They are the most fascinating characters in this novel, and they are mostly made up. (Sarah's mother did "give" her a slave when she turned 11, and Sarah wanted no part of it, but that's about all that is known about the slave girl.)
While Sarah struggles to put a voice to her passionate thoughts, Handful and Charlotte have no problem expressing what's on their mind. They weave their own pains and desires in their quilts and pass on their family history through stories. They take chances for the sake of freedom, even if it might cost them their own lives.
Angelina is the sister with the gumption--probably because she'd been mostly raised by Sarah--but Sarah, too, eventually finds her own voice. I enjoyed reading about the sisters speaking out against slavery, even though their family and their own city (Charleston, South Carolina) were horrified by their actions. The schism in the early abolitionist movement between abolition and women's rights reminded me of the division in the 1960s, when women who fought for civil rights were not given their own voice in the movement.
Sarah, Angelina, Handful, and Charlotte are all trying to find their own wings and escape the prisons of their lives. Handful's and Charlotte's restraints were real, while Sarah and Angelina were bound by the cultural expectations of their time.
This novel is not an easy read--Kidd depicted the horrors of slavery without flinching. I was grateful for Kidd's notes at the end, and also for the Internet, so I could learn more about the Grimkes when I was done reading the book. Sarah and Angelina Grimke were pioneers of their time, standing up for what they believed was right, even if their voices shook.(less)
Drawn to this book because of its cover and title, I found it to be a light middle-grade read. Tara Feinstein is studying for her Bat Mitzvah while gr...moreDrawn to this book because of its cover and title, I found it to be a light middle-grade read. Tara Feinstein is studying for her Bat Mitzvah while grappling with her combined Indian-Jewish heritage.
From what my middle grade novelist husband tells me, it's unusual to have an intact, happily married set of parents in these types of books, as Tara does. Her parents are caring, engaged, and funny, and she worries a lot about disappointing them. She also has a supportive extended family, both Indian and Jewish. Furthermore, her rabbi is great--so it's a positive depiction of religion as well.
Her life is full of friendship drama, especially as she comes to realize that her best friend, Ben-o, has a crush on her.
Ultimately, Tara discovers that doubt does not mean a loss of faith, and she finds a way to happily marry both cultures in her Bat Mitzvah.
As a long-time Sujata Massey fan, I was anxious to get my hands on her latest novel, and it did not disappoint!!
Sujata Massey was born in England to parents from India and Germany (just like my friend Nandita), and she grew up mostly in Minnesota. After working as a reporter, she spent several years in Japan where she taught, studied, and began writing her first novel, The Salaryman's Wife. That first novel grew into a detective series with smart, industrious, and savvy Rei Shimura, a Japanese-American antiques dealer who lives in Japan and solves mysteries on the side. I read every single one of the Rei Shimura novels as soon as they came out and have widely recommended them to friends. In fact, the Rei Shimura series is the only detective series I've devoured in its entirety outside of the VI Warshawski series by Sara Paretsky (my first introduction to detective novels). I'm not naturally drawn to mysteries, so I'm highly selective. Authors (e.g., Sue Grafton and Patricia Cornwell) lose my attention if their books are not well written or if I get tired of the main character. Of course, Rei Shimura held my attention completely because of the series' setting in Japan (mostly). Loved them!
So onto The Sleeping Dictionary. This book took six years for Massey to research and write, because it involved so much in-depth research into Indian history, culture, and language. Massey's family comes from Calcutta (now Kolkata) and she spent time there as a child (read her wonderful diary entries here!), so it was a natural choice for setting this novel.
It's the story of Pom, who lives with her family in a small village by the sea. Her family is very poor, but she feels secure and well loved until a tidal wave wipes out her whole village and her family. Completely alone and helpless in 1930s India, Pom is a survivor. She ends up at a British boarding school, where she is renamed as Sarah and begins working as a maid. She learns how to read and write while operating the fan in a classroom. When she befriends a wealthier Indian girl, Bidushi, who she had known as a child, she comes to discover her own intelligence and talents. Although she hopes to become Bidushi's ayah and always stay together, these dreams are soon dashed by tragedy.
Still very young, she next finds herself in the city of Kharagpur, lured into prostitution at a high-class brothel. As an Indian girl without a family, she has few options for survival. She desperately tries to cling to her dignity in the midst of her despair at being forced to sell her body, and she continues to nurture dreams of becoming a teacher. (The title of the book comes from the term for young Indian women who slept with British men and taught them the ways and language of India.)
I hesitate to give away too much of the plot and adventure in the novel, but I will say that she moves to Calcutta where she renames herself as Kamala, begins to work for an English man, and gets involved in the Indian independence movement.
So here are some of the reasons why I loved this book:
--Pom/Sarah/Kamala is a strong, spunky Indian female, and I found myself rooting for her immediately and throughout her story. Faced with desperately difficult choices in her life, she does the best she can with what is given to her. While she is certainly a victim many times in her life, she has no privilege to wallow in misery and self-pity, but time after time she finds ways to rise above her difficult circumstances.
--I could practically taste Calcutta through Massey's detailed descriptions of the city. I've traveled only in the north of India (we concentrated our time there in Delhi, Agra, and Rajasthan), but I found myself intrigued by the City of Palaces and sad to read about its devastation during the pre-Independence riots and violence.
--I have read great quantities of Indian fiction (and a bit of nonfiction, too), but this book taught me things I did not know...for example, about the massive famine in Bengal caused by the British Empire hoarding India's rice (millions died), India's amazing female freedom fighters and independence activists, Japan bombing India during the war, some members of the Indian resistance movement joining the Japanese led by Subhash Chandra Bose, to name a few...it also gives the Anglo-Indian perspective on what was happening during that time.
--Massey develops multidimensional characters, including Hindus, Muslims, and British, and even some of the women who are sucked into prostitution. Kamala herself makes some unfortunate decisions and lies to people because she feels she has no choice. She's a complex character who is far from perfect. Both Kamala and Simon evolve through the story. There's even a Scottish clergyman who is open minded, fair, and compassionate...imagine that!
--As a consummate book lover, I enjoyed the sheer love of books in this novel. From the moment "Sarah" borrows books from a kind teacher at the British boarding school and her gradual collection of the great masters, to Kamala landing a wonderful job as a librarian for Mr. Lewes...books offer her an escape from the great losses in her life.
I was excited to learn that this book is the first in a planned trilogy, AND that Rei Shimura will be making a reappearance! The Sleeping Dictionary will be near the top of my "Top Reads of 2013" list! If you enjoy reading historical fiction or books about India, the colonial era, or strong female characters, give it a try! (less)
My book group chose this book for October, mostly based on the fact that two members had read De Rosnay's earlier bestselling book, Sarah's Key.
It's the story of Rose Bazelet, a widow who lives in an old house in Paris in the 1860s, an era when hundreds of houses are being demolished to rebuild Paris. She refuses to leave her home, and the book consists of her reminiscences of her life in the house.
I found Rose to be a bit difficult to like, especially because of her neglect and dislike of her daughter, who clearly needed more love. She poured all of her love and affection into her son instead. And to stay in a house and put others' lives at risk all for the sake of principle? I found her to be reckless at best.
It was somewhat interesting to learn about this era in Paris' history, but I'm not sure I would recommend this book to anyone.(less)
I loved this book, and it was especially delightful to finish such a fun, well-written, and entertaining book on the evening of a wonderful birthday.
One reviewer calls this book "Babette's Feast meets Pirates of the Caribbean." If you like historical fiction, cooking, eating, or pirates, you'll enjoy it too.
England, 1819...after pirate captain "Mad Hannah Mabbott" kills Lord Ramsey (big wig of the Pendleton Trading Company, new name for the East India Trading Company), she kidnaps Owen Wedgwood, Ramsey's talented chef. She informs him that he can stay alive if he cooks a sumptuous dinner for her every Sunday evening.
“Dear Mr. Wedgwood,
Welcome to the Flying Rose. I hope you have settled to sea comfortably. Your lot may improve in direct proportion to your willingness. I do look forward to more of your fare. Let me lay out my proposal: You will, of a Sunday, cook for me, and me alone, the finest supper. You will neither repeat a dish nor serve foods that are in the slightest degree mundane. In return I will continue to keep you alive and well, and we may discuss an improvement of your quarters after a time. Should you balk in any fashion you will find yourself swimming home, whole or in pieces, depending upon the severity of my disappointment. How does this strike you?
In anticipation, Capt. Hannah Mabbot”
Wedgwood, a widower, is a bit of a milksop at first...but he makes delectable food out of the crudest ingredients. Meanwhile, Abbot is on the hunt for the elusive Brass Fox, while she's on the run from the British Navy and a Frenchman named Larouche and trying to rout out the saboteur on her ship. Wedgwood makes a few escape attempts but eventually he comes to appreciate the enormous Mr. Apples, fierce Chinese twins, and deaf-mute Joshua, who he teaches to cook and read. Author Eli Brown will make you want to cook and eat, and you will appreciate the fresh and plentiful ingredients in your kitchen and wish you could cook like Wedgwood.
“Some foods are so comforting, so nourishing of body and soul, that to eat them is to be home again after a long journey. To eat such a meal is to remember that, though the world is full of knives and storms, the body is built for kindness. The angels, who know no hunger, have never been as satisfied.”
He discovers the root of Abbot's passions for justice and becomes taken with her love for fine food, quick wit, and extreme bravery. This book sent me to the Internet to look up the opium trade. It also brought back memories of our two visits to Macau, as I read about the pirate era on that island. A wild pirate adventure, love story, and culinary tale all rolled into one!(less)
Unless you've been sleeping under a rock, you'll know that this is the latest book, a debut mystery, by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym of Robert Gal...moreUnless you've been sleeping under a rock, you'll know that this is the latest book, a debut mystery, by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. Its protagonist is Cormoran Strike, a private investigator who lost his leg while a soldier in Afghanistan. A bit of a tragic figure, he has just broken up with his manipulative, cruel, but beautiful girlfriend. He owes tons of money and is living in his office.
Cormoran is hired to figure out whether supermodel Lula Landry really killed herself, or if she was murdered. He, along with his temporary secretary Robin, dabble in the world of fashion designers, druggies, and movie producers, most wealthy and competitive. Editor David Shelley apparently first read the novel without knowing of its true author and expressed surprise that a woman had written the novel...she writes from a man's (and a soldier's) perspective that well.
I was reading out examples of classically British English to my British husband all through this book. So glad they didn't try to edit it to suit American audiences. I suspect that some American readers might not understand every single word or phrase without looking things up...just fine with me. It's truly a London novel, too.(less)
This book took a bit of time for me to grow into, but I liked it in the end. It's about 16-year-old Imogen, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, who is a witn...moreThis book took a bit of time for me to grow into, but I liked it in the end. It's about 16-year-old Imogen, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, who is a witness to an armed robbery and shooting in a diner. She feels completely responsible when the gunman is shot and killed by the police.
It took awhile before Skilton revealed why Imogen blamed herself for this violent man's death...and until then I had a hard time understanding why she was reacting the way she was. Yes, she had a black belt...but that's no match for a gun.
She becomes self-destructive and nothing really moves her except for Ricky, the boy who was also there in the diner that night. She has an intact, loving family, but has some issues there as well. Imogen is just flat out angry at life, and after the diner incident occurs, this feeling intensifies.
When Imogen finds herself attracted to Ricky, she enters a huge internal battle about love and strength. Can someone love you and want to protect you? Can she allow herself to feel vulnerable? Can Ricky allow Imogen to be just as strong as he is?
This was the second young adult book I read during my surgery recovery, and it was worth the effort. Excellent first novel by Skilton, also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.(less)
As I'm recovering from another ear surgery, I decided to try out some young adult books in the hopes that they would retain my attention better. Pain...moreAs I'm recovering from another ear surgery, I decided to try out some young adult books in the hopes that they would retain my attention better. Pain meds combined with pain and fatigue after surgery tend to make it difficult for me to spend much time reading.
I picked up The Chosen One by pulling it off the shelf at the library and reading the book jacket. It's the story of Kyra, who is the second-oldest daughter of her father, who has three wives. She is a member of The Chosen Ones, a fundamentalist Mormon, polygamist compound, which is tightly run by the dictator, "Prophet" Childs.
The prophet has decreed that Kyra, at age 13, will marry her Uncle Hyrum, older brother to her own father (in his 60s, with three wives), in four weeks. Although her father is against it, the family has no choice. He's too scared to resist. The prophet rules the compound with an iron, violent hand, forbidding anyone from reading or disobeying his orders. He threatens Kyra's father that he will take his entire family away from him if he cannot get Kyra to marry Uncle Hyrum. I couldn't help but think of the slimy, evil prophet in the polygamous compound in the TV show "Big Love."
Kyra has her own love interest: a boy her own age, named Joshua, who wants to marry Kyra. She also sneaks away to take books out from the bookmobile that goes past the compound each week. Kyra must decide if she will leave her own family forever to be free. Either choice has enormously heavy consequences, not just for her but for the people who help her.(less)
Wow--this is the 11th book I've read by Jodi Picoult. Some are definitely better than others. The only two I've given five stars to have been Keeping...moreWow--this is the 11th book I've read by Jodi Picoult. Some are definitely better than others. The only two I've given five stars to have been Keeping Faith and Sing You Home. This one I would put in the "average" category.
I like Picoult's books because she always poses ethical dilemmas and creates complex characters, many of whom have deep flaws but good intentions. They often have courtroom drama and surprising twists at the end.
The main character, Delia Hopkins, raised by her widowed father in New England, is now a mother and is engaged to her daughter's father, Andrew. Then she discovers that she was kidnapped by her own father when she was just four...and her mother is still alive. Andrew is an alcoholic and just happens to also be a lawyer, so she asks him to represent her father, even though he doesn't have much experience with trials...and is not licensed to practice in Arizona, where the case goes to court.
As usual, Picoult's books are highly readable and accessible...but this one will not stand out in my memory. The plot seemed to meander. The characters frustrated me at times. The "surprise" wasn't really much of a surprise. I found it hard to understand why Delia made the decisions she did, and I didn't like what happened to the most intriguing character in the book. The prison scenes were awful and implausible...her dad is supposed to be this great guy, yet he helps manufacture meth and shoots a staple into someone's eye??? And I know prison can be awful, but is it typically this brutal? And are alcoholics never allowed to have happy endings?
In summary, this book was okay...but Jodi Picoult has done so much better. (less)
This is the third novel by Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, both of which I loved (and gave five stars to). Wh...moreThis is the third novel by Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, both of which I loved (and gave five stars to). While The Kite Runner was a wonderful, heart-breaking story of boys' friendship, I found A Thousand Splendid Suns to be even more poignant and beautiful because it was about two women who were thrown together in marriage to the same men, but eventually forged a strong bond and sisterhood.
Hosseini's new novel steps away from the classic form and ambitiously takes on multiple perspectives and stories about family, both biological and chosen, and how one choice can change several people's lives.
It starts out in the 1950s as a story about a 10-year-old boy, Abdullah, and his 3-year-old sister, Pari, who are closely intertwined to each other. Their mother died giving birth to Pari, so Abdullah had the primary responsibility of raising his sister. Their father remarried a woman, Parwana, who didn't have much love for the children, as she was nursing a dark secret of her own. Living in a small Afghani village, their father struggled to put food on the table and the previous winter one of their younger children died from the cold. When given a chance to change this situation, he sold Pari to a wealthy family in Kabul, his brother-in-law's employers. Abdullah and Pari were torn apart tragically.
Hosseni is a brilliant writer--he paints a vivid landscape on the page and his characters are complex, multilayered, and interesting. I wanted to know more about Abdullah and Pari, but when Pari grows into an older child, her mother takes her off to Paris and we don't hear anything about her until she is older. Her mother is a narcissistic woman, and Pari doesn't learn the real truth about her origins or her adopted father until many years after her mother dies. Pari's adopted father is a cold, aloof man, who has his own secret reason for his unhappiness, but found joy in Pari as a young child.
And this is my only fault with this book...it's like a series of loosely interwoven stories, each chapter starting with a different perspective and setting. I am not a fan of short stories for this reason...I want to sink my teeth into a story, and short stories are just not long enough for me to get immersed. The plot jumped around from the Afghani village to Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to Greece, and some of the characters I preferred to others. Many I just wanted more of...especially Pari and Abdullah.
Each character lacked love or experienced pain in relationships, much of them with their family members. But love is also found in unusual and subtle ways.
This novel is not nearly as tragic as Hosseini's first two, and some of the characters find redemption and reconciliation in the end. Beyond the colorful storytelling and wonderful stories of families and friendship, And the Mountains Echoed opens the world to Afghanistan, not just as a war-torn country of tragedy, but one of real relationships, heartbreak, and love.(less)
This was another "scan the library bookshelves" find, a quirky story about a thirtysomething man (Milo Slade) who has an unususal form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It manifests itself in making strange demands on his brain and taking over his life until he satisfies them. For example, a word will pop into his head and his obsession will not go away until someone spontaneously says this word. Or he will suddenly have the need to pop the seals on grape jelly jars, bowl a strike, see a movie he's watched several times before, let all the air out of his tires, or sing a karaoke version of "99 Luftballons" in German (remember that song from the '80s?) in front of an audience. And he keeps all this a secret from everyone.
As you can imagine, his marriage was not terribly successful. When the novel begins, he and his wife Christine have separated, although it seems that neither of them are convinced that's what they really want. Milo is a home health care nurse and seems to have a stronger relationship with his patients than he does with his wife (who of course knows nothing of his disorder but probably just thinks he's weird).
One day Milo finds a video camera with a bag of tapes under a park bench. He returns the next day to find them still there, so he takes them home and begins watching the videos. They're made by a grieving young woman he initially coins "Freckles," and she has a lot of secrets, too. Milo is determined to help this woman feel better by solving one of her problems. He takes off on a road trip to North Carolina to find a friend of hers, who had vanished 20+ years earlier.
This journey makes Milo realize that he's not the only one who is a bit odd and he's also not the only one hiding secrets. He begins to reveal more of himself and understand what he really wants and doesn't want out of his life.
After awhile, the demands did get a bit annoying to read about...I suppose Milo felt far worse. I wonder if this is a real type of OCD, or if it's something the author made up. I had a hard time understanding why Milo didn't want to get help for this problem of his--it would have driven me crazy! I didn't feel particularly sympathetic to Milo because of the way he detached himself from others through his secrets. My favorite part of the novel was when he met with one of his elderly clients, who were all far more honest and genuine than Milo himself. (less)
A Tale for the Time Being is the first full-price hardcover book I remember purchasing for myself, ever. Ozeki has long been one of my favorite author...moreA Tale for the Time Being is the first full-price hardcover book I remember purchasing for myself, ever. Ozeki has long been one of my favorite authors, and I was thrilled when I read that she had finally published her third novel. I went to see/hear Ozeki read from this book at Powell's, and I was enchanted. In the intervening time since she published All Over Creation, she became a Zen Buddhist priest. Clearly, this experience informs this novel.
She explained that she has always wanted to do the audio recordings of her books, but publishers prefer not to have authors read their own books. She realized that if she put enough Japanese words in the book, they would let her do her own reading. After listening to her read, I think I might like to listen to the audio book too. This is a highly unusual reaction for me, as I don't often read books twice--at least not until many years have passed.
I found myself reading this book very slowly--it took me most of April to read, in fact. Ozeki is a poetic, lyrical writer. I am often drawn to her books because they are set in Japan or the United States (or both) and feature Japanese or Japanese-American characters. This was no different.
It's the story of 16-year-old Nao, who is living in Tokyo but spent much of her childhood in Sunnyvale, California. She is mercilessly bullied by her classmates and even her teachers. Some might find it difficult to believe, but bullying is an extreme problem in Japan, and it's even tolerated and sometimes encouraged by the adults in charge. Her father, who lost his job in California and has become unemployable back in Japan, keeps attempting suicide, which is considered an honorable out in Japan. The only bright spot in Nao's life is her 104-year-old great-grandmother, who is an anarchist, feminist, novelist Buddhist nun, who she calls Old Jiko. She decides that she's going to commit suicide, but first she wants to tell the story of Old Jiko's life in her diary.
Ruth, a Japanese-American novelist living on an island in British Columbia, finds Nao's diary washed up on the beach. The resemblance between Ruth the character and Ruth the novelist is more than just their name, ancestry, and location. Ozeki has actually put herself, and her husband Oliver, into the novel.
As Ruth begins reading the book, she becomes captivated by Nao's life and begins to care very deeply about what happens to her. Not too long after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, initially Ruth believes that this is what has caused the diary to come into her hands.
I loved so many things about this novel...the way that Nao finds such deep solace and healing in writing down her pain, the wisdom of old Jiko and the way she connects with her young great-granddaughter, the connections between Japan and North America--present in each of Ozeki's novels, the way Ozeki describes the sparsely populated island on which she and Oliver live, the poignant reflections of Nao's great-uncle's time in the Japanese army and Nao's connections with him, and the spiritual, symbolic activities of the crow, cat, and the sea. So many things have changed since I left Japan, and so many things remain the same.
As Nao goes to visit Old Jiko up on the mountaintop, I envisioned the monastery to look something like Koya-san, where I visited while I lived in Japan. I could picture Nao riding the bus up that mountain and communing with the trees and spirits while she visited there.
So many things about this story were deeply sad, but ultimately, the novel had great redemptive power and spiritual meaning. I highly recommend it--A Tale for the Time Being will definitely be at the top of my book list for the year. It was worth the full price, as the story will stick with me for a long time.(less)
I read Jane Casey's first novel, The Missing, and was not as nearly taken with it as her second, The Burning, which felt similar to BBC's "Prime Suspect" (with Helen Mirren), but with a young Irish detective named Maeve.
One reason why I didn't like her first novel was that I didn't find her main character, Sarah Finch, to be very likable. She ended up being a teacher after she hated school, and she didn't seem to get any enjoyment out of her job. I cannot relate to this, but my husband tells me that he thinks it sounds British...he thinks that more people in the UK go into teaching without really being called to do so. That might be true.
At any rate, I prefer Maeve. She has to put up with her English colleagues' misogyny and crap about her Irish ancestry, but she is a strong and complex character. She's working on a case to catch a London serial killer who likes to beat his female victims to a pulp and then set their bodies ablaze. It's more of a police procedural (hence the Prime Suspect comparison) than a mystery book, but I liked it.
The other thing I appreciated about this book was the publisher didn't dumb it down for Americans...as in, they didn't change the British terms and language (like they did in Harry Potter, for example). Most Americans will not know what a bacon buttie is...but that's okay! They can look it up if they want to know.
I will keep reading Casey's books (she has three more Maeve Kerrigan books published with another one on the way), and I'm so glad she redeemed herself after the first one.(less)
Last year my husband and I watched a short British made-for-TV movie called "Good Night, Mister Tom," and I became interested in the history of English children evacuated to the country during World War II...so this book intrigued me.
It's the story, in part, of Anna, an eight-year-old girl who is evacuated from London and sent to a stately home in Yorkshire in 1939. Wise beyond her years, she soon becomes aware of the adult secrets around her. Thomas and Elizabeth Ashton, who have opened up their home, are deeply unhappy with each other. Soon they each start affairs. In the meantime, Anna's mother (whose husband is fighting in Africa) starts up her own affairs in London, for no particular reason except that the war is on. Every adult in this book is unhappy and unfaithful....even Anna herself when she grows up.
Unfortunately, none of the characters are sympathetic with perhaps the exception of Thomas. Anna was more likable as a child, but when she grew up I found myself getting irritated with her choices and the way she let her life fall to ruin. This book, unfortunately, does a great deal of telling rather than showing. In fact there's little dialogue. The writer is a documentary film maker, and in many ways that shows.
I felt this book had promise--the setting in Yorkshire, the time it happened, the idea of children being sent away from home, the war--but I feel let down. I think I will have to read Good Night, Mister Tom (also a book) instead. (less)
A friend recommended I try out Maisie Dobbs for my post-surgery recovery because I find I lack mental energy when I'm in pain and on pain meds. (My brain just doesn't work right!) After my Joanna Trollope waste of time, I finally dove into Maisie Dobbs. I was beginning to worry that I'd lost my passion for reading from the brain surgery I had, but I'm happy to report that I'm getting back into the swing of things. Maisie Dobbs was just the ticket, although it took a little getting into in the beginning.
Maisie Dobbs is the daughter of a costermonger (a street seller of fruits and vegetables) and after her mother dies, she's taken into service because her dad cannot afford to take care of her. Soon Lady Rowan (lady of the house) takes her on as a project after noting Maisie's keen intelligence. She's tutored by Rowan's friend Maurice, who helps her prepare for Cambridge entrance exams. However, after a year of studying at Cambridge's women's college (in those days they didn't actually bestow degrees on women, but they were allowed to study), she decides her country needs her. She signs up as a nurse and is sent to France. After returning from France, she sets up her own business as a private investigator.
Much of this first book in the series is used to set up the character of Maisie. She takes on a case that requires her to delve into her own sad history in the war and her one true love. The book starts in the present (well, 1929), but then flashes back to her childhood, life in service, and time during the war. I found those pieces the most interesting because I wanted to get to know more about Maisie. Winspear slowly unravels the secrets of Maisie's past and her own tragic life.
Like Downton Abbey, it tackles themes of British class mores and the impact that World War I had on its participants. For example, both the show and the book feature stories about soldiers who deserted in cowardice and were shot.
I'm not sure how realistic this series is...how likely is it for the aristocracy to actually invest in one of their young housemaids to help them better themselves? She seems to fit in well at Cambridge, but all we really see about that part of her life is her close friendship with her roommate. How did she do with her studies? Not sure.
I really enjoyed this novel but it wasn't perfect. I found some details lacking, but I will keep reading in the hopes that it will only improve! I'm curious to learn more about Maisie--she's an interesting character. (less)
I read this book because my book group chose it for this month. We didn't have much time between book group meetings, because they very kindly moved up the meeting by one week so I could attend. (Otherwise I would have missed it because of my impending surgery.) What I didn't know until I read the reviews was that this was the third in a series!
I'm one of those people who really, really likes to start with the first book in a series. So after I got over my unsettled feelings I finally settled into the book. I put down The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver to read this, and it was much, much more readable than that tome. I usually love Kingsolver but it's taking me forever to slog through The Lacuna.
I don't read much young adult (YA), but from what I understand from my middle-grade writer husband, YA is often full of a lot of angst and dysfunctional relationships. Ruby Oliver, the protagonist, struggles with making and keeping friends and has a lot of stress around relationships with boys. In the book preceding this one, Ruby's boyfriend Jackson takes up with one of her friends, and she becomes what she believes is a social pariah. (It's not really as bad as she makes it out to be, though.) In this book, Jackson is back in the picture again, possibly. Reading this book made me SO GLAD I do not ever have to do high school or junior high ever again.
Ruby's parents are well-meaning hippies, and she actually does have some friends worth keeping. The stories about her teachers and baking were amusing...also her time working in the Birkenstocks store at Pike Place Market. (After reading about her adventures fitting bare feet into Birkenstocks, of all sizes, shapes, and smells, I realized that I could NEVER do that!)
But who goes to the Pike Place Market to buy supplies for a bake sale? That seemed completely unrealistic for local Seattle high schoolers! Ruby is a smart, well-meaning girl, and she really doesn't want to screw up her friendships, but somehow she has a knack for that.
After I said that I don't read much YA, I now realize that this is actually the fourth or fifth YA book I've read all year...and it was fine but it's my least favorite. The others--Wonder, Marcelo in the Real World, and Shine--focused on much more serious issues, and this was like marshmallow fluff in comparison. It was a good distraction from the current stress in my life...a cute read...but not sure I will be reading any more of the series. There's just not enough here to draw me back in.
Now I'm back into The Lacuna for awhile...but when I go into the hospital I'm planning to wade into something much lighter! (less)
Everyone Is Beautiful is a sweet, easy read, about a Texan woman of Colombian origin who's transplanted to Boston because of her husband's job. She has three young boys who are extremely close together and full of mischief. She feels bereft at leaving behind her supportive parents in Houston. She hardly ever has any alone time with her husband, and she has no romance in her life.
When a stranger at the park supposes her to be pregnant, she decides she must make a change. She begins going to the gym every day and she also takes up photography. As expected, soon her marriage is in jeopardy.
I appreciated the fact that this was a story about a stay-at-home mom with a brain and a mission to bring meaning to her life. She has a true friend who supports her and accepts her for all her faults. Her husband loves her and although we do not see it at the beginning, he adores her. She comes to peace with her body and appreciates the beauty in women of all shapes and features around her.
It's a simple message and a simple story, and I actually cried at the end...as she realizes how much she loves her husband and how lucky she is.(less)
Dahlia Finger, a selfish, shallow, foul-mouthed, and stoner Jewish American princess who was conceived on a kibbutz, has been diagnosed with an inoper...moreDahlia Finger, a selfish, shallow, foul-mouthed, and stoner Jewish American princess who was conceived on a kibbutz, has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor at the young age of 29.
In search of answers, she finds a self-help guide in an effort to help her grapple with her cancer and impending demise. And she begins looking back on her shambles of a life.
Dahlia is not particularly likable, but as her childhood memories come forth, it's clear why she got to be the way she is. When her flaky Israeli mother and American father break up, her previously loving and adoring older brother Dan turns on her. He becomes her worst tormentor, treating her horribly and humiliating her constantly, while she only wants his approval and love. She feels abandoned and confused, and along with the absence of her mother during her formative years, this abandonment and cruelty shapes her life and personality.
There's no question where the story is headed, and if you're looking for an upbeat, happy story, this isn't it. I wouldn't even say it has much redemption in it. But it does make you think about your own life and where it's headed. Are you making the most of each hour you have?(less)
My husband asked me how I had heard about this book, and I can't remember. I had it out of the library for awhile before I finally picked it up.
Audition is the story of a documentary film maker, Aoyama, who was widowed seven years before. His teenage son Shige suggests that he think about remarrying, so he decides to do just that.
He hatches a plan with his friend, Yoshikawa, to hold auditions for a movie so that he can screen dozens of women in the hopes of finding someone suitable for a wife. Through these fake film auditions, he meets Yamasaki Asami, and he becomes completely obsessed with lust. All he knows about her is that she had a difficult childhood. Of course, being Japan, the search for a wife means that he must find a docile, beautiful, elegant, obedient, and submissive woman. On the surface, Yamasaki Asami appears to fit the bill, but of course she turns out to be a sadistic murderer. This book was made into a cult film in Japan, which apparently was highly regarded as a great, creepy horror film (gets four stars on Amazon).
I was not impressed, for several reasons:
•Shige seemed to be way too mature for a 16-year-old, in fact more mature than his father!
•The first 3/4 of the book moves along very slowly, with seemingly unimportant details. In fact, it was boring. All of the action happens in the last two chapters, and of course you know what's going to happen. No suspense whatsoever.
•The two male characters are completely shallow and misogynistic, which might have been part of Murakami's point...or they were just written as typical Japanese men with no irony whatsoever.
•Yamasaki Asami compares having to give up ballet (because of an injury) to experiencing a death, and Aoyama finds this touching. I can't imagine that someone who has experienced the death of a loved one would find this comparison to be touching. On the contrary, it's heartless and clueless, like comparing the death of an animal to a death of a human child--to the grieving parent's face.
•None of the characters were sympathetic. I didn't care what happened to any of them.
•Aoyama was naive and disregarded all weird signs that something wasn't right. He was single-minded in his pursuit and no one could convince him to be suspicious. It just didn't seem realistic.
Ryu Murakami is called "Japan's master of the psycho-thriller," but I don't buy that. I've been disappointed in the Japanese fiction I've read recently, but even Out by Natsuo Kirino or Naoko by Keigo Higashino were stronger books than this one. Perhaps I'd prefer Murakami's other books, but I'm not rushing out to try them!(less)
I'd heard of Vita Sackville-West but didn't know much about her before my book group chose this for October's selection. Sackville-West was married to Sir Harold Nicholson and spent most of her life at their estate at Sissinghurst Castle. She and Nicholson had an open marriage, and both of them carried on extensive same-sex relationships. Sackville-West's most famous lover was Virginia Woolf. Some describe this novel as the fictional version of A Room of One's Own.
The story begins with the death of Lady Slane's husband, who had been prime minister and Viceroy of India during his prime. Suddenly, Lady Slane is presented with freedom for the first time in her life...at the ripe age of 88. Her scheming children devise a plan by which she would be passed around from family to family, but she has other ideas. She retires to a modest cottage in Hampstead and directs them that she is to live on her own, and she doesn't want her grandchildren or grandchildren to visit her (no one under 60)...and doesn't much want her children around either.
Lady Slane reflects back on her life and her regrets, chief among them the fact that she was never able to pursue her artistic ambitions. She is quite happy with her little circle--her French maid, Genoux; her landlord, Mr. Bucktrout; and Mr. FitzGeorge, a reclusive, wealthy collector who fell in love with her in India, in another time, and saw immediately what she had given up.
She revels in the precious time she has left, finding pleasure in sitting outside in her back garden, going for brisk winter walks, and quietly reflecting back on her life, mistakes, and relationships. It's a beautiful, feminist story about what women in those days (and still, now) give up to pursue marriage and family. Lady Slane never really enjoyed motherhood, being a wife, or being a grandmother. She just wanted time to reflect and paint, and she never got it. She comes to peace with her realization that she did not really love her husband and she had given up everything to be with him.
And she realizes that she doesn't, really, want to be completely alone. She just wants to carefully choose her companions and how she will spend the remainder of her time.
I enjoyed this book very much and plan to view the BBC miniseries about Vita Sackville-West's relationship with her husband, "Portrait of a Marriage," based on their son Nigel's book of the same name.
To hear Vita's own voice, listen to this recording of her talking about Virginia Woolf and Orlando.(less)
I've never read Penelope Lively before, even though she is an incredibly prolific British writer.
In fact, this must be one of the most English modern novels I've read in some time! When I started reading, I was struck by how many expressions most Americans wouldn't necessarily understand, but I have the advantage of knowing after cohabitating with a Brit for 25 years. For example--these are from scanning just the first few pages:
-Her hip was giving her stick. -Shirty enough if anyone looked like taking liberties. -Lord Peters does not provide puffs for other people's books. -Occasionally you considered chucking in the job. -He'll be tetchy. -Breeding will out. -You endure, but also observe; you become a beady eye, appreciating the spectacle. (And the constant reference to oneself as third person rather than first person) -Day's supply of whatever is their particular tipple... -She'll be coming to us for awhile. -Rose will fetch her and install her in her room. -Nice girl? (the tendency to call women girls until they are well into their 40s)
I liked how this book started out: "The pavement rises up and hits her." The book is about "the butterfly effect," how one minor incident (in this case, the main character, Charlotte, getting mugged on a London street) can affect many people seemingly unconnected from the person directly affected.
Because Charlotte breaks her hip as a result of the mugging, she moves in with her daughter Rose, who must find someone else to accompany her pompous and very English employer Lord Peters to Manchester. That someone is his niece Marion, who sends a text to her lover, Jeremy, which is intercepted by his highly anxious and dramatic wife, Stella, putting their marriage into a tailspin. Before breaking her hip, Charlotte tutored English foreign language students, and one of them, an Eastern European named Anton, begins getting private instruction from her. Rose takes a shine to Anton, although neither act on their attraction to each other.
One of the challenges with this book is that the characters are not particularly likable or relatable for me. Most of the characters seem to be just propelling through life without any effort to be happy or fulfilled. Jeremy, I just wanted to slap upside the head. He's having an affair with Marion yet wants to keep his wife as well. He's a complete narcissist. Lord Peters is amusing but would be incredibly annoying in person. Charlotte is the most sympathetic, but the reserve of the writing and the setting keeps "one" from becoming attached.
Ultimately, it's the kind of novel where no one is truly happy at the end, except perhaps Marion (hard to say). I enjoyed this novel more in the beginning than at the end...by then I was ready to move on.(less)
Monsters. Children with peculiar powers, who are hiding from the monsters. Time travel. World War II and the Holocaust. Haunting black & white photographs (most of them actual vintage photos). A Peregrine falcon.
Sixteen-year-old Jacob travels to Wales to find out what happened to his grandfather, who suddenly and mysteriously died. His grandpa, Abe, had shared strange and unimaginable stories with Jacob when he was a child, and he doubted his sanity. Jacob soon discovers that Abe was not lying, and he becomes irrevocably connected to the children at the home for peculiar children.
In the beginning, this novel reminded me of "Grimm," Portland's own haunting TV series. Apparently this story has similarities to the X-Men. But what was unique about it was the photos. Ransom Riggs wanted to create a book with the photos alone, but he was convinced to write a novel around the photos instead. At times, this is obvious, as is the fact that this is a first novel. Although only ten children live in the home, the photos capture images of many other children...and it's not clear what happened to those children.
Other readers have criticized the fact that the children seem too American when in fact they are supposed to be British or Welsh. Riggs has never traveled to Wales. Others found the narrator (Jacob) to be unlikable and spoiled, and the parents to be too detached (apparently this is a convention in young adult novels, though, for some reason). The writing is geared toward young adults, although at times Jacob seems to talk as if he's much older. His speech seems older but his actions seem younger.
The ending is not wrapped up in a neat and tidy way, and Riggs is reported to be working on a sequel expected for release in 2013. A film is in the making. I thought this story was highly readable, with an intriguing premise and captivating photos. I will read the sequel to find out what happens next!(less)
Naoko is described as "a black comedy of hidden minds and lives" and a "critique of gender relations." I'm not sure if I would call it either a comedy...moreNaoko is described as "a black comedy of hidden minds and lives" and a "critique of gender relations." I'm not sure if I would call it either a comedy or a gender critique, but it was an interesting read. Higashino is a best-selling, award-winning writer in Japan, but he's not very well known in the U.S.
Naoko is the story of a factory worker, Heisuke, and his wife, Naoko, and young daughter, Monami. Naoko and Monami head up to Nagano on a ski bus to visit family, but tragically the bus drives off a cliff. Heisuke learns this information from the TV news. http://mariesbookgarden.blogspot.com/...
Soon after he reaches the hospital, Naoko dies. When Monami wakes up from a coma, she is no longer Heisuke's daughter..Naoko has inhabited Monami's body. Sharing this information with no others (for fear of being not taken seriously or worse, ostracized or institutionalized), Heisuke and Monami/Naoko prepare to live their lives in this way...as father and daughter rather than husband and wife.
Naoko goes to school and begins to realize that she has been given a true opportunity: to live her adolescence and young adulthood all over again. She realizes that she was never truly fulfilled or happy as a housewife, and she decides to get into a top private junior high and high school to begin pursuing her dream of medical school.
Factory worker Heisuke, who has rarely entered a library much less read a book, is stunned and saddened by this turn of events. When Naoko begins attracting the attention of boys her age, he becomes obsessively jealous, nearly destroying the tenuous and strange father-daughter relationship they had been trying to build. At the end of the book, it's hard to tell exactly what the truth is...here's the mystery. The comedy, however, was harder to find. I found this book to be sad. The story contains a wide variety of extra characters, many related to Heisuke's job or other accident victims. In the end, I'm not really sure why he included all these plot sidelines. Many of them didn't really add much to the story.
What I found most intriguing about the book was the idea of living your young adulthood all over again. If I could do so, I too would have studied harder, been more ambitious, and wasted less time. As far as the "gender critique," it's very soft. This book was truly Japanese, and I imagine better understood by someone who lived in Japan or understands Japanese culture. As the wife/daughter, Naoko was expected to wait on Heisuke hand and foot. She was not expected to have any aspirations of her own. This change in what is expected is what startled Heisuke.
Of course, it makes me wonder...when Naoko (Monami) gets married and has a family of her own, will she share the food preparation, shopping, cleaning, and other household duties with her husband? Doubtful. But at least showing a Japanese woman who is not happy with her lot as a housewife and has dreams beyond those four walls...that's a start!
This novel has also been made into a movie, Himitsu, but it doesn't seem to be easily available in the U.S.(less)