Mini Synopsis: Benny is a thirty something, single, hard working, Swedish dairy farmer living on his failing family farm. His mother whom worked diligeMini Synopsis: Benny is a thirty something, single, hard working, Swedish dairy farmer living on his failing family farm. His mother whom worked diligently with him to keep the farm running has just passed away. “Shrimp” is a librarian whose intellectually based life is in the near by city. She has just lost her husband of several years. Although opposites, the two cross paths numerous times with one another in the local cemetery when visiting their dead loved one’s graves. While both note their extreme differences and apparent incompatibility with the other, they soon cannot deny their physical chemistry. An unlikely and complicated relationship develops ending with unexpected and unconventional results. My short thoughts: It was a short, slightly sad, funny, and refreshing romantic story which did not end with everyone living happily ever after. I highly recommend this to any one who wants to easily step away from the conventional romance and who enjoys reading novels with a taste from another culture – or in this case two. I say this because the story was originally written in Swedish and then translated into “British English”. The text reflects this and makes the writing charming and quirky having idioms from both cultures which are interesting and enjoyable....more
A translated novel set in a futuristic and twisted democracy, it borders on horror with a realistic feel making iOriginal review at Layers of Thought.
A translated novel set in a futuristic and twisted democracy, it borders on horror with a realistic feel making it all the more terrifying.
Set Up: A story taking place in Sweden at some undisclosed time in the future, where there has developed a truly warped social system.
The main character is a single women turning fifty. She has no family connections and is struggling financially. Dorit is required to enter a governmentally mandated enclave called “the unit”. A place where all persons – men of sixty years and women of fifty - move to if they are deemed “dispensable”. That is if they do not have anything which is considered of economic value to give. In turn they live a life of luxury yet must submit to medical testing and donate vital organs.
My Thoughts: I really enjoy dystopian novels and this one appeared to have an unusual twist with a character to whom I could easily relate – a middle aged women with bohemian tendencies. There are a number of things that I liked about the book.
It felt like a translation and I love translations. You can explore the locale and psyche of another country through the text with its unusual language nuances. This book was no exception with its lovely description of the local plants, landscape, and weather, as well as subtle differences in its cultural perspective.
There is a secondary plot line which could be described as a romance. I particularly liked that the few unusual sex scenes included are not like your standard fare, which I usually skip over or laugh at.
There are a few political topics which come up in the novel such as ageism and a subtly twisted version of feminism, which make for great for discussion topics.
The novels I enjoy the most leave me with questions, and The Unit poses a few good ones. What kind of a democracy would value economic growth so much that it would sacrifice its older members? Is the nature of democracy only about growth? How could a political system purportedly concerned with freedom develop like the one which is represented in this book?
A fairly short novel it starts out slowly yet picks up considerably where it becomes both illuminating and heart wrenching. It summarizes a few subtle elements of human experience in enlightening and relatable ways. And the best part is that it was just plain scary. It is because of these things it will be placed in my favorite’s list - on balance 4.5 stars....more
A classic feminist translation from French that’s a “romantic” story told by a heartbroken performer named Renee, who must choose between freedom andA classic feminist translation from French that’s a “romantic” story told by a heartbroken performer named Renee, who must choose between freedom and love during Victorian times.
About: Published in 1910 this is a short book that is supposedly a semi-autobiography from the interesting bohemian author – Colette. The story is told in first person by Renee Nere, the main character who has divorced her wealthy, philandering, artist husband after eight years of emotional torture. Damaged, much wiser, yet lonely, she has managed to support herself as a dancer and actor in Paris. Although not considered an acceptable profession for her social standing, it never-the-less gives Renee a sense of independence which is hard earned during a time when a woman’s independence was not common and, indeed, shunned.
When a wealthy gentleman falls in love with Renee and promises her the moon, and the dancer attempts to decide between marriage and independence - that is when the reader gets a glimpse into why this book is considered a feminist classic.
Thoughts: I truly enjoyed this book in audio, with its UK-English accented reader and its esoteric French phrase usage. (I speak 4 words of French and received horrible grades for it in high school, so did not understand most of it). Yet the English part of the book is descriptive and pleasant, if slightly long winded at times. At one point Renee travels the French countryside, and the letters Renee writes her would be lover are sweet indeed.
When doing research about the author, I found Colette to be an intriguing subject. Living a life that was not standard, she broke many social rules including affairs with a tabooed family member and women. Although this book does not have LGBT elements, it’s still feminist in nature and is not your happily-ever-after romance. But I think that is where its value lies, in a “realistic” example of a woman who goes against the social norms of the times and lives her life to the fullest.
I give this wonderful short novel (especially in its audio version) a 4-star rating and recommend it highly for those interested in anything French, Victorian classics, and feminist fiction....more
A complex, fantastical novel with philosophical musings and literary tropes discussed throughout. TranslatOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
A complex, fantastical novel with philosophical musings and literary tropes discussed throughout. Translated to English from Japanese, it is a novel that has the distinct feel of its country’s setting.
About: There are a a number of story lines in this complex and layered story, with the two primary ones based around Kafka Tamura and Mr. Nakata. The story starts with fifteen year old Kafka in the process of running away from his home in Tokyo, perhaps due to his emotionally unavailable father or to find his mother and adopted sister, who left when Kafka was little. As a usual sort of intelligent teen with some unusual attributes (he has an imaginary boy named crow who advises him on various issues), he takes his “road trip” to escape.
Then there is Mr. Nakata, a lovely “simple” older man who cannot read but can amazingly speak to cats (and boy are the cats amusing and well done). He has a “Zen” like characteristic to his attitude and also to his speaking quality in the audio version. Although the two men never actually meet, they move inside the story with their own personal quests overlapping frequently - with the intricate connections becoming clear as the story progresses.
Thoughts: Kafka on the Shore has a variety of themes which may intrigue potential readers, as they did me. Some of these are - cats; World War II; philosophical musings; discussions around literature; the use and discussion of literary tropes such as metaphor, allegory and more; and the arts, including music. Murakami addresses gender and feminism in an indirect way. He has also woven in Asian spiritual themes such enlightenment and rebirth, and some interesting imagery regarding body fluids. The strongest thread in the story is its connection with the mythical story of Oedipus, that creates an unusual twist within the book. For a bit about this myth, here is a short definition:
As a Freudian psychological metaphor describing son–father psychosexual competition for possession of mother, the Oedipus complex derives from the 5th-century BC Greek mythological character Oedipus, who unwittingly kills his father, Laius, and marries his mother… (via Wikipedia)
It’s interesting that several of Murakami’s major themes for Kafka on the Shore are metaphor and the myth of Oedipus, and that this shocking complex is also considered a metaphor in its definition above.
I felt that the readers’ voices for the characters where done very well, giving life to the various and well developed characters. I liked that so many of the themes stimulated an intellectual side for me and that better yet I learned a few things. However, I had a conflict – there were too many sexual references and scenes, some were too detailed. Indeed the end of the novel became more about our main protagonist Kafka’s sexual desires and experiences than anything else. Otherwise a very worthy read and well done in this audio version. I give this intriguing audio book 4 stars; more if the sex had been a bit more subtle. ...more
Synopsis: Within a current day setting in Russia, with all its difficult economics and “shell shocked” population, a number of diverActually 4.5 stars
Synopsis: Within a current day setting in Russia, with all its difficult economics and “shell shocked” population, a number of diverse individuals relay their lives via an omnipresent narrator in separate yet interrelated chapters. They all live in the same dilapidated building where the plumbing has been non existent for several months. They are coping, but it seems there is nothing they can do about the situation. Most significantly the group experiences a death of one of their fellow residents via suicide. Because the “dead guy” is not buried properly in contravention of the demands of his Muslim tradition, he haunts the others with hilarious, heart wrenching, and smelly results.
Layered within this story are the difficult and sadly comical experiences of each of the individuals. Each leading lives with a shared, conflicted yet accepting, desperation. All with differing perspectives due to varying ethnicity, age, and gender. Each are both thoughtful and dark.
As the characters are developed, the story starts to revolve around several American museum facilitators of “Russian Extraction” who will visit and determine if they are to help the Russian group and their local “handmade” museum. It is a promise of a monetary donation, but as the residents try to meet the Americans’ exacting standards and try and plan out a reasonable way of showing the donators that their museum is worthy of support, that they lead normal and sane lives, havoc ensues.
My Thoughts: The above description of this book unjustly simplifies it, since there is so much more complexity within the book than can be described within three paragraphs. There were so may wonderful examples of complex and unusual word usage. I found myself laughing and amazed. The most fun aspect of the book is the way that the author seamlessly incorporates folktales, knowledge and tradition from each of the respective religious backgrounds. “Magical realism” melded with the reality of life - heartbreaking yet hopeful. The book is a linguistic mix of metaphor and imagery.
Key concepts which I found interesting within the book are the nature of truth and how cultures define what they choose to relay to the population through the media, what they hide, and who it is that decides what is shared. It is here that we see that Russians as indirect by cultural default. But we also see how frustrated and powerless they feel about their country’s conflicts. Here is a wonderful example where the main character Olga struggles with her job of translating for a local newspaper, where she is required to create euphemisms for the public to read:
Through the snow Olga trudged, dimly aware that in faraway places people spoke with purer words of unvarnished meaning. Or maybe not. Maybe at other news agencies in other countries people simply told more palatable lies. And as she rounded the corner and climbed over the remains of the broken stone archway that marked the entrance to the courtyard, she felt despair sliding down her throat, setting up quick residence in her stomach. Language was, after all, just word shaped stains, simply another way to evade and obscure the truth.
As I read, I felt the cultural angst. It was a fascinating glimpse into the Soviet psyche which I now understand is more complex than many of us realize. We find that the country has residents of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian background – all with their generalized terms and stagnant beliefs about themselves and others, not unlike the US or any other country for that matter. Here the author sums up human character via Olga:
Olga wagged her head slowly from side to side. It never ceased to amaze her what the human animal was capable of. What great great acts of generosity and cruelty. And how a human could harbor the inclination for both within the same heart! She wished she could say it was beyond her. But it wasn’t, because she felt it, too: compassion and rage, love and hate. Even good people could – and did – commit acts of cruelty. Even people like Olga. How many times had she wished Afghanistan and everyone in it would simply fall off the map?
There are many other examples in the book which exemplify its wonderful language as well as its important concepts. It is a lovely and complex book which was originally published in Great Britain in 2009. The version I read had language appropriate for the area, and will be changed for the American audience. The quotes reflect the UK version. It did feel like a translation, however I could find no evidence of it being one.
I loved this book, and recommend it for people who enjoy unusual and creative language, metaphor and imagery, slipstream/magical realism, as well as art, art history, and cultural perspectives. I rate it at 4.5 stars. I will be looking for a hard copy of this book for my personal collection and I have also included Gina Ochsner on my list of authors to watch. ...more