Four years ago, an undefeated Cal fought the legendary Rivera in the ring and suffered a life-changing loss. Now, the former prodigy finds himself in
Four years ago, an undefeated Cal fought the legendary Rivera in the ring and suffered a life-changing loss. Now, the former prodigy finds himself in a comeback match and once again faces the opponent that nearly ended his career. He arrives in Tijuana three days before the fight, and together with his trainer Riley they quickly get on to practicing moves, planning strategies, and pondering the past. But as the much-anticipated match looms over a bleak horizon, the two reticent men begin an honest reflection and soon the fight that they’ve been waiting for is no longer what it once was.
In The Longshot, Katie Kitamura brings the reader to the world of a Mixed Martial Arts fighter. Writing in terse, resounding prose, she takes the fighting down to the sidelines and puts the heart of the fighter on center stage—creating a narrative that not only captures the hard-hitting rhythm of an exhilarating match, but also portrays the unspoken bond between a coach and his athlete with affecting intimacy. But the book is not by any means a written spinoff of a mushy Rocky movie. In a sport where the staredown between two fighters can look just as vicious as the ensuing fight, violence is almost ever-present. Here, warrior athletes endure years of grueling training and transform their very anatomies—ultimately calcifying their bones and desensitizing their nerves—all to achieve one goal . . . victory. And in this sport, victory is seldom achieved without an exchange of punishing blows from fists that pound like sledgehammers and shins that smash like bludgeons. Fractured limbs, broken ribs, mashed-up faces—it’s all part of the story of Mixed Martial Arts. And this makes it only more surprising—and heartwarming—how oftentimes at the end of a battle, battered combatants still somehow find the strength to exchange an honest embrace or even shake each other’s swollen hands.
MMA fighting hits hard and fast and so does Kitamura’s writing. The reverberating tone and structure of her crisp narrative hits the reader with a level of effect no different to that of a well-executed combination of kicks and punches. Her riveting style is able to make three successive statements flow like three successive blows. A jab, a cross, and a knee—all making contact in perfect sequence, with each strike solidifying the impact of the one preceding it. And just as there’s no flashy kung-fu choreography in a real MMA fight, Kitamura avoids dramatizing her depictions of aggression and instead makes use of raw and straightforward descriptions, allowing the few short moments of brutality to create drama for themselves.
From the relaxed first chapter up to the electrifying finale, The Longshot is an entertaining read that gives the reader a touching insight into the makings of a fighter and the ultimate reality of combat sports.
It’s easy to see why the cherry blossom is regarded as an inimitable symbol of springtime in Japan. Blooming for only a week or two each year, this mu
It’s easy to see why the cherry blossom is regarded as an inimitable symbol of springtime in Japan. Blooming for only a week or two each year, this muse of the vernal season not only graces the Japanese landscape with enchanting elegance but also emanates a subtle, gentle charm that’s evocative of the country’s own aesthetic sensibility. As no poem can ever be as lovely as a tree, no verse can ever be enough to express in words the full beauty of the Sakura’s flowers.
In The Old Capital, Nobel-laureate Yasunari Kawabata weaves a story about a Kimono designer’s daughter whose endearing qualities is no less than that of the white cherry blossoms that fill the air with a pervasive sense of purity, modesty, and delicate beauty. The first chapter, “The Flowers of Spring”, evokes a floating feeling quite similar to being young at heart. And true enough, even before the end of this short chapter, I found myself falling in love with the beautiful young woman as she takes delight at the countless blossoms which couldn’t have surpassed her own loveliness. Reading each of her lines made me feel like I was really there before her, listening to her “pure voice with a beautiful note of strength that rang in its depths.”
Also like the cherry blossoms, however, the sight of her is not without a note of sadness. Obedient and caring, Chieko is the pampered daughter of Shige and Takichiro, a middle-class couple who’s told her since her youth that they’d kidnapped her while only a newborn because their hearts were pierced by her flowerlike smile. But as the seasons change, she grows ever more convinced that she was actually a foundling—an “abandoned child” left at the doorsteps of her adoptive parents. Soon, the peaceful life she has come to cherish collides with a world she has not known, leaving her confused like the old capital where ancient traditions appear ever in threat from the changes embraced by the emerging modern society.
Kawabata’s writing is said to be “suggestive of a Zen brush-and-ink painting where what is omitted is as important as what is included.” Publisher’s Weekly couldn’t have been more accurate in such description. In this subdued narrative, characters are often lost deep in thought—a mood that constantly reflects the peaceful yet elusive tone of the story. Dialogues quickly turn into monologues when after one character speaks, the other would simply be described as “silent” or “saying nothing.” But in silence, Kawabata’s brilliance only becomes more evident as those brief moments of pause intensify the feelings brought forth by the statements that precede them. With few words, he is able to express the intense physical and emotional states that his characters go through, making a short scene feel like an actual experience.
But the book’s polite yet spirited characters are not the only captivating elements of the story. In between affectionate dialogues, Kawabata slips in nearly-ethereal word-paintings of the characters’ surroundings, as if carefully taking note of the atmosphere that bears witness to the tale. The summer sky, the winter snow, the towering cedars and fallen petals, gardens and shrines, prayers and processions, festivals, geishas, maikos, vendors, locals and foreigners—they’re all part of the painted picture where beauty often meets with sadness. It’s a tour of post-war Japan that offers a close look at its people, its places, and its practices at a time when the country’s identity is at a turning point.
The Old Capital is truly a story of “inexpressible warmth,” a novel of such exquisite quality that it was called Kawabata’s “most outstanding” work at the time of his Nobel Prize citation.
“All I have is my dog Gabriel. I have no friends, no lover. My former partner the Major is gone. I have no family. And I don’t dream.”
It’s not so ea
“All I have is my dog Gabriel. I have no friends, no lover. My former partner the Major is gone. I have no family. And I don’t dream.”
It’s not so easy being a cyborg, as you’d quickly learn from Batou. Fully “cyborgized” from skin to bone, his every sensation is literally virtual. From feelings of fear and excitement down to the simple tightening of the chest, everything’s a simulation—mathematical equations running on an artificial neural network that serve as an electronic clone of the original cranial tissue. All that he is, or was, now exists inside an e-brain. A digital ghost inside a cold mechanical shell.
In After the Long Goodbye, award-winning sci-fi writer Masaki Yamada follows this lonesome counterterrorist agent as he broods over the disappearance of his partner Motoko—a.k.a. the Major—and begins to contemplate on his own existence. Acting as a prequel to the sequel, Yamada’s graceful narrative sets the stage for Innocence, Mamoru Oshii’s 2004 follow-up to his 1995 animated feature Ghost in the Shell. Sometime after the original heroine’s trans-corporal rapture into cyberspace at the end of the first film, Batou finds himself at a total loss when his beloved basset hound also vanishes without a trace. He begins a thoughtful search, and the hulking cyborg who cannot dream ends up in a dumbfounding trail that is not so far from dreamlike. In this gloomy post-cyberpunk saga where even human perception can be subject to artificial intelligence, it seems that nothing is always what it seems to be.
Another interesting thing about the novel is you don’t have to be a fan of the original anime franchise in order to appreciate the smooth flair of Yamada’s writing. You don’t even have to have seen the movie that came before it. Surprisingly, despite Batou’s constant lectures that quickly progress from technology to philosophy, the book is substantially standalone and fairly comprehensible even without a degree on cybernetics or neuroscience. Yamada’s metaphysical tale is consistent with the bewildering world of Innocence, but the novel adds depth to the central character in ways a 90-minute movie alone cannot accomplish. And befitting of its popular title, this Ghost in the Shell story talks as much about the recurring theme of purity as about the idea of a “soul”—though not in the traditional religious sense of the word, but more as an abstraction for a higher form of consciousness. This is Murakami and Descartes together in one book.
A fine piece of literary science fiction, After the Long Goodbye features a narrative style that’s almost as elegant as the intricate algorithms powering its augmented characters.
Kenzaburo Oe, as his 1994 Nobel Prize citation so eloquently put, is a writer “who with poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth co
Kenzaburo Oe, as his 1994 Nobel Prize citation so eloquently put, is a writer “who with poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today.” With my own meager grasp of language, I couldn’t possibly put into such accurate a description the profound artistry of this world-renowned author. Unique to his style of writing is a tendency to transform elements of his own life into riveting fictional photographs that not only offer a generous peek into private territory but also imbue the readers’ minds with arresting questions for their own self-inspection. And where else is such astute literary alchemy better to take shape than in Oe’s intimate portrayal of his real-life family in the novel A Quiet Life.
The six gently-paced chapters—each one being a powerful tale of its own—is as much a father’s journal of rueful ruminations as it is a daughter’s candid account of life in the absence of her parents. When her father—a celebrated novelist referred to as K—flies off to California with her mother to work as a writer-in-residence in a university, Ma-chan finds herself in charge of what remains of their Tokyo household. Much like the author’s firstborn son, Ma-chan’s older brother Eeyore—despite being mentally handicapped—is endowed with not just a gift for music but also a “certain social consciousness” remarkable for his condition. Her little brother O-chan is the go-it-alone scholar who, unlike the rest of the family, is more of a man of science than an advocate of art. As the three siblings visit the countryside to attend a funeral—and later take frequent trips to a dear family friend—they begin to discover as much about their father’s past as about the implications of their own present condition being “abandoned children” and citizens of an indifferent human society. These calm yet mystifying settings open way to a theme that lingers for the rest of this compelling narrative.
In particular scenes from the first chapter, the narrator makes a few sexual references in a manner that would be typical of a grade school teacher trying to explain adult matters to a little kid. This intriguing choice of language, together with the characters’ made-up expressions and occasional emphatic remarks, creates a mixed atmosphere of innocence and awareness that reverberates throughout the book. On top of this, Oe breathes a striking air of unreserved honesty into the story. The narrator and her distressed father—essentially Mr. Oe himself—exhibit admirable candor in speaking about their feelings, which in so doing make it easier for the reader to get draw-in towards the peculiar characters of this intriguing family.
Though Western influences to Oe’s writing is clearly manifest in A Quiet Life, the subdued tone and subtle genius prominent in this book also makes it no less distinctive of the Japanese art form. And like other contemporary works in the realm of Japanese literature, this semi-biographical novel has no clear plot—at least not in the traditional sense of the word. The real mystery in this story is not in the events that are about to unfold, but in the very dialogues that unfurl in the author’s potent pages. Filled with thoughtful conversations and lengthy discourses, the story features characters that are often preoccupied with the philosophical overtones of their own readings, engaging themselves in panoptic discussions that only begin with classical European literature but quickly lead to more pressing issues like social dynamics and “matters of the soul.”
Certainly nothing short of a magnum opus, A Quiet Life is a work that can only be of equal significance as with the other pieces that won Oe the most coveted prize in literature.
When Dorrit Wegner turned fifty, the government transferred her to a state-of-the-art facility where she can live a carefree life with other citizens
When Dorrit Wegner turned fifty, the government transferred her to a state-of-the-art facility where she can live a carefree life with other citizens of the same age. The place seemed to have everything they’ll ever need—a massive sports complex, a well-run library, a classy theatre, an elegant gallery, and even a wide enchanting garden where the flowers are eternally in bloom. From chic imported dresses to fine gourmet dishes, everything is free. All residents even have their own nice apartment that they can refurbish to their liking. They can engage in practically any hobby they desire. Writers can continue writing, painters can continue painting, and gardeners can continue gardening—all within the relative comfort of the facility. What they can’t do, however, is leave. They are essentially prisoners, and their crime is that of being unwanted, unneeded. Dorrit is a “dispensable”, and her new home is the Second Reserve Bank Unit for Biological Material.
In this touching tale of the human spirit, Ninni Holmqvist imagines life in an unforgiving society where citizens are reduced to mere capital—national assets valued only for their economic significance. The Unit presents a perturbing picture of a world whose very precepts challenge our natural desire to exist and give meaning to our existence. Childless and unmarried, the book’s characters are forced by national policy to live in a “luxury slaughterhouse” where residents act like lab bunnies for various scientific experiments before ultimately making their “final donation” to the country’s “needed” class—who, ironically, happen to be in need of their precious organs. For some readers, this bleak version of modern-day Sweden might serve as a distressing reminder of the dystopian Britain in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. But whereas readers of the latter novel might draw a slight sense of security in the impossibility of human cloning in our present era, the strikingly familiar atmosphere in Holmqvist’s novel might make it difficult to resist the notion that all of it could very well happen in our time.
Holmqvist unfolds her story with intriguing tenderness almost akin to that in Hemingway’s romantic depictions of sadness and conflict. But just as one may start to get comfortable with the narrator's puzzlingly composed tone, Holmqvist begins to throw in stirring images, thrilling sequences, compelling dialogs, and even sexy interludes which may leave the audience in a quiet pause or excited pace. It is then to little or no surprise that the book has recently been selected for Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers program.
In The Unit, Holmqvist makes a promising debut as a novelist.
While master artist Leonardo Da Vinci may have perfected his drawings of the human body through close inspection (and dissection) of the dead, the bol
While master artist Leonardo Da Vinci may have perfected his drawings of the human body through close inspection (and dissection) of the dead, the bold post-impressionist Pan Yuliang drew her colorful paintings out of bodies that were certainly much alive. Sold to a small-town prostitution house at such a young age, she was no stranger to the equal beauty and vulnerability of the female form—particularly in its naked state. And this became the centerpiece of her controversial artworks—all created with a talent that took root in embroidery and matured in calligraphy before eventually blossoming in the world of painting. Capturing life in its barest moments, her works as well as her words challenged the still-traditional mindset of modern China at the dawn of cultural and social revolution.
In The Painter from Shanghai, Jennifer Cody Epstein renders a passionate depiction of the life of an artist well ahead of her time. The bleak first chapters of Yuliang’s story—as well as her later plights as a woman—are unavoidably reminiscent of Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. If the exquisite young Chiyo used her romantic longing for “the Chairman” to get her through the miseries masked behind her white makeup, Yuliang relied on nearly nothing but her memorized stanzas of Li Qingzhao’s poetry to provide her solace from all the abuse, the beatings, and the scorn she endured in her life. Nevertheless, Cinderella-like moments also present in the book’s more romantic pages make Yuliang’s story also sound as sweet as a classic Chinese fairytale. From her sad early years in a small-town “flower house” to her just-as-trying battles in the art schools of Shanghai and Paris, the book recounts the “tiny tragedies and triumphs” of this spirited young woman in a tone that is constantly shifting—often breaking the reader’s heart with a painful episode, but then quickly following it with a heartwarming scene that offers a glimpse of hope, a touch of comfort, or even a few seconds of bliss.
Epstein also embellishes her debut novel with a backdrop of compelling pictures from Twentieth-Century China. The story—which spans from the end of the imperial era, all through the bloody nationalist campaign, and up to the rise of the communists—is lush with real history, and even features the peculiar (and at times utterly eccentric) customs and traditions that once flourished in the culturally-splendid nation. Though partly fictional, the book appears to depict its turbulent setting with convincing accuracy from the exciting first pages up to the breathtaking ending.
Provocative, inspiring, and insightful—The Painter from Shanghai tells a story that is as colorful as the very art created by its heroine.
There is something distinctively satisfying in the simplistic form and aural quality of Japanese writings. For me, at least, reading a verse that was
There is something distinctively satisfying in the simplistic form and aural quality of Japanese writings. For me, at least, reading a verse that was originally written in Japanese can feel like listening to myself speak in a calm and meditative voice—almost as if I were a Zen monk uttering a venerated proverb. It’s like every word has been carefully considered, and every phrase has been infused with meaning deeper than what the sum of each word reveals in plain sight. Perhaps it has something to do with the very nature of the language, but somehow it seems that even in their English editions, the intrinsic properties definitive of the Japanese prose are often mystically preserved and rarely lost in translation. And Yoko Ogawa’s The Diving Pool certainly doesn’t disappoint in this matter.
The book contains three incisive tales from three female voices, each one troubled by a mind-bending experience that seems to have redefined their very sense of reality. In the first story, a teenage girl harboring an incurable obsession for her foster brother suddenly discovers in herself a capacity—as well as affinity—for something unspeakably sinister. In the second story, another girl records the progress of her sister’s pregnancy, carefully taking notes as the sister's physical condition continues to deteriorate in between abrupt episodes of mysterious mood swings. And in the last tale, a young wife with a husband working abroad gets caught in a lonesome routine until an unexpected call from a long-lost cousin causes her to revisit her old college dorm, and witness the bleak boarding house gradually collapse into something more bizarre.
All three stories take a slow and steady flow for much of their lengths before quickly shifting into a hurried pace as they approach their consistently enigmatic endings. And such are their endings that the stories will likely find their way inside your mind even after days of having finished the book. You will find yourself going back to the inscrutable pages over and over again while the question of what really happened remains a disquieting riddle.
All three novellas also include spine-chilling scenes that place sweet delicacies at the center of something deceptively innocent. In these dark, suspenseful, and at times even amusing tales, it seems that sugar is only as sweet as sin.
Prepare to be perplexed. The Diving Pool is remarkably unsettling.
Henry Perowne wakes up to a typically cold morning in central London and stands behind the tall windows of his bedroom, observing the quiet streets sl
Henry Perowne wakes up to a typically cold morning in central London and stands behind the tall windows of his bedroom, observing the quiet streets slowly come to life in the wee hours before dawn. After several minutes, he notices what first appears to be a meteor burning across the sky, and the ominous sight marks the beginning of a weekend that would soon prove to be impossible to forget.
Henry is a successful man. He is a renowned doctor, the head of neurosurgery in a London hospital. His wife is a formidable lawyer, his son a gifted young musician, and his daughter a promising and alluring poet. He drives a silver Mercedes to a Saturday squash game with his American colleague. But his life of relative luxury is suddenly disturbed when a car accident sparks a chain of events that is bound to affect the lives of everyone in his family.
Narrated in McEwan’s signature style that combines storytelling with extensive musings, Saturday is a magnum opus that is, among other things, marvelously thoughtful. The novel is as much a compilation of quick essays as it is an absorbing work of fiction. Through the thoughts of a rather reflective protagonist, the narrator ponders and wonders about different things in life, almost as if trying to make sense of them all—music, poetry, puberty, society, atrocity, and even the “growing complication of the modern condition”. The entire story, it seems, can be told with less than half the book’s length. But taking out the philosophical and linguistic embellishments that McEwan has meticulously inserted throughout the story would also make the book only half as brilliant. One of McEwan’s greatest talents, perhaps, is the ability to constantly transform his prose between narrative and contemplative, and doing so with classic grace.
All these elaborations make the story flow more slowly, but they also make the story feel more real, more convincing. The narrator is not afraid to constantly take a detour—sometimes as if the narrator himself has forgotten all about the main story—and spend a while to describe a seemingly-random scene from the past that relates with the present, or to recount a significant point in one of the characters’ histories. In one scene, for instance, Perowne was watching Tony Blair speak on TV when all of a sudden his thoughts go back to an art show he attended some time ago where the prime minister had mistaken him for the artist and pretended to remember him. The three-page flashback might get the reader wondering for a while what the sense of it was, but then the scene goes back to the present where Perowne tries to see if Blair’s face gives out any telltale signs that matches his expression when he made the mistake back at the art show.
Quite understandably, some readers won’t find McEwan's style appealing, but it is nevertheless a style that affords the reader a deeper insight and a wider perspective on what the characters are going through. A style that makes room for much empathy.
Saturday is a first-rate novel, a literary achievement that exhibits the fascinating complexity of the human mind.