Akutagawa Ryunosŭké—a Japanese modernist writer—uses his subject matter to reflect the social turmoil, loss of identity, and changing environment of Akutagawa Ryunosŭké—a Japanese modernist writer—uses his subject matter to reflect the social turmoil, loss of identity, and changing environment of his times. Akutagawa lived in a rapidly changing world due to modernization. Some of the most drastic changes that contributed to or were a result of modernism include: the changes in transportation which enabled people to travel in a totally new way and changed people’s conception of time, the introduction and assimilation of foreign culture (Western dress and furniture, influence of Western artists, directors, and writers, etc., adaptation of capitalism), and a rise in consumerism which led to the commodification of art forms. His stories in this collection reflect the repercussions of modernization, illustrating the egotistical nature of humanity, the subjectivity of truth and morality, and the struggle with identity due to a changing world.
Not only did Akutagawa live and write in an interesting time but he is one of those rare artists whose life is equally engrossing as his work. His family had a history of madness and Akutagawa lived with the constant fear of going insane, his latter works give us a glimpse of his slippage into insanity. These stories are brilliant, painful, sad, and artistically executed. I highly recommend this collection of short stories for it shows Akutagawa’s diversity with his craft and its genres include: horror, parables, satires, and autobiographical works. Perhaps more importantly these stories show the nature of man and the flaws of the human spirit.
Waclawiak has a very visceral literary style, that feels refreshing and real. She describes very intimate details of sex and life vividly and unflatteWaclawiak has a very visceral literary style, that feels refreshing and real. She describes very intimate details of sex and life vividly and unflatteringly. After reading How to Get Into the Twin Palms, I felt I had taken a journey in Anya’s body. I could feel her raw, burnt hands, her cut vagina lip, and her losing battle with her newly grown in roots, exposing her artificial hair color. However, as familiar as I was with Anya’s body I never reached the same closeness with Anja’s mind and her motivations seemed lacking. I understand her desire to belong, her isolation of being in between two worlds, not really a part of either. Anja believes that the glamorous and selective world of the Twin Palms will bring her happiness and allow her to lead a totally new interesting life, a life away from being unemployed, unloved, and unnoticed.
Anja is one of the most passive narrators I have ever read. She waits and waits for a man to come into her life, to solve all her problems and create excitement. Once, she finds a man she continues to wait for him, never knowing when he’ll show up on her door step and what he’ll want when he gets there. She does not think about her actions or the consequences of those actions, which makes her a very unsympathetic character. We do not know enough of her background to fully understand the way she behaves. Honestly, I felt more for the old lady, Mary, then I ever felt for Anya. I could feel her grief, loneliness, and isolation in a way that touched me, whereas Anya’s unhappiness seemed to result from herself and the choices she made.
I think the author has promise, but this book could have been better. ...more
This is one of the scariest books ever written. More horrifying is the fact that we live with this threat—a world dying irreversibly from nuclear des This is one of the scariest books ever written. More horrifying is the fact that we live with this threat—a world dying irreversibly from nuclear destruction—every day. It’s bleak, depressing, horrific, and real. Cormac McCarthy shows us the true evil of mankind and their acts—cannibalism, murder, stealing, war, environmental destruction—yet, somehow he shows us the redeeming qualities of mankind as well—benevolence, generosity, concern for your fellow man, importance of knowledge, and most importantly, love. During a time when no hope remains and all seems lost, the boy remains a beacon of hope and old- world values. This is truly amazing because this boy was born into a world of death and has only his father to learn from. This book shows us the destruction of nature like no other and is a truly heart-rending critique of man’s environmental annihilation. Barren streams with skeletons of fish, dead trees falling to the ground with incredible loudness, the whole world empty to any kind of bird call or animal noise, just silence; these are some of the horrific images this book will leave in your head. A painful book to read, but a book everyone should read. A great novel about a father and his son, filled with human anguish and love. ...more
The heart of the story centers on Elsie’s story—a 79 year old German woman who immigrated to the US after WWII. Her story is one of great tragedy and The heart of the story centers on Elsie’s story—a 79 year old German woman who immigrated to the US after WWII. Her story is one of great tragedy and perseverance. She is a strong heroine, full of life, humor, and wit. She speaks with a directness that comes from the heart.
The Baker’s Daughter explores the atrocities of war: the fear and desperation, the hunger and lust, and the cruelty and misery. Yet it also explores the will to adapt and survive, familial love, and the ability to remain compassionate when all compassion seems lost. This book is not black and white, rather it deals with the complexities of the human conscience. Each character struggles with what is right and what is wrong. Do you follow orders and laws even though you disagree with them? Who s responsible for the wrongs being committed? Sarah McCoy does a superb job in bringing up controversial issues and letting the reader explore them, allowing for them to come to their own conclusion.
I liked how McCoy incorporated the use of food into her novel. The story takes places in two bakeries—one in wartime Germany, the other in El Paso, TX. Through imagery she shows the labors involved in producing delicious baked goods. I think you can learn a lot about a culture through their food and the customs surrounding it. Memory is hugely linked with smell and many childhood memories come from the preparation and sharing of meals. Food has the ability to bring disparate people together. I think McCoy demonstrates this well. From the Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake) to Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead), she shows that the preparation of food is not just a utilitarian act, rather it is an act of love.
Another bonus of this novel is that she includes recipes in the back. So you can actually make the homemade brötchen she talks so much about. Overall it's a compassionate novel that will fill the body and soul. ...more
The Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea is a tempest of a book. Mishima writes poetically and his descriptions are a work of art in and of themselThe Sailor who Fell from Grace with the Sea is a tempest of a book. Mishima writes poetically and his descriptions are a work of art in and of themselves. What starts as an innocuous romance novel, quickly turns into a far more sinister tale of destroyed hopes and lost dreams. Throughout the novel love, death, and glory all seem to be intertwined in a matrix of chaos. Ryuji believes that through love you embrace death:
For Ryuji the kiss was death, the very death in love he always dreamed of. The softness of her lips, her mouth so crimson in the darkness he could see it with closed eyes, so infinitely moist, a tepid coral sea, her restless tongue quivering like sea grass . . . in the dark rapture of all this was something directly linked to death. He was perfectly aware that he would leave her in a day, yet he was ready to die happily for her sake. Death roused inside him, stirred. (Mishima 77)
The characters in this book—at least the male characters—all struggle with finding glory. Ryuji believes he can find this through a woman; while Noburo thinks the only way to truly live is to be adventurous and free, forsaking all human ties to explore life on the sea. Ryuji, a sailor, quickly becomes his idol; he puts all his illusions of manliness and glory onto him, imagining him to be the ideal Japanese male and hero. Here in lies the crux of the novel, a young, dispassionate youth struggling to find a path in an unrecognizable, false world.
Noburo’s living in a westernized Japan; even in his most immediate surroundings—his home—traces of Japanese culture are missing: “There wasn’t a single Japanese room in Fusako’s house; her mode of living was thoroughly Western except on New Year’s Day, when she observed tradition by serving the special New Year’s breakfast on lacquered trays and drinking toasts with spiced sake” (Mishima 113). Noburo’s mother, Fusako, embraces and represents westernization. She is a single mother, who owns a retail store that fashions in imported western clothing. Noboru has no father figure and the ideal Japanese figure that he so desperately clings to, seems to have no place in this westernized, peaceful Japan. Him and his gang of friends try to make sense of the world through violence and nihilism. This leads the reader down a very dark path. The way Mishima writes about these brutal acts, makes the reader feel as an unwilling participant to the atrocities being committed. It is quite an eerie feeling.
This was my first introduction to Mishima and though it was brutal, harsh, and unforgiving, it also remains beautiful, thoughtful, and symbolically layered. I will be reading more by him.
I have mixed feelings about Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I find the writing mediocre at best and the characters one dimensional. After reading theI have mixed feelings about Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I find the writing mediocre at best and the characters one dimensional. After reading the book, I felt like I didn’t really know much about the main character. I understood her moods, her depression, fear, isolation, and pain; but not much else. I think this is actually okay, because I know depression can consume you. It can become your identity; it can make you retreat from the world and become apathetic.
The problem is all of the characters in the book are one dimensional: the workaholic mom, the eccentric art teacher facing budget cuts, the dad who is inept in the kitchen, the jocks, the cheerleaders, the Marthas—you get the point. The story could have been so much better if the characters weren’t cardboard cutouts. If a book can delve into such a deep subject matter, then it should be able to deal with more complex characters. I personally didn’t care too much for the book. I found the plot predictable, the execution flawed, and the characters lacking.
That being said, Speak does deliver a very important message and raises awareness about rape to a young audience. Kudos to Anderson for approaching this difficult subject and providing an outlet for teenagers to explore and discuss this issue. If this book helps people find their voice and regain hope, as many reviewers have stated, then this book succeeds. That’s one of the best outcomes an author could wish for--the ability to touch people’s lives. ...more
This book succeeds on so many levels. Orwell states that “Animal Farm was the first book in which [he] tried, with full consciousness of what [he] wa This book succeeds on so many levels. Orwell states that “Animal Farm was the first book in which [he] tried, with full consciousness of what [he] was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole” (Orwell 16) and I believe he does so wholeheartedly. First, "Animal Farm" is one of the harshest political attacks on Stalin and the Russian Revolution, making it very rooted in history. However, even if the reader has no knowledge of Russian politics this book manages to carry universal meanings about humanity and critiques totalitarianism and the tools in which the strong manage to oppress the weak, including: religion, manipulation of laws to suit the government’s end, false promises, brute force if one does not comply with authority, and propaganda to support the ruling class. It critiques communism—not the idea of it—rather the implementation of it and how it could never succeed due to man’s selfish nature to advance oneself. He tells this story in the form of a fable and what starts off so innocent and optimistic—a group of animals working for the common good, equal in status, and resources—takes a dark twist and ends in outright nightmare. Reading this book made me look at all the flaws in my own government today and infuriated me. I actually had to take a break from reading it just to calm down. I think that Orwell has succeeded in writing this book by getting that kind of reaction. Animal Farm ends on a very tragic note and Old Benjamin leaves us with a very pessimistic message: “things never had been, nor ever could be much better or much worse—hunger, hardship, and disappointment being, so he said, the unalterable law of life” (Orwell 130). I cannot help that some day we will surmount this and on that I leave you with Imagine by John Lennon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-b7qaS...
When I first heard of Eden Lake I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I admit at first I was a skeptic. Did I really want to read about a sum When I first heard of Eden Lake I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. I admit at first I was a skeptic. Did I really want to read about a summer camp “that has become a pricey playground for entitled suburbanites”? Not really. However, Roper’s novel goes beyond the clichés of grief and tragedy and challenges the hypocrisy of idealism for the elite and the elite only. How can one hope to change the world through the youth, if that youth is from one socio-economic class? The novel attempts to deal with these questions as well as ideas about truth and communication with children and what is and isn’t appropriate. Abe sums it up nicely when he says, “Truth was such a tricky thing when it came to children. When was it good medicine and when was it poison?” (Roper 321). This question plagues all adults in their search to teach, guide, and help children as they reach maturation and suffice it to say, there is no right answer.
This novel explores the complexities of the human soul and the relationships between family members. It shows how secrets can destroy and alter one’s entire worldview in the blink of an eye. More importantly it shows us that we are human and though we may embrace idealism, we remain flawed. A great debut novel that shows the complexities of the human heart and its struggle for understanding. ...more
This book consists of a series of vignettes loosely linked by themes of poverty, oppression, and unrealized dreams. The book stunningly conveys the e This book consists of a series of vignettes loosely linked by themes of poverty, oppression, and unrealized dreams. The book stunningly conveys the emotions and fears of a young girl coming to age in a harsh world, a world where options are limited. Sandra Cisneros illustrates that young girls living in the slums, feel forced into marrying, to escape an endless life of poverty and hardship. However, she critiques the idea of marriage being a viable solution; she shows that many of the girls, who choose marriage as an escape, marry abusive men who treat them as possessions and the girls end up in a prison just as bad as the one they left. I felt that her ideas on women oppression and feminist ideas were interesting and well founded, but I did think it was a little over done, portraying all men in abusive roles. I thought it was really interesting that in her author’s note it states that “she is nobody’s mother and nobody’s wife”. This statement carried mixed emotions to me. On the one hand it shows that twenty seven years after writing “The House on Mango Street”, she has remained true to her feminist ideas of marriage and independence—an accomplishment because very few actually stick to their youthful convictions—but it also filled me with sadness because it shows that she has never gotten over her childhood trauma to find someone she could trust enough to want to marry. The reason I gave this book three stars is that some of the vignettes are really powerful, while others are just forgettable. Also, the only character in the book that truly has dimension is Esperanza. Throughout the book, Cisneros tries to critique stereotypes of class and race, yet her characters, except Esperanza, remain cardboard cutouts of people from the slums. Overall it’s a good book, with some minor flaws. ...more
**spoiler alert** Paul Theroux’s Ozone shows humanity for all its flaws and imperfections. It is a novel about a group of privileged, sheltered, and e**spoiler alert** Paul Theroux’s Ozone shows humanity for all its flaws and imperfections. It is a novel about a group of privileged, sheltered, and egotistical members of the upper echelons of society and their confrontation with the unchartered wilderness and inhabitants of Ozone. Throughout the novel the characters find themselves asking the question what does it mean to be human and what separates the humans from the “aliens”? As the novel progresses the answers become more and more blurred and the idea that nurture and luck factor more into one’s quality of life versus innate intelligence prevails. As well as critiquing class and superiority complexes, the novel critiques corporate greed and the willingness to sacrifice the environment and people’s lives to make a profit. Hardy’s job is to find places in impoverished, undeveloped nations to build artificial thermal mountains in order to use up surplus oil; he does not care how many people die or what the repercussions are on the land. The job appeals to his ego because it allows him to play God—by creating thermal mountains he can alter and control the weather; meanwhile the company is using him to keep the price of oil high and in demand. Another idea being critiqued is the idea of a hyper-secure, privacy-violating police state. Because of the unrationalizing fear of the other, the Owners of Cold Harbor waive all their rights and go through intense security checks in order to obtain safety. However, as the book progresses we see how unsafe, despite all its security checks, Cold Harbor really is. Godseye flies over the city every night and attacks anyone who displays fear or seems suspicious; on one of these hunts a female mistaken for an “alien” is murdered and the murderers are not only unprosecuted, but encouraged to continue their nightly massacres. And as we later discover, many aliens are masquerading as Owners, showing that the security measures are all a farce. The book—though set in the future—deals with many of the problems of today, including: immigration, oppression of the poor to sustain the high quality living of the developed world, corporate greed, political cover up (the government hides information about Ozone’s contamination by Nuclear waste), fear leading to a police state, etc. When I first started this book, I detested the characters and found the book a little dry, but as the story progresses one begins to understand the characters psyches and it is fun to watch their transformations. Theroux shows how the primitive often are the most civilized of us all. Theroux writes an entertaining, suspenseful novel that warns us of a future that might come to fruition if we do not alter our current course. ...more
The Ghost Trap shows us a side of Maine rarely seen. This isn’t the picturesque vacationland, littered with multi-million dollar historic mansions, w The Ghost Trap shows us a side of Maine rarely seen. This isn’t the picturesque vacationland, littered with multi-million dollar historic mansions, whose occupants reside there only a small portion of the year. No this is a much different scene. This is the heart and soul of Maine, flaws and all. It’s about a community of lobstermen who risk their lives and souls everyday on the formidable sea. It shows the struggle, fear, and stress of relying on the bounties of the sea for survival, but more importantly it explores the nature of man and the psychological cloaks and motivations one uses to get by. It’s a tragic story of love and loyalty, humor and sadness, and friends and family. ...more
This book was original and the psychological insight into the characters was realistic and refreshing—no doubt her background in psychology contributeThis book was original and the psychological insight into the characters was realistic and refreshing—no doubt her background in psychology contributes to this. However, the story itself was grim, depressing, and weird.
Now don't get me wrong, I love stories and events that go beyond the norm and violate expectations. Life would be a very boring place indeed without uniqueness and imagination, and I wouldn't be a fan of Murakami if I couldn't handle the fantastical and bizarre. Stupid Children, however, seems to be written to emphasize the weird for the sake of being weird; I gather this from reading the book, but also by participating in the author-reader discussion on The Next Best Book club.
The book was extremely depressing; it dealt with suicide, lunacy, sexual abuse, drug addiction, physical abuse, cults, death, self harm, need I continue . . . After reading it I'm not sure what the author was trying to convey, besides the fact that people can be brainwashed into a cult mentality, especially if exposed at a young age. The ending was too abrupt for my liking.
I do give credit to her creativity and style, but I think she got carried away in trying to emphasize the weirdness and horror without any clear direction or meaning. ...more