I just read an interview with Murakami that was published in the Paris Review in 2004. He said this about his book Kafka on the Shore: "The story is vI just read an interview with Murakami that was published in the Paris Review in 2004. He said this about his book Kafka on the Shore: "The story is very complicated and very hard to follow. But my style, my prose, is very easy to read." The same applies to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Note that in many reviews, writers include a selection of favorite passages. I had the same inclination. It's the prose that hooks the reader. The first Murakami book that I read was Norwegian Wood, which is 100% realistic. In the same 2004 interview, Murakami says that he did it as an exercise, to prove that he could do it, but also to appeal to readers who don't like surrealism. To entice them from the realistic into the surrealistic. Well, that worked for me. I'm glad I didn't start with Murakami's more surreal books, but now I'm hooked and I will plunge into more of his books.
Published in three volumes, I like the last book the best. In this book, many of the threads come together. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle begins very ordinarily. Toru Okada's cat is missing. He is recently unemployed, while his wife works for a magazine. Slowly the books become stranger, with numerous supernatural elements. But it also has historical fiction, with stories from Japan's military incursion into China. He meets a woman whose father was the veterinarian at the zoo in Manchukuo, which was Manchuria under the Chinese. Toru also meets an elderly man who had harrowing experiences in China during World War II. His story is told in person and through letters. These stories are realistic and provide an interesting contrast to the increasingly strange plot developments. In some ways the book reminded me of Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being, especially the young high school girl May Kasahara, Toru's neighbor. Murakami's prose is beautiful and reading this book is an immersive experience. Although it is long, I would put it down from time to time to think about its themes: identity, the relationship between past and present, and the nature of war.
I did not especially like the end but it made sense in the world that Murakami created. A killer ending would have bumped it to five stars for me. But it's a minor quibble. What was real? What was metaphorical? What was magical? In the end, it didn't matter. It was the experience of reading the novel that was important. ...more
I recently read The Plot Against America, which I loved, so I thought I would go back to the beginning read Roth's first book, Goodbye, Columbus and FI recently read The Plot Against America, which I loved, so I thought I would go back to the beginning read Roth's first book, Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories. It was excellent. I've been in a Jewish Book Group for about six years and I wish we had read Roth earlier. I had only read Portnoy's Complaint, years ago, and it didn't really resonate with me. After I read "Goodbye, Columbus," I re-watched the film adaptation with Richard Benjamin and Ali McGraw. It's an outstanding adaptation -- capturing the feel of the book and the themes. The big change is that the novella is set in 1957 or 1958 and the film is set about ten years later. It has this weird late-sixties vibe, fueled by songs by The Association. It reminded me a lot of The Graduate and I highly recommend the film, but back to the book.
Everyone knows the novella of the title, but the other stories are also exceptional, especially for a first-time author who 26-years-old when the book was published. My favorite stories were "The Conversion of the Jews" and "Defender of the Faith," but all of them are beautifully written and offer insight into the American Jewish experience at the time. I honestly couldn't put this book down. Next, I think I'm going to read The Human Stain. The young professor who led our discussion of The Plot Against American recommended it; I trust her judgment.
Ian McEwan is one of my favorite authors and The Children Act has become one of my favorite books by him. In fact, it is one of my favorite books, perIan McEwan is one of my favorite authors and The Children Act has become one of my favorite books by him. In fact, it is one of my favorite books, period. It deals with the world of moral dilemma. When we tell our kids, "The world is not black and white; in life we are required to make difficult decisions," this is what we mean. Judge Fiona Maye daily confronts life's difficult decisions of the kind that change people's lives. Or end them. Although this book is short, it is thought-provoking and laden with meaning. McEwan calls us to question our beliefs and examine our ability to make tough decisions. It is fascinating that he situated his book between law and religion, at a time when Fiona is facing a crisis in her personal life, which she has had to push aside at times in her professional life.
McEwan also brings in music, as Fiona is also a pianist. In one of the most beautiful passages in the book, Fiona uses music to connect with the young man who is central to the novel. Adam has leukemia and he is refusing a needed blood transfusion on religious grounds. He is three months short of his 18th birthday so the hospital has asked the family court to step in and compel Adam to have the transfusion. Fiona decides that she wants to meet Adam, so she pauses the trial and goes to his hospital, where his condition is deteriorating. Together, they have a magical musical moment that helped me see Fiona in a new light.
The book has a surprising ending, but it is a completely believable ending. This is a small gem of a book. To me, it was nearly perfect. ...more
The House of Silk is an excellent Sherlock Holmes novel written by Anthony Horowitz! I was pleasantly surprised after reading his second effort, MoriaThe House of Silk is an excellent Sherlock Holmes novel written by Anthony Horowitz! I was pleasantly surprised after reading his second effort, Moriarity, which was a major disappointment. This just confirms by belief that a Sherlock Holmes novel without Holmes or Watson is a waste of time. Calling Anthony Horowitz: The House of Silk reads like a one-off, but if Holmes came back from Reichenbach Falls, you can bring back Holmes and Watson. Moriarty alone is no substitute!
The book brings together two seemingly disconnected plotlines. At one point Watson recognizes this by saying "...it was as if two of my narratives had somehow got muddled together so that the characters from one were unexpectedly appearing in the other" (172). Indeed. But of course, it wasn't a muddle. All is revealed in the end. Holmes is approached by an art dealer named Edmund Carstairs who believes he has been followed back from a buying trip to the U.S. by a criminal bent on his murder. Carstairs' home is robbed and when Holmes and Watson track down the thief, he has been murdered. Case closed. Not really. Holmes found the thief with the help of the Baker Street Irregulars, young street kids whom he employs from time to time. One of the street kids named Ross is left to watch the house where the thief has entered while another boy summons Holmes. But soon Ross has disappeared. Why? Could his disappearance be linked to the theft? Holmes feels that he may have involved Ross in a dangerous situation. Soon he and Watson are plunged into a very complex and nasty criminal enterprise.
The House of Silk is extremely well-written and convincingly captures the language of 1890, the style of Conan Doyle, and the voice of John Watson. Horowitz drops tantalizing hints throughout the book but I was completely taken by surprise by the solution. That's my favorite kind of mystery! ...more
Ok, this is my kind of book and after a slightly slow beginning, author Stewart O'Nan hooked me and we were off and running. West of Sunset tells theOk, this is my kind of book and after a slightly slow beginning, author Stewart O'Nan hooked me and we were off and running. West of Sunset tells the fictionalized story of F. Scott Fitzgerald's three years in Hollywood at the end of his life. Like many others, I've been a little obsessed with The Lost Generation since college. I tore through all of Fitzgerald's published works the summer before my senior year in college, then read Nancy Milford's biography of Zelda Fitzgerald and Zelda's novel Save Me the Waltz. I admit that I found more sympathy for Zelda than for Scott in those years, but she descended into madness in her late twenties and despite a few rebounds, she never recovered. I recently re-read A Moveable Feast, in which Hemingway portrays Fitzgerald in a very unfavorable light, but he doesn't like Zelda either. Finally, my book club recently read The Paris Wife, which clinched it for me: I don't like Hemingway and I was ready to give Scott another chance. When I saw an interview with Stewart O'Nan in the L.A. Times last Sunday, I ran out and bought the book. I was surprised to realize that I knew very little about this final period of Scott's life.
West of Sunset reads like a memoir rather than a novel. I have never read anything else by Stewart O'Nan, but he basically inhabits Fitzgerald's psyche. By 1937, Zelda is in a mental hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, daughter Scottie is in a prep school in the East, and Scott is trying to pay off his many debts by writing screenplays in Hollywood. Good luck with that. In the beginning he makes quite a bit of money, but most of his screenplays go unproduced (some things never change) and over time, Scott's alcoholism reasserts its control over his life. During this period Scott also fell in love with the gossip columnist Sheilah Graham, who had her own secrets. It's hard to imagine that Scott would have lasted as long as he did in Hollywood without Sheilah. But the important thing to know about her is that she was a professional woman in a time when there were very few and she was not about to be sabotaged by Scott's demons. Scott and Sheilah were a couple until his death, but Scott was devoted for life to Zelda and although toward the end she offered him a divorce, it wasn't going to happen.
Part of O'Nan's brilliant channeling of Fitzgerald must have been due to meticulous research, using what appear to be actual letters to lend authenticity to the narrative. But actually it's even more magical because it's fiction that reads as though it could have been written by Fitzgerald himself. The author doesn't explain things that the author would have known, such as his arrangement to borrow money from his agent. These kinds of facts are slowly revealed through conversations with friends and family. The reader has the experience of being Fitzgerald's confidante, privy to his increasingly unsuccessful attempts to stop drinking and but like Scott surprised than his apartment is filled with so many empty liquor bottles that he has hidden from Sheilah. She is adamant that he stop drinking and smoking, especially after his first heart attack. But the reader know that the damaged has been done and that the result will be Fitzgerald's tragic death at the age of 44. But he worked himself to death in order to care for Zelda and Scottie. He wrote and wrote trying to make a living, pulling out all of the stops. I know why Sheilah was frustrated by Scott and discouraged by his self-destructiveness, but in the end, I admired his tenacity and commitment to his family.
And finally, who doesn't want an insider's view of life in the Hollywood studios during the 1930s? It's even more interesting because the insider is also an outsider, a Midwesterner, a writer past his prime, and on the fringes of Hollywood society. Sheilah Graham is his entree to the parties and in the end she uses her contacts to help him sell the rights to Babylon Revisited, saving him from financial ruin. O'Nan perfectly captures the glamour and the dissipation. The beauty of the city but also its tawdriness. The perfect weather, but also the heat and the loneliness. Fitzgerald was a friend of screenwriter Nathaniel West, who gave him a copy of his Los Angeles novel, Day of the Locust. Scott thought it too bleak and depressing, but I suspect think that was because he had Sheilah as his safety net and he never hit rock bottom.
Last word: Read the book. You won't be disappointed. ...more
I read Broken Monsters because I read The Shining Girls over the holiday break and loved it. The Shining Girls features a time-traveling serial killerI read Broken Monsters because I read The Shining Girls over the holiday break and loved it. The Shining Girls features a time-traveling serial killer, a conceit that blew me away with its brilliance. Beukes is an outstanding writer and I was ecstatic to learn that she had another book out, Broken Monsters. It's a murder mystery with a supernatural bent. The idea of evil disconnected from people made me a little queasy, but I pushed through it. Loved this book too...
Partly it's the setting. Detroit, at the time when the financial crisis is just beginning to crash into the city. There's a serial killer at work, one with a sick artistic orientation. But this book is also about the ways in which people in a city under siege pull together and try to support one another. Broken Monsters focuses on the way the art community did this in Detroit. What so amazing is that Lauren Beukes lives in South Africa, and yet she did such thorough research in the city of Detroit that she completely makes you fall in love with its scrappiness and the determination of its residence to find beauty in the desolation and bring the city back to life through art.
Beukes is also a master of characterization. Early in the book she introduces the cast and as with The Shining Girls we meet the killer right away. We also meet a Latina police detective Gabriela and her adolescent daughter Layla; Layla's friend, Cas, a girl with a secret; Jonno, a truly reprehensible "journalist" from New York City trying to get some freelance work by reporting on the meltdown in Detroit; and -- my favorite -- a homeless man named Tom Keen or TK, who demonstrates how those who have the least often give the most. In the beginning, the murderer -- the Detroit Monster -- seems to be psychotic; he knows something is wrong and thinks he might have a brain tumor. But eventually it becomes clear that he is the instrument of a malevolent spirit who demands murder.
It's difficult to say much more without revealing too much, but this book kept me up at night, with my heart pounding, wanting to read more but also wanting to stretch it out as long as possible. Can't wait for Beukes's next book.