I picked up Norwegian Wood, because I wanted to give Murakami another chance. I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle last year and was not a fan. Although...moreI picked up Norwegian Wood, because I wanted to give Murakami another chance. I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle last year and was not a fan. Although I enjoyed Murakami's voice and writing style (or at least how it comes across through Ruben's translation), but I finished the novel with a huge question-mark plastered across my face. I felt like everything went over my head, and I just didn't "get it." Everything was just too fantastic, and I couldn't extract the message from all the novel's crazy events.
I enjoyed Norwegian Wood much more. I felt that the books are surprisingly similar in their characters (I could almost draw a one-to-one mapping), and both works are not particularly plot-driven. The stories are about the development of the characters rather than the actual events that shape them, and the tone of both books is very subdued.
However, unlike Wind-Up Bird, the book is grounded in realism. Although Murakami makes a characteristic well reference early on, there is no surrealism and nothing particularly fantastic. These are life-like characters in life-like situations with no mystical happenings.
I can almost liken Norwegian Wood to the book's "Ami Hostel" retreat. It provides a quiet, calm environment that allows the reader/patient to heal himself through introspection and reflection. However, the book often feels a tinge melancholy, but peaceful at the same time.(less)
I often find it hard to review a book when it wasn't quite what I was expecting, and that is the case with The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. Based on the...moreI often find it hard to review a book when it wasn't quite what I was expecting, and that is the case with The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. Based on the subtitle, the cover text, and a quick skim of the first few chapters, and I thought this would be a book explaining the history and evolution of Chinese food in the United States. Having wondered how American Chinese food developed, this topic sounded especially interesting to me, and for the first few chapters I was happily rewarded with explanations of the development of the fortune cookie, the history of General Tso's Chicken, and the origins of Chop Suey. However, after addressing those three dishes, the book chooses to focus the rest of its pages at the Chinese restaurant industry as a whole. It discusses everything from takeout menus to illegal immigration, but the dishes themselves are generally left by the wayside (I appreciated a few cursory sentences in one of the final chapters that hinted at the creation of certain popular Indian Chinese dishes like Gobi Manchurian and Chicken Lollipops.)
Had the subtitle been "Adventures in the Chinese Restaurant Industry," perhaps the book would have felt more appropriate. At some point about 2/3 through reading, I actually stopped and re-read the back cover to look for any hints that the book was about the restaurant industry rather than the food itself, but the phrasing of the cover text used vague phrases that may have alluded to this but were certainly open to other interpretations. Maybe it's unreasonable of me to expect to find a book dedicated solely to the American adaptation of Chinese cuisine, but I find the stories fascinating. This began when I first tried 宫保鸡丁 (the original Kung Pao Chicken) and later learned that the flavor could never be reproduced in its US counterpart, because the tingly peppercorns iconic to Sichuan cuisine were - until recently - illegal to import into the US because of a certain bacteria they carried. Thanks to the FDA restriction, American Kung Pao Chicken developed a remarkably different flavor!
Once I got past the fact that the book was no longer covering the material I had hoped it would address, I did still find it interesting. The explanations of the historical changes in Chinese immigration from Cantonese to Fujianese were intriguing, but I found the anecdotal stories of the illegal immigrants to be a bit sensationalist (forgivable, as this is a mainstream bestseller after all). The book does provide a comprehensive understanding of the Chinese restaurant industry as a whole, but for me it felt somewhat irrelevant living outside the US, where the restaurant workers' stories are a bit different. The American Chinese dishes I grew up with are still fresh in my mind, but the establishments in which I found them have faded into nostalgic obscurity.(less)
When I picked up this book, I simply thought it sounded like an intriguing story, and I didn't realize that it was based on the life of a real person....moreWhen I picked up this book, I simply thought it sounded like an intriguing story, and I didn't realize that it was based on the life of a real person. Upon reading Lindley's brief introduction, I was surprised to learn that she was inspired to write the book by Maggie Han's brief appearance as Eastern Jewel in the film The Last Emperor. Han's character had also struck a chord with me, and I was able to recall in detail the exact character and scenes that Lindley alluded to and was even more excited to read the book.
However, while the book way generally okay, overall I found it a little disappointing. I felt that Lindley struggled a bit too much to make the character likable and to develop a back story to justify Eastern Jewel's selfish behavior.
Although disruptive to the narrative, the dreams do offer a look at the world through the veil of opium and provide a glimpse of the lives the women lived in their drugged sleep. The vivid sex scenes underscore the character's liberated attitudes and racy social behavior that made her notorious in her time. With few mentions of her society's collectively-negative reaction to Eastern Jewel's behavior, I felt that despite the graphic descriptions, her sexual escapades failed to appear that shocking to the contemporary reader. Finally, as the sections were already neatly divided geographically by Eastern Jewel's various assignments, the food-based chapter titles just felt contrived.
As a whole, I really wanted to like this book. The racy and interesting historical story could stand on its on. It would make a great pulp historical fiction bestseller in the vein of Philippa Gregory, but it feels like the book is trying to be too much more and ends up lost in between.(less)
This short book is a literary sketch describing a family's experience during the Japanese American internment. The writing is descriptive and evokes c...moreThis short book is a literary sketch describing a family's experience during the Japanese American internment. The writing is descriptive and evokes clear images of the camp and its residents, but it feels short on plot. Anyone who has ever heard of the relocation knows the basic plot of this book, and there isn't a great deal of character development to carry the story. At points during the time in the camp, the author makes subtle hints about changes, especially in the daughter and mother, but it doesn't feel like these are fully realized, and the reader doesn't see many effects of this changes. Perhaps the most interesting character is actually the father, who appears only briefly in the book.
Given its short length and detailed setting, this book feels more like a very long magazine article than a novel. I would love to see the author use the current story as a framework for a more fully-developed novel.(less)
Reading the plot synopsis, I couldn't quite figure out what this book was about of if it was something I would be interested in. I realize now that wr...moreReading the plot synopsis, I couldn't quite figure out what this book was about of if it was something I would be interested in. I realize now that writing a plot summary for this book is pretty much futile, as the basic plot serves simply as a vessel to carry Murakami's unusual characters and surreal situations. As such, there's not always a lot of flow to the story and virtually no resolution at the end.
The writing itself is quite interesting and appears as though it's dripping with symbolism. Unfortunately, this all went sailing over my head and left me confused, wondering what it was supposed to mean. I toyed briefly with the idea of searching out a critical explanation and re-reading it to better understand the books subtle recurring themes and imagery, but while I still have so many things on my to-read list, a re-read of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle will have to remain on the shelf.(less)