This short novel is about Bilodo, an "inquisitive postman," who steals the mail from two penpals exchanging letters in haiku. He witnesses the older mThis short novel is about Bilodo, an "inquisitive postman," who steals the mail from two penpals exchanging letters in haiku. He witnesses the older man's death and moves into inhabit his life. The first half of this is the dottering old man trope (featuring a young man), and the second half feels like a Murakami imitation. I don't think it worked very well, but I'm so not a fan of solitary quirky characters, so I'm willing to say this just isn't for me.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review....more
I started this book as a review copy eBook, and finished it with the print from the library (which I think we got from the UK based on the cover art.)I started this book as a review copy eBook, and finished it with the print from the library (which I think we got from the UK based on the cover art.)
This book is complex and I really enjoyed it. I suspected it could win the Man Booker Prize based solely on its description, and I was not disappointed. I am a sucker for music discussed in fiction, so the central theme of music really did the trick for me. I discovered only later that many of the characters and events surrounding the conservatory were real events that actually happened! This article from The Guardian delves into some of those details. I was dithering between four and five stars but discovering the depth of research pushed it easily into five stars.
"How had he never noticed, Sparrow thought tipsily, just how deeply music could lie?"
The form of the novel itself seems to be somewhat musical, repeating themes, circling back around to previous events or movements, ending where we begin. It's a symphony. An opera. Something like that. This allows the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, aka "the June 4th incident," to be the climax of the work. The narrative moves between generations, but also between various locations in China and two eras in Canada.
The rural parts of the novel, the small Chinese communities with specific characters, and everyone trying to survive, reminded me of the novels of Mo Yan (recent winner of the Nobel Prize.) I just kept thinking of the spring onions in one of his novels, the last sustaining growing thing. But when it comes to Tiananmen Square, I don't know if I've ever felt such a connection to the growing disillusionment experienced by the Chinese people, and what led to that day.
"The only life that matters is in your mind. The only truth is the one that lives invisibly, that waits even after you close the book. Silence, too, is a kind of music. Silence will last."
Another thread running through the novel is this book of records, a book left by the narrator's father, and the various ways that this carries the details of the stories is best left to the discovery of the reader. I liked the tangent this spun off into and how it came back together in the end.
"We were not unalike, my father and I; we wanted to keep a record. We imagined there were truths waiting for us - about ourselves and those we loved, about the times we lived in- within our reach, if only we had the eyes to see them."
This book snuck up on me. About halfway through, the emotions felt too real, so I went poking around in the author's life. I hadn't read anything by MThis book snuck up on me. About halfway through, the emotions felt too real, so I went poking around in the author's life. I hadn't read anything by Miriam Toews before, but apparently her earlier novels are well known in Canada, set in the Russian-immigrant Mennonite communities. This one is about a woman in her 40s, Yolandi, and her older sister who really wants to take her own life. This novel was written after the author's sister killed herself. In their Mennonite community, suicide is a frequent painful occurrence (her father also took his own life.) The fact that they are Mennonite is important in this novel too, and the author does explore the power of fleeing massacre in one country on the children of immigrants.
This sounds like an incredibly sad story, but actually it isn't. Of course suicide is sad, and depression is difficult. But suicide attempts are also full of drudgery, and waiting in hospitals, and worrying about lapses in communication and arguing with a ridiculous medical system more interested in enforcing rules than helping a suicidal person (this book is a clear critique of the Canadian mental health system, not something I can really weigh in on.)
The book sent me off on my own mental tangents. I worry, sometimes, about my own sisters. The author asks important questions like how much can you really do about family members in difficult situations? How far will you go to help someone? How do you preserve your own life within the chaos of family drama? Love doesn't prevent pain, in fact it can sometimes mean that the pain is shared, distributed. Toews is able to demonstrate this more than any author I've read. I've also found quite a few similarities to a Mennonite childhood to my own upbringing, and not just in this novel. The first time that happened I think was when I read Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home.
Don't be thrown off by the ease of her storytelling that starts everything out, there is depth here.
This quote about libraries takes on a very bittersweet meaning in the end: "Yoli, she said, I'm just saying that apologies aren't the bedrock of civilized society. All right! I said. I agree. But what is the bedrock of civilized society? Libraries, said Elf."
"Heck yeah do we ever know what sad is. Sadness is what holds our bones in place."
"What you do at the pulpit would be considered lunatic behavior on the street. You can't go around terrorizing people and making them feel small and shitty and then call them evil when they destroy themselves."
"Where does the violence go, if not directly back into our blood and bones?" ...more
I received a copy of this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I previously read two novels by Nalo Hopkinson, but had not read any ofI received a copy of this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I previously read two novels by Nalo Hopkinson, but had not read any of her short stories. Overall they are idea stories, as long as they need to be (or as short, since one was only two pages), and range from urban fantasy to dystopia to the weird to magic to myth. I loved the author's note at the beginning explaining the title, which is not from any of the stories, but a summary of her own experience.
"The Easthound" This one starts with a mishearing of the eastbound train and goes from there to a world where puberty brings beastly things.
“Soul Case” This story is a great example of how Nalo Hopkinson weaves Caribbean themes into her stories, from an island of "maroons" defending their lives from slave owners.
“Message in a Bottle” Oh this is probably my absolute favorite story because I just didn't expect where it was going. Beware of children.
“The Smile on the Face” Gilla... monster? Another triumph of everyday life mixed with some surprises.
“Left Foot, Right” This reminded me of her more recent book with the sisters and the death.
“Old Habits” I lied, this one is my favorite, the mythology of mall ghosts.
“Emily Breakfast” Emily Breakfast is a chicken.
“Herbal” How many floors up can your elephant reach?
“A Young Candy Daughter” A lovely holiday tale.
“A Raggy Dog, a Shaggy Dog” Okay this one is more of the weird variety, an orchid grower with orchid tattoos, who uses the fire alarm to keep the plants hydrated.
“Shift” Oh bizarre. I'm not sure I quite grasped it particularly the Shakespeare references....
“Delicious Monster” Wow, more mythology intertwined with everyday life.
“Snow Day” Written for a challenge, maybe my least favorite.
“Flying Lessons” Shortie
“Whose Upward Flight I Love” Super shortie, but perhaps the most personal, the triumph of nature in a too-cold place written by someone who is from warmer places...
“Blushing” Oh my god. Blackbeard with a twist.
“Ours Is the Prettiest” Part of the Bordertown shared worlds idea.
“Men Sell Not Such in Any Town” Are you Enlightened? Soon enough?...more
One of my co-workers listens to a lot of audio, so when I asked her for some favorites, she exclusively spoke on the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache seOne of my co-workers listens to a lot of audio, so when I asked her for some favorites, she exclusively spoke on the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series. She said she only goes to another author if there isn't a new title to listen to, and sometimes even goes back to relisten. I don't read a lot of mystery novels so I decided to have a brief diversion and give it a try.
It is a typical cozy mystery with a cast of quirky characters but I enjoyed it. After all, I usually find I read mysteries not for the mystery but for the setting and the people. In audio it was hard to keep track of them at first but it got better, and if the series continues with the same people that will help (I'm not sure if it is just the inspector who is consistent or everyone.)
If you like northeast Canada, and a mystery novel, you will probably like this.
This was one of the books I tried out during a book speed dating project, the first one of 2016. I lik"She married him easily, like trying on a shoe."
This was one of the books I tried out during a book speed dating project, the first one of 2016. I liked it enough to pick it back up again. It's really too bad that the strength of the first 50 pages never picks up and goes anywhere. Margaret Atwood introduces the reader to a handful of characters that are all facing relationship crises - and then they tread water until the end of the book. Very disappointing. But perhaps that's her point? That spouses linger in our lives because we know them better than our new partners, that responsibilities can't just be cut off, that unless you pick up and move your old patterns have a lot of power. Well, even if it is the point, it wasn't particularly enjoyable to read and I had to kind of power through to the end. The book wasn't on my radar at all among the most spoken about Atwood works, and that makes sense since it was published in 1979 (and is set in 1977.) An early work!...more
I first encountered this book on a GoodReads list, Anticipated Literary Reads for Readers of Color 2014. I'm not really comfortable with the term "colI first encountered this book on a GoodReads list, Anticipated Literary Reads for Readers of Color 2014. I'm not really comfortable with the term "color" but the list is great, and I added almost everything to my to-read list, since I am always trying to read new authors from different backgrounds. Then it came up on NetGalley and I jumped at the chance, and the publisher agreed to let me read an eARC for an honest review.
For Today I Am a Boy is about Peter, one of the youngest siblings in a Chinese-Canadian family, who struggles with his gender identity without having a name for it or a game plan. The author does a good job of demonstrating the difficulty of exploring gender within the confines of a traditional family with specific expectations for boys, but also the very real limits of self-denial and self-hatred. When Peter encounters a community of people more fluid in gender and sexual identity, it is almost like he doesn't know how to handle it, as he has lived so much of his true self in secret. I loved the details of the restaurant world, and it makes me think the author has had some experience there. Restaurants do tend to draw in the people who are on the outskirts!
I loved the ending, but won't spoil it here. Recommended....more
In trying to describe this book, I end up with a fairly long list - a journal of 16 year old Nao living in Japan, her great-uncle's diaries from WorldIn trying to describe this book, I end up with a fairly long list - a journal of 16 year old Nao living in Japan, her great-uncle's diaries from World War II, a biography of her grandmother Niko, and a later-parallel story of Ruth, an author living in Canada who finds Nao's journal and other ephemera washed up on her island shore. Just these ideas and concepts were almost one too many, and then the author decided to throw in a touch of bizarre quantum mechanics, people struggling with Alzheimers, memory loss, suicide attempts, bullying, and a bizarre character trying to plant ancient plants.
If the list seems overwhelming, I do think it was too much for 400ish pages. At times it just gets to be a bit of an information dump. Add in the constantly defined Japanese terms and philosophers remembered by the plant-husband and the great-uncle in his letters (really, he quotes French philosophers verbatim!)... you would think it would be hard to cut through to the story. Nao's personal story still kept me reading, although she suffered from the same paralysis as the rest of the characters in the book, where instead of reaching out to solve their problems, they punish themselves.
One little tidbit from Nao's journal that is a good capture of her tone: "Whenever I think about my stupid empty life, I come to the conclusion that I'm just wasting my time, and I'm not the only one. Everybody I know is the same... Just wasting time, killing time, feeling crappy." (Quote from NetGalley version, may be altered in final.)
The presence of quantum mechanics in this book might seem puzzling, but her zen-nun grandmother teaches her, "to do zazen is to enter time completely." Nao takes that idea into her journal and addresses all her entries to the "Time Being," inviting the reader to travel with her. The title read that way becomes a play on the words.
ETA: The funniest thing happened when I went to NetGalley to post my review of this book - the book had disappeared from that database. Maybe the author knows what she's talking about, maybe my actions made it disappear. :P...more
Makeda and Abby were born conjoined twins, but that isn't the strangest part of their birth - their father is a demigod, from a family of demigods, anMakeda and Abby were born conjoined twins, but that isn't the strangest part of their birth - their father is a demigod, from a family of demigods, and had reproduced with a human to the great chagrin of his family.
When they were split apart, only Abby got any mojo, making Makeda a useless, normal, human. This is their story during a family crisis.
I have been wanting to read Nalo Hopkinson ever since meeting Tobias S. Buckell at a Shared Worlds reading. We chatted about Caribbean fantasy and science fiction authors, and he gave me the short list of the three I should read - Buckell, Lord, and Hopkinson. This is my first of Nalo's, and I'll be back. While she is living in Canada now, and this book is set near Lake Ontario, the Caribbean influence is so prevalent that each mention of Canadian setting would shake me up a bit.
Between the hoodoo and the kudzu and the Caribbean food and slang, I'd just forget. I really enjoyed reading this book, and look forward to more. Here is an example of the sensory writing:
"I perceived Abby as a shimmering arpeggio, lavender shot through with juniper green and scented with a bouquet of seawater and new shoe leather. I wondered how she saw me."...more
I've read two other volumes of stories by Alice Munro, and I would say that I feel the same way about this volume - solid stories, but not anything thI've read two other volumes of stories by Alice Munro, and I would say that I feel the same way about this volume - solid stories, but not anything that connects deeply with me.
There are at least three stories that feature trains, but most take place in Ontario around Lake Huron, many in past eras, in poor, underpopulated, chilly places. Several had moments where suddenly something happens, and I'd have to read back because I wasn't paying enough attention. Or the author would explain what happened after the fact. One instance of this I'm still not sure I understood.
The last four stories are autobiographical, in a section labeled "Finale," and the author says they are the first and last things she wants to say. I wonder if this means this is her last book? She was born in 1931, and her lifetime has seen so many changes in society, which comes across well in that story quartet....more
This book advanced pretty far in the Tournament of Books, but I had not read it in time. Then it ended up on the longlist for the Women's Prize (formeThis book advanced pretty far in the Tournament of Books, but I had not read it in time. Then it ended up on the longlist for the Women's Prize (formerly the Orange Prize) and I decided to read it anyway.
I read it all tonight. I couldn't put it down because I couldn't decide if it was smart or annoying. I actually e-mailed a trusted reading friend in the middle to see if he had read it, because I thought maybe his opinion would help me figure it out. As I described it to him I realized that this book makes me feel the way the HBO show Girls makes me feel, and then I started seeing it as the same as Girls, and heard the second half of the book entirely in Lena Dunham's voice. I think this framed it for me in a very specific way, but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to separate the two again.
So if you've seen the first season of Girls, here is what I found the same. Girls in a big city, Toronto instead of New York, trying to make it in somewhat naive artistic ventures, post-failed relationships. Intertwined are relationships with each other and bizarre sexual hangups. Some of it is written in e-mail lists from Margaux to Sheila, other parts are written like a play (Sheila is trying to write a play, the main character in Girls is also a struggling writer). The book is explicitly asking "How should a person be?"... Girls is clearly about identity and purpose even if the questions aren't spelled out the same way.
Sometimes the navel-gazing is too ennui-ridden for me. There's the moment near the beginning where Sheila claims her only goal is to become perfect at blow-jobs, and this idea surfaces multiple times. As if this was the only creative thing left. "Every era has its art form. The nineteenth century, I know, was tops for the novel." It seemed funny at first, but ends up feeling empty and hopeless as she searches for meaning in relationships. (So is this frustrating or a brilliant insight? This is why I'm struggling.) Her artist friend Margaux also struggles with her identity as an artist from the opposite perspective - she's actually had acclaim and recognition for her painting, but "her first feeling in the morning was shame about all the things wrong in the world that she wasn't trying to fix. And so it embarrassed her when ... people called her work beautiful."
There is this section on pages 184-5 that I keep returning to where Sheila is going in circles about cheating and drugs and people as objects and addictions - pretty thought provoking; we only break our own hearts. I guess it shouldn't be surprising that the author has written a non-fiction philosophy-type book, because she really is a fan of going in circles. I won't give away Sheila-the-narrators conclusions of how a person should be, in the end, but I think the journey is worth reading, at least I enjoyed thinking about whether or not it was....more
I needed a light read in between other reads, and this fit the bill. The author travels to the world's most"Who knew petroleum could be so adorable?"
I needed a light read in between other reads, and this fit the bill. The author travels to the world's most polluted places and pretends as if he could ever think about being a tourist there. He isn't there as an activist. And it's a little weak, but it does tie a few interesting places together. It's the writing that drove me crazy. He writes like he would talk in a casual setting, not leaving out the "you knows" and "hey maybes" - I'm torn as to what I think because it was very easy to read, but surely that wasn't necessary. It made it feel unpolished and the opposite of expert. The really scaled down explanation of nuclear power was almost insulting.
For instance, here is an example of when it was really annoying: "The Steel boom would gather up a bucketful of sand - and we're talking about a bucketful the size of... the size of... hell, I don't know. What's bigger than an Escalade but smaller than a bungalow? Big, okay?"
Not exactly a voice that compels belief and trust.
But then here is an example of the writing when it made me chuckle: "There was something wonderful about the fearsome improbability of the reclaimer's existence. It was the bastard offspring of the Eiffel Tower and the Queensboro bridge, abandoned by its parents, raised by feral tanks."
And I'm not going to lie. Pollution is horrifying, not entertaining. So I'm not sure this worked for me on that level either. The author's insistence that he wanted to see "the rind of beauty that must exist in every uncared-for corner of the world" kind of falls flat when he starts talking about the rainbows in a river of shit. From the perspective of reading around the world, which is something I've been doing since last year, it was interesting to highlight the places damaged by pollution since I've read a lot of damage by war....more