Deswani's first-person narrative presents a rather predictable but humorous chick-lit story. Many of the scenes are straight out of a romantic comedy...moreDeswani's first-person narrative presents a rather predictable but humorous chick-lit story. Many of the scenes are straight out of a romantic comedy film or sitcom episode. Half the fun of reading this is figuring out which facts Anju is not revealing about her self and her past, until she can't avoid it any more. Overall I felt the book dragged on for too long, and then when Mr. Right eventually is found, everything wraps up nice and tightly very quickly without any humorous situations from there on. (less)
I am filing this novel with a host of other readable, but ultimately forgettable, "light fiction by women writers covering the EastmeetsWest theme" -...moreI am filing this novel with a host of other readable, but ultimately forgettable, "light fiction by women writers covering the EastmeetsWest theme" - Chitra Divakaruni, Preethi Nair, Roopa Farooki, Nikita Lalwani* (all reviewed here on my bookshelf).
Although momentous historical events (Partition, 9/11) & complex cultural/religious issues feature in The Writing on My Forehead, the treatment is too "light" to bear any substantial commentary on these complex socio-political issues. The book has the feel of a cut-and-paste formula, with the characters displaying, more so than not, by now familiar (at least to me) characters & storylines that I have already encountered in the works of the women writers listed above.
One exception is the theme of storytelling, especially of narrative elision, that figures prominently in The Writing on My Forehead. Saira's life story is inextricably dependent on the fact that she grows up unaware of the complete story of both her mother's and her father's families. Her resolve to do what she wants in life, contrary to tradition and expectation, is fueled by the revelation that both her parents conceal crucialed details of their respective family histories.
Ironically, I feel that narrative omission is what weakens the novel. Eventually we learn that Saira herself is guilty of the same deed - she conceals crucial facts about herself from her family, too. It's not that elision I'm referring to.
The period of Saira's life as a journalist is markedly absent from the plot. It's just a background detail merely referenced to, and yet it's supposed to figure prominently in her motivations and her decisions. The story focuses on the whys and wherefores of her return to her family & cultural/social/religious roots, following those educational & edifying experiences. The narrated timeline skips that part of her life altogether. She comes back to her roots when she realizes that's what matters to her most, after traveling round the world. But we are told only of her rebellion and then her return, we don't have the opportunity to know what/why/how transpired in the meantime, what life experiences (besides the romance) she ratcheted up. And this for me is what accounts for the lack of multidimensionality in Saira's character. In the end, Saira's concluding revelations are a bit too sensational & formulaic for my taste, even though they were unforeseeable.
* I recommend - Kamila Shamsie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Bharati Mukherjee.(less)
A slim volume with four stories, each one featuring a Japanese woman viewed from within her role in the family or in a spousal relationship. Three of...moreA slim volume with four stories, each one featuring a Japanese woman viewed from within her role in the family or in a spousal relationship. Three of the stories also involve the female protagonist as Japanese emigrants, transplants trying to adapt to the alien environment and the Anglo society of Australia. I appreciated the way in which the Japanese women's response to the idiosyncracies of the Australian landscape and its characteristic weather (wet & dry seasons instead of the usual four). The quiet and yet meticulous attention to detail, as the women chafe at their social constraints, reminds me somewhat of the contemporary stories by Rebecca Miller, although Yamamoto's tone is far from the bleakness of Miller's. (In the last story, there's a reference to the work of Saki, but I am afraid to say I no longer recall his stories that I read at university, so as to make any possible connection with Yamamoto's style.)
- Betty-san Almost cinematic portrayal of Yuko/Betty, I could 'see' her so vividly. - Father Goose Simple, almost like a traditional tale. I liked this one a lot. - Powers Interesting story about suburbian angst. - Chair in the Rain The most complex of the stories, rich in emotion and symbolism.(less)
Of 4 the Murakami novels I've read so far, this is a rather "lite" piece. I wish this particular narrative had more substance. It read like a rough dra...moreOf 4 the Murakami novels I've read so far, this is a rather "lite" piece. I wish this particular narrative had more substance. It read like a rough draft, lacking the character insight, the dialogue or the plot twists of the other Murakami works I'm familiar with. And yet, although the story is a minimal & a relatively uneventful one, and the motifs are familiarly repetitive from the other books, I appreciated the subtle tone of the narrative. For me it was the most "cinematic", visually emotive, of the novels. Although I don't know much about the characters or what happened/will happen to them, I "felt" K's situation more intimately than the other protagonists in A Wild Sheep Chase, Dance Dance Dance, & The Wind Up Bird Chronicle.(less)
Somewhat of a disappointment. My first H. Murakami read was A Wild Sheep Chase, which I appreciated highly. Recently I finished The Wind-Up Bird Chron...moreSomewhat of a disappointment. My first H. Murakami read was A Wild Sheep Chase, which I appreciated highly. Recently I finished The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, another engaging novel. Reading Dance, Dance, Dance after those two books has been a let-down. (less)
**spoiler alert** The Song of Kahunsha is a forceful story. It offers a concise yet painfully grim glimpse into the microcosm of the street dwellers o...more**spoiler alert** The Song of Kahunsha is a forceful story. It offers a concise yet painfully grim glimpse into the microcosm of the street dwellers of Bombay, highlighting the acute social and psychological conflicts played out in the day to day conditions of life on the streets of the Indian megalopolis. At the thematic heart of the story is the boy’s existential conflict (where do I come from, why did my father abandon me) and his attempt to take fate in his own hands. Chamdi, a ten year old orphan decides to walk away from the protective environment of a Christian-oriented orphanage into the unknown labyrinth of Bombay, the world’s second most populated megalopolis (and model-city of urban planning for so-called Third-World cities in the new millennium). He is fuelled by innocent dreams of a fantastical alternate city, Kahunsha, that is the diametrical opposite of Bombay’s bleak and gritty living conditions. This journey eventually leads him to a most disturbing and dramatic quandary over right versus wrong. These are complex issues, and unfortunately the books’s compact length limits the exposition, so that the progressive development of character that one expects suffers as a consequence, and the novel fails to come to a compelling conclusion. The Song of Kahunsha serves up a rather spare and straightforward narrative lacking an expected complexity - the kind that I encountered, for example, recently in Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories compiled in Unaccustomed Earth. There is an attempt to add some narrative layering, by placing a foreshadowing segment as the novel’s opening to create a sense of circularity. But this flourish isn’t a meaningful one; the time line juxtaposition doesn’t really inform the reader’s interpretation in any significant way. Maybe the novel’s shortcoming is due to the fact that point of view in Song of Kahunsha is a necessarily simple one predicated by Chamdi’s tender age. Yet there is more at fault than the limitations of a young child’s perspective. Irani states that “Story dictates style--the characters tell you what style you should use.... When I write about a boy's loss of innocence, it is essential to keep the writing as real, truthful, and simple as possible.” Unfortunately it isn’t so in this book. During the first third in particular I found the narrative techniques stylistically contrived. The environment of the orphanage is described through Chamdi's eyes, as if they are the lens of a camera panning the scene from one end to the other. I was aware of Chamdi as an expository tool to justify the description of his surroundings, rather than as a character in his own right : "As he enters the room he sees....He turns his attention to....Now Chamdi watches...Now Chamdi sees...." I also picked up several instances in the opening pages of the novel where the voice of Chamdi did not ring true for his age or for his specific circumstances (a confined world view that is up to that point limited by the walls of the orphanage): "The moment you ask for something, the prayer room becomes a marketplace." What marketplace can Chamdi be cognizant of, if he has not yet set foot beyond the orphanage? In fact, his very ignorance of the marketplace is what tragically leads Chamdi to his eventual predicament. Later on, the street-wise Sumdi provides similarly pithy philosophical statements: "The problem is that we live. We find just enough food to stay alive, and we are forced to live on and on in this hell." I found these to be more appropriate to Sumdi's character & circumstances, given the homeless boy's living conditions and the shady adults he interacts with. Even if Sumdi himself is too young to have thought it up himself, most likely he heard it from his parents, from Dabba the box-man, or even from Anand Bhai. Actually, it’s Sumdi's character that is the heart of this story, and once he is gone, the novel reverts back to the initial limitations of point-of-view. Sumdi is a most vivid character - at first threatening, aggressive, then protective, defensive; initially strong, then weak; swaggering, then practical; streetwise, but also naïve; possessing also an biting sense of humor ("I'm in love. Biggest illness"). Sumdi possesses a vibrancy that betrays the author may have been more (dis)engaged while shaping him, and thus allowed Sumdi to be who he is, unlike Chamdi who even at the most harrowing moments remains the narrative tool rather than a character in his own right. This is the novel’s structural limitation. Chamdi the narrative tool starts off the story as a Candide-esque symbol of an idealized Western morality (thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill) and then his attempt to take his fate in his own hands eventually lead him into a most disturbing and dramatic quandary of right versus wrong. One of the themes of the novel is the concept of dreams and storytelling as a means to (re)create an alternate reality/script from that which is being truly experienced. Chamdi dreams of his Kahunsha, the city of no sadness and the city where ‘no’ does not exist. He is also drawn to stories – he reads out loud to the younger children in the orphanage – and he is a creator of his own stories (The Boy Whose Ribs Became Tusks). Yet Chamdi’s relation to stories, dreams and alternate scripts is limited. Even though he can create a fantastical city – Kahunsha – or recount whimsical stories ("So he made up his mind to achieve something so wonderful that if he were to tell anyone his life story, it would take days to tell, even weeks, and the ending would be a happy one…"), he betrays one significant limitation. He is unable to make the connection between storytelling and lying – both fabrications – unlike Sumdi who uses storytelling (lies) to win over the taxiwalla, or as a secret weapon against Anand Bhai. Again, Sumdi’s character is more complex: Sumdi allows himself to be mesmerized by Chamdi’s story of The Boy Whose Ribs Became Tusks, as a temporary panacea for the pain of his miserable existence, yet he knows full well it’s just a temporary reprieve from his condition, just like the alcohol & drugs (& even sex) of the adults’ world he warns Chamdi against. Which is why Sumdi soon ‘forgets’ Chamdi’s story, much to Chamdi’s dismay. Chamdi himself is still living in the delusion of the story, while Sumdi has moved on. One wonders why Chamdi is not as preoccupied with fabrication (both storytelling, and outright lying) as a ‘mortal sin,’ as is the case with the other two Christian precepts that bring to light time and again the existential dilemma – that of the disparate realities between the ideal world of the orphanage and the complex realities on the streets of Bombay. Unfortunately the problematic point of view manifests itself in the novel’s climactic passage. The events of that scene are too engulfing and momentous to have any real impact on Chamdi the lost boy. What the reader imparts from that scene is very different from that something (if anything) understood by the character himself. Thus the story’s conclusion fades away, like the sunset view from the Gate of India, and it’s difficult to place Chamdi’s character in context. What opens the story (the discovery of free will) and the climax (the inconsequentiality of free will, and the triviality of moral arguments involving right versus wrong vis-a-vis the struggle to remain alive), cease to have any real structural meaning – there is no narrative resolution - when juxtaposed against ‘the horror the horror’ imparted on the reader: the relentless poverty and human cruelty that has become an integral element of the economic & political fabric of the megalopolis.(less)
Είναι το πρώτο βιβλίο του Γ. Ξανθούλη που διαβάζω, και δεν με ενθουσίασε καθόλου. Οπως γράφει ένας φίλος, "η υπόθεση είναι για τα μπάζα." Το μυθιστόρη...moreΕίναι το πρώτο βιβλίο του Γ. Ξανθούλη που διαβάζω, και δεν με ενθουσίασε καθόλου. Οπως γράφει ένας φίλος, "η υπόθεση είναι για τα μπάζα." Το μυθιστόρημα πάσχει από κάτι - ας το ονομάσω "το σύνδρομο του Καραγκιοζοπαίχτη". Σαν στις παραστάσεις του θεάτρου σκιών, ο θεατής αντιλαμβάνεται ότι πίσω από το πανί υπάρχει ένας άνθρωπος που ενσαρκώνει όλες τις φωνές & κινεί τις φιγούρες. Και εδώ έχουμε μία ιστορία όπου οι χαρακτήρες δεν έχουν την δικιά τους βούληση. Ο συγγραφέας τους πάει εκεί που θέλει αυτός - κάτι που μάλλον έχει αποφασίσει εξ'αρχής, πριν καν μπει στην διαδικασία να πλάθει τους χαρακτήρες. Δεν υπάρχει "φυσική" εξέλιξη στην ζωή των χαρακτήρων, παραμένουν μονοδιάστατες φιγούρες, και όσο προσπαθεί να τις κινεί ο δημιουργός τους, αυτό που μένει στο τέλος δεν είναι η πολύπλοκη ιστορία τις ζωής τους, αλλά μόνο κάποιο αίσθημα άδικου χαμού και μελαγχολίας, σαν να ξεφυλλίζουμε παλιές φωτογραφίες στα παλιατζίδικα - νιώθουμε αμέσως μία νοσταλγία για πρόσωπα που δεν τα ξέρουμε ούτε το όνομα τους ούτε την ιστορία τους. Η ροή των γεγονότων είναι προβλέψιμη, μετά από λίγο ξέρουμε τις προθέσεις του Καραγκιοζοπαίχτη, που το πάει και γιατί. Πρωτ’άρχον σκοπός είναι να μεταφέρει μία ατμόσφαιρα, ένα συναίσθημα, και οι χαρακτήρες δρουν μονοδιάστατα μέσα στα πλαίσια αυτού του στυλιστικού φόντου. Την περισσότερη φορά γίνονται πράγματα που ούτε οι ίδιοι οι χαρακτήρες καταλαβαίνουν. Στην περιγραφή και την εξέλιξη των χαρακτήρων, δεν υπάρχει αιτιώδη συνάφεια. Μόνο ο συγγραφέας και ο αναγνώστης μπορούν να αποκρυπτογραφήσουν την σημασία των γεγονότων. Σαν μία ιστορία χαρακτήρων δεν πείθει το μυθιστόρημα, αφού λείπει τις περισσότερες φορές η λογική συνέχεια, κάποια αιτία όσον αφορά την προσωπικότητα του πρωταγωνιστή - πόσο μάλλον τον υπολοίπων χαρακτήρων, που πραγματικά λειτουργούν παρά μόνο σαν "κομπάρσοι" στο έργο (ακριβώς σαν τον κηπουρό πατέρα του Ηλία). 'Ολα γίνονται αποκλειστικά για στυλιστικούς λόγους, παρά αφηγηματικούς, στην προσπάθεια να μεταφέρει ο συγγραφέας μία νοσταλγία και ένα αίσθημα ματαιότητας. Ο αναγνώστης την αισθάνεται από πολύ νωρίς, μέσα από τα μάτια του μικρού Ηλία, όταν βρίσκεται ανάμεσα στις παλιές φωτογραφίες της Ράνας στο σπίτι της Κηφισιάς. Εκεί ο Ηλίας δρα σαν το εργαλείο, τα μάτια του αναγνώστη. Διαβάζοντας βλέπουμε και καταλαβαίνουμε πράγματα που ο ίδιος ο πρωταγωνιστής δεν αφομοιώνει, δεν επηρεάζεται συναισθηματικά, εκείνη την στιγμή. Αργότερα στο τέλος του βιβλίου, επαναλαμβάνεται αυτή η σκηνή με την συλλογή των Οθωμανικών μινιατούρων στο σπίτι-φάντασμα στην Κωνσταντινούπολη. Και στις δύο αυτές σκηνές, ο αναγνώστης αντιλαμβάνεται την σημασία των συμβόλων, ενώ ο πρωταγωνιστής ο ίδιος μάλλον δεν έχει αναγνωρίσει ούτε αισθανθεί αυτά που αντικρίζει (κι ας τον έχει λιποθυμήσει ο συγγραφέας!). Το τί συνέβη στον Ηλία στο διάστημα μεταξύ τις δύο αυτές σκηνές-κλειδιά είναι αφηγηματικά περιττό και φλύαρο.(less)
I haven't finished the book yet, but so far I find it a worthwhile read. It is comforting to know that the author is well versed in the whole of Greek...moreI haven't finished the book yet, but so far I find it a worthwhile read. It is comforting to know that the author is well versed in the whole of Greek history, not just the standard classics. Her references to all historic periods as well as to recent Greek literature and religion provide a more comprehensive view of the Greek temperament than most books about modern Greece (eg, the disappointing Eurydice Street by Sofka Zinovieff). It's a pity that the author doesn't provide adequate autobiographical information about herself at the beginning, I would have liked to know more about her. Her criticism of the way Greek men sometimes behave women can be misconstrued. Personally I agree with her on this point, even though I am not discouraged by it (as some other readers were, from what I see in the comments below). And yet... There are some glaring errors of translation or transliteration which I fail to understand how they got past the editing process. Eg, Protonekrotafeio (as one word when in actuality it is two), "Everyday" (the Kathimerini newspaper, which is a "Daily"), mikraki (instead of the common diminuitive mikrouli/a), Mignon (the department store known as Minion), or even the (pseudonymous?) "kyrios Angellopaidi" (Angelopoulos is a better option - a common enough name, while Angellopaidis is nonexistent, at least in the phone book), to name a few. (less)
The odd thing as I was reading the novel, is that in a way my reality mirrored that of the protagonist, Toru Okada. Instead of the sound of the wind-u...moreThe odd thing as I was reading the novel, is that in a way my reality mirrored that of the protagonist, Toru Okada. Instead of the sound of the wind-up bird and phone calls from anonymous women upsetting my daily routine, I was distracted by the loud cries of my 90+yr old father coming from across the street. Every morning he'd awaken to find himself in a reality separate from mine. He was certain that he was in another country, and suitcase in hand he was on his way to a travel agent or to the airport to 'return' to Greece...because the border would be closing soon, because his passport would expire in half an hour, because it was all so terrible, because terrible things were going to happen and he had to find a way to prevent them from happening. Other times when I'd visit he'd say he wanted to show me the (nonexistent) letters from Geneval he had just received, letters which he spent hours searching for in his briefcase until I was forced to tell him, you can show me the letters tomorrow it's late, past my bedtime and I have to leave now, for only then would he close the briefcase. The possibility that the similarities between Toru's confusion over the psychedelic parallel realities and my father's disease would prevent me from enjoying Murakami's story was there...and yet that's not why I was disappointed by the novel. What diminished my enjoyment of the book is the sensation I had time and time again that the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle resemble very much the uncanny films of David Lynch. So many instances in which I thought I was reading a Japanese version of Twin Peaks or Mulholland Drive. Don't get me wrong, I like David Lynch very much. But I do feel I can now sit down and write pages upon pages linking the elements from the work of one to the other (Noboru Wataya = Mr. Palmer, etc.) that I know I didn't really fully appreciate Murakami's story as I should have.
By the way, if anyone would like to try out the Zen-inspired experience of being at the bottom of a well, I can suggest the voided void in Berlin. I unexpectedly found myself in there with no other visitors sharing the space with me, and the mind-altering experience I had at the sudden realization that I was all alone during that time was quite similar to the descriptions of lieutenant Mamiya and Toru Okada in the novel.(less)
I don't know exactly what it was, something in the first few chapters reminded me of Patrick Süskind's Perfume. As I read this most enchantingly ironi...moreI don't know exactly what it was, something in the first few chapters reminded me of Patrick Süskind's Perfume. As I read this most enchantingly ironic fairy tale about books, writers, and the world of books, I kept on making mental notes comparing Grenouille's quest for the essential smell of life, with Optimus' search for the source of the Orm (writer's inspiration) as manifested in the unnamed writer of the most perfect literary manuscript. The perfume & the manuscript are of no consequence, it's the reader's/protagonist's journey that matters.
Late in the novel Optimus is told: "Writers are there to write, not experience things. If you want to experience things, become a pirate or a Bookhunter. If you want to write, write. If you can't find the makings of a story inside yourself, you won't find them anywhere." Certainly this novel's story is quite a cleverly written adventure to be experienced by the reader, with lots of incredibly entertaining episodes involving all kinds of whimsically delightful as well as fearfully horrible bookish creatures. (less)