For me this novel read like a painting, with Japanese history, culture, overheard conversations, and the landscape represented on a large canvas. At tFor me this novel read like a painting, with Japanese history, culture, overheard conversations, and the landscape represented on a large canvas. At the heart is the story of an Everyman who spends his entire life as a migrant worker to provide for a family who does not know him. He is a ghost haunting his own life, with no impact on the world around him, moving through decades of personal tragedy. His story ends as homeless man, invisible and forgotten, wading through his shifting and often painful memories. The author uses his predicament to bring attention to these forgotten people, while commenting on the Japanese government who kept sweeping them, and other problems (poverty, Fukushima, class systems), under the rug....more
When an author chooses to write a novel in a diary format they are setting themselves up for a challenge. Who, when writing to themselves, writes in fWhen an author chooses to write a novel in a diary format they are setting themselves up for a challenge. Who, when writing to themselves, writes in flowing prose with all the details filled in? Were you to read your own diary entries from 10 years ago, would you be able to fill in all the gaps? Probably not.
An older husband, who, without exaggeration, idolizes his beautiful wife, begins keeping a journal of their sexual miscommunications. He wants to view his traditional wife completely naked, worship her feet, and regain his vitality in his late middle-age. He encourages her to read it so he can share his love for her. She, more secretive, begins keeping her own journal to counter his, calls him ugly, confesses her distaste for him, and her love for a younger man, inciting her husband's jealousy. They are writing for one another, allowing the thoughts they cannot express verbally to emerge in this secretive communication. All couples have their secrets; perhaps some secrets are worth keeping to yourself.
Tanizaki's prose is crisp, the sexual fantasy is grounded in the ailing health of the older man, and the story is a quickly paced erotic adventure which is a mystery at its core. The author's gradual unveiling of the sexual proclivities of his male protagonist is adventurous, though lacking sensuality. And the back and forth between husband and wife, feeding each other's fantasies, is fascinating. However...
Problem 1: The voices are almost identical; it is often hard to tell them apart. Problem 2: One of them is not being completely honest, but it is not until the ending chapters that this is revealed. Problem 3: The love triangle established by the husband, who suggests that his wife seduce (but not have sex with) her younger lover is too easy, especially considering the younger lover is the man their daughter is dating. Problem 4: The final section unveils all secrets like a bad detective story, pointing out all the clues that were there all along. But if the author is writing in a diary format, who is the audience they are confessing to? ...more
In Yu Hua’s novel death is not an equalizer. The wealthy and politically connected are treated better even in the afterlife, with elaborate funeral prIn Yu Hua’s novel death is not an equalizer. The wealthy and politically connected are treated better even in the afterlife, with elaborate funeral preparations and outrageously priced real estate (with panoramic views) for their final resting place. The disenfranchised remained cursed to spend eternity in limbo, especially those with no family or money for even basic funeral services. There is an undercurrent of irony as desperate families go into debt to pay for funeral arrangements (one character even sells his kidney to pay for his girlfriend’s burial plot) while also paying to be reincarnated in better circumstances, ensuring that those with means will always improve financially and those without will be trapped in an endless cycle of poverty.
The Seventh Day opens with a dead protagonist trying to reach his cremation appointment. Yang Fei is an orphan with no living relatives. He walks through a foggy world populated by memories and ghosts. As the living cross over into the afterworld their stories and secrets are revealed. The author uses this device to recount rampant and pervasive corruption and oppressive poverty. Deaths are caused by the widespread demolition of inhabited buildings to make way for new structures, department store disasters where deaths are under-reported, car accidents, aborted fetuses and a notable suicide in response to being given a fake iPhone. Many of these deaths are covered up by officials who buy the survivor’s silence; the families are too desperate for the money to refuse. Social media is one way to spread news, but the truth is lost in an avalanche of uncertainties, rumors, and is quickly displaced by the next scandal.
Yang Fei finds solace in reliving the key moments of his life with his wife, adoptive parents, and random deceased people with whom he interacted shortly before his death. He discovers eternal life in the garden of the unburied, where a collaboration of the disenfranchised people live free from government or capitalistic interference....more
This novel about love (whom you can love, and how much) and loss (fated and husband-inflicted), is communicated in such an intimate way that Roy seemsThis novel about love (whom you can love, and how much) and loss (fated and husband-inflicted), is communicated in such an intimate way that Roy seems to be in the room with you, sharing a bit of well-crafted gossip. Small secrets season the lives of this self-isolated family on a hill in a small South Indian town, but it is the big secrets that roil beneath the surface—never to be spoken of—that drive immobilizing consequences depicted in this novel. Roy weaves a tapestry of simultaneous timelines spanning some decades, stitching the edges with the events that innocently conspire to form a central tragedy, and the aftermath of those events, circling down to the meat of the tragedy in the closing pages of the novel. The first two thirds of the novel are a joy to read, with the author showcasing her playful love of language, communicating the story through the creative eyes of joined-at-the-hips fraternal twins; the last third grows somber in tone, moving from a vibrant world to a monochromatic one that has been bled of color and shaped by tragedy. Roy reminds us throughout that we are shaped by stories—we are the stories themselves—and our stories bleed into the lives of others....more
The economy of writing in Silence is powerful and Endō is a compelling author (acknowledgement must be made to the translator). The story is based on The economy of writing in Silence is powerful and Endō is a compelling author (acknowledgement must be made to the translator). The story is based on Japanese history, but explores universal themes such as humanity, faith, the role of missionaries colonizing foreign lands, extreme differences in culture, and strong religious convictions against all evidence to the contrary; this complexity makes this a fascinating narrative.
There are two simultaneous readings of the novel, a conflict which resonated for me. One reading centers on one man’s struggle to retain his faith against all odds, even with the threat of torture, death, and the indifferent extermination of his parishioners if he does not succumb to the Japanese will. The central character, a Portuguese priest who has come to serve Japanese Christians, is most in his element when ministering to his fellow prisoners while surviving in extreme conditions. In his imagination he frequently compares his own suffering to that of Christ, and takes fulfillment in living his life by Christ's example, despite frequent doubts and lack of evidence that God exists or that he is acting in vain.
However, another interpretation is that the Christian missionaries, with full knowledge that they would likely be imprisoned and put to death by an zero-tolerance government, have entered Japan illegally to teach a prohibited religion. They prey on ignorant farmers who are so oppressed by the government that they welcome any story about a better life after death (even accepting death as a better alternative). The priests take food and shelter from the poor, and put them in mortal danger, while providing no support to the community. Father Rodrigues claims to appreciate Japanese culture but makes no efforts to understand it; he instead impresses his world view on them and frequently looks down on them as ignorant children. The Japanese, he learns, have misinterpreted Christianity along their own belief system, but still die selflessly to protect the priests. Rodrigues is suspicious and disdainful of the Japanese, particularly his guide Kichijiro. The priest refuses to even make an artifice of shunning his belief system, which results in the horrific death of others; he is called out for his selfishness in stubbornly clinging to his beliefs and being unchristian.
While the Japanese employed extreme methods of torture to root out Christianity, they are no different than other religious systems have used for centuries against non-believers.
While reading this I was frequently reminded of Christopher Hitchens God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, which posed the question of why, if god is omnipotent, that he only presented himself to a handful of people who took it upon themselves to spread the word. The lengths that the missionaries and the Japanese go through to pursue their own agendas is spotlighted in both extremes; neither is in the right....more
From the moment I picked up Kafka on the Shore I was a fan of Murakami’s. I have never read anything like him before or since, and I gorged myself on From the moment I picked up Kafka on the Shore I was a fan of Murakami’s. I have never read anything like him before or since, and I gorged myself on his back catalog. By the time I reached 1Q84 I had familiarized myself with his work, his career, and his style. Murakami writes modern magical realism, blends in classical music and literature, and creates a whole universe we as readers can inhabit for the length of his book. I adore him and I am not alone. Look at how many people downloaded the Sinfoneitta by Janácek, mentioned repeatedly in 1Q84; that is no coincidence.
1Q84 is filled with his average cast of characters. A laid-back educated man who likes to cook and has trouble with women; a gregarious teenage girl with Asperger ‘s syndrome who sees beyond reality; benignly sinister cult members who are “just doing their job”; a sexually aggressive woman—with sensual ears—who is looking to fill a void; emotionally distant people who seem to be rootless in life; and plenty of cats. Set them against a landscape that is neither reality nor un-reality, with a lot of waiting alone in confinement, and see how they react. It is a sociological experiment gone awry. This is the first book bordering on 1,000 pages that I have read in more than a decade, and despite the glacial pace of this novel, I was unable to put the novel down until I finished it.
Overall, this is a love story with complications. Two 10-year olds who united in a classroom search for each other 20 years later, physically and metaphysically, in an alternate timeline. One grows up to be an assassin of men who abuse women, the other a “not living up to his potential” teacher/writer. There is plenty of unusual circumstances, disembodied sex, other-worldly creatures, urban ennui, and Proust. Did that get your attention? Then read the book. Those new to Murakami start off with something “metaphysically” lighter. ...more
Where Rushdie shows off his genius is by combining the history of India in the time of Partition, blending in cultural context, movie plots, with the Where Rushdie shows off his genius is by combining the history of India in the time of Partition, blending in cultural context, movie plots, with the rich tapestry of colors and smells of his home. Interwoven is the fracture of a society that has been colonized and arbitrarily cleaved into sections and the aftermath. The magical realism of the tribe of children born at the same time as Partition allows him to unravel the complexities of this time period in a way that both entertains and enlightens. What helps engage the reader is Rushdie's dark sense of humor, insightful attention to detail, and liberal use of symbolism. ...more
“After the Quake” is an excellent entry point for Murakami. The short story collection is brief and gives the reader a sense of the author’s style bef“After the Quake” is an excellent entry point for Murakami. The short story collection is brief and gives the reader a sense of the author’s style before tackling something lengthier and more challenging. The collection links characters distantly impacted by the 1995 Kobe earthquake, people who can't face their own internal fractures. Murakami explores his recurring themes, including: going underground, Oedipal complexes, inspiration taken from nature and music, UFOs and very “reality based” surreal happenings, like a giant talking frog who shows up in the kitchen of a mild-mannered desk-jockey enlisting him to help save Tokyo from destruction. These stories are also linked by a loss of identity and the urgent desire to be free, whether from a failed relationship, religion, responsibility or one’s own lost dreams. If you are interested in taking on this excellent author, give this collection a taste....more