Chinatown by Thuan

Chinatown by Thuan

Vietnamese fiction

Original title – Chinatown

Translator – Nguyễn An Lý

Source – subscription edition

I now move to a book from Vietnam that in some ways seems to mirror part of the own writer’s life. She grew up in North Vietnam where she grew up with a love of Vietnamese literature and the greats of French literature like Balzac, Hugo and Flaubert. Then she got the chance to study in Russia which expand her reading more. Then lead to her moving to France to live Paris. This is the latest from my Tilted axis subscription and as they did so well last year in the booker international prize I decided this year `I would get to the books when they arrived and this was a perch choice for this month as it is from a female writer from Vietnam and also it is the first book from Vietnam I will have reviewed on the blog.

During my ten years at school, I came to understand that the pig brains for which my father queued from morning till afternoon were not a reward for my ten in literature, but to guarantee that I
would bring home another ten, in history or military exercises. That was why his pig brains needed no dill, pepper, or MSG, and no attempt to enliven their presentation. Even now I can still see
them, aluminum bowls in the steaming rice pot, and taste the metallic tang of blood which no amount of salt could mask, and which I always had to down in one gulp. I didn’t care for steamed
pig brains, I had no disease to be cured by them, but every other day I closed my eyes and my nostrils and downed them in one, because they were most nutritious, especially for the brain, and
most of all for a child’s. It was my duty to turn catjang soup and steamed pig brains into tens and praise

This is an evocative passage that caught me when I was reading.

The book has a framing device and that is the narrator is waiting on a platform on the metro for a train when a package is discovered and the police are coming to have a look at what it is. Our narrator is caught in her thoughts and this takes us through her life from her early years in Vietnam but then we see how she met the man she would marry Thuy a Chinese man from Vietnam this is set as there is a war between the two countries and she meets him in class this leads to trouble;e with her family the book isn’t linear more it is wonderfully evocative as it seems like how we would remember love or the way you look back on a past love that one Thuy reminds me of an earlier girlfriend I had for a number of years and lived with that first big love and that when I look back event aren’t in a linear narrative more it jumps at times and her it is similar we see how they meet then spend time apart. but then meet and married and it showed how hard this was at the time in Vietnam which it is the 80s there is a huge Chinese feeling in the country and this is one of the things that highlights the deep divide in the two cultures at the time as the two falls in love and the knock out effect on the tow na their families then we find her later in France and how she andThuy drifted apart and eventually she hadn’t seen him in years. Add to this is her studying in the Soviet Union at this time and then moving to France this is a globetrotting book.

 

my Sino-Vietnamese wedding that actually took place, they opted not to attend. Neither did Thuy’s parents. The day went by in a flurry. The only guests were my few friends from
Leningrad. They came with their children. Their children born in the USSR, who’d had just a taste of butter and milk before boarding the plane to the homeland. The wedding was their first time
meeting Thuy. They asked me in Russian, so this is your architect beau. He didn’t understand. He just smiled awkwardly. He stood there embarrassed. Then they asked him, in Vietnamese, where are
you working, which office, which department. This time he was even more embarrassed. His smile grew fixed.

Another about getting married.

Thuran is a translator and a huge fan of French literature and I can see part of some of my favourite writers for me it has a pick off Modiano (maybe cause been talking about him a bit recently ) there is a flip in the sex of the character usually it is a male character in his book looking back on memories here Madame Au is looking back on her love the bare bones of the story is similar to the writer’s life but she then said in an interview she hadn’t wanted to duo memoir this is deeper more mediative around love across a divide exile and looking back at times that love affair. I was reminded in a small way of the English patient the love affair in that novel se t against war and Ondaatje is another writer heavy on memory, love, war and division. The book is dense in it style but worth the effort and is a great book from a new writer. It has part of the new novel movement, Proust and a love story all in one. Have you a favourite book from Vietnam ?(I had a nam le on my shelves but want something translated as my first book from Vietnam ) . My third book of this month and the first new country for a while on the blog.

Winstons score – B is a solid book from a new voice her first book to be translated into English she has more so hopefully we will get more from her.

Ninth Building by Zou Jingzhi

Ninth Building by Zou Jingzhi

Chinese Memoir

Original title – 九栋

Translator – Jeremy Tiang

Source – review copy

It was great when Hanford star got listed for the Booker prizes this year. I have been sent books by them since they started and it is great to see them get some more recognition as they are a smaller publisher and one of those like Istros and Nordisk that focuses on one area to publish works from. They have brought books from all over Asia in the last few years I have reviewed most of them here. This is one from a Chinese writer  I have often said I have a feeling I want a writer from China I can really connect with and I think in Jingzhi I may have he has written both fiction, poetry, scripts and here is what is a memoir but it is more an Episodic Memoir than a linear memoir but a work of fiction so Chinese Auto-fiction.

Ninth building was the building I lived as a child. It’s been demolished now, and on the same plot, they built a bigger, taller Ninth Building. My words concern the previous incarnation.

Before the block disappeared, I went back to take some pictures of it. A place I spent my early years. With its vanishing, there’d be no traces left of my childhood.

The loss of the building made him write this to remember the times and events in the Ninth building !!

I said this is a book that is a fictional memoir but it is more the writer sat and remember little episodes of his life and it follows him and his family in two times the first was his time in Beijing as a young boy the book is set in Beijing just as Mao and this cultural revolution is taking place and we see it through the eyes of aa young boy the young Zou as he is caught up in the fever of the times where they are told to tell on anyone that seems to not be the thing the party line. They want to be red guards as they seem heroes to the young kids buying armbands to be like them. Now we see this how he saw out at the time and that is as a kid sees things he wants to be accepted by his peers and telling on those around him in the ninth building is the way it is. The book captures this but also what it is to be a child in the midst of chaos and not see it as he said the building as he wrote this looking back had gone and there was now a larger building it captures China just as it is entering the dark times and we see this in the second two-thirds of the book which follows a now teen You as he and his family has been sent to the northern hinterlands of China in Exile like many people were from Beijing. So we see him in 1960 arrive in the village of Yangfangdian where they are expected to return to the land and have to toil and grow things the vignettes here are sparked by items events those little rascals he met twins he could never tell who was who. As they all toil in what they called a  return to the land but is actually really a labour camp for them as his father is here considered dangerous as he fails to comply we see a young man awaken in the horror of the wastelands of china working hard and trying to be a young man at the same time.

My family moved to Yangfangdian in 1960. All around our building were vegetable fields, and in the midst of this greenery were white stone tablets(commonly known as “Turtleback stones”) on which were inscribed huge characters, most of which we couldn’t recognise as we stared up at them. It didn’t help there wasn’t any punctuation at all. Nonetheless, we persisted in reading them out to demonstrate the joy of learning. several children would stand in a group and chant in unison. Something something memorial. some lines had not a single comprehensible word, and still we’d something-something-something-something our way through, no shortcuts. I get nostalgic now thinking of a gaggle of kids chorusing “Something”

His new home in the wastelands of China feeling out of place

 

I loved this captures his life and that is a tale that isn’t told in a Rosie way this is warts and all it shows how as a kid we can be swayed to do things one thing of how the Stasi in Soviet times influenced kids to think it was normal to watch and report own this around them. It shows how the red guard was made to seem like hers to the kids. One of my main problems with a lot of Chinese lit we get is it has never seemed to be very personal and this does this is Zou’s voice and his world we are dragged into as a reader from those days as a young boy as the craziness of the red guard and the cultural revolution are just taking hold of the country the way the young kids want the armbands and to be part of there own gang. Then the sheer tedium of life and backbreaking work alongside a coming of age work as he starts to see the woman around him among all this. Have you a favourite book from China or a book about the cultural revolution.

Winstons score – A -a writer I want to read more from !!

The Blue Bedspread by Raj Kamal Jha

The Blue Bedspread by Raj Kamal Jha

Indian fiction

Source personal – copy

As it is Jubilee weekend here in the Uk I decided to try and read a couple of the books from the Jubilee list and this is the first one I choose to read as I just love the title of this book that is the only reason I had to on my TBR pile it was in the small shop in Bakewell that sells second-hand books and it just caught my eye with the title and then being described as an Indian coming of age novel on the front cover(which I think is maybe deceiving ) The writer Raj Kamal Jha has written five novels and is editor in chief of The Indian express. This was his debut novel he has won a number of prizes and his literature has been said to take its lead from the news he works on as an editor in a newsroom.

I could begin with my name but forgot it, why waste time, it doesn’t matter in this city of twelve million names. I could begin with the way I look but what do I say, I am not a young manny more, I wear glasses, my stomach droops over the belt of my trousers.

There’s something wrong with my trousers. The waist, where the loops for the belt are, folds over every time, so if you look at me carefully while I am walking by, on the street or at the bus stop, you will see a flash of white, the cloth they use as lining, running above my belt, peeping out

The opening lines of the book as he sits to write to the baby that is to be adopted tomorrow

The blue bedspread is a bedspread from a family and this night it has a small newborn baby on it and we are in a house in Calcutta as we see a man writing a long note to this babe the babe is the daughter of his dead sister and is due to be adopted in the morning and what he is writing here is a description of the events that lead up to that moment. In the story of a lower-middle-class Indian family. As the brother recalls the events of the past the blue spread iOS is a sort of recurring motif in the book. As the past and what has happened within the family are slowly revealed. the book is formed of chapters around each family member but starts with the narrator’s visit. the police station after a call telling him of his sister’s fate that she has died. What happens is we see what lies behind those curtains and here in this family it is a broken twist and as the book moves on becomes more so to its shocking last story of the last eight words of the narrator!

Blue bedspread

The bedspread was ten feet by nine feet, dark blue, almost purple, but her the years it had faded until it was blueish white, like our breakfast of milk and cornflakes. When we returned from school in the afternoon, we would lie on the bed, sister and I, our cheeks pressed against the thick fabric, our eyes fixed along the surface, imaging we were looking at the sky. And that the discoloured patches were clouds

The Blue bedspread I also think the fact they are on the bed together is maybe more than it seems!

This is a slow-burning book that sees what has happened in the family and between this brother and sister and their parents to get to that night as our unnamed narrator sits and writes this note to this newly born babe. As he puts it He could begin Wirth his name but he has forgotten it. This is a book that lingers with the reader long after you put the book down it is lifting the curtain into a family broken and twisted. The last book I remember hitting me so hard was Besides the sea although on a totally different subject it has the same impact and this book has an ending which is horrific. The book iS at times here and there in how the story is told,  but for me, this was the style it was meant to be as our narrator is a drinker and to me, this was how his mind was remembering events not in order in a linear way but as he thought of one person then he connected it to the next and as he kept longing at the babe and the blue bedspread it was as thou was the Proustian Madeleine as it was part of the family home and like the memories, it is worn and old. I was reminded in part of the Beautiful south song “The table” where a table is almost a character and this is the same the bedspread keeps cropping up and recurring in the stories this is a style I have also seen in the story collection Timoleon Vita come home where a dog is a recurring motif in the stories. Have you read any book like this that lifts the lid on a dysfunctional family?

Winstons score – B is an interlinking collection of stories told over the course of a night a family history that is horrific in parts.

Solo Dance by Li Kokomi

Solo Dance by Li Kotomi

Taiwanese/Japanese lit

Original title – 独り舞, Hitorimai

Translator – Arthur Reiji Morris

Source – Review copy

Over the years World editions have sent me some wonderful books and this is the latest from them and it is a gem it is written by Li Kotomi a Taiwanese writer that lives in Japan she has written in both her native Mandarin and Japanese which she started to study when she was 15 and went to university in Japan to study and has lived there since this was her debut novel in Japanese . She is known for addressing LGBT issues in her fiction and has won a number of prize last year she was the first writer to win the Akutagawa prize(aOne of the largest Japanese book prizes previous winners include most of the best writers from Japan like Endo and Oe and more recently Sayaka Murata. The main Character in this book is also a Taiwanese woman living in Tokyo.

She was drawn to Danchen the moment she saw those eyes. Though she was to young to understand the meaning of eve in even its most basic sense, she knew that squirming, rolling wave of emotion in her chest was the same one felt between those fairy tale princes and princesses.

She spent her days watching Danchen but never managed to exchange a word with her.

To Young to see what this meant it haunts her still in her twenties this and other events in here years in Taiwan.

Cho has end up living in Japan and working in an Office but this Taiwanese woman has a number of events in her past that we find out as the book unfolds.She is just at them moment trying to blend in as she tries to hide her sexuality at work where the talk is all of marriage and kids, She is a woman that is walking a tightrope and is always looking into the abyss of death as we she what in her previous life made her leave her life in Tawian. To set up a new life in Japan a loss in her past of a girl she loved a girl she never told how she felt. which we see the after math of this event  in the middle of the book where the book shifts from the observance of her life to her inner most thoughts and diary of the time and the event that lead to her going to Japan the loss of a close friend that she was in love with. this and another event which locks her off just as she should bloom as she goes to university This is a book that has many threads office life trying to be yourself in a world where people are expected to conform. A look at grief , mental health and how death can lie round every corner.  It is about trying to escape but do we every really escape what has happened in our Past ?

Her solitary nature made a lot of the fellow students on her course uncomfortable around her. Unlike most of her classmates, she had been studying Japanese since Junior high school and had already progressed to reading a lot of Japanese literature in the original, making her top of the class. This only served to worsen her solitude. Tachung Girl’s Senior High School was prestigious, and so a lot of its students went on to study at National Taiwan University, which meant that news of the assault a few months ago had spread among the students in her degree course.

We what has happened  to Cho sets her apart that event just before University

The turning point as Javier Cercas put in his essay collection The blind spot he says a lot of great books have that point from has with the whale for ahab our waiting for Godot there is that event never seen that is the turning point here it is the death of a girl Danchen the aftermath of which with another even more horrific event  is the whole kernel of the book and how Cho ended up as the Cho we meet. But it is a look at grief unspoken grief. The pressure of hiding ones sexuality and also a novel about growing up it packs a punch in its 250 pages as we wind up this year booker international maybe I have read the first book from next years list ? I was also remind of the main event in this book the loss of the girl she was in love with at a young age is a similar story to that we find in Tarjei Vesaas The ice palace where we see a girl coping with the loss of a friend she was in love with. For me the book is like the Art piece Shedboatshed (where a shed was made into a boat then back to a shed ) The image of a person taken apart as this even has done and then like in the piece sailed across the water and then rebuilt on the other side not quite the shed to was !! this is about how we can never quite come back to what we were when that event happens like the death in this book it is always there ! Have you read this book or any other book set in Japan by a writer not from Japan ?

Winstons score – -A a book that sees how grief and hiding our true selves can eat us up !

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree

Edited in Prisma app with Thota Vaikuntam

Tomb of Sand by Geertanjali Shree

Indian fiction

Original title – Ret Samadhi

Translator – Daisy Rockwell

Source – personal copy via subscription

Well I have finally got round to reviewing this book as I just struggled how to get across how wonderful Tomb of sand is I have read it twice and still struggling with how to put it across. It is the fifth novel from the Geetanjali shree her earlier books have also been translated into English but not by Daisy. Geetanjali was brought up in Uttar Bradesh and she said the lack of available children books in English made her write in Hindi and her rich connection in Hindi( I was lucky with my shadow Jurors to have a zoom chat with daisy where she said Geetanjali loved word play and sometimes just put pieces in the book for the word play ). This is the first novel translated from Hindi to be translated into English to be longlisted and now shortlisted on The booker shortlist. I agree with daisy when she said there is a real blind spot in the UK for translated works from India and South Asia, The lose of a couple of prizes although I now know there is a new Prize in India The JCB prize Which I will now be watching for books to read from India.

Serious son got up and left. The world, wrecked by destructive humans, rematerialised all about him. The sand, defiled beer cans and plastic bags, the earth, colonised with white people, the flabby Indian bandar log, the cacophony that fancies itself music and makes nature weep, the laughing screaming stupid people, laugh, they told him; what’s there to laugh about- look at all you’ve done to this Nation! Fume fume fume. Serious Son went back to his room , fuming. And fell asleep.

The older son was said to not laugh or smile a serious young man.

Well to the book well first the title Samadhi which is a Hindi word with a multitude of means and the English title was suggest by Daisy as it has part of what the word means but also makes you think about it (For meI felt it was in a way about the sand of time running out but that was my view when first reading the title). The book allows an 80 woman she has lost her Husband at the start of the book and has gone into a slump the first hundred odd pages is her at her daughters just in her bed with Grief or I do wonder is the grief the loss of her husband or the loss of time in her life ? maybe that is just me what is captured we’ll her is the household the coming and goings around Ma as she gets to life together, there is also a lot about how her being on with her daughter which I didn’t know isn’t very common. As she  comes out of her room and starts to live again. This involves reconnecting with Rosie a Hirja( a trans woman) on the cover it says they meet after the husbands  but at times in the book there is reference to them, spend time as kids as Ma visits Lahore this is the later part of the book and is about the loss of identity when partition happened and how it had a knock on effect on Ma as Her and her daughter Beti visit. That is just part of the book add a lot of sidetracks about the locals , birds and Hindi religion and myth you see how hard this book was to get over.

A coolness descends into her heat which is pleasant, calm, not the kind of numbing chill from outside .The peace of the wall, not the carrying-on occurring behind her back. That painting behind her that makes her wonder how the breathing of the whole world has caused her own to collapse.

Ma closes her eyes, finesses her silence, stops her breathing so that no one will know  there’s one breath left: one tiny life form. Let it slip into the wall, let it slowly glide forward, let nothing get in its way to ruin its rhythm, let nothing break its stride, suppress it, make it fall off the edge

Early on Ma still in her bed viewed by Beti

I loved how this was put over in English when it dropped through the letterbox I went oh no a 700 page novel but it is actually maybe 500 page novel what they did between the Hindi version of the book and the English is add chapter breaks also the fact that in Hindi the books fill the pages this was 300 pages of tightly packed text. This is a story that was hard to get into English as it had the Untranslatable tag Daisy said the wordplay at times is hard to convey but what she found at times is that if she had to cut something another wordplay would appear in the same passaged. The book has a number of controversial stories the first is Rosie there is very few books written in India with Hijra portray or even mentioned. I did feel that Rosie was a real person that the writer may have meet the mannerism and speech it just jumps off the page. This is one of those books that is hard to put across it dislike doing into a world outside your own for a time it is Ma’s world we see the world through her eyes , add to this some great wordplay and a mix of myths this is a blend that maybe for me deserves to win the Booker prize. I felt that after the first reading earlier in the year and even more after this reading this is a book I will read again and again over time which for me is something I never think of doing. Have you read this book or any books Translated from other Indian languages into English ?

Winstons score – +A just breathtaking in the world we enter but also in the translation which draws t=you into that world.

Heaven by Mieko kawakami

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

Japanese fiction

original title – Hevun ヘヴン

Translators – Sam Bett and David Boyd

Source – personal copy

I move on with my booker longlist reading, I still want to call it the man booker anyway I’ve been trying to read as much as I can so I can get through the list asap anyway it means I”ve not blogged much this week but I have got through two books still a number to read but this is the first one I finished it is from the Japanese writer Mieko Kawakami it is the first book I have read by her. The other book that came out before by her Breast and Eggs was one of the buzz translations when it came out and as you know I tend to try and avoid them or leave to a later date my reading of the book. Anyway, Mieko Kawakami was a bar hostess and a well-known singer before she became a writer she had brought out three albums before turning to become a writer full-time n 2006. She has written a number of books and won a lot of Prizes in Japan. This is a harrowing account of being bullied at school ( I think we all in some way experience bullying in school or out of school).

One day towards the end of April, between classes, I unzipped my pencil case and found a folded triange of between the pencils.

I unfolded it to see what was inside.

“We should be Friends”

That’s all it said. Thin letters that looked like little fishbones, written in mechanical pencil

The opening lines and the first note from Kojima to our narrator

Our narrator is unnamed and is 14 when writing this book it follows a year in his life as ever the is a target for bullies because of a lazy eye. I remember for me it was just I was tall very slim (what went wrong !!) and ungainly it doesń take much at this age. anyway, he has an imagination and imagines how the bullies might get him to do this and that Iḿ not sure if this is a way to make the actual bullying seem less as if he pictures the most unimaginable acts the actual acts areń as bad but they are every time it brings him down a little more. The only solace in the book is when he starts to get notes from what seems to be someone that is experiencing bullying as well this is how the book opens. The notes lead to him meeting and becoming friends the one part of light in this book is the relationship and the initial hope it brings to him with Kojima. But then the bullying increase and we also see when our narrator tries to talk and reason with one of the bullies. ut his point of view when the bullies reply. Shows how much has changed over the years he had what would maybe be a Japanese view(not just Japanese maybe that traditional male role of breadwinner fighting man etc ) from years ago about the weak well not weak it takes real strength and courage to face bullying and carry on. His views are just outdated and but is maybe the centre of the book two views and paths in life and with human nature.

“Not so fast,Eyes.”

Class was over, butI turned around, becauser I had no choice, as rotten as I felt. One of Ninomiya’s friends grabbed me by the neck and dragged me back into the classroom. This happened all the time. Ninomiya was in the middle of the roo,, sittingon a desk. That was his style. When he noticed me, he laughe, then said, “Hey buddy.” He told me to hove a stick of chalk up my nose and draw smoething hilarious on the blackboard with it, something that would make them shit their pants. His firends all cracked up. One of them dragged me to the blackboard and the rest of them circled around to watch.

One of the numerous cases of him getting bullied in the book.

I wasn’t looking forward to this book I am just not into books that are maybe aimed at YA  audience which this looked like when I read the blurb. But when I read it it has an insight into the human character and also human suffering we all experience bullying on some level that is life life is a hierarchy whether it is violence, abuse, in your job or in the family. but the scars of it can last a lifetime or long into adulthood our narrator Eyes as they call him will probably have these events for most of his life playing in his head like movies in this case horror movies (sorry stole that from counting crows). Anyway it is a horrific bildungsroman that maybe is right for the target audience which is kids around 14 I feel it shows the horrors of bullying also the outdated nature of the bullies view although with recent events some adults are still bullies like Mr Putin the world has moved on but has it will bullying ever go no it is part of life which is sad people are more aware of it but as in Eyes case and mine it doesń take a lot even my young niece about this age who is rather like My brother Duncan and I in her build has struggled with bullying it is so sad. It is fair to say the book hit an old nerve and I related to our narrator’s woes transported back to the 80s. how did you interact with reading the book?

Winstons score – B a solid YA novel about how it feels to be bullied

Happy stories , Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu

Happy stories , Mostly  by Norman Erikson Pasaribu

Indonesian fiction

Original title –  Cerita-cerita Bahagia, Hampir Seluruhnya

Translator – Tiffany Tsao

Source – personal copy

I was pleased that I decide to try my first subscription last year and chose Tilted Axis it paid of when there were three of the books I had been sent from them on the long list of this year’s booker. I had partly read this one but then as happens it had been in my bag for a while then I just put it on a shelf and hadń gotten back to it as I am like a magpie attracted to the next shiny thing. This is the debut fiction collection from Norman Erikson Pasaribu one of the leading writers in Indonesia he has written both poetry and fiction and was said to be in the long tradition of queer catholic writing by English pen. the book also has a very insightful conversation-style interview between the writer and translator which I found very insightful. This collection came out in 2014 and was a huge success in Indonesia and lead to him winning the best young writer in South Asia. This collection of 12 stories vary in length from the first which is a single page most are between 10 and 20 pages long.

Mama sandra would bring some home for him whenecver she worked the morning shift, beofre she returned in the evening. The cart she brought it from could usually be  found at the intersection by the clothing factory in Bojong menteng where whe used to work. The Vendor liked to hang around the middle school nearby. from there , shé walk back to their house in Rawalumbu, a bag of sweet fluffy cloud swinging from one hand. Once home shé recline on the mat in front of the tv, her head propped up on one elbow, cradled her palm. Bison would sit nearby , leaning against the wall. Piching off pieces of cotton candy, heý warch the family quiz show that came on every evening, laughing at impatien fathers and micomunicating siblings, The last hindred times shé recalled this ritual they shared, mother and child, Mama Sandra had cried

A long passage but capture the power of a foood memorey and the loss due to suicide which is so hard .

I chose to just mention three of the stories in the collection and leave the other for you to find the first is the so whatś your name, Sandra? the tale of Mama Sadra who had recently lost her son Bison (she named as she liked the word and how it sounded). She has chosen to use all her leave and do something to go to My son in Vietnam. As her friend Mama Anton says she and Sandra grew up in a small village and they know of no one that has ever been abroad. She arrives in Vietnam where we see her eating cotton candy. She visits a temple at the end of this story it has a very strange twist. The next story is the following story about a broken heart this story has a couple of lists of how to get other a broken heart as a student tries to get over that lover. Then we have the story Welcome to the department of unanswered prayers which sees someone in a sort of corporate version of heaven where they are introduced to the job in the department but also told about what happens and how they are expanding as more Koreans are becoming Christian.I loved this story it was a fun look at the afterlife in fact in a way it brought to mind the world of Brazil the film where we have a world of bureaucracy gone mad.

Welcome to the department  of Unanswered  prayers ! Hereś your ID. When itś time to go home, put your badge in your bag and leave your bag in your car, tather than tossing it some drawer, I mean, or chucking it somewhere inside your room, Doń worry no one will steal it. And doń to forget to bring it tomorrow and the day after and all the days after that . You need to get past security anc to access the main entrance, the department, the sub departments,the letter storage facility and the archive

This made me smile the beaucratic take of heaven !! rememeber the badge.

really got into this collection when I started it again it goes here and there but it was after the reading when I read about how he wrote and the use of Food like cotton candy and in other places there are macdonalds meals he uses these as a springboard as memories are strong around food and can take you to a time and place so well. Then he also so mention music in the second story I mentioned he had chosen Blue by Joni Mitchell as his heartbreak album. For me, my heartbreak song isń on an album but going to Macclesfield college and passing Ian Curtis’s house most days as I walked into the town where he wrote Love will tear us apart which for most guys of my generation is a break-up song. He is a writer that uses surreal images, traditional Batak imagery and his love of food and music he talks tough subjects like Suicide which is part of the So whatś your name story a subject that always need talking about. One of three strong books from Tilted axis for this year Man Booker. Have you read this book?

Winstons score – +A a new voice from a country that hasń been translated enough

Men without Women By Haruki Murakami

Men without women by Haruki Murakami

Japanese short stories

Original title – 女のいない男たち

Translators- Philip Gabriel and Ted Goosen

Source – Personal copy

I reviewed a non-fiction book By Mjurakami earlier this month and decided it was time to read this as since I was gift this book there has been another short story collection come out which I must get. I got this as a leaving gift for my last job which was nearly five years ago. I hadn’t plan to read ot but one afternoon after finishing one book and looking around my Library I decided it was time to get to this as it had been seven years before that when I had last reviewed a book by him so I felt a short gap was needed anyway he has always been a favourite and yes the last couple of novels hadn’t quite lived up to what I had wanted from Murakami there is always a feeling he has that true Opus Magnus to write still that defining book maybe that is just my view of him he is a great writer but would love that epic book he has yet to write that I’m sure he has in him, anyone else feels this about him? Anyway, let’s get to this collection of seven stories by him.

The first time I heard Kitaru sing “Yesterday” with those crazy lyrics he was in the bath at his house in Denenchofu (which, despite his description, was not a shabby house in ashabby neighbourhood but an ordinary house in an ordinary neighbourhood, an older house, but bigger than my house in Ashiya, not stand out in any way – and, incidentally , the car in the driveway was a navy-blue Golf, a recent model). Whenever Kitaru came home.he immediately dropped everything and jumped in the bat, and , once he was in the tub, he stayed there forever.

I was rtemind of the bath her of Douglas Adams love of Baths somethig that cfrept into his fiction I wonder if Murakami is the same!!

The collection opens with the tale of Kafuku in the story Drive my car he is an actor that has lost his license show hires a young woman to be his chauffeur in her mid-twenties to drive him around as she does he start to unload his life his wife that had affairs. A typical Murakami character is the lonely man older but so is the writer a world-weary soul with more life lived and ahead ! Then  Yesterday is a story about a trio of restaurant workers Tanimura and then a couple Kitaru and Erika the two split in the story just because he isn’t paying the attention she wants and she has then gone on a date with another man. He then moves on just a few days after this event.the story then jumps year later and Tanimura bumps into Erika now in the thirties she is married she asks Erika about the man she dated she hadn’t slept with him but still sees Kitaru and both are single and now lives apart the title is a hook on the Beatles song that is misunderstood and sung by Kitaru this reminds me of a friend many years ago that had misunderstood the meaning of a song by U2. I will just mention one more story leave the rest for you readers that haven’t read the book to discover the last story is Kino a middle-aged man who opens a bar called Kino’s his name the only name he could think of encouraged to open the bar this after his wife cheats a recurring motif in some of these stories. He has few customers one may be a Yakuza he sees of some wrong customers Kino also meets a woman also scared by her own life they talk Jazz. For me, this was classic Murakami a bar Jazz hark right back to his first two books dark alleys and men with no future all traits in his works over the years, The story also has a few surreal moments  when events in the bar change another of his traits.

kino couldn’t remember now what had led him to sleep with the woman that night. Kino felt, from the first, that there was something out of the ordinary about her. Something had triggered an instinctive response, warning him not to get involved. ANd now this cigarette burns on her back, He was basically a cautious person. If he really needed to sleep with a woman, he could always make do with a professional, he felt. Just take care of things by paying for it, And it wasn’t as it he were even attracted to this woman.

Kino sleep with this woman but why ? are they just two damaged souls ?

 

Do you ever get that feeling when you read a book that had been on your shelves for years why did I wait so long and wish you would have got to it sooner? I had like the other collections I had read by him other the years for me this has a lot of his traits cheating wives, single men now aging like the writer himself. This is like the Espresso shot of his work a little Amuse Bouche of the writer you hit with every story of echoes reminds of his earlier works he is a writer that uses similar characters and always has he use a sort every man of Japan how many of the male characters in this book are there wandering around Tokyo middle single men either single for a long time or widowed separate. Also things like Jazz, late-night bars western music all motifs that have cropped up before. The first story Drive my car has been made into a film I hope I can see it sometime? Have you read this collection what were your thoughts about it?

Winstons Score – A , well worth the journey for any fan or anyone maybe wanting an into to him this has so many of his traits in this collection in small chunks!

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

Japanese fiction

Original title –  猫の客

Translator – Eric Selland

Source – personal copy

I now head back to Japan for the third book for this years January inJapan event and I decided to look at my TBR pile of books and one I had brought just because I liked the Cat on the cover I worried the book was going to be one that I wouldn’t enjoy but I decided as I had just brought another Japanese bestseller about a cat it was time to read this cat book. The book was written by the Japanese Poet Takashi Hirade he was born in Moji and lives in Tokyo with his wife who is also a poet. He was described by Kenzaburo Oe as a poet who creates new prose from poetry. He has published over twenty books and edited a series of books in Japan.

Another one pf Chibi’s characteristics was that she changed the direction of her cautious attention frequently. This active behaviour wasn’t limited to her kittenhood. Perhaps because she played alone most of the time in the expansive garden, seh reacted strongly to insects and reptiles. And there were times when I could only conclude that she must be reacting to subtle changes in the wind and light, not detectable by humans. It may be that most cats share the same quickness, but even so, in Chibi’s case, it was acute – she was after all, the cat of Lightning Alley. My wife got into the habit of pointing to the cat whenever it went by, extolling its virtues.

Early on in his time with the couple.

The book in some ways is autobiographical to the writer’s own life as he was a writer. The story follows a couple in the mid-thirties in the mid-1980s as they move into a small house that is part of a larger estate within the grounds just of an alley in a quieter part of Tokyo. When they rent they are told early on that they can have no children or pets. They are a writer and proofreader so spend their days at home. So when a cat appears a white cat with patches of brown(I thought of my parent’s cat truffles she was pure white but in that coat, you could see what was a tabby pattern in white anyway back to the book) The cat they invite in as a guest to there home and Call him Chibi’s and his independent nature and his skill when he plays with a ping pong ball. He initially bits the wife but she gets to like him. The cat gives this couple that is in the same house but may be caught up in themselves something to focus on. The cat comes and goes as we view them interacting with him and what he meant to them as they see the world starting to change due to events around them.

We made a door to the rooom that only Chibi could get through, not any other cats.Below the lagrge window on the south wall, there was a floor-level window of frosted glass about sixteen inches tall running the full length of ones above it, for sweeping out dust. By opening this window just three inches , a gap was leftnwhich allowed only Chibi to squeeze through. In order to prevent cold air and insects from getting in, we hung a thick cotton curtain of royal blue over it.

On the wooden floorbardfs in a corner of the Japanese style room, we placed a cardboard box, which had orginally contained mandarin oranges, to act as Chibi’s own special room. we put a  towel in the box and a dish for her food. Then we set a bowl for milk beside  the box.

They make him feel welcome as their guest with his own door and box !!

This is one of those gentle books that are a pleasure to sit and read at its heart is maybe the loneliness of city life even a couple can be a part in the same small cottage til Chibi’s appearance. Also, another thread in the book is the garden is so well described with the bird’s trees etc described the garden is almost like an oasis in the city. This is like those films I love and Myamanda happens and that is where nothing happens but the world we see and are drawn into is the beauty of the journey. The time in their house gives them a breathing gap in the chaotic world of Tokyo this oasis and that stray white cat that has come into their lives is may be a way for them to move on in their own lives anyway that is what I felt this is one of those books that was a bestseller because it is one of those books that grab the imagination of the reader and gives you a couple of hours in the company of a couple and their guest cats. Have you read this book or any of his other books?

Winstons scores – B The tale of a cat that likes to visit families as a guest.

People from my Neighbourhood by Hiromi Kawakami

People from my Neighbourhood by Hiromi Kawakami

Japanese microfiction

Original title – 大きな鳥にさらわれないよう

Translator – Ted Gossen

Source – Library copy

I decided to go to the library for the first time in a long time as I thought I had a fine left from pre-Covoid as I had tried to order some books the other week but when I went in I must have paid the fine at the time it was just the card needed an update it was fun to browse again it had been to long and with the Booker international longlist coming up I will be trying to find some books I haven’t read before. One of the first \i found was this very short collection of micro-stories from Hiromi Kawakami who is one of those writers who I had read when she had her debut book out here 9 years ago but haven’t got back to even though I like the Briefcase when I reviewed it so it felt like it was time to try her books again and this was the perfect afternoon read and the second book for this years January in Japan reads. The book is narrated by an unnamed narrator.

A white cloth was lying at the foot of zelkova tree, When I walked over and picked it up, I saw a child underneath.

“What’s the big idea?” Thwe child glared at me, It had narrow eyes but thick eyebrows. I couldn’t tell if it was a girl or a boy.

Ooops. Sporry! I apologized. But the child kept glaring at me. Are you playing hide and seek or something? It shook its head vigorousily from side to side.

“I live her,” it said

The child in the story the secret lives under a cloth under a tree

The book is a collection of very short stories of a neighbourhood very odd one thou, with a collage made of sweets a town full of odd characters and time has a fluid nature as some stories are immediate other last decades. Oh, people changing to pigeons in their habits. I knew this was an odd collection when the first story is about a child that lives on a cloth under a tree that then adopt and stay young and has a weird dance after showers. This is followed by a description of chicken Hell in the second story. Other stories describe a dog let loose they call black that dies. The Dog is a recurring theme as is a girl called Kanae first crops up in a tale about her clever sister then we see her become a model after going off the rails in her younger year a look at how peoples perceptions can change over time.

Blackie was vicious.

Blackie was the name we gave the black dog that belonged to Kiyoshi Akai. He called it John, but there was nothing John-like about it. No a common black Japanese mutt like that could only be called Blackie

Blackie was a barker. Not only did he bark, he nit – and not playful little nips. His bites were serious the kind that draw blood we often saw his victims in the front of Akais house complaining. “Look at the blood!”they’d bellow. “What are you going to do about it?” Yet the boy and his mother always appeared quite unpertubered.

The Black dog Blackie is a dog left to room and bite the locals til something happens !!

This is an odd collection of stories. They are very funny and surreal in nature they have a fun feel to them and you can tell she must enjoy using the voice of this narrator and the town she describes. I loved the way she lays in recurring characters like Kanae and her family the black dog and its own a man that no one seems to like and dogs, Birds chickens and pigeons. I was reminded of studio Ghibli films at times with humans becoming like Pigeons was like something out of those films also the neighbourhood with its mix of real and fantasy I have seen in a film like Totoro by them were the modr=ern japan mix with an ancient spiritual past. This book mix real life and surreal things happening like win a wish lottery and how different winners use their three wishes which one man changes his wife which is very funny as it backfires on him. That is one of the things I felt there is a fable-like feel to these stories a warning behind the fun nature of these stories. This is a collection hard to pigeonhole as the stories are very interlinked with the recurring themes and all being set in the same neighbourhood as she builds up the layers it is almost a novella with short chapters or a micro-fiction collection it is 90 pages and read within a couple of hours. Have you read this collection or any of her other books?

Winstons score – B solid fun collection ideal for a commute or an evening read

 

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