Sunday, November 14, 2010

Manazuru : Hiromi Kawakami

By Hiromi Kawakami
Translated by: Michael Emmerich

Intriguing, slightly mind-bending book. Kei, the female protagonist, is struggling to move on, after her beloved husband mysteriously disappeared years ago.

Kawakami fluidly jumps from describing reality to Kei's memories to a space that is not quite clear whether it's supernatural, Kei going on a crazy what-if scenario or her simply losing her sanity. However, it gets at the nature and emotions of love, especially of the feelings of someone left behind.

Simultaneously, Kawakami also explores the relationships between Kei, her daughter and her mother, who live together and who had distinctly different perspectives on Kei's husband.

An intriguing book, that still is rattling around my head a bit now.

Waiting by Ha Jin

By Ha Jin

The writing initially reminded of writing found in kid's books. I suspect it was this passage in particular:
Beside him, chickens were strutting and geese waddling. A few little chicks were passing back and forth through the narrow gaps in the paling that fenced a small vegetable garden.
But the story quickly moves along and gets into the more substantial plot of a doctor in China, trying to work out a divorce of his wife of 15 years.

That's the short description of the plot, but in reality the doctor is one of the more passive and indecisive characters that one will read about.

He had initially agreed to marry the woman in his home-town, due to a sense of filial obligation.  His parents had selected this woman to be his wife and not long afterwards, sequentially fallen sick.  The doctor worked a day's trip away from his hometown and had essentially married in order to have someone take care of his parents.  Needless to say, his wife is a very obedient and selfless person.  Not long after their marriage, they have a daughter.

A few years afterwards, he "falls into" a relationship at the army camp that he works at and after a few cycles of the two trying to deny their relationship, his new girlfriend forces him to get a divorce with his wife.

Year after year, the wife initially accepts the divorce, but at the last minute has a change of heart.   As a result, the title refers to the girlfriend waiting on the doctor to get a divorce.  In addition, it also refers to the wife waiting on the doctor to potentially returning to his family.

The story is largely written from the perspective of the doctor; but the intent seems to be pointing out the passiveness and selfishness of the man and the accompanying rationalizations that accompany it.  Ha Jin does a fine job of exploring and elucidating the psychology behind the character and it's certainly valuable to read about such characters, but at the same time, it can be frustrating to have to read about them, when personalities like that exist in real-life.

Northern Lights by Tim O'Brien

Northern Lights
By Tim O'Brien

I had read and enjoyed Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried in high school and decided to pick up another of his books.

I also liked this one.

There is a tiny set of main characters: two brothers (Perry and Harvey), Perry's wife and a younger lady that flirts with Paul and dates Harvey.

O'Brien uses frequently has paragraphs with a number of shorter, descriptive sentences:   
Perry took a step and stood alone. The Greyhound brakes hissed and forms moved behind the tinted windows and Perry searched for familiar movements. The door opened with another strange hiss, and the great gray cave was transfixing, dust and trembling. Perry peered into the tinted glass.
Sometimes O'Brien puts in odd juxtapositions of sentences to help establish the Perry's middle-aged confusion and dissatisfaction with his life, which was well-done.  I also thought O'Brien's exploration of the effects of Perry being the less-favored son and some of the jealousy of his brother to be well-done as well.

Not all was perfect.  I was surprised at how long of a section there was after the blizzard event.  I was also not a fan of the whole "I've got bile in my stomach" symbolism, which felt tired.  

But all in all, a nice psychology study of the characters and decent forward momentum of the plot.

Brasyl : Ian McDonald

by Ian McDonald

Ugh, just tiresome writing. Contained long descriptions of environment and characters that didn't add much value to the story or characters that just made things drag on. Plot that just seemed tired and written to try to impress with knowledge of Brazil.

Pushed through the book hoping it would pick up, but it didn't.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love : Raymond Carver

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
By Raymond Carver

A collection of short stories that just rattle around in your brain. A little depressing in that a number address love that has gone wrong: divorces, violence, arguments, etc. But it's quite amazing how Carver can set-up such realistic personalities, problems, settings and tone with so few words.

The Devil's Whisper : Miyuki Miyabe

The Devil's Whisper
By Miyuki Miyube

Rather enjoyed this one. A mystery plot of unexplained deaths of young women. Not too deep, but well written and entertaining and having a concrete explanations to things, say unlike a typical Murakami ending. (Hopefully without spoiling things, the explanation kind of brought me back to the 90's when I first heard of the subject. Yet, it still had a bit of freshness to it.) Definitely wouldn't mind picking up more of Miyabe's works for an random read.