The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

In a Tokyo suburb, a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife’s missing cat – and then for his wife as well – in a netherworld beneath the city’s placid surface.  As these searches intersect, he encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists.

Reading this novel is certainly an arresting experience. There is a cold aspect to the writing, a sense of detachment, which makes it nonetheless strangely compelling.   The relaxed tone of the narrator makes this a novel of normality and functionality of life, which heavily contrasts with the extraordinary and the imaginative (or is it supernatural?) rabbit hole it soon encompasses.

Murakami doesn’t always join the dots, or at least not in an obvious way. I like that.  Instead he encourages the reader to consider the bigger themes. It’s a thought-provoking piece of literature in many ways, crammed full with lots of symbolism and elusive connections, and one exceptionally gory scene which was a bit much, when it came to the details.

There is a rare insight into the Japanese people and their history, regarding the occupation of Northern China and the Manchurian campaigns of World War II.  The themes of how different types of power and pain that can drive a person, and how different spaces can affect the mind are a constant companion, the book is about the physical as much as the psychological. Continue reading “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami”

Advertisements

No One Left to Lie To – Christopher Hitchens

In No One Left to Lie To, Christopher Hitchens portrays President Bill Clinton as one of the most ideologically skewed and morally negligent politicians of recent times. In a blistering polemic which shows that Clinton was at once philanderer and philistine, crooked and corrupt, Hitchens challenges perceptions – of liberals and conservatives alike – of this highly divisive figure.

With blistering wit and meticulous documentation, Hitchens masterfully deconstructs Clinton’s abject propensity for pandering to the Left while delivering to the Right and argues that the president’s personal transgressions were inseparable from his political corruption.

With his usual concise and devastating literary style, Hitch was not a man to hold back when he came across hypocrisy and lies.  Rooting out the shameful nature of Bill Clinton’s presidency, he is angry, and rightfully so.  As with his book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, such a work should surely call for a law suit or three were the claims wholly inaccurate, tellingly,  none there came.

Books like this are essential,  not only to shine a light on the dizzyingly shameful complicity of the press, but also to give examples of what good journalism actually is;  Reporting accurately and consistently, with research and sources, and exposing the dissembling and corrupt.

Bill’s career highlights are all here, including the numerous sexual assaults on women, the launching of bombing missions to coincide with congressional hearings and therefore divert the media’s attention, the dismantling of welfare, and his propensity to about-face on any promise he gave.  It is surprising, but not shocking to discover just degenerate the politics here is. Continue reading “No One Left to Lie To – Christopher Hitchens”

Ironweed – William Kennedy

Francis Phelan, ex-ballplayer, part-time gravedigger full-time drunk, has hit bottom.  Years ago he left Albany in a hurry after killing a scab during a trolley workers’ strike; he ran away after accidentally – and fatally – dropping his infant son.  Now, in 1938, Francis is back in town, roaming the old familiar streets with his hobo pal Helen, trying to make peace with the ghosts of the past and the present.

Having never heard of this melancholy tale before, it now seems like a bit of a travesty on my part to have gone so long without doing so.  Although it’s the third book in the Albany Cycle, it can be read as a stand alone (as I read it), and will probably be followed by a wish to read the rest.

A (pleasing) mention of the infamous H.G. Wells radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds sets the time of the novel in late 1938,  a few years before America would enter the soon to start World War II.  A time when opportunity would present itself in an unprecedented scale, the irony of which will not be lost on the reader.

Likeable Francis, a drifter returning home, is the central focus of a story that encapsulates, poverty, the failure of the American dream, guilt and the consequences of his actions.  Francis undergoes an unlayering of personality – almost archaeologically so – throughout the book,  as circumstance teases out his recollected memories of both his high and low points. Continue reading “Ironweed – William Kennedy”

A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (Part Two)

This is a remarkable book, and big, so big in fact, that I am taking up a second post for all my remaining remarks. Starting with a quote that I really love:

“She paused by the science shelves, not because she understood much science, but, rather because she did not. Whenever she opened a scientific book and saw whole paragraphs of incomprehensible words and symbols, she felt a sense of wonder at the great territories of learning that lay beyond her – the sum of so many noble and purposive attempts to make objective sense of the world.”

There are a whole slew of characters to meet in A Suitable Boy, yet I didn’t feel confused with them at any point.  Partly this is due to my reading a little each day, retaining the thread of who is who, but the four family trees provided, and side characters who are easily associated with certain characters or places helped, and I was rarely troubled placing a character  who was returning after 200 pages in the wilderness.

Seth is a big fan of poetry and his playful rhyming couplets are seen throughout, most noticably describing each chapter, and then through the incessant creations of the Chatterji family.  There are also myriad references to various Indian mythological works which encourages a deeper reading into Indian mythology.  Sprinkled throughout are bits of the local language which was a nice touch, especially when I started to recognise what was being referred to, or which familial names were used to denote relationships.

The plot is unhurried and slowly expands to include all of life and society, it really allows the world to be shown in richness and depth.  Whether the reader thinks this much detail is relevant or not, it is certainly worth the exploration and gives the book a much more authentic feel.

There is plenty of conflict, whether it be class, religious and political divides, or generational.  Everybody has a prejudice of some sort, whether conscious of it or not.  Seth explores all sides of these, offering plenty of insight which has the capacity to bring out both sympathy or revulsion at various times. Continue reading “A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (Part Two)”

A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (Part One)

Vikram Seth’s novel is, at its core, a love story: the tale of Lata – and her mother’s – attempts to find her a suitable husband, through love or through exacting maternal appraisal. At the same time, it is the story of India, newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis as a sixth of the world’s population faces its first great general election and the chance to map its own destiny.

When faced with a wall of paper such as this (1474 pages), a choice inevitably presents itself.  Will it be worth the time and effort taken to read this, or would it be more productive to read a few shorter books in the same time span? Luckily choosing this Indian epic was the right option, and the time spent savouring this novel was well worth it.

When reading, I loved how it harked back in style to works of earlier ages. It was easy to draw comparisons with the Russian epics, and War and Peace in particular, as well as Moby Dick for the sheer level of detail that the reader never realised they wanted to know.

Although the story takes place in less than two years, and with its vast array of characters, it is very much in the spirit of those classics, treating the reader to a glimpse of life in post independence India. With the upheaval of the partition with Pakistan as a backdrop, social and religious tensions are explored but at the heart of the story its the family spirit, and myriad connections that gives the book its flow. An India, and a young generation trying to find its own way. Continue reading “A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth (Part One)”

Bringing Book the Good Times

I’m finally back from a wonderful Christmas and New Year in England, and after fighting through the obligatory jet lag, as well as other demands, I finally find time to catch you up on things.

The most important being the books I managed to haul back over with me, which is a veritable, eclectic feast of words, split nicely between books to reread and new tomes to explore…

Continue reading “Bringing Book the Good Times”

South of the South Wind – Nils-Johan Jørgensen

Thorgil is an adventurer, a young boy whose heart is out at sea. When his father tells him of his plan to set sail to return to Norway, Thorgil is determined to follow his dreams. This is a story about adventure and never returning home.Schoolboy Thomas loves his geography teacher – with tales of the Bounty Ship and inspiring paintings by Gauguin, his imagination is set free and he gets curious. However, one day in class, the teacher is taken away from school and Thomas is curious to find out where he is.Jorgen is a bright boy but due to financial difficulties, can’t get the education he wants. The fisherman life it is for him and later settles down with a family. One day the winds cause havoc in the sky and change things for him; this is a tale of loss and greed. The finale in the short stories brings to you the tale of Toby, the cheeky dog, guaranteed to bring a smile to your face…

I really tried to make this book last, honest!  Having adored the other three Wind books, and greedily devoured them, this one should have been one to savour. One sitting later and I was once again closing a book utterly enchanted with the stories, and also a little sad that I couldn’t experience them again for the first time.

The initial story, Grapes of Love was, I futilely promised myself, the one story I would limit myself to that day. It tells of the many types of passing; of ideas, and of time, passing into maturity, and of the people whom we meet through life. The mysteries of the heart and the world are explored and all of this is wrapped up in a good dollop of Norse history, which always conjures up dramatic imagery.

Continue to read and think

After that story the ‘just one more, and then I will leave the others’ excuse came into play.  Windward was my absolute favourite tale of the book. It’s another delve into history but is this time much more international.  The reader gets to explore not only the globe but also the themes of escape, freedom and consequences, and how choice – or lack of it – can have major repercussions on life. Continue reading “South of the South Wind – Nils-Johan Jørgensen”