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31 August 2012

'The Thief' by Fuminori Nakamura translated by Satoko Izumo and Stephen Coates

This book read like stream of consciousness Japanese style.... 

And like stream of consciousness there is no real beginning and no real end.  As I closed the book, I felt like it was an introduction to a much longer book; maybe a combination of 'The Brothers Karamazov' and 'The Count of Monte Christo'.  I mean, the book is that good but also quite short.

I cared about the protagonist and found tragedy in his story and pathos as well.  He had warnings and opportunities to turn back from seeking an old friend but decides to continue.  One of the nastiest characters I have come across, ever, speaks to our protagonist of fate or Fate.  He does so rather with glee, as he considers himself master of fate.  He divides the world into people with power who can control fate and "slaves" who's life is already written out.  But I am not convinced that fate is necessarily the culprit of the protagonist's situation.  The speech by the antagonist is too neat and too cynical (if there is such a thing as too cynical).  It makes fate "the usual suspect"; I think it is a red herring.

A man makes decisions, as a result good or bad things happen to himself and others.  Fate precludes choices... the choice is predetermined and so it is not a choice at all.  The protagonist from the beginning claims to have made certain choices that brought him to where he is.  Another man claims to manipulate those choices, so he says he controls fate.  But all he holds is the power over life and death... and that is not the same thing at all.  Death is the only fate because we all die, so in that sense it is just a matter of time.  How a life is lived cannot be completely predetermined, regardless of what a powerful antagonist thinks.   The argument for a predetermined life is the boast of a powerful, bored man.  I think he wants to convince the protagonist that fate brought him to where he is.  Maybe he wants the protagonist to give up his will and truly give in to fate as defined by the antagonist.  The protagonist did not think of himself as a victim or carried along by fate. Even in the end he continues to make choices and fight.

On a less serious note, I have learnt more about pickpockets than I care to know.  For example, I did not know there is an ideal length to the fingers on your hands for this 'art'.  Moreover, given that pros work in teams, I am now much more paranoid than I used to be in airports and train stations.  Oh, one more thing, from now on I keep a look out for ambidextrous people i.e. one of my relatives and (ironically) a Japanese friend I use to have...

Nevertheless, for such a short book, quite a bit is discussed.  I feel like there is more, much more to know.  I hope Fuminori Nakamura keeps up the good work because I am eager for more.

Satoko Izumo
ISBN: 9781780339139

27 August 2012

'I Still Dream About You' by Fannie Flagg

Too many years ago, I saw a lovely movie titled 'Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe'.  The book was promoted around the same time and so I read it.  Through the years since, I have continued to read Fannie Flagg.  Recently, I hadn't seen anything new though and was getting worried.  Then I spot it while book hunting for a friend.  'I Still Dream About You' is a sweet story about a life worth living and of course, tied to this question, a dream worth pursuing?

Fannie Flagg loves the American South.  All the contradictions, genteel traditions and violence are somehow combined to create a warm and welcoming book.  I  feel I have been acquainted with long lost Alabama relatives.  Her characters become family with all the intimacy and mystery that 'family' implies.  Intimacy, I think, is self explanatory but I will try to explain what I mean by mystery.

When someone is close to me, I become aware of motivations, desires and denials that are alien to me.  In essence, I feel privileged to be shown a new part of a person I love, but as I eagerly look I become aware of other doors left closed. Not because my loved ones are selfish but because that is the nature of humans.  How many of us have acted in ways that are inexplicable even to ourselves?  Loved something or someone without, seemingly, an act of will?  As Woody Allen said "I'm astounded by people who want to 'know' the universe when it's hard enough to find your way around Chinatown."  Well, as a metaphor I feel it works equally well for my own mind and the minds of others.

Ok, I could keep going but I hope you get the idea.  Fannie Flagg is excellent at letting me feel welcome in a home; I get to know new friends and then begin to sense the true mystery that is every individual for good or bad.  I like the sense of depth and roundness this mystery gives her characters.  The fact that a a sense of humor runs right through the middle of it is especially satisfactory.  The better I get to know her characters the more I laugh and the more interesting they become.

'I Still Dream About You' is full of these real people that inspire, confuse, grow and conquer (their own regrets).

Fanny Flag
ISBN: 9781400065936

08 August 2012

'The Woman Who Died a Lot' by Jasper Fforde

So many puns, twists, jokes, allusions and witty moments I smile or laugh my way through

This is book 7 in the Thursday Next series.  The books take place in a very alternative universe, specifically an alternative England.  There are so many puns, twists, jokes, allusions and witty moments I smile or laugh my way through every book.  This one is no exception.

I was privileged to meet Jasper Fforde once upon a time while he was on tour promoting his latest book.  The poor man was in a room full of Germans, who happened to read in English.  A large, pedantic man (nerd) had the idea to ask why Jasper wrote stories based on English literature or (heaven forbid) English nursery rhymes?  He felt it would be easier to understand the books if he used something more universal; I can only assume he meant Goethe.  Anyway, Jasper managed to answer with grace to the general tune of 'you work with what you know'.  Honestly, I can't imagine any writer with (finally) a good idea (or so she hopes) who scraps it because she can't imagine how it will translate into German or Japanese.

Somewhere, somehow one must have a point of reference.  Some writers do a great deal of research and write beautifully about serial killers.  The Thursday Next novels tell of crimes against English literature.  The literary police force to which Thusday belongs protect us from fake endings and counterfeit Shakespeare, you have to read the books to understand.  And to understand you have to have some basic knowledge of English lit.  Having said that, it has been years since I read someone who could make me look as Miss Havisham with new eyes.

I close 'The Woman Who Dies a Lot' and look at my dusty bookcase with glee (usually I look at it with affection).  I also happen to appreciate the cheese in my fridge, but you have to read the series to understand.  These books cheer me up and refresh my English course books.  I hope Jasper keeps going.  Please, please Jasper, The Nursery Crime series could use another visit.

Jasper Fforde
 ISBN: 9780340963111

05 August 2012

'The Devotion of Suspect X' by Keigo Higashino translated by Alexander O. Smith with Elye J. Alexander

Anything I want to say about this book will give something away.

So what to do?  Well, you see, I must write about this book.

In the beginning...

We were on vacation somewhere hot that also had copious amounts of great cheap rosé available.  Naturally, my instinct is to sip wine, read and move as little as possible due to the heat and I hope due to a good book. I had run out of books to read so I went to the local book sellers and inspected the English/German/Spanish shelf.  My husband was also looking for a book. As I chose 'The Language of Flowers', I spotted another book from a Japanese author.  I read the back cover and thought "cool, a book for BPR."  Beloved Proof Reader agreed and off we went.  To make a long story short, I finished my book quickly and attacked his.

I expected the sort of suspenseful "who done it" that is normal for hot holiday reading.  This book is different and definitely not normal.  I usually can discern the formula of a suspense/thriller quickly.  I get bored or frustrated by chapter 3... that is, I know who will die, I know who done it, and I know who will sleep with whom.  'The Devotion of Suspect X' is so not predictable (to me).  I don't want to even begin to gush for fear of giving everything away.  I loved the way hints are dropped. The reader is not treated like an idiot but somehow a predictable story starts to gently twist and soon you don't know which way you are facing.  It is all done calmly, no explosions, no chases through dark alleys, nothing that would make you jump.  But, there is plenty to keep you chewing your lip, twisting your hair and holding on to that glass of wine those seconds too long because actually swallowing would be distracting.

The Devotion kept me devoted.  It lingered once I had finished it.  I kept away from BPR while he read so I would not ask such things as "Did you notice .....?"  Please go out and find this book before they make it into a film.  Read it and pass it on but from a distance because you don't want to let something slip.

Alexander O. Smith
ISBN: 9781408703250