Murakami, Haruki. Kafka on the Shore. Translated by Philip Gabriel. Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.
Reason read: I needed a book for the Portland Public Library Reading Challenge in the category of a book whose author is someone I identify with. Murakami is a runner. I’d like to think I am, too.
Kafka on the Shore is a mystery. Exactly who is Kafka Tamura? In the beginning of the story all we know is that Kafka isn’t this boy’s real name and he is a teenage runaway. Why he left his father is a mystery. All we know is that life with dad was terrible. Somewhere out there is an adopted sister (six years older) and a mother; both who have been missing for years. Is there a connection? Why did his mother disappear with the adopted daughter and not take her natural born son? Who is Crow? An imaginary friend who lives in an alternate metaphysical reality?
Nakata is an aging simpleton. His backstory is even more of a mystery. As a child he was involved in the Rice Bowl Hill Incident of 1944. A group of school children were allegedly hypnotized after seeing a silver duralumin object glint in the sky. Most of the children woke up soon after the incident but Nakata stayed in a coma. As an adult, Nakata finds cats with master skills and is able to predict weird phenomena like fish and leeches falling from the sky. Word of warning: Nakata gets involved with a strange character. His scene with the cats is highly disturbing to an animal lover. but then again, I am the kind of person who needs to change the channel because I can’t bear those uber-long ASPCA commercials with the sad music.
At some point these two characters come together metaphorically, but their journey to this point is like a winding labyrinth full of unusual characters like Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders and a stone Nakata must talk to. Kafka on the Shore will take you through a modern Oedipus Rex tragedy.
As an aside, I liked the characters of Oshima and Hoshino. Oshima drives Kafka two and a half hours over the mountains to a place to stay saying, “it’s a straight shot, it’s still light out, and he has a full tank of gas.” Only, in reality it is a five hour drive, it won’t be light out when he gets home and that tank of gas will be long gone. Hoshino goes to remarkable lengths to help Nakata with his mysterious quest, even quitting his trucking job to be a chauffeur. That is the true definition of a selfless friend.
Lines I liked, “He wasn’t sure why, but striped brown cats were the hardest to get on the same page with” (p 71), and “Why do hundred of thousands even millions of people group together and try to annihilate each other?” (p 359).
Author fact: I have three other of Murakami’s books on my Challenge list: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and A Wild Sheep Chase but there are plenty more out there.
Setlist: Cream’s “Crossroads,” Duke Ellington, Beethoven’s “Ghost,”, Beatles’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” , Berlioz, Beach Boys, Hayden, Led Zeppelin, Liszt, Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” and “Sexy Motherfucker,” Radiohead’s “Kid A,” Rolling Stones, Rubinstein, Heifetz and Feuermann Trio, Schumann, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, Wagner, Schubert’s Sonata in D Minor, Wagner, “Si, Mi Chiamano Mimi,” Mozart’s “Posthorn Serenade,” “Edelweiss,” and “As Time Goes By.”
Nancy said: Pearl said the plots to Murakami’s novels are not easy.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Japanese Journeys” (p 116).
Allende, Isabel. The House of the Spirits. New York: Everyman’s Library, 2005.
Reason read: read in honor of the ghosts…just in time for Halloween.
The House of the Spirits begins with a letter to a hundred year old grandfather. Meet the del Valle family. Clara del Valle has paranormal powers as every magical realism book must have. Clara predicts her sister’s death by poison and is traumatized into muteness by the autopsy (wouldn’t you if you saw your sister cut open?). The generational story goes on to include more crimes against humanity in the form of adultery, rape, whippings, curses, maiming, and murder. Balanced with all that grief is an undeniable love story. Passion abounds between the harshness.
As an aside, my favorite character of them all was Rosa de Valle. Born with green hair she is thought to be a mermaid and was murdered early in the story.
Author fact: Allende write a letter to her 99 year old grandfather and The House of the Spirits was born.
Book trivia: I always find it really interesting when novels (or art of any kind) that end up being huge successes are at first rejected. Allende and Van Gogh have that in common.
Nancy said: Pearl said The House of the Spirits offers “a picture of Chile that’s suffused with love (and a bit of magic)” (Book Lust To Go p 115).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Magical Realism” (p 148) and from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “It’s Chile Today” (p 114).
Chamoiseau, Patrick. Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows. Translated by Linda Coverdale. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska, 1988.
Reason read: October is the month to celebrate Magical Realism.
The spiritual awakenings of the long dead undead and the magical presence of the beam of everlasting moonlight across the wayward ocean of the Caribbean. Siloce, Hepla, Kouli, Mam Elo, Ti-Boute, Fefee Celie, Anatase, Ti-Choute, Bidjoule, and all the others thread their way through witchcraft markets teeming with childbirth and djobbers like Didon, Sirop, Pin-Pon, Lapochide, Sifilon and our hero, Pipi Soleil. It takes thirty pages to get to Pipi Soleil through abundant pregnancies and whatnot, but Pipi as as king of the wheelbarrow takes center stage. The first thing you need to understand is this is a story told by ghosts and witchcraft and moves back and forth through time as though sequence is of no matter, because it isn’t. Spanning thirty years from the mid 1940s to the mid 1970s, Martinique’s Fort-de-France teems full of djobbers, independent transporters of wares and Pipi Soleil rules them all. He once hauled his wares by boat but after one particularly stormy night he gave up the sea for a wheelbarrow. Even if the plot does not grab you, the lyrical writing will.
Confessional: I have said this before. I am not a good reader of magical realism. I find myself annoyed by the seemingly unrelated fantastical. Seems like more of a trick to me than a treat.
Lines I lived, “She was going to grab fate, she said, by a different end” (p 18), “the young couple made their love debut in this setting – which isn’t of the slightest importance” (p 29), and “She dumped out a big basket of weariness and brought laughter and smiles back form some lost corner of her mind” (p 85).
Author fact: Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows was Chamoiseau’s first novel.
Book trivia: Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows was first published in France in 1986.
Nancy said: Peal called Chronicle of the Seven Sorrows a “vivid” novel.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Contradictory Caribbean: Paradise and Pain” (p 55).
Zabor, Rafi. The Bear Comes Home. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1979.
Reason read: May is Music month.
In a nutshell:The Bear Comes Home is a story about a talking, walking, pants-wearing, saxophone-playing bear. Wrap your brain around that for a moment and then consider this: the bear is an avid reader, talks philosophy and emotionally and physically loves a woman. I knew from the inside flap this book was going to be an interesting read, especially when I read, “a vexed, physically passionate and anatomically correct inter-species love affair with a beautiful woman named Iris.” Um. Okay. It’s the “anatomically correct” piece that really puts it into perspective. But! Trust me when I say this is a deep book. I mean deeeep. Zabor is a little long winded when it comes to subjects he is passionate about. There are pages and page about jazz music and the musicians who perfected it, but somehow the entire thing works. The Bear is a little too angsty but considering his circumstances, stuck in the human world, who could blame him?
As an aside, I have two Natalie connections to this book. This time “Dancing Bear” from Leave Your Sleep (of course) and the mention of the song “But Not For Me” which Natalie has covered.
Another aside, I loved, loved, loved the musical references. Mention of Prince’s Black Album made me swoon (been missing him a lot lately).
Line to like, “It had to do with the heaviness of obsession” (p 363).
Author fact: Zabor is a musician as well as an author. Obviously.
Book trivia: Bear Comes Home features a few real life musicians. Obviously. Another piece of trivia: it won the PEN Faulkner award.
Nancy said: Pearl said Bear Comes Home is a “slightly different take on music in fiction” (Book Lust p 164).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Music and Musicians” (p 164).
I can’t even begin to describe May. My first time to the Southwest. My first time traveling with family. Many different firsts. But, enough of that. Here are the books:
- The Man in Gray Flannel by Sloan Wilson
- Mariner’s Compass by Earlene Fowler
- Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor
- Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
- Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
- Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs
- Farthest North by Dr. Fridtjof Nansen
- Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
- Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters
I see June as jumping over spring. We went from low 50 degree temps to mid 90s overnight. Not sure what to make of this abbreviated spring. I’m not sure what to make of myself either. I all but stopped running (eleven miles for the entire month). Even when I was home on Monhegan I didn’t lace up. My only saving grace is I’m to start training for a half in July. Sigh…
Here are the books:
- American Pastoral by Philip Roth ~ in honor of Father’s Day (AB)
- Under the Gypsy Moon ~ by Lawrence Thornton
- The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett
- Death, Taxes and Leaky Waders by John Gierach
- Provence by Ford Madox Ford (DNF)
Series Continuations –
- Cider with Rosie (illustrated) by Laurie Lee
- Henry James: the Middle Year by Leon Edel (not finished yet)
For the Early Review program for LibraryThing:
- Upstream: Searching for Wild Salmon, From River to Table by Langdon Cook
- The World Broke in Two by Brian Goldstein (not finished yet)
Here are the short stories –
- “Artie Glick in a Family Way” by Joseph Epstein
- “Executor” by Joseph Epstein
- “Mendocino” by Ann Packer
- “Babies” by Ann Packer
- “General Markman’s Last Stand” by Tom Paine
- “The Spoon Children” by Tom Paine
- “Someone to Watch Over Me” by Richard Bausch
- “Aren’t You Happy for Me?” by Richard Bausch
Thornton, Lawrence. Under the Gypsy Moon. New York: Doubleday, 1990.
Reason read: Federico Garcia Lorca was born in June (1898).
Despite being a little over 210 pages long, Under the Gypsy Moon packs a powerful punch. Magical realism flows in and out of historical events creating a spellbinding and dramatic love story. Joaquin Wolf becomes a politically motivated writer after the Spanish Civil War. He meets and begins a relationship with narrator, Ursula Krieger, who carries her own demons of war. Together they struggle against fascism using Federico Garcia Lorca as a their guide. His poetry is the symbol of courage they embrace, allowing them to rise above the despair.
Line I liked, “Poverty gnaws at the body before it feasts on the mind” (p 54).
Author fact: Thornton also wrote Imagining Argentina, also on my list.
Book trivia: Under the Gypsy Moon is short, barely over 200 pages. I read it in a weekend.
Nancy said: Under the Gypsy Moon is one of two fictions in which Guernica plays a part.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called simply “Guernica” (p 89).
If you have been keeping up with me, myself and moi then you know we love Halloween. Odd. Odd because we can’t watch Walking Dead or go to Fright Fest without peeing our pants. What I love about Halloween is the potential for witchcraft, darkness & something intangibly spooky, if that makes sense. I love mysteries and there is no greater mystery than death. Right? Jack-o-Laterns glowing on doorsteps. Ominous crows watching silently from the trees. Candlelight shadows wavering on the wall. Cemeteries shrouded in the fog…I love it all.
In other news, I bailed for the first time ever on a half marathon but made it home-home to put up a ceiling for my mother. And speaking of Monhegan, we almost got caught in Hurricane Matthew! Somehow we managed to get out just in time.
Having said all that, unrelatedly here are the books:
- The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright – to continue the series started last month in honor of Enright’s birth month. Took me two days to read.
- Merry Misogynist by Colin Cotterill – to continue the series started last May in honor of Rocket Day. Took me two days to read.
- Texaco by Patrick Chamoiseau – in honor of magical realism month. Took me the entire month and I still didn’t finish it.
- A Blessing on the Moon by Joseph Skibell – an audio book in honor of Halloween (this was my favorite story).
- Drink to Yesterday by Manning Coles – in honor of Octoberfest in Germany. Another really short book.
- The Ape and the Sushi Master by Frans de Waal – in honor of Gorilla month being in October.
- The Aeneid by Virgil – in honor of Poetry month (celebrated in Great Britain).
- Hush by Jacqueline Woodsen – an audio book in honor of kids. This was only three discs long.
- The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani because I saw it in a running magazine.
For LibraryThing: nada
Skibell, Joseph. A Blessing on the Moon. Read by Allen Rickman. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2010.
Reason read: Halloween is a-coming and this is scary in a tickle your funny bone kind of way.
This is a startling Holocaust story. Right from the beginning the language grips you and grips you hard. Chaim Skibelski, a 60 year old Polish man, is shot along with hundreds of fellow Jews. He has been left to bleed out in a stinking heap. Murder doesn’t turn out to be very peaceful for Chaim. As a ghost-like entity caught between Life and The World to Come, he is condemned to roam with his former rabbi-turned-talking-crow, Rebbe. Together they are in an alternate afterlife trying to find purpose. That is the burning question. Why were they left behind? When Skibelski returns to his small Polish village he finds it overrun with non-Jews. They have moved into his house dragging their prejudices behind them.
Dear readers beware: while Skibell’s writing sometimes evokes magical imagery, the time frame is dark and tragic so definitely expect violence, destruction and decay. It is at once gory and gorgeous. The worms crawl in. The worms crawl out. Skibelski continuously bleeds from the bullet holes. His face is half missing. Corpses and his family and friends rot and stink and fall apart like a zombie movie. While listening to this on cd I was taken aback when Skibelski started to bleed from his anus. Fear not, dear readers. You get used to it. You will even learn to laugh at it.
In all honesty, I could see this as a Tim Burton film. There is sex and even humor amid the putrid. One of my favorite scenes was when Skibelski comes across a decapitated German soldier trying to kill him again. Yes, you read that right. Skibelski kicks the soldier’s head down a hill all the while arguing with the soldier about why he doesn’t need to die again. The dialogue is to die for (pun totally intended).
Author fact: Skibell has his own website here.
Book trivia: The audio version is read by Allen Rickman and he does a fabulous job. His comedic timing is perfect and I loved the voice of the crow.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter obviously called “Magical Realism” (p 148).
October is…another half marathon. Maybe another trip to Monhegan (not sure yet thanks to it being hurricane season) but what I’m sure about is definitely reading more, more, more books!
- Texaco by Patrick Chamoiseau – in honor of magical realism month
- The Merry Misogynist by Colin Cotterill – to continue the series started in May in honor of Laos Rocket Day
- A Blessing on the Moon by Joseph Skibell (AB) – in honor of Halloween
- Toast to Tomorrow by Manning Coles – in honor of October being the best time to visit Germany. Note: just found out this is the second Tommy Hambledon book in the series so you will probably see A Drink to Yesterday before A Toast to Tomorrow.
- Ape and the Sushi Master by Frans de Waal – in honor of October being Gorilla Month
- The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright – to “continue” the series started in September in honor of Enright’s birth month (yes, another series read slightly out of order).
- The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani. Don’t ask.
If there is time I would like to add Aeneid by Virgil in honor of Great Britain’s poetry month.