Thursday, 23 January 2014

four.

Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb (1999)

 “Ancient Japanese protocol stipulated that the Emperor be addressed with "fear and trembling". I've always loved the expression, which so perfectly describes the way actors in Samurai films speak to their leader, their voices tremulous with almost superhuman reverence. 
So I put on the mask of terror and started to tremble.”

Amélie is excited about spending a year in a Japanese firm. She was born and lived in Japan until she was 5, but her parents were Belgian. The big Japanese corporation turns out to be a culture shock for Amélie, with its hierarchy and secret codes of conduct.

The book makes an attempt at being funny, but it didn't make me laugh. I also found it to be shallow and too many things and words were repeated for a novel of just 130 pages. How about finding some synonyms for beautiful and blunder? But this may be the translator's fault. I also wished the author would take a look at Japan outside the workplace as well, as I think that would maybe make it more interesting. I found the section about how Japanese women should behave to be the most interesting in the book. How this book got to be on the list of 1001 books you should read before you die is beyond me.

But I have high hopes for the film, as I think there is so much potential which can be played out on the big screen.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

three.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (2013)

 “Hi!
My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you.

A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be. As for me, right now I am sitting in a French maid cafe in Akiba Electricity Town, listening to a sad Chanson that is playing sometime in your past, which is also my present, writing this and wondering about you, somewhere in my future. And if you're reading this, then maybe by now you're wondering about me, too.

You wonder about me.
I Wonder about you.
Who are you and what are you doing?” 

Ruth finds a box containing a diary in English, a notebook in French and some letters in Japanese washed ashore on an island in British Columbia. The diary is written by a young Japanese girl, Nao, who is getting bullied and wants to talk about her 104 year old Zen Buddhist nun great-grandmother. The book alters between Nao's diary and Ruth reading it. As Nao's story progresses, Ruth gets more worried about her and tries to find her on the Internet.

Once I started this, I couldn't put it down. I was fascinated, both by Nao's diary and by Ruth's island life. But the end was such a let down. I mean, so much potential, and then you end it with a conversation about quantum physics? And the other thing which annoyed me was that she chose to put herself and her husband in it. Especially when Ruth turned out to be my least favourite character. Oliver was more likeable. And although I read this great interview, I worry that I will always link the author Ruth to the Ruth in the book, and I fear that this will make it harder to read her other books.

But, yes to everything else! I loved the mesmerising and sad tale of Nao, her awesome great-grandmother and the island community. I also like how the nature on the island is a character, and that there are so much to learn from this book; both of Japanese culture and how the environment works.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

two.

Cain by José Saramago (2009)

 “The history of mankind is the history of our misunderstandings with god, for he doesn't understand us, and we don't understand him.”

After killing his brother, Cain, is condemned to walk on the earth for eternity. He is lead from one major event in the Old Testament to an other, while witnessing the wickedness of God.

Cain is the last novel the Nobel Prize winner wrote before his death, and it is hard to not read it as a personal argument with God. That doesn't mean that this isn't an interesting or good book. I really enjoyed reading it, probably because I always teach the kids about God's bad side in the Old Testament.

Another thing which stuck with me after reading the book, was the style. The first letter in the sentences were written with capital letters, the rest not. And the chapters didn't have any paragraphs. At first it was hard to get used to, but it totally fits with the story and makes it more intriguing.

I kept comparing the book to the Testament of Mary because of the obvious Bible retelling, and I definitely liked Cain better. I think it is because Saramago dared to be personal and controversial and went a long way with the interpretation and retelling of the famous Bible stories. And the ending is brilliant.

This is the third book by Saramago that I have read, and my favourite. I definitely must read the Gospel According to Jesus Christ one day.

Monday, 13 January 2014

one.

the Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001)

 Meet the Lamberts; the parents, Enid and Alfred, and their grown children Denise, Chip and Gary. Alfred has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and he's getting worse. Enid wants all the kids and Gary's family back home to St. Jude for one last Christmas, but this turns out to be hard to achieve.

Chip is dumped by his girlfriend, Julia, on the day his parents come visit and he leaves them to run after her. Instead he runs into her husband, who offers him a job in Lithuania. Gary is being overrun by his wife in daily battles and their kids usually side with Caroline. And there's no way Caroline's going to celebrate Christmas in St. Jude. And then there's Denise, the little sister, who is a recognised chef and beautiful. But she has a tendency to fall for her bosses and/or their beautiful wives.

Are any of the Lamberts likeable? I found them more dislikeable by every book, and I guess that is one of the reasons why I liked the book so much. And there is so much dark humour in here. My absolute favourite part was when Enid and Alfred were on their cruise and they were seated with a Norwegian and a Swedish couple. That conversation was so spot on, especially with the whole Norwegian-Swedish rivalry. Hilarious!

I can't believe I waited so long after reading Freedom, before I read this one. I seem to keep the good authors on my shelves for years and I get anxious if I have read all the works by them. Thus, I need to buy more Franzen books!

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