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review 2017-06-10 18:44
No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai, translated by Donald Keene
No Longer Human - Osamu Dazai,Donald Keene

I’ll start this off with some content warnings. This book includes several suicide attempts (one successful), a main (POV) character who becomes an alcoholic and a drug addict and who is probably depressed, and several mentions of rape and child molestation. Most of these things aren’t described in much detail, but they’re there.

Almost all of this book is written as though it was the notebook of a man named Oba Yozo (I’m pretty sure that’s the original name order, with family name first, although I could be wrong). Yozo writes about his life from his early childhood days to what I’m assuming is near the end of his life. The book ends and begins with a chapter written from the perspective of someone who did not personally know Yozo but read his notebooks and met someone who did know him.

When Yozo was a very young child, he became convinced that he did not qualify as human. The thought that someone else might realize he wasn’t human so terrified him that he began to behave like a clown. If others were laughing at his antics and jokes, then they weren’t looking at him too closely. Unfortunately for him, he occasionally met individuals who seemed able to see beneath his clownish mask. Beginning in his college years, he was also taken aback by how attractive women seemed to find him.

Yozo seemed incapable of empathizing with others and could only view their words and actions in terms of how they directly related to him. This was especially driven home by the last few pages of the book, written from the perspective of a man who didn’t know Yozo. For the first time since the book began, a POV character was writing about people who weren’t Yozo as though they had thoughts and feelings of their own, and about the wider world and what was going on in it. It was like a breath of fresh air and really emphasized how isolated Yozo had been, even though he spoke to and interacted with more people in his portion of the book than the man at the end.

The beginning of the book worked best for me. Yozo was essentially trapped by his fears, worried about how others perceived him and what they might have been able to see in him. Because he couldn’t understand the thoughts and behaviors of those around him, he doubted the correctness of his own opinions and feelings - after all, if everyone else was human and he was not, who was he to contradict what others said or did? This was especially tragic when it led to him not telling anyone that one of the servants (or several) had molested him. Or at least I think that’s what happened - the author/translator was very vague, saying that he had been “corrupted” and that “to perpetrate such a thing on a small child is the ugliest, vilest, cruelest crime a human being can commit” (35).

Things started to fall apart during Yozo’s college years. Yozo’s father wanted him to become a civil servant, while Yozo wanted to study art. This devolved into Yozo skipping classes, drinking, hiring prostitutes, hanging out with Marxists, and occasionally working on his art. My patience with Yozo pretty much ran out, and it didn’t help that the book developed a very clear misogynistic thread. An example of one of this section's more off-putting quotes: at one point, Yozo said “I never could think of prostitutes as human or even as women” (63). Women, in particular, seemed drawn to his self-destructive orbit, and the result was misery for everyone involved.

Yozo continued his habit of believing others’ assessment of him. Sometimes this had a positive effect on Yozo, such as his brief period of contentment with his wife, a girl (really a girl - she was only 17 when he married her) who genuinely believed that he was a good person and that he would never lie to her. However, since Yozo seemed to gravitate towards people who looked down on him, his habit of accepting and believing whatever people said about him usually drew him further into his downward spiral. I’d say it was depressing, except Yozo was generally so detached from everything that the word seems too strong to be appropriate.

There’s a manga adaptation of this that I might read, just to get a different interpretation of the story. That said, I suspect the manga won’t work for me much more than this did. No Longer Human was well-written, but not my sort of book at all.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-05-19 14:55
Silence - Shusaku Endo

An extraordinary novel about the conflicts of faith. Endo examines personal faith, the silence of God, the dissonance of faith versus experience and what it means to be good. Of course, he also examines the cultural clash between Japanese Buddhism and 17thc Portuguese Christianity. And it's a bloody, gruesome, violent clash full of torture, cruelty, and martyrdom. So, what does it mean to be Christian in the face of such suffering? What is our responsibility to God, and to our fellow human beings?

 

The narrative lives in the intersection between belief and questioning. In the preface to the edition I have, Martin Scorsese writes: "It's this painful, paradoxical passage — from certainty to doubt to loneliness to communion — that Endo understands so well, and renders so clearly, carefully, and beautifully in SILENCE." He goes on to say that SILENCE is "the story of a man [Father Rodriguez] who learns —so painfully —that God's love is more mysterious than he knows, that He leaves much more to the ways of men than we realize, and that He is always present . . . even in His silence."

 

It is also the narrative of Judas, that great and wretched betrayer. Here the spirit of Judas is inhabited by the cowardly and craven Kichijiro, although perhaps not only by him. That is for the reader to decide. Endo forces us to confront one of the most disturbing questions in Christianity. Who was Judas? What was Christ's response to Judas and what did it mean? As Scorsese points out, with the discovery of the Gospel of Judas, "these questions have become even more pressing."

 

The writing is more distanced — particularly in the first part of the novel, far less in the later sections — than might be comfortable for contemporary Western readers, by which I mean more summary than scene. However, if one perseveres, the rewards, at least for this reader, are significant.

 

I will be thinking about and re-reading this work for some time. There is so much to mine here, especially in the last section, where the philosophical and theological questions come into sharp, and agonizing relief.

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review 2017-03-03 23:13
Audition by Ryū Murakami; Translated by Ralph McCarthy
Audition - Ralph McCarthy,Ryū Murakami

I am not having good luck with Japanese literature this year. 

 

Let me back track. At the beginning of this year, I said that I was going to read more of Japanese literature. I love Japan, Its culture, language, history, and literature have fascinated me since I was five-years-old. But even though I've studied the culture, language, and history, I've fallen behind on its literature. So I wanted to rectify that this year. I want to read through all of Haruki Murakami's works, some classics, and even modern novels that come from Japan. If you recall, at the beginning of January, I picked up Haruki Murakami's first novel and was completely underwhelmed by it. Now with Audition by Ryu Murakami, my second Japanese literature book for this year, I am left disgusted and annoyed that, so far, my reading project has been a bit of a let down.

 

Warning: The review below goes into a bit of graphic detail in order to accurately portray my disgust so be careful if you choose to continue onward. 

 

The writing itself it not bad. I read an English edition so I can't comment on Murakami's own writing. But Ralph McCarthy did an excellent job in translating the novel. It never felt like he was trying to make it into a flowery writing style. It's raw and to the point. I was never confused as to what was going on within the story because of how fluid the writing is. I really enjoyed that aspect of the book.

 

Everything else I did not like. Throughout most of the book you have the main character, Aoyama, being a complete sexist asshole. He and his friend, Yoshikawa, talked horribly about women. That they're not good for much except sex. That if a woman wants to be an actress, she will mostly likely end up sleeping her way to the top. Ugh. They even talked about wanting to sleep with a lot of women but won't have it if a woman decided to have sex with more than one man. It's a double-standard that's been passed along in our misogynistic society forever now and it really pisses me off. The main character even goes as far to say that any man who doesn't want to be surrounded by a whole bunch of women is either a homosexual or mentally ill. I don't need to tell you how harmful and backwards thinking that statement is.

 

But, wait, it gets worse!

 

Yoshikawa, best friend of Aoyama, is just as horrendous as Aoyama is! Yoshikawa says that no woman would want to date anyone who uses the internet because only "geeks" use it, and that people who have jobs at radio stations are all idiots and would do anything to get their name out there. As if DJs and radio hosts are empty-minded individuals for working on the radio instead of TV. And that jab about people using the internet? Yeah, how's that going for ya, Yoshikawa? I'm aware that this book was written in the 90s but even then saying something like THAT about anyone who uses the internet is downright offensive.

 

And I wish the problems would just end there but there's still more I need to talk about. Like how Murakami decided to describe the sex scenes in his book. Not that I mind have descriptions of sex in the books I read. I'm okay with that. What I'm not okay with is how Murakami chose to describe it. The descriptions were solely focused on Asami's, the main female character, body. He described the "folds" and the "white liquid" without ever touching upon Aoyama whatsoever. After all, he was there... you know. Just writing those scenes the way Murakami did diminished the act all together. It resulted in only objectifying Asami into a sex doll. Not that it's that surprising seeing as how all the other women in the book are written to be shallow, money-hungry, "sluts" who only are looking out for themselves.

 

One more thing I want to add before wrapping up this review and it's the one of the biggest reasons why I HATE this book. At the beginning of the book, Aoyama mentions to Asami that he's surprised she is so normal and demure because usually people who suffer from abuse as a child end up with trauma that leave them mentally unstable. And then that statement is solidify by Asami later on trying to kill him. Because ALL rape/abuse victims are crazy and want to kill all the people they have a relationship with, right? Ugh... These types of comments that forces abuse victims into one group is harmful. It sends the wrong message out to people. With how bad the stigma is around mental illness and rape victims, just saying that anyone who is abused as a child will grow up to be mass murderers is wrong! We don't need anymore of that type of representation in books or in any form of media. Rape victims do suffer trauma, yes, but they do not decide to become killers later on in like to "get back" at their rapists. And I won't sit here, claiming to know everything a rape victim goes through. However, I will also not sit here and let this toxic perception of victims go unchallenged either. They've always been through enough. We don't need to add on to their grief by labeling them as "psychopaths" as well.

 

Also, making said abuse victim dismember animals in a book just to add more "shock" value does not make the book better. Just makes the writer seem desperate and unimaginative in the story. There was no point in dismembering the dog. It did not go with the narrative Murakami was trying to "sell." He said that Asami wanted to "saw off the feet" of the men she was with to resemble her abuser and to "get back" at the men who wronged her. So why go after the dog? It did not fit her "criteria." Clearly, Murakami only added that part in to "disturb" the reader. There was no point to it and it was sloppy.

 

I know I gave away some points to the story but I felt like I had to so I could properly discuss why I hate this book. It's sloppy, misogynistic, harmful, and disgusting. I do not recommend you read this book. I won't say DON'T read it. I am of the belief people can read whatever they want. However, if anything I said disturbs you in any way, then you might want to steer clear. It's a shame that Ryu Murakami wrote a story in this manner. He is clearly not a writer for me and I will not be picking up anymore of his books.

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review 2017-01-17 16:09
Wind/Pinball: Two Novels by Haruki Murakami; Translated by Ted Goossen
Wind/Pinball: Two novels - Ted Goossen,Haruki Murakami

Being a lover of Japanese literature, and books in general, I've always wanted to give Haruki Murakami's books a try. I've heard nothing but praise for his works so I thought I should give all his works a read. This is a bit of a personal project I've bestowed upon myself: To read at least one Murakami book a month. And, I thought, what better way to start than from the two first novels he's ever written! Well, I have to say that we are not off to a good start.

 

Hear the Wind Sing is his very first novel and it shows. Nothing much happens in this book. It's about an unnamed narrator and his best friend, the Rat, and what they do during a summer the narrator has off from college. But really, all they do is spend it drinking at a bar, talking about women, and that's pretty much it. The narrator has a relationship with a woman who only has nine fingers and their dynamic was... bizarre. I didn't see how that woman found the narrator interesting or how she developed feelings for him. I say this because at the beginning of the book, she detested him. Then, almost over night, she starts to fancy him... what? Why? What did he do in order for her to toss her disdain for him out the window? It made no sense to me. On top of the unbelievable relationship, I was just bored reading it. Nothing really happens in the book. Just a bunch of guys drinking in a bar. I was waiting for something else to happen. Something more interesting. I thought it would happen with the relationship aspect of the book. But no. Nothing. The writing in this first book was also dull. There was no life to it. Basically, Murakami's first novel just wasn't for me.

 

The second novel, Pinball, 1973, was a bit better but not by much. This book takes place several years after the first. The unnamed narrator works for a translation business whilst his friend, the Rat, goes through his own problems with trying to find himself and understand what he wants to do with his life. I'll admit, I liked that aspect of the book quite a bit. At some point in our lives, we all start questioning what we want to do. Who we are. What shall become of us if we don't do something worthwhile. And being able to read and see that side of the Rat was pretty interesting. Also, the writing was a lot more lyrical. There were still plenty of dull patches here and there, but I can tell that Murakami was finding his style a lot more here. So his writing improved a bit! And the translator, Ted Goossen, did a fantastic job in portraying Murakami's meaning well! But that's where my praises end, sadly. The narrator was still so bland that I was still bored when reading about him and his obsession with pinball. Also, there were these twins that intrigued me. I wanted to learn more about them. Like where they came from and what was their purpose for moving in with the main character. But I got none of that. Their sole purpose was to make coffee and have sex with the narrator. That's it. In fact, that's all the women of this book did! The secretary at the translation office only cooked food and cleaned. That's it. The twins made food and had sex. That's it. I knew going in that Murakami tends to be a bit sexist in his novels, but it's so apparent in these two books! So even though I enjoyed this book more... it still wasn't enough to make me fall in love with Murakami as a writer.

 

Now, these are just his first two novels. You can tell they are early works and I know it's his later works that are highly praised so I'm not judging him too harshly. These two weren't for me but I shall continue reading his works to see if he's an author that I will enjoy. I still have hope so in February, I will be reading A Wild Sheep Chase and see how I get on with that one. Hopefully I enjoy it a lot more than his first two novels.

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review 2016-05-27 19:27
Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi
Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness - Yuko Shimizu,Nahoko Uehashi,Cathy Hirano

Got my hands on the sequel to Morbito: Guardian of the Spirit since I loved it and the anime so much, I wanted to see what other adventures Balsa has gotten herself into.

 

I adored this book just as much as the first. Balsa is still the strong, intelligent badass as she was in the first. The new characters introduced had many layers to them as well. And I even enjoyed the plot. The only thing I questioned was Balsa's motivations throughout the entire book. It felt a bit... weak? ...I suppose that's the word I'm looking for. It just didn't really made a whole lot of sense as to why Balsa wanted to so badly "get revenge" for Jiguro when she never felt like that before. It came from out of no where. Basically, I do think the plot was slightly stronger in the first book but that didn't deter my enjoyment of this book.

 

Cathy Hirano did another fantastic job in translating this novel. Everything flowed so smoothly and the depictions were quite vivid from the descriptions given. I really enjoyed this world and the people who live in it.

 

It's a shame that the other novels in this series was never translated into English. I would have liked to have read them. Well, that's okay. I plan to track down the original Japanese version and read those. Once I do, I will most definitely be talking about them in the future! 

 

If you liked the first book, then I highly encourage you to pick up this one! It's just as good as the first! 

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