August 21, 2014

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage: Initial Thoughts After My First Time Through

The first sentence is rather shocking. "From July of his sophomore year in college until the following January, all Tsukuru Tazaki could think about was dying." It's not exactly a hopeful beginning, and yet right from the beginning we are in touch with a familiar theme of Murakami's: despair.

Tsukuru Tazaki's despair is born of loneliness, a legitimate feeling since his four closest friends have abandoned him with no explanation. He is left wondering what he could have done to be rejected so completely, and having not even the strength to ask for explanations, he retreats to Tokyo.

As Tsukuru reflects on his four friends, he feels empty and isolated by comparison. One of the reasons is that each of the four had a name containing a color.  "The two boys' last names were Akamatsu-which means "red pine"- and Oumi-"blue sea"; the girls' family names where Shirane- "white root"-and Kurono-"black field." Tazaki was the only last name that did not have a color in its meaning. From the very beginning this fact made him feel a little bit left out."

Even though Tsukuru's name does not have a color, it does have significance; tuskuru means "to make or build." It is a name which perfectly fits a character who is able to build train stations, and more importantly, who must build meaning into his life again. 

While Tsukuru Tazaki swims laps at a pool in Tokyo, he meets a new friend, Haida (whose name means literally, "gray field". And he also meets Sara, who is the impetus behind his pilgrimage. She knows that he cannot carry on without knowing the reason for his expulsion from the group, and it is she who encourages him to meet each one of the friends sixteen years later. Three times, by Chapter 11, this quote is given, "You can hide memories, but you can't erase the history that produced them." 

Tsukuru's pilgrimage is to find out why he was rejected. But more importantly than that, in my opinion, it is to find the strength to carry on regardless of the past. His pilgrimage is to put the past to rest, while bravely embracing the future with a confidence which has been dormant for far too long.

(I plan on rereading this book before September 12, on which I will post the discussion questions put forth by Random House. From there, those who have read Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage are welcome to answer any of the questions they choose. Please know now much I enjoy the discussion we began with the book cover yesterday. I look forward to more insight from your comments and reviews in the weeks to come.)

August 20, 2014

What's This? The Latest Murakami I've Been Waiting For? Details About The Physical Book Itself

How surprised I was to find the little cellophane windows which are indeed colorless:

Underneath each clear stripe is a color indicating one of the main characters, with Tsukuru's leaning off to one side. Rather alone, clearly separate.

The cover under the dust jacket "reveals" more about the characters, particularly Tsukuru who loves train stations.

And did you notice this? Every page number "4" is white.

Here's a number without 4 (above),

...and here's one with double 4.  If you flip through the pages you'll see that every 4 is white. Colorless? I'm not sure yet, as I have about fifty pages to go.

I've been marking passages as I read, ever so slowly on purpose, and I will put up an initial post probably in a few hours knowing we will talk about it more thoroughly in days to come.

And I won't mention the rip in the dust jacket ever again. (Thank you,

August 17, 2014

Rashomon by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

"He had little choice of means, whether fair or foul, because of his helpless circumstances. If he chose honest means, he would undoubtedly starve to death beside the wall or in the Sujaki gutter. He would be brought to this gate and thrown away like a stray dog. If he decided to steal...his mind, after making the same detour time and again, came finally to the conclusion that he would be a thief."

The servant whom this paragraph describes has been dismissed because of the declining economy. He waits under the Roshomon gate for the rain to cease and ponders his circumstances. Should he be honest and die? Or should he be a thief and live? He seems to feel that these are the only two choices available to him.

When he sees a light go on above him, he discovers an old hag pulling out the hair of a corpse, beautiful hair that she plans to make into a wig which can be sold for food. Is she a thief?

Does it matter if we take from a person who is alive or dead? In the taking are we automatically categorized as a thief?

He is filled with hatred, and yet he decides that if the old woman can take from the corpse, who sold snake flesh as dried fish while living, he can take from her.

When the hag looks for him through the gray locks of her hair, all she can see is darkness. It seems to be the darkness of hopelessness; an endless circle of using another for one's own good.

"The Rashomon was the largest gate in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. It was 106 feet wide and 26 feet deep, and was topped with a ridge pole; it's stone -wall rose 75 feet high. This gate  was constructed in 789 when the capital of Japan was transferred to Kyoto. With the decline of West Kyoto, the gate fell into bad repair, cracking and crumbling in many places, and became a hideout for thieves and robbers and a place for abandoning unclaimed corpses." (Tuttle edition)

I read this story for the Japanese Literature Challenge 8 and the Deal Me In short story challenge.

August 16, 2014

If You Want A Book, Don't Pre-Order It From Amazon (and a Murakami read-along update)

If you were the least bit frustrated waiting for news about the read-along I'm hosting on Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, you're not half as frustrated as I. 

Completely forgetting about the time that I pre-ordered Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows for my son, and it took so long to arrive that I bought a second copy at the now defunct Borders, I pre-ordered Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage in December, 2013. On August 12, 2014, its release date, I eagerly awaited the post.

On August 14, giving them time to have sent it on the 12th, I eagerly awaited the post.

Today, four days after it has been released, I checked my account on, which boldly told me I can expect my book on August 19. A full seven days after even Wal-Mart has it, while this whole debacle hangs on the hope that Fed-Ex can hold up their end of the deal.

I am surrounded by incompetence, and I have no patience for it. Books undelivered, appointments not kept, dental insurance which covers not a single procedure I'm having done this summer...the sum total of people and companies not doing what they're supposed to, infuriates me.

Deep breath.

Okay, when my book does arrive? I suggest those of us who are reading along together, and this includes those of you who have already read it as I wait (Diane and Stu), should work our way through it marking passages as appropriate. Then, on September 12, I will post questions the publishers have put forth for our discussion. Feel free to answer all, some, or none of them as you see fit.

Meanwhile, I am living in hope that I'll have my copy by the first day of Autumn. 

August 14, 2014

Magritte: The Mystery of The Ordinary

Let's get surreal. 

That is what the Art Institute of Chicago suggested we do, as we appreciate the works of surrealism. Particularly those of Magritte.

Yesterday, my mother, a dear friend, and I went through the exhibit which included well known paintings such as the locomotive coming through the fireplace:

The Art Institute reminds us about his purpose with this: "Seeking to make “everyday objects shriek aloud,” or make the familiar unfamiliar, Belgian artist René Magritte created some of the 20th century’s most extraordinary—and indelible—images."

I laugh when I see his painting with the caption, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." Because it isn't! Can you really smoke that thing?

But perhaps most interesting of all (to us readers) is the collection of books the Art Institute put in the shop to accompany this special exhibit on surrealism.

The Healing Trumpet by Leona Carrington
Impressions of Africa by Raymond Roussel
The City and The City by China Mieville
Selected Poems by Rene Char

Little, Big by John Crowley
The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Shulz
Selected Stories by Robert Walser
Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovskii
Memories of My Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreber     

Nadja by Andre Breton
Locus Solus by Raymond Roussel
The Melancholy of Resistance by Laslo Krasznahorkai

The only one I own is John Crowley's Little, Big. But, I surely want to become familiar with the other titles.

August 9, 2014

Women In Translation Month: Books I Own, Books You May Want To Try

These are the hard copies of books I own which fit Women in Translation Month this August. I'm sure I have more on my Kindle and Nook, but I will have to go through those carefully to complete the list for next year:

The School of Possibilities by Seita Parkkola (translated from the Finnish by Annira Silver and Marja Gass)

Short listed for the 2006 Finlandia Junior Prize

Who Ate Up All the Shinga? by Park Wan-Suh (translated from the Korean by Yu Young-Nan and Stephen J. Epstein)

Me, Who Dove Into The Heart of the World by Sabina Berman (translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman)

Swimming to Elba by Silvia Avallone (translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar)

Swimming to Elba

The Hunger Angel by Herta Muller (translated from the German by Philip Boehm)

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang (translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim)

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly

The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Panchol (translated from the French by William Rodarmor and Helen Dickinson)

The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan (translated from the French by Irene Ash)

Out by Natsuo Kirino (translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder)

Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto (translated from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich)

The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa (translated from the Japanese by David Karashima)

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto (translated from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich)

Short listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize

I would have loved to participate in this challenge hosted by Biblibio, which many of my friends from the IFFP Shadow Jury (Jacqui, Tony M. and Tony) are doing. However, I have set aside August for Haruki Murakami's latest release, Colorless Tzukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. That novel, and the preparation for a new school year, will occupy my month most fully.

Still, I wanted to see what I own and offer up to you some reading possibilities. I know that Diane of Bibliophile by the Sea loved The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly. And my favorite from the list, though far from all are read, is Swimming to Elba. That novel is actually in my top five favorite adult books ever, the other four being Possession by A. S. Byatt, The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.

August 7, 2014

- the day was not bronzed with special light - Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"Relaxing your hair is like being in prison. You're caged in. Your hair rules you. You didn't go running with Curt today because you don't want to sweat out this straightness. That picture you sent me, you had your hair covered on the boat. You're always battling to make your hair do what it wasn't meant to do. If you go natural and take good care of your hair, it won't fall off like it's doing now. I can help you cut it right now. No need to think about it too much."

My friend Jeannette has the most beautiful hair. She has worn it in braids, she has worn it straight, she has worn it full and curly. I never know quite what to expect when I see her, and I used to be reluctant to comment as if I was drawing attention to it unnecessarily.

But when we drove to Normal, Illinois, together for our National Board Certification ten years ago, I told her, "Jeannette, I love your hair. It's always so beautiful." 

"My hair?!" she screeched. "My hair and I are divorced! We have irreconcilable differences."

Which made me laugh, and remember what she said perfectly clearly even today, because curly hair is a Big Deal whether you're Black or White. 

Ifemelu, the charming and honest heroine of Americanah, centers her story of coming to America from Nigeria around her hair. Interspersed with the chapters of her life, are the tales of going to salons for braids, or going to the drugstore for relaxers, or having her friend take up the shears to cut it an even two inches all around. All this fuss is because hair is important. Far more important than just the literal stuff that comes out of your head. Hair practically defines you.

When I was in high school, the popular girls had hair like the girls in 1970s Pepsi commercials. Their hair was blonde, straight and parted down the center. It swung when they tossed their heads. It never frizzed out of control in humid Illinois weather, or took hours to dry after swimming lessons. It resembled my own hair not at all.

My Italian hair is thick, and curly, and prone to wildness. It has taken me years to find a stylist who can cut it, and years to find the way to dry it with a diffuser so it is full and swirls around my face. It has taken me years to accept it as who I am, which once I've done I now embrace. And with that embracing comes compliments from others. "Oh, I wish I had your hair. Is it natural?" I hear that all the time. Because once we accept the natural part of who we are, quit forcing a part of ourselves we don't like into something it isn't, we become more beautiful.

So while I commiserate with Ifemelu's woes, her distress and pain about fitting in, I suggest it isn't just hair that's the problem. It's cherishing who you are no matter what the rest of the world holds up as a certain standard.

"On a unremarkable day in early spring - the day was not bronzed with special light nothing of any significance happened, and it was perhaps merely that time, as it often does, had transfigured her doubts - she looked in the mirror, sank her fingers into her hair, dense and spongy and glorious, and could not imagine any other way. That simply, she fell in love with her hair."

August 6, 2014

The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis

The best children's books are the ones that adults can relate to the most. Like Charlotte's Web, which though written for children, explains the sorrow of loss better than any book I know. Or, Flora and Ulysses which brings the trauma of divorce into high focus. But nobody takes on adult issues, and handles them so eloquently, as C. S. Lewis. And, it doesn't matter how many times I read The Chronicles of Narnia, they speak to me afresh with each reread. 

I just finished The Silver Chair this morning. It has all the things my son would love: swords and galleons, dwarfs and witches. But it has what I love, too: a way to look at things which make me sad that enables me to handle them.

Eustace Scrubb and Jill are sent on Aslan's breath to fulfill a task he has for them. It is namely to find Prince Rilian, who has been bitten by a vicious worm, and bring him home. I won't even go into the details of the story, the most obvious one being that the silver chair is a horrible enchantment of deception, except to dwell on the part with his father, King Caspian.

When the tasks are completed, and the Prince is finally home, his father's ship comes into port. We are ready for a glorious reunion, and instead we sense that something is dreadfully wrong. King Caspian is brought forth on a bed, and he barely has time to greet his son before he dies. And I'm thinking, "What? All these tasks so bravely faced and courageously completed, for what?!"

But then C. S. Lewis takes us on Aslan's breath to a new setting. To Home. And this is what we find:

"Then he opened his mouth wide and blew. But this time they had no sense of flying through the air: instead it seemed that they remained still, and the wild breath of Aslan blew away the ship and the dead King and the castle and the snow and the winter sky.  For all these things floated off into the air like wreaths of smoke, and suddenly they were standing in a great brightness of summer sunshine, on smooth turf, among mighty trees, and beside a fair, fresh stream. Then they saw that they were once more on the mountain of Aslan high up above and beyond the end of the world in which Narnia lies. But the strange thing was that the funeral music for King Caspian still went on, though no one could tell where it came from. They were walking beside the stream and the Lion went before them: and he became so beautiful, and the music so despairing, that Jill did not know which of them it was that filled her eyes with tears.  

Then Aslan stopped, and the children looked into the stream. And there, on the golden gravel of the bed of the stream, lay King Caspian, dead, with the water flowing over him like liquid glass... 

Then Eustace set his teeth and drove the thorn into the Lion's pad. And there came out a great drop of blood, redder than all redness you have ever seen or imagined. And it splashed into the stream over the dead body of the King. At the same moment the doleful music stopped, and the dead King began to be changed. His white beard turned to grey, and from grey to yellow, and got shorter and vanished altogether; and his sunken cheeks grew round and fresh, and the wrinkles were smoothed and his eyes opened, and his eyes and lips both laughed, and suddenly he stood before them - a very young man, or a boy."

I know of no better way to describe the hope which I believe is ours. The hope from a Savior who loves us more than we can possibly imagine.

August 3, 2014

Parade by Shuichi Yoshida

"At the end of his fortune-telling the Rasputin next door apparently said this: "If you break out of this world you'll find this world again, only one size larger. In your struggle with the world, the world has the advantage." 
Parade is a much more subtle novel than Villain. In fact, I was so shocked at the conclusion I found myself reading the last twenty pages twice, carefully looking for nuances which could have led to such a surprising revelation. The clues are all there of course, just not laid out in an obvious, 21st century American way.

Four Japanese students in their early twenties share Apartment 401 together in Tokyo. They are convinced that the inhabitant of Apartment 402 is up to no good, and they make elaborate plans to disclose his occupation. Yet they are completely unable to face their own flaws, let alone the tragic and horrifying flaw within the eldest. They look away from reality, and thus pardon one another's behavior; if nothing is named, how can blame be assigned?

In the beginning of the novel I found myself longing for such a camaraderie, a group of friends who are able to live together so peacefully, so smoothly. They seem to co-exist without tension. Instead, they flow in and out of one another's lives, asking innocuous questions like, "Where do you want to go for dinner?" "What movie do you want to rent tonight?" "Would you like to go out for a drink?" 

By the end of the novel, we see what tragedy is created by the willingness to ignore truth. We see how probably, for these four anyway,  it will never change. If this is an indication of the mindset of today's twenty-somethings, there is much to fear.

Shuichi Yoshida was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1968. The author of over 25 books, he has won numerous literary awards in Japan and has also had several of his short stories adapted for Japanese television. He lives in Tokyo.

Read an excerpt from Parade here.

    August 2, 2014

    Thunday Thalon. A Thad Tale of What Uthed to be My Tooth.

    I realize it's just a tooth, and in the grand scheme of things it could be a lot worse. But I'd grown attached to it over the course of my lifetime, and now we are about to become separated.

    "All righty then," I said to the receptionist on Tuesday. "A week from today you guys will yank it."

    She leaned toward me. "We don't like the patients in the waiting room to hear that word," she said very quietly.

    I looked at her.

    "Yank," she explained. "Also, we don't use the word 'pain'. 

    "Oh," I said. "What is it called then?"

    "Discomfort," she replied. "Like when you stub your toe."

    Only here's the thing: my toe will still be attached to the rest of my body a week from now. And a gaping hole where tooth number four used to reside will be revealed. At least until the false tooth can be made to replace it.

    I'm telling you, my lipstick just ain't gonna look right. I might have to switch to a more a subtle shade than red for a few months. Which could make my mouth look more obvious than ever, as no one I know has seen me wear beige or pink since I was thirteen.

    Can we use the word 'hillbilly'? Or, shall I just hum the theme song to Deliverance while I'm waiting for the implant? 

    It wasn't such a good day for feeling beautiful. 

    Or, for that matter, young.

    August 1, 2014

    In A Grove by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

    This fascinating story is the account of a samurai's murder given to a high police commissioner from the perspective of a woodcutter, a traveling Buddhist priest, a policeman, an old woman, the man's wife, and the murdered man himself (through a medium).  As you read, you think that the story will become clear; each person's revelation should surely uncover the truth about what was found in the grove. 

    Except each person's testimony only confuses the story further. With every account the blame shifts, the details change, the culprit becomes someone entirely new, until by the end of the story we have less clarity than when we began. 

    I used to ask my mother how something could be true. "If I remember a Christmas holiday happening this way, and my brother has a totally different memory of it happening that way, what is the truth?" (I once expected the world to be definable, to be constant, to fit within my understanding. She was rarely daunted in her explanations.)

    "What happened is the truth for you," she replied. And thus I became aware that there is no such thing as an absolute truth.

    I think that this is what Akutagawa is pointing at. As humans we have little ability to see clearly. To see objectively. To even see from another person's perspective. We see with our own limited vision, often with blinders on, and asking for  the truth becomes an impossibility. 

    You can read the story for free, here.

    July 31, 2014

    Paris in Juillet: Au Revoir

    And so we come to the last day of July, and with it the closing of the event we have been celebrating all month: Paris in July. Of course this does not mean that all things francaise will be put aside for another year. Mais, non! 

    I will still be reading what I can find from French authors; in fact, On The Rue Tatin will be recommended to the book club's reading list by one of its most beloved members. My mother.

    I will still be writing on postcards picturing Paris' most beautiful scenes from obvious state.

    I will drink cafe au laits, eat jambon sandwiches, and finish a meal with creme brûlée when it's available.

    And, there will never be a day I step out of the house without wearing a French perfume.

    Which beings us to the announcement of who will win the fragrance give-away I hosted several days ago. The winner of the little beach scene, the Chanel No. 5 soap, and the Dior samples is Guiltless Reader. May you enjoy each item and long remember the month that was.

    Paris in July.