Silence by Shūsaku Endō

downloadSilence is set during the early years of Christianity in Japan and the story revolves around Father Sebastian Rodrigues who sets off with two other fellow priests after hearing news that his mentor Father Ferreira apostatized. No one knew for sure whether Father Ferreira is still alive and no one can confirm if the news/rumors about him renouncing his faith were true. Rodrigues embarks on a journey that may cost him his life. Sounds like an adventure given that as a gist of the story, right? However, it takes a different scenario focusing on Rodrigues’ faith, feelings and conscience.

The story started too slow for my taste, to be honest, I wouldn’t have continued reading if I had another book with me at the time. It’s a novel about faith and one’s personal view of God and leans heavily on Catholic theology specially for the first part of the book.

The main issue is, as the title suggests, silence. We see very terrible things happening around us and if you believe there’s a God, at some point, it makes you ask why doesn’t He intervene, why doesn’t He do something, why does He allow evil things to happen? Does God see us in our breaking points? God himself said, “pray and I will hear you and that I will love you and comfort you.” But then, silence is all there is. The first words in Silence were the first words I’ve read from Shusaku Endo, I have never read anything by him before. But it kinda felt a bit odd though to find out that he is a Catholic, thus, he ought to understand the nature of their faith. I mean, it would make faith meaningless if God is a vocal God. Isn’t that what’s powerful about faith? That it exists without a conclusive proof of God’s existence?

Anyway, God was silent to the end of the book. Rodrigues has to choose between renouncing his faith and save the Christians from being tortured or refuse to apostatize and see more Christians die from torture. I have mixed feelings about the ending maybe because I was expecting the story to end in martyrdom which is actually one of the main issues raised in the book about Christian missions and yet, Father Rodrigues apostatized. Be that as it may, Shusaku Endo was somehow able to reflect man’s thoughts in the face of adversity.

A character who matters a great deal though is Kichijiro who represents Christianity’s greatest villain, Judas. A Japanese “Gollum.” A weakling. He comes and goes throughout the book but in his character is something we can find uncomfortably real. The relationship between Kichijiro and Father Rodrigues makes us understand about the latter’s torment.

I’ve read reviews a few minutes before purchasing this book but I’m left slightly disappointed. I felt I’ve read a different book. I was raised a Christian but no longer share the faith so maybe that’s why I couldn’t really warm up to the main conflict of the story, but still, this book may appeal to many with regards to the juxtaposition it depicts, culture, the pitiful characters and their unanswered prayers and the tough what if questions people are perhaps afraid to address because it could lead them, or not, to conclude that there probably is no God.

I’m interested to watch the movie adaptation though. Have you guys seen it? Would you recommend me watching it? Please share your thoughts.

Quotable Quotes:

“Man is a strange being. He always has a feeling somewhere in his heart that whatever the danger he will pull through. It’s just like when on a rainy day you imagine the faint rays of the sun shining on a distant hill.”

“Sin, he reflected, is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies. Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious of the wounds he has left behind.”

“It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt.”

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson

whomovedmycheese

As someone who’s not for motivational self-help books, I was a bit reluctant to buy this but since I was on vacation and I needed something short and light to read, not to mention it’s cheap, I’ve decided to give it a go.

Nothing in this book is new to us. Insights on how we react or deal with the changes we face. The world changes whether we want it or not. The ideas are extremely important and useful, sure, but it’s just obvious common sense. I mean the book is okay, however, I’ve became so accustomed to change already which is probably why it didn’t create a huge impact on me. It doesn’t mean though that I’m good at dealing with it, no, but somehow, I’ve learned to expect it. I think that how it affects all of us differs depending on the situation we are in in life and how far we have been pushed when faced by change.

I’m not sure my bad mood affected how I thought about this book as I’ve read this from start to finish while in the tour van on the way back to Tbilisi with the most boring tour guide and tour group. Some people may enjoy reading this, some may not. And some should.

Quotable Quotes:

“What you are afraid of is never as bad as what you imagine. The fear you let build up in your mind is worse than the situation that actually exists.”

“He knew sometimes some fear can be good. When you are afraid things are going to get worse if you don’t do something, it can prompt you into action. But it is not good when you are afraid that it keeps you from doing anything.”

“Sometimes, things change and they are never the same again. This looks like one of those times. That’s life! Life moves on. And so should we.”

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Rating: 3/5 stars

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

A Storm of SwordsThis is the third book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I started reading late last year but only managed to finish it a few days back. It won’t be easy to write about the book without spilling a few beans so if you haven’t read the book or watched the TV series yet and intend to, you can stop here.

So there’s far greater turmoil in the seven kingdoms thus it’s packed with lots of crucial events. There’s the Lannisters, the ruling family. Daenerys with her dragons. Robb as King of the North. Threats beyond the Wall. The Red Wedding. Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding. Catelyn releasing Jaime from captivity. Arya escaping Harrenhal and soon ran into the Brotherhood Without Banners. Jamie’s hand was cut. Bran continues his journey north. Jon Snow’s adventure with the wildlings. Sam and The Night’s Watch were attacked by the Others. The Onion Knight back in Dragonstone. Tywin Lannister is now the Hand of the King. The thrilling and climactic duel of the Red Viper and The Mountain. The Unsullied. Sansa’s escape from King’s landing. And too much death.

A Storm of Swords is also filled with regicide. I’m not a fan of Robb but since he’s a Stark, it saddens me that he was killed in The Red Wedding. It was later revealed in the book that this were all planned by Tywin Lannister and Lord Bolton. I’m extremely glad though that Joffrey died, too, on his own wedding day. Unfortunately though, Tyrion’s accused of poisoning him. I’m just so glad that Tyrion was the one who killed his father, Tywin Lannister. Some deaths were surprising (and fun!) which proves that no one is ever safe in the hands of the author! But I also didn’t expect Catelyn Stark alive at the end!

As in the first two books, this also have multiple POVs and each viewpoint character has a specific story. As usual, I enjoyed the most Tyrion’s viewpoint. Jaime’s, too! I enjoyed every single one actually! The author hauled the characters through a series of events and are further fleshed out which led to their change by the end of the book. This is where we see the most character transitions. Like I don’t hate Jaime Lannister anymore. It’s good to know his point of view of the world and in this book, it’s good to see that he is actually different from Tywin or Cersei on the inside. (His final scenes with Tyrion was so, so sad though.) And I didn’t really hate The Hound from the start but in this book, I can say I really like his character. And you will love Tyrion even more! Daenerys developed into a stronger and matured queen supported by interesting characters like Ser Barristan and Ser Jorah. And of course, Jon Snow’s story is becoming more interesting as it continues to unfold.

A Storm of Swords is a brilliant book — character-wise, plot-wise. I’m again blown-away by the story and characters, very detailed and the story expands in different ways while so much is happening. Contrary to the second book A Clash of Kings, I loved how the book came as fast as a bullet rain. There’s always something significant happening in every chapter. There’s no running out of suspense, twists and turns. This series just keeps getting better and better.

Quotable Quotes:

“Sometimes I think everyone is just pretending to be brave, and none of us really are. Maybe pretending is how you get brave, I don’t know.”

“Old stories are like old friends, she used to say. You have to visit them from time to time.”

“Every man must die, Jon Snow. But first he must live.”

“The greatest fools are ofttimes more clever than the men who laugh at them.”

“Some battles are won with swords and spears, others with quills and ravens.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in BrooklynA Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a beautiful book which opens in 1912 and tells about the pleasures and pain of growing up through the eyes of Francie Nolan, with her family, in a large and poor immigrant neighborhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Francie’s father, Johnny Nolan, is an attractive drunk, part-time waiter and singer in restaurants. Katie, her mother, is a determined and hardworking woman. Katie married Johnny when she was 17 and soon had Francie and afterwards, Neeley. Francie is smart, delightful in small pleasures, curious and ambitious. She loves her family, she loves reading and school. Neeley is a darling and is Katie’s apple of the eye. Sissy, Katie’s older sister, the only Rommely daughter who didn’t attend school, very loving, longs to become a mother, has (yes, has) three husbands and is my favorite character in the story.

The book mostly focuses on the hardships and sad moments people, young and old, encounter in life, however, it also shows the importance of these moments in order to appreciate the good ones. Some parts of the story were very relatable, and I’ve always enjoyed books that I can relate to. I, for one, also struggled to make ends meet at some point in my life. It’s funny remembering those days sometimes but those experiences helped me quite a lot to achieve my goals and be where I am now. Some lessons we learn as children don’t really make sense to us until we grow older. Things that we don’t really understand until we become adults.

Another point which the author, Betty Smith, was able to focus on is the sense of love, determination and hope in the family. The way she’s written the story won’t bring you to tears but will let you feel a profound connection with the Nolans.

It’s also quite notable that the women are the stars in this novel. Brilliant women packed with girl power. 🙂 They’re the strong characters in the entire story. They work mornings and evenings, they bear children one after another, they make sure to save as much money as they could even though they earn very little and sometimes not even enough to get by, and most importantly, they try their best to send their children to school and educate them and make them believe in a life that’s far much better than what they’re living at that time. Katie is very determined to send Francie and Neeley to school, she lets them read the Bible and Shakespeare every night.  Her sisters, Evy and Sissy, are also smart and independent women in their own ways.

Francie is smart and observant. A combination of her parents — a dreamer like her father, realistic and determined like her mother. She’s a keen observer, always sees the good in people and she loves reading. She has rich imagination and a good storyteller. She longs for more attention from her mother but she also knows that Neeley has always been her mother’s favorite. Her ability to deal with adversity along with being hard working and taking every opportunity she gets to better herself  is very admirable of her and was indeed very essential as she turns out to be “the tree that grew in Brooklyn.”

This is a gorgeous coming of age book. A book I can easily recommend to everyone and make them understand why I read. To be entangled with the characters in a beautiful, remarkable but also terrible and painful story in time or places we, too, experienced or never once imagined.

Quotable Quotes:

“I know that’s what people say– you’ll get over it. I’d say it, too. But I know it’s not true. Oh, you’ll be happy again, never fear. But you won’t forget. Every time you fall in love it will be because something in the man reminds you of him”

“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing,” thought Francie, “something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains – a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you’re alone – just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.”

“She was made up of more, too. She was the books she read in the library. She was the flower in the brown bowl. Part of her life was made from the tree growing rankly in the yard. She was the bitter quarrels she had with her brother whom she loved dearly. She was Katie’s secret, despairing weeping. She was the shame of her father stumbling home drunk. She was all of these things and of something more…It was what God or whatever is His equivalent puts into each soul that is given life – the one different thing such as that which makes no two fingerprints on the face of the earth alike.”

“Oh, magic hour, when a child first knows she can read printed words.”

“Sometimes I think it’s better to suffer bitter unhappiness and to fight and to scream out, and even to suffer that terrible pain, than to just be… safe. At least she knows she’s living.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

the old man and the seaThe Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 and was the last major work of Ernest Hemingway. It’s a brutally simple story about an old Cuban fisherman named Santiago who is alone in life and his only friend is Manolin, a boy who used to fish with him before but because of a series of bad luck including not catching anything for 84 days, was soon told by his parents to go with other fishermen instead.

On the 85th day though, Santiago sailed further out than the other fishermen and was able to hook a giant marlin who happened to pull him farther away in the sea. What happened next? Where did the fish pull him to? Was he able to bring it home? Did he really hook the fish or was it the fish that hooked him? Was he able to change his luck?

This might not sound much of a plot for most people but I think it’s a good read. I found it an engaging story about an old man and his relationship with nature, an old man with nothing left to lose, an old man that has faith in himself, an old man who never backs away from his goal whatever it takes.

The ending was quite sad but moving. I felt really sad for Santiago but he was not at all sad for himself. Though he was totally drained in the end, he was still very optimistic  while talking with Manolin which reflects what he said earlier in the book, “A man can be destroyed but never defeated.”

Quotable Quotes:

“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”

“Let him think that I am more man than I am and I will be so.”

“Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.”

“Why do old men wake so early? Is it to have one longer day?”

Rating : 4/5 stars

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

downloadSouth of the Border, West of the Sun is a book I’ve known years ago but didn’t have the chance to read because I can’t find a copy and I only want to read Murakami works on paperback. It’s unfortunate that I still didn’t find a copy but I need a Murakami fix to get me back to my reading so hello Kindle!  The first thing that came to mind though when I read the title page was hope and suicide.

The book is about a man’s mid-life crisis, narrated by the 37-year old Hajime, born as an only child in Japan who met Shimamoto, an only child as well at the time when being a single child was rare in Japan. They formed a bond from there and had a strong connection, an innocent relationship but young love didn’t quite blossom and they started drifting apart when they started attending different high schools.

In high school, Hajime had a relationship with Izumi. He later met Izumi’s cousin then soon found himself having sexual affairs with her. Izumi was devastated and the relationship ended. He went on living his 20s without any serious relationships until he married Yukiko at 30. He loves her and their two daughters. Soon enough, he opened up a jazz bar and became prosperous.

Then Shimamoto reenters the picture as she shows up in the bar one night after reading a magazine article about a successful jazz bar and its owner. Hajime came to realize he’s still in love with Shimamoto when he saw her. She shows up every now and then until they eventually end up having a night of sex in Hakone. Hajime was willing to give all up for Shimamoto but she has other things planned.

I think Shimamoto’s character is one of the strengths of this book. Murakami never explained about what happened to her all those years but there were hints (though I’m not so sure of my interpretation of them), and that she’s tired of her life and existence. I only know that her happiest days were the time she was with Hajime as a child with a lame leg listening to music and was trying to relive those memories when he saw Hajime once again. All throughout the book, Shimamoto’s character pushes the plot forward but still, typical of Murakami, the specifics about her weren’t revealed. I’m used to Murakami’s female characters to be mysterious but somehow, I wished for more of Shimamoto.

Izumi and Yukiko’s characters were clearly portrayed and I easily identified with their emotions but when it comes to Hajime, I neither liked nor disliked him. He was just a voice narrating his erratic life story.

South of the Border, West of the Sun is almost devoid of surreal elements. Murakami here focused generally on love and heartache. He painted us an honest portrayal of a man dealing with mid-life crisis by allowing Hajime to express his feelings. No author has ever gave me that feeling of melancholy the way Murakami does. It’s not always that I get to read books that convey intense feelings this much. Murakami is very skillful on this and the translation by Philip Gabriel is excellent.

This by far is the most conventional Murakami I’ve read and this somehow reminds me of The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes and also Murakami’s Norwegian Wood which I intend to reread sometime soon. The love affair wasn’t as heartbreaking as that of Toru Watanabe’s but probably the book wasn’t meant to let us totally sympathize with Hajime.

Funny how I was reminded of someone the entire time I was reading this. It’s sometimes hard not to wonder about the past most specially when things can’t be changed, but still I wonder what could have been…

This is a short read but definitely one with words and emotions that stay with you long after you’ve finished.

Quotable Quotes:

“Sometimes when I look at you, I feel I’m gazing at a distant star. 
It’s dazzling, but the light is from tens of thousands of years ago.
Maybe the star doesn’t even exist any more. Yet sometimes that light seems more real to me than anything.”

“I hurt myself deeply, though at the time I had no idea how deeply. I should have learned many things from that experience, but when I look back on it, all I gained was one single, undeniable fact. That ultimately I am a person who can do evil. I never consciously tried to hurt anyone, yet good intentions notwithstanding, when necessity demanded, I could become completely self-centered, even cruel. I was the kind of person who could, using some plausible excuse, inflict on a person I cared for a wound that would never heal.”

“The sad truth is that certain types of things can’t go backward. Once they start going forward, no matter what you do, they can’t go back the way they were. If even one little thing goes awry, then that’s how it will stay forever.”

“…some feelings cause us pain because they remain.”

“I think you still love me, but we can’t escape the fact that I’m not enough for you. I knew this was going to happen. So I’m not blaming you for falling in love with another woman. I’m not angry, either. I should be, but I’m not. I just feel pain. A lot of pain. I thought I could imagine how much this would hurt, but I was wrong.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

Unstoppable: My Life So Far by Maria Sharapova

maria-sharapova-unstoppable-book-cover-2017-0I am not a big fan of Maria Sharapova but I’m a big tennis fan. She won’t even be on my top five favorites but given that she’s one of the hottest tennis players and one of the most popular faces on tour, I am curious to know about her story and thought this book would make me understand why she behaves the way she does. Before reading this, I was already aware of her accomplishments, of the injuries she had and the doping incident which caused her being banned from the circuit. I wasn’t aware, however, of how everything started for her, what drives her to play, what inspires her, what motivates her.

Unstoppable is Maria Sharapova’s memoir. She’s from Russia but moved to the US to train when she was six years old together with her father, in hopes to become a tennis superstar someday as her father believes she will be. She’s won five Grand Slam titles to date. She became an overnight sensation when she beat Serena Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final as a seventeen year old. The book tells Maria’s share of highs and lows, struggle and success. From winning tournaments and Grand Slams, her rivalry with Serena Williams (it wasn’t much of a rivalry I think since Serena always beat her… well okay, one-sided rivalry?), her shoulder injury and of course, the doping incident.

I wasn’t a big fan of Maria before I read this and still not after, however, I admire her determination more now. It’s good to know and understand her and her journey. She is an accomplished player and definitely have a story of her own to tell.

Whether you’re a tennis fan or not, penned down in simple language with Rich Cohen, this is worth your time reading.

Quotable Quotes:

“As hard as I practice, I have learned that doing nothing is just as important as doing everything.”

“You can’t control what people say about you and what they think about you. You can’t plan for bad luck. You can only work your hardest and do your best and tell the truth. In the end, it’s the effort that matters. The rest is beyond your control.”

“I know what losing does to you. I’d learned its lessons on tennis courts all over the world. It knocks you down but also builds you up. It teaches you humility and gives you strength. It makes you aware of your flaws, which you then must do your best to correct. In this way, it can actually make you better. You become a survivor. You learn that losing is not the end of the world.”

“What sets the great players apart from the good players? The good players win when everything is working. The great players win even when nothing is working even when the game is ugly; that is, when they are not great. Because no one can be great every day. Can you get it done on the ugly days, when you feel like garbage and the tank is empty?”

“There is no perfect justice, not in this world. You can’t control what people say about you and what they think about you. You can’t plan for bad luck. You can only work your hardest and do your best and tell the truth. In the end,it’s the effort that matters. The rest is beyond your control.”

Rating: 4/5 stars