Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

220px-Killing_Commendatore_by_Haruki_Murakami_-_CoverI started to read this book in February and was really enjoying it but had to put it on hold after reading more than half of the 681 pages when I realized I actually still don’t have any idea what’s it about or what’s it all for (or am I missing something?). A week ago (thanks to the long holiday!), I realized this is Murakami. It may (or it may not) be the entire point of the story. Where is it heading? It doesn’t matter.

Killing Commendatore follows the life and experiences of the unnamed narrator, a portrait painter from Tokyo. He and his wife separated and he ended up living in a house on top of a mountain which belongs to Tomohiko Amada, a famous artist. It was after discovering the painting, Killing Commendatore, in the attic that a series of mysterious circumstances started happening.

This again proved what a great narrator Murakami is but I’m slightly unsatisfied with the ending, though. I wished he could have given us a little bit more in order to connect the mysteries somehow. And a little bit more of Menshiki perhaps? But then again, it’s Haruki Murakami. He always leaves the reader with questions or an idea or this time a metaphor. All in all, it’s a good read but not one I’d recommend as an introduction to Murakami.

Quotable Quotes:

“That sometimes in life we can’t grasp the boundary between reality and unreality. That boundary always seems to be shifting. As if the border between countries shifts from one day to the next depending on their mood. We need to pay close attention to that movement otherwise we won’t know which side we’re on.”

“Our lives really do seem strange and mysterious when you look back on them. Filled with unbelievably bizarre coincidences and unpredictable, zigzagging developments. While they are unfolding, it’s hard to see anything weird about them, no matter how closely you pay attention to your surroundings. In the midst of the everyday, these things may strike you as simply ordinary things, a matter of course. They might not be logical, but time has to pass before you can see if something is logical.”

“I had taken a nap, but my head was muddled. It felt like a ball of yarn had been crammed into the back of a narrow desk drawer, and now the drawer wouldn’t close properly.”

“A face is like reading a palm. More than the features you’re born with, a face is gradually formed over the passage of time, through all the experiences a person goes through, and no two faces are alike.”

“From far off, that slice of ocean was nothing more than a dull lump of lead. Why people insisted on having an ocean view was beyond me. I much preferred gazing at the surrounding mountains. The mountains on the opposite side of the valley were in constant flux, transforming with the seasons and the weather, and I never grew tired of these changes.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

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The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

yoko ogawa

Good things come in small packages and The Housekeeper and the Professor is a perfect example. A wonderful short novel with a great deal of depth. It is a beautiful and touching story about a brilliant Mathematics professor, an unnamed housekeeper (the  narrator) and her son whom the professor called Root for having a flat head like the square root sign.

Yoko Ogawa’s writing style is refreshing. She carefully choose the words to explain several mathematical concepts in an easy story-telling format but to a great effect. It will make anyone enjoy reading even if Math isn’t your thing. And while Math plays a large part in the story, baseball did, too. Root and the professor shared a passion for baseball for different reasons.

Much is unsaid in this little gem of a story, leaving the readers to ponder after reading and personally in a beautifully satisfying way. The relationship between the professor, the housekeeper and Root is so realistic and touching.

With wonderful writing and themes on finding mathematical and personal connections between unlikely people, don’t let the Maths put you off reading this book.

Quotable Quotes:

“A problem isn’t finished just because you’ve found the right answer.”

“The Professor never really seemed to care whether we figured out the right answer to a problem. He preferred our wild, desperate guesses to silence, and he was even more delighted when those guesses led to new problems that took us beyond the original one. He had a special feeling for what he called the “correct miscalculation,” for he believed that mistakes were often as revealing as the right answers.”

“The truly correct proof is one that strikes a harmonious balance between strength and flexibility. There are plenty of proofs that are technically correct but are messy and inelegant or counterintuitive. But it’s not something you can put into words — explaining why a formula is beautiful is like trying to explain why the stars are beautiful.”

“Solving a problem for which you know there’s an answer is like climbing a mountain with a guide, along a trail someone else has laid. In mathematics, the truth is somewhere out there in a place no one knows, beyond all the beaten paths. And it’s not always at the top of the mountain. It might be in a crack on the smoothest cliff or somewhere deep in the valley.”

“The room was filled with a kind of stillness. Not simply an absence of noise, but an accumulation of layers of silence.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

img_8018This book tells us the story of Count Alexander Rostov and his life-long house arrest in Moscow’s Metropol Hotel as he was sentenced by the Bolshevik Tribunal as an unrepentant aristocrat. The more than three decades that followed showed quite well how the world could be brought into one hotel and how living half of your life inside a hotel can help you prepare to go back out to the world.

Amor Towles is a skillful storyteller. Very entertaining, beautiful and intelligent writing. A book very rich in detail. His use of language is an absolute pleasure to read and there is something in the novel for every reader — philosophy, humor, friendship and yes, history.

He created an utterly delightful character in Alexander Rostov, someone anyone would be very privileged to know. A true gentleman. All the other characters were finely-drawn as well.

This is so much more than Alexander Rostov’s story. It is also learning to accept the things time unexpectedly brings us and takes away from us and the things we cannot change.

I love this book from beginning to end. A great combination of beautiful writing, appealing characters and clever plotting. Very captivating. Witty. Heartwarming. Astounding and my top favorite for 2018.

Quotable Quotes:

“And when that celestial chime sounds, perhaps a mirror will suddenly serve its truer purpose—revealing to a man not who he imagines himself to be, but who he has become.”

“For if a room that exists under the governance, authority, and intent of others seems smaller than it is, then a room that exists in secret can, regardless of its dimensions, seem as vast as one cares to imagine.”

“In the end, a parent’s responsibility could not be more simple: To bring a child safely into adulthood so that she could have a chance to experience a life of purpose and, God willing, contentment.”

“He had said that our lives are steered by uncertainties, many of which are disruptive or even daunting; but that if we persevere and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of supreme lucidity – a moment in which all that has happened to us suddenly comes into focus as a necessary course of events, even as we find ourselves on the threshold of a bold new life that we had been meant to lead all along.”

“By all accounts, you seem to have reconciled yourself to your situation… As both a student of history and a man devoted to living in the present, I admit that I do not spend a lot of time imagining how things might otherwise have been. But I do like to think there is a difference between being resigned to a situation and reconciled to it.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

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

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