Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

earthlingsWTF was that? What did I just finish reading? While I’m already accustomed to the strangeness or peculiarity or otherness of Japanese novels, Earthlings left me confused, uncertain, vexed? The blurb was misleading because this book is dark.

Earthlings is the story of Natsuki who we meet as a child and thinks she is not from planet Earth. She struggles to fit it and she only has her cousin, Yuu, who understands her, who also thinks he himself is an alien. Natsuki was a victim of child abuse. She was punished when caught she slept with her cousin, Yuu. Fast forward to when Natsuki was now an adult, she married Tomoya, whom she met online, who was not interested in sex and romance. He just wanted to marry to stop his family from pressuring him to do so. Soon enough, they convinced themselves that they were both aliens and that humans were all brain-washed by the “society.”

This is a book where you can find every trigger you can ask for. From murder to mental illness to cannibalism, abuse (child, physical, mental, sexual), sibling rivalry, trauma, societal pressures, etc.

I’m not sure what to say as the book ended. I felt the book kind of lost the plot and just turned into madness. Maybe I should reread the book to make more sense of it as a whole? NO. This is a weird book. Haunting, Unnerving. It’s dark, tragic. Some find it funny but no, it’s not. It’s challenging to rate this novel because I was engrossed but I was also not really enjoying it. I didn’t really dislike this book, I liked the first part but as the weirdness grew, the enjoyment was lost.

Quotable Quotes:

“Survive, whatever it takes.”

“What I’m really scared of is believing the words society makes me speak are my own.”

Family is hard work,” I thought.”

Would I ever be able to live without constantly trying to survive?”

He’s my partner, but that doesn’t mean we’re friends.”

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Out by Natsuo Kirino

outOut is my first book from Kirino Natsuo. It has been on my TBR list for quite some time and so I am glad I finally got to it.

I was initially hooked by the storyline in the first few pages/chapters of this book. There are four women who work on the night shift in a boxed lunch factory. One of them is abused by the husband and one day she found out that he used up all their savings in drinking, gambling and chasing a girl in a club. She ended up killing him. She then asked one of her co-workers to help her dispose the body and the story goes on.

I felt a bit bored after this initial action. I wasn’t sure where the story was going and it seemed like the author herself was confused where the story was heading. There were parts that I didn’t feel were relevant to the central plot. The last part of the book though brought back my initial excitement when I started reading it. I didn’t quite like the ending though. I thought it would’ve ended some other way but that’s okay.

It’s a strange book but that’s not new to me anymore when it comes to works of Japanese authors.

Quotable Quotes:

“She couldn’t live her life as someone’s prisoner the way he had lived his, caught up in a dream of the past, with no way forward and no way back, forced to dig down inside oneself.”

“When stones lying warm in the sun were turned over, they exposed the cold, damp earth underneath; and that was where Masako had burrowed deep. There was no trace of warmth in this dark earth, yet for a bug curled up tight in it, it was a peaceful and familiar world.”

Rating: 3.5 stars

 

The Cake Tree in the Ruins by Akiyuki Nosaka

thecaketreeintheruinsThe Cake Tree in the Ruins is an incredible collection of short stories all set on August 15,1945, the day Japan surrendered to the Allies in World War II.

Some of the themes tackled are war and its effects, survival, loss, love and kindness in the most difficult situations. Several of the stories highlight on how useless wars are and its effects on common/ordinary people who are the actual victims.

Most of the stories are extremely sad and heartbreaking and The Whale Who Fell In Love With the Submarine is my favorite, a beautifully tragic story.

This is my first venture on Akiyuki Nosaka’s works and he definitely has my heart. This collection is haunting and superb and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

Quotable Quotes:

“He was waiting for his mother who was sure to come back from the sky — the mother who had soared up into the sky like a kite blown by the wind.”

“Too many undernourished people and animals appear in these stories, I know, but it was wartime, after all.”

“On 15th August in the cloudless blue sky evening sky a single giant balloon left Japan and rode the jet stream headed for America. It carried no bomb… and unable to land is probably still floating around somewhere filled with the breath of school children.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

 

 

The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai

thesettingsunTo put it simply, The Setting Sun is a story about post-war Japan struggling and torn between Western modernization and deep aristocratic values.

The main character is Kazuko, a 29-year old daughter of an aristocrat who lives with her mother and brother and now have fallen on hard times. There are times when I find Kazuko difficult to understand but that’s okay, I find there are a lot like her in the world. I love every part of the book with the mother and so it was really sad when she died.

I liked the idea of Naoji’s letters that served as flashbacks before he committed suicide. It’s sad, really sad, though it did not surprise me at all. Through this letters, we discover his struggles in an aristocratic society and post-war Japan.

This is my first Osamu Dazai book. There’s not much action really and it was really sad but definitely a pleasure to read.

Quotable Quotes:
“To wait. In our lives we know joy, anger, sorrow, and a hundred other emotions, but these emotions all together occupy a bare one percent of our time. The remaining ninety-nine percent is just living in waiting. I wait in momentary expectation, feeling as though my breasts are being crushed, for the sound in the corridor of the footsteps of happiness. Empty. Oh, life is too painful, the reality that confirms the universal belief that it is best not to be born.”
“When I pretended to be precocious, people started the rumor that I was precocious. When I acted like an idler, rumor had it I was an idler. When I pretended I couldn’t write a novel, people said I couldn’t write. When I acted like a liar, they called me a liar. When I acted like a rich man, they started the rumor I was rich. When I feigned indifference, they classed me as the indifferent type. But when I inadvertently groaned because I was really in pain, they started the rumor that I was faking suffering. The world is out of joint.”
“I like roses best. But they bloom in all four seasons. I wonder if people who like roses best have to die four times over again.”
“I am afraid because I can so clearly foresee my own life rotting away of itself, like a leaf that rots without falling, while I pursue my round of existence from day to day.”
“Addiction is perhaps a sickness of the spirit.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata

cranesThousand Cranes is an Oedipal narrative told by Kikuji, who is strongly attracted to his deceased father’s last lover. Set after the end of World War II, it’s a sad, sensual, delicate, somewhat depressive, quiet novel.

Since I started reading Haruki Murakami’s books, I became very interested with other Japanese authors and Japanese culture as well. I’m not much into drinking tea but I’ve read a few things about the traditional Japanese tea ceremony which plays a fundamental part in this book. I’m fairly certain I didn’t quite understand everything about the tea ceremony (or the book entirely) but how Yasunari Kawabata uses these tea cups, tea bowls and utensils to make memories come alive and trace history of these items’ ownership was one reason why I really enjoyed reading this.

I was slightly disappointed with the ambiguous ending but thinking about it now as I write this, it wasn’t really a bad thing.

Quotable Quotes:

“Now, even more than the evening before, he could think of no one with whom to compare her. She had become absolute, beyond comparison. She had become decision and fate.”

“Your mother was such a gentle person. I always feel when I see someone like her that I’m watching the last flowers fall. This is no world for gentle people.”

“He could not call up the faces of his own mother and father, who had died three or four years before. He would look at a picture, and there they would be. Perhaps people were progressively harder to paint in the mind as they near one, loved by one. Perhaps clear memories came easily in proportion as they were ugly.”

Rating: 4/5 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