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

Kokoro by Natsume Sōseki

kokoroI don’t quite remember how I first got across this book but as many of you know, I have a soft spot for Japanese literature and I haven’t read any from Natsume Sōseki so of course, I shouldn’t pass on this.

Kokoro is a Japanese classic about betrayal, self-isolation, guilt, bitterness and loneliness. It tells the story of the narrator, Soseki, a university student drawn to a far older man whom he calls Sensei and Japan’s transition from the Meiji society to the modern era. Sensei is a lonely man and visits someone’s grave every month. After graduation, Soseki had to go home and look after his ailing father who hopes that his son finds a good job with the help of Sensei. However, when his father’s condition worsened, he received a letter from Sensei which made him leave his father despite his condition. The letter reveals Sensei’s past and his decision to end his life.

Kokoro is not a book everyone will like but if you enjoy reading stories that dig deep into the characters’ lives and with very little action, not to mention slow-paced, but intense, I would gladly recommend this book. 

Quotable Quotes:

“No matter how full one’s head might be with the image of greatness, one was useless, I found out, unless one was a worthy man first.”

“The truth is, the only things I would have thought worth saying at the time are those things which I shall say here, and it was then too soon for me to write such a letter.”

“I believe that words uttered in passion contain a greater living truth than do those words which express thoughts rationally conceived. It is blood that moves the body. Words are not meant to stir the air only: they are capable of moving greater things.”

“I do not want your admiration now, because I do not want your insults in the future. I bear with my loneliness now, in order to avoid greater loneliness in the years ahead. You see, loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern age, so full of freedom, independence, and our own egotistical selves.”

“It is not you in particular that I distrust, but the whole of humanity.”

Rating: 4/5 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 Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

thetravellingcatchronicles

I was not suppose to read this book because I don’t like cats. But it’s a book written by Hiro Arikawa, a Japanese author whose works I haven’t ventured on yet so I thought it’s unfair not to give it a try after seeing lots of good reviews about it and just because I don’t like cats. Plus, it was translated by Philip Gabriel so I know the translation would be a good one.

So… Nana was a stray cat and was soon taken in by a kind-hearted guy named Satoru after he found it injured by a car. They lived together for years until one day, Satoru can no longer take care of Nana so they found themselves traveling together to find a new home for her. They visited several of Satoru’s friends and slowly Satoru’s story unfolds. The more they travel, the more their love for each other grew.

Well, there’s not much of a plot here and the writing was slow for my taste but simple and engaging which I like. I love Satoru and Nana and cared enough what will happen to them so it was okay that the story went a bit slow for me.

This is a beautiful story of friendship, companionship, love and kindness. The part towards the end of the book was quite lovely. Tissues required while reading.

Quotable Quotes:

“My story will be over soon. But it’s not something to be sad about. Remembering those who went ahead. Remembering those who will follow after. And someday, we will meet all those people again, out beyond the horizon.”

“If you have to consider what’s going to happen after you die, life becomes doubly troublesome.”

Rating: 4/5 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

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

kitchenTwo beautifully woven storylines that dealt with grief and loss with wonderful narration which I thought would have been really good novels instead of short stories. Banana Yoshimoto and these two stories remind me very much of Haruki Murakami and his ability to turn daily life into something magical.

This is a quick and easy read with lots of important ideas each of us should understand. Also, I like books for its simplicity and Yoshimoto’s writing style was so simple which made me like the book more. I’m not really sure if this is really Yoshimoto’s writing style or was it the translation but yeah, it came out simple and easy to read. I wouldn’t have to reread several pages to fully understand.

I guess what the author is really trying to tell us in both stories is to live our lives to the fullest. The loss of a loved one or anyone dear to us doesn’t always have to bring us sadness or grief because it won’t bring us back the people we’ve lost. The world is unfair so better just make the best out of it while here.

Quotable Quotes:

“People aren’t overcome by situations or outside forces. Defeat comes from within.”

“No matter what, I want to continue living with the awareness that I will die. Without that, I am not alive.”

“As I grow older, much older, I will experience many things, and I will hit rock bottom again and again. Again and again I will suffer; again and again I will get back on my feet. I will not be defeated. I won’t let my spirit be destroyed.”

“Over and over, we begin again.”

“I realized that the world did not exist for my benefit. It followed that the ratio of pleasant and unpleasant things around me would not change. It wasn’t up to me. It was clear that the best thing to do was to adopt a sort of muddled cheerfulness.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

irisHotel Iris is a story about the friendship between an elderly man only known as the translator and 17-year-old Mari. After a scandalous event that happened in Mari’s mother’s hotel between this elderly man and a prostitute, things started to change for her. Mari was strongly drawn to this man’s voice and has gotten very curious. They eventually became friends and things got much deeper and darker in this friendship.

Mari’s monotonous life changed. She started telling lies to her mother in order to excuse herself from working in the hotel and be able to meet the translator until finally, she found herself in his place on the island which made her explore the nature of desire and pleasure but also of pain and humiliation.

This is my second Yoko Ogawa read, next to The Housekeeper and The Professor. The author’s writing talent is quite evident in every line and I love how she portrays her characters.

Hotel Iris is not something I’d recommend to everyone but if you want something that will make you feel and think, this book is for you.

Quotable Quotes:

“I beg of you to go on living in this world I inhabit. I suppose you find this a rather ridiculous request, but to me it is of the utmost importance that you simply exist.”

“He had undressed me with great skill, his movements no less elegant for all their violence. Indeed, the more he shamed me, the more refined he became — like a perfumer plucking the petals from a rose, a jeweler prying open an oyster for its pearl.”

“I was confused and afraid, and yet somewhere deep inside I was praying that voice would someday give me an order, too.

Rating: 3/5 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

Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami

danceBook #16.

Our nameless narrator from A Wild Sheep Chase is back once again in this book as he starts to feel nostalgic about the Dolphin Hotel in Sapporo where seemingly good things happened to him. Something from within him strongly urged him to have a vacation and visit the place again. On this trip starts a series of strange events.

Interestingly, the characters have names now, except for the narrator. 🙂 Most of the characters have a mysterious side in them. Kiki, who just disappeared. Gotanda, our narrator’s former classmate whom I felt like hiding something since the beginning but was an interesting character for me. Yuki, a thirteen-year-old psychic. (I really liked Yuki and the narrator’s bantering. Pretty much a comedy!) Yumiyoshi, the receptionist in the new Dolphin Hotel. The Sheep Man. And several others.

Dance Dance Dance addressed a lot of themes such as aging, death (a very common theme in Murakami’s books), life’s meaning, illusion, reality, boredom, the importance of human connection, etc. These are themes more inclined to the heavy side but still there are also moments that will make you smile and laugh.

Typical of Murakami’s works as well are the loose ends that he leaves us with. And for me, I am still left contemplating about who the sixth skeleton is. That scene where he was driving in Hawaii with Yuki and he suddenly saw Kiki and he soon came running after her and was led to a room with six skeletons. I can account to five but who’s the sixth? Is it the Sheep Man because he’s gone from the mysterious room of the Dolphin Hotel? Or is it the narrator himself? Anyhow, it’s sort of a happy ending.

Murakami is such a brilliant writer that he always, always makes me doubt which of these things happened and which did not. In any case, this was another surreal ride but for the meantime, I will have to take a break before I start dreaming about the skeletons or the Sheep Man…

Quotable Quotes :

“People have their own reasons for dying. It might look simple, but it never is. It’s just like a root. What’s above ground is only a small part of it. But if you start pulling, it keeps coming and coming. The human mind dwells deep in darkness. Only the person himself knows the real reason, and maybe not even then.”

“People fall in love without reason, without even wanting to. You can’t predict it. That’s love.”

“Life is a lot more fragile than we think. So you should treat others in a way that leaves no regrets. Fairly, and if possible, sincerely.”

“Friends don’t need the intervention of a third party. Friendship’s a voluntary thing.”

“People leave traces of themselves where they feel most comfortable, most worthwhile.”

Rating ; 4/5 stars

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

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Book #7.

I have been interested with Banana Yoshimoto for quite some time now but I haven’t got the chance to read any of her books. I’m not sure how I came across a copy of this but I’m glad I did.

The Lake is the story of Chihiro who moved to Tokyo after her mom died hoping to have a career as a graphic artist and eventually get over her grief. She often spends her time by the window and eventually noticed a man, Nakajima, from another window and soon became friends. Chihiro later learns that Nakajima is dealing with something complex brought about by his past. Both of them are trying to get over the loss of their mothers in their own different ways.

I like the simplicity of the prose. I really think it’s beautiful. I love how Chihiro and Nakajima’s love story cautiously develops. The way Nakajima tries to step up and get over his issues and still sometimes end up in depression seems very realistic which makes the book more interesting for me. His sweet and at the same time sad story with his friends Mino and Chii are also worth the read. And by the time I found myself attached to the characters already, the story was over.

Yoshimoto’s writing style is very simple and soothing that I think this is a very good introduction of her works for me. That said, I’m looking forward to reading her other books.

Quotable Quotes :

“Of course, it’s true that sometimes the pink at sunrise somehow seems brighter than the pink at sunset, and that when you’re feeling down the the landscape seems darker, too – you see things through the filter of your own sensibility.”

“…there’s nothing wrong with being a little hopeful. Who says you can’t warm your frozen limbs in the faint heat of a flicker of hope?”

“I love feeling the rhythm of other people’s lives. It’s like traveling.”

“When things get really bad, you take comfort in the placeness of a place.”

“Why were we so far apart, even when we were together? It was a nice loneliness, like the sensation of washing your face in cold water.”

Rating : 4/5 stars

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

downloadBook #6.

This basically follows the story of five characters — a 19-year old girl named Mari, Takahashi a jazz musician, Mari’s sister Eri who is in a very deep sleep, a Chinese prostitute assaulted in a “love hotel”, and a salary man, Shirakawa, who works late to avoid his family — one autumn night in Tokyo.

How Murakami-san managed to capture the happenings and feelings of time from midnight to dawn at a brisk but natural pace is amazing. Every beginning of a chapter shows a clock and as the night progresses, the story does, too. I didn’t particularly like any of the characters but I also didn’t hate any of them. But the point is probably not to like or hate them, but to connect to them which I think Murakami-san effectively did.

This is not as bizarre as his other works but neither it is a straight narrative. It stays surreal because Murakami-san doesn’t bother with explanations and in his world, nothing is simple.

After Dark ended far too quickly for me and as usual, I was left with too many unanswered questions. I would recommend you read this in a coffee shop, overnight, with cups of brewed coffee. And maybe some music, too. Well, if you haven’t yet! 😉

Quotable Quotes :

“In this world, there are things you can only do alone, and things you can only do with somebody else. It’s important to combine the two in just the right amount.”

“What seems like a reasonable distance to one person may feel too far to somebody else.”

“A brand-new day is beginning. It could be a day like all the others, or it could be a day remarkable enough in many ways to remain in the memory. In either case, for now, for most people, it is a blank sheet of paper.”

“…people’s memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn’t matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They’re all just fuel.”

“The silence is so deep it hurts our ears.”

Rating : 4/5 stars