Book 171: Pagoda, Skull & Samurai by Koda Rohan

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Pagoda, Skull & Samurai by Koda Rohan

Finished reading on May 19th, 2015

Rating: 8/10

“The moral of the story is….” would be a way to finish off a review of these three stories by Koda Rohan, a 20th century Japanese novelist. I got this book when I first got into reading books by Japanese authors like Yukio Mishima and Yasunari Kawabata, however I never picked it up for long, as the idea of having to deal with a samurai story was just a bit too much.

Now I’m that much smarter…

“The Five-Storied Pagoda” had the strongest moral in a story I’ve ever read and tells the story of two builders, one who is well-known and loved, and the other who is considered a simpleton and slow. The latter gets the idea that he’d like to build the new pagoda, although the contract has been already given to the first. It’s an interesting tale, as you find out how the abbot deals with it, and although it at first seems too much as if he’s just breaking the bread in half between the two, it’s so much more difficult and there are real mind-games going on, that make it very realistic and the end even more so.There’s also a little touch of supernatural in the story that kind of lost me for a while…

“Encounter wit a skull” was my favourite out of these stories, and also the shortest of them. It’s about a wanderer who wants to take a dangerous journey over a mountain in bad weather and meets a mysterious young woman living in a lonely mountain hut and goes on cheerfully with their discussion as to who should get to sleep in the bed or stay awake – the poor stranger who’s a guest or the young woman. It was quite funny until you get to the end of the story.

The last story, “The bearded samurai” reminded me the Lord of the Rings, though I doubt anyone else would see the resemblance. Here we have the story of a samurai who has been captured and is telling his story as he awaits for a capital punishment. First the samurai is depicted as a purely evil and vain creature, while as the story progresses you start to like him.

In general the stories were quite entertaining and thought-provoking.

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Book 128: A Personal Matter by Kenzaburō Ōe

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A Personal Matter by Kenzaburō Ōe

Finished reading on April 5th, 2014

Rating: 8/10

A Personal matter is the story of a few days in the life of a twenty-seven year old man nick-named Bird, who in the beginning of the novel becomes a father. However trouble ensues, as there’s something wrong with the baby, and the doctors suspect him to have brain hernia. Bird sees the child as a monster, who will forever take away Bird’s lifelong dream of going to Africa. Bird is stressed out, and has a history of drinking problems, and he can’t really figure out what to do and how to cope with his situation, so he contacts one of his friends Himiko, and spends a lot of time with her.

The plot is quite horrifying, nothing is hidden from the reader – not Bird’s ideas about ending the child’s life, nor his sexual adventures.

This short novel keeps the reader stuck to the book, until you find out, what is going to happen – will the baby live or not, will Bird escape to Africa with Himiko, what will happen to Bird’s wife, etc.

I liked how the book ended with a twist, it certainly wasn’t something that I would have expected.

This book is another one that has strengthened my prejudice about Nobel prize winners, as they tackle very serious and difficult topics, that are mostly unexpected.

 

 

Book 122: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

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Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

Finished reading on March 27th, 2014

Rating: 7.5/10

Murakami’s style = missing people and cats + intelligent young people + mystery and magic. Kind of like Mikhail Bulgakov  and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mixed up, as there’s someone who’s gone missing, some-one who’s there trying to find them, and then you might have talking animals.

This book is a collection of Murakami’s short stories, that might be a good introduction to his style. They’re interesting, although some might make you want to read more about what happened in that specific story.

However, if you’ve read something by Murakami before, then you’ll probably see something really familiar. For example there are stories that are  actually included in his Norwegian Wood and The Wind-Up bird Chronicle for example.  That was something that borthered me, as although I quite liked the novels, I rather didn’t like reading the same story again, maybe with different names and initial conditions, but that nonetheless followed the same basic formula (probably they were written up before the novels…).

The stories are good, mostly they’re sad – in almost every one of those there’s someone who has just died, or who has gone missing, so this collection more that anything I’ve read by Murakami before reminded me of Arthur Conan Doyle. That makes it a lot easier to understand the popularity of his work as well – there’s mystery and you want to know what happened, but you can’t be certain that there aren’t supernatural elements in there like talking monkeys for example, which was the part that reminded me of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita’s Behemoth. (So if you love Murakami, you might like Bulgakov)

So what one basically needs to know about it is, that it’s 24 short stories – something I didn’t know when I bought the book.

 

 

Book 77: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

PIMG_0211Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Finished reading on September 28, 2013

Rating 9/10

Norwegian Wood is an intertwining story of the lives of several people in 1968-1970 in Japan. The main character and narrator is Toru Watanabe, who is studying at a university and living in a dormitory. It is a time of student uprisings and seems like an interesting period.

The main story revolves around Watanabe’s friend Naoko, who was Watanebe’s best friend’s, Kizaki’s,  girlfriend.   Kizaki committed suicide and left Naoko in a rather odd state and that’s what Watanabe has to deal with in the book. But naturally being a student, he’s not cut off from other people. He meets a girl named Midori in a lecture, they become friends, but then there’s a lot going on in Midori’s life and drama ensues…

In some ways it’s kind of philosophical, showing different ways of looking at life and even studying and relationships.

It was a really good read.

And a movie was made based on this book.

 

 

 

Book 36: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Finished reading February 19, 2013

Rating 8/10

Some books take forever to finish. For me those books seem to be the ones spanning over more than 400 pages. They seem a bit frightening to say the least, as I never know whether I’ll survive reading it.

The same was with “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”. It is interesting enough, but there’s not much suspense to keep you going page after page.

The characters are vivid and there’s enough mystery about them to leave a nagging feeling that there’s something not quite right.

The book is about a man, who in the course of the book gets the nick-name Mr. Wind-Up Bird. His cat has gone missing, he has quit his job and to top it off his wife leaves him. So the moral of the story: don’t lose your cat if you want your relationship to survive. Only joking, that’s not the moral of the story, at least I hope it isn’t.

In about 600 pages one gets to read about the protagonists search for himself and his wife and about all the curious people who suddenly appear in his life bearing such unusual names.

It reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” for some reason, with it’s odd happenings…

 

 

Book 30: Kusamakura by Natsume Sōseki

PIMG_7292Kusamakura by Natsume Sōseki

Finished reading on January 25th, 2013

Rating 7/10

“If you work by reason, you grow rough-edged; if you choose to dip your oar into sentiment’s stream, it will sweep you away. Demanding your own way only serves to constrain you. However you look at it, the human world is not an easy place to live. ”
– Natsume Sōseki

“Kusamakura” is the second book I’ve read by Natsume Sōseki, the first one being “Sanshiro”.

It starts off almost as if it were in a dream with all the imagery well suited for a novel about an artist. And it continues much in the same way having transported me from a cold dark northern-hemisphere winter to a mountain spring in Japan following the artist around as he’s trying to find something to paint.

It’s mellow… the kind of book you’d read on a hot summer afternoon in the garden while there are bees buzzing in the flowers and swallows flying overhead…and probably you’d fall asleep (because there’s not much in the way of action or suspense) and dream of what you’ve just read about.

Book 8: The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto (Melville House, 2011)

Finished reading on October 28

Rating 8/10

There was a sentence on page 25 that captured me:

“The intensity of a person unafraid of death at the end of his rope.”

Usually it’s difficult for me to pinpoint exactly when a book got interesting for me. But with “The Lake”, it was with that sentence. It gave off some kind of clarity and purpose.

The Novel tells a story of a man and a woman who live across the street from each other. They meet standing looking out of their windows, not really saying anything, just nodding at each other when they see the other person. That’s how it starts. The woman, Chihiro, is an artist, the man, Nakajima, a student at a medical school. The woman’s mother has just died and it seems to give a push forward to Chihiro’s and Nakajima’s relationship. Nakajima is a mystery, or rather the mystery, which is lurking around in the book until on the final pages it jumps out.
But what it is, you’ll find out if you read it yourself.

I liked it.

First it was because of how the main characters meet. And the way Nakajima says he feels empty, when Chihiro’s window is dark.

I know that feeling, even if the window has been just a random one I can see from my window. Being awake at a late hour all alone is somewhat sad, but seeing that some other neighbour is up as well makes it feel a little better, though seeing the last window go dark is almost as if having to say goodbye to a person you haven’t seen for a long time, who you have to leave just after having said hello…

And sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a real window, might be a window on some chat or instant messaging program.

In the end it was good because of it’s melancholy, it seems cold and strange, but it all will start to make sense.