Feed on
Posts
Comments

Category Archive for 'Coming-of-age'

Winner of Japan’s prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 2012, “Touring the Land of the Dead,” a novella by Maki Kashimada, has now reached a large American audience for the first time. Regarded in Japan as an avant-garde writer, Kashimada rejects many of the cliches we think of when we regard books by Japanese women as quiet, elegant, formal, and “polite.” Here Kashimada, translated by Haydn Trowell, sees the world in realistic terms and does not hesitate to depict what she sees as the sad, meaningless lives some people accept as their “due,” showing their inner turmoil and even rebellion as they try to improve life for themselves and, often, their immediate families. “Touring the Land of the Dead,” the longer and more emotionally involving of the two novellas in this debut, takes a close look at a one family which, in successive generations, has become less and less successful, reflecting the damage and even bullying imposed on some members of the family by others who take advantage of them. A hardworking wife struggles to stay afloat and caring of her husband. “Ninety-Nine Kisses,” however, is “thinner,” less thoughtful, and less involving than “Touring the Land of the Dead.” Supposedly modeled on Junichiro Tanizaki’s The Makioka Sisters, the overall atmosphere, mood, and thematic focus of “Ninety-Nine Kisses” remain very different from the Tanizaki novel.

Read Full Post »

Young main character Willis Wu spends the most important parts of his life at the Golden Palace, a Chinese restaurant/film studio in an unnamed time period in an unnamed English-speaking city. As Willis, whose parents were immigrants, lives his life there and in the broader enclave of Chinatown, his creator, author Charles Yu, explores Willis’s reality, quickly constructing level upon level of different “realities” and creating an experimental novel, often satiric, which includes the reader from the opening pages. Willis, an actor in a film being made in off-hours at the Golden Palace, is realistic in evaluating his chances at improving his role from that of Background Oriental Male to his ideal role, that of Kung Fu Guy, the hero. As Willis plays his part, hoping to make “progress,” the role of US immigration policy on his life and the lives of his family and friends becomes clearer. A unique novel dealing with the subject of immigration with irony, humor, and a sense of understanding for the victims and the lives they sometimes choose to live.

Read Full Post »

Very much in the tradition of her previous Neapolitan Quartet, author Elena Ferrante delves deeply into the psychology, culture, and social and romantic goals of characters whom the reader comes to know from within. In the course of the novel, she first presents Giovanna, age twelve, her family, and their friends – those living elegantly at the top of the hill in Naples – and sets up contrasts between their lives with those who live at the bottom of the hill, a much poorer area in which life is far more difficult. When Giovanna decides she wants to meet her mysterious aunt Vittoria, the family pariah, considered a “demon” living at the bottom of the hill, the family’s interrelationships become more complex. Over the next five years, they meet several times, and when the marriage of Giovanna’s parents begins to crack, Vittoria tells Giovanna to pay close attention to their arguments and actions to learn what is happening behind the scenes. Complex details involving all of these characters give new meaning to the “lying lives” of the adults. While these revelations are occurring, Giovanna herself is growing up and feeling her own sexual interests come alive, adding intensity to the atmosphere and more tension in Giovanna’s life. Those who have loved the Neapolitan Quartet will find this novel a good counterpart with its emphasis on psychological development, the inner thoughts and quandaries of its main character(s), and the constant reliving of the past and its mistakes. Book clubs will have a fine time analyzing the “adult” Giovanna as she makes a life-changing decision on the last pages.

Read Full Post »

Fourteen-year-old Erik Wassman has been working on a graphic novel and keeping himself otherwise occupied in the summer of 1962, hoping to get past some of the problems he faces. He is a very young fourteen, just beginning to look at the world from a wider perspective, and his father has just told him it will be a “rough summer,” as his mother is dying of cancer in hospital. Hoping to make life easier for Erik, his father has arranged for him to go to the family’s lakeside summer retreat on Lake Möckeln with his older brother Henry, now twenty-two. He has also suggested that Erik invite a classmate, Edmund, whom Erik does not know well, to come to the lake with him. The summer place is only fifteen miles from home, and it will be possible for Erik to visit his mother if he needs to. Author Håkan Nesser, the winner of many prizes for his crime novels, maintains a quiet calm here as he introduces his main characters and setting, especially with Erik, and as new characters are introduced, it becomes clear that much of this novel will be concerned with Erik’s psychological growth, rather than with hard crime. Then a Kim Novak look-alike arrives , and some dark machinations lead to murder.

Read Full Post »

Described by Culture Trip as “the most prominent female writer in twentieth century Hungary,” Magda Szabó (1917 – 2007) was almost unknown in the English speaking world until 2016. Since that time, three more novels have appeared in translation, to outstanding reviews and literary success. Szabo’s novels are dramatic, psychologically intense, and historically focused, emphasizing everyday life and its trials and complexities, often in particular historical moments. A resident of Budapest when the Nazis occupied the country in 1943, author Szabo writes from experience about that fraught time in ABIGAIL. Main character Georgina Vitay, an independent girl of fourteen, is secretly removed from her home and everyone she knows in Budapest and driven overnight by her father to a severe, almost cult-like boarding school in Arkod, eastern Hungary (now Serbia). From the day she arrives, the school controls every aspect of her life, keeping her safe from any major conflicts or warfare to come. Her father, a general in the Hungarian army, also works as a secret agent against the Nazi occupation, and he knows that if the enemy learns where Georgina (Gina) is living, that she could be captured and used as a pawn to force him into betraying his own goals of a free Hungary. As Gina tries to grow up in this difficult atmosphere, the Germans are invading Budapest. Exciting novel also appropriate for Young Adults.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »