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Category Archive for 'Literary'

In her first novel to be translated into English, Yuko Tsushima (1947 – 2016), an author who has won every prize imaginable in her native Japan, shows the spirit which has made her work so honored in her own country. Independent and determined, Tsushima challenged the social norms and achieved great renown for her writing, often using her own experiences as starting points for her stories and novels. This novel, published originally in 1978 – 1979, focuses on a married mother seeking a divorce. The unnamed main character and her daughter, only two years old as the novel opens, face very real problems with day-to-day life, in addition to agonizing emotional problems which the woman ignorantly creates for herself and her child. Focused on her own emotional needs, she has shared so little one-on-one time with her child that she does not recognize that the child, who, at age two, is not much older than a baby, has very real and important needs, too. Seeming to believe that if she herself gets what she wants and finds some happiness that her attitude will spill over and make her two-year-old happy, she is, throughout the novel, closed off from a child whose whole life is spent with her grandmother (the speaker’s mother), in daycare, or with her own mother on Sundays her mother’s one day of “time off” from her full-time job.

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From the opening paragraph, author Tanguy Viel is off and running with a propulsive story which never lets down and never quits until the last possible moment, when its ending comes as a relief or an irony to the involved reader. Set in Finistere, a depressed waterfront community in Brittany in the late 1990s, a man stands before a judge, trying to explain how and why he has killed another man aboard that man’s own Merry Fisher boat, and then returned home to await the inevitable arrival of the local police a few hours later. When he sees them arriving, he cannot help but admit that he “wouldn’t have done anything different…I would have done the same thing, heaved Antoine Lazenec overboard the same way and brought the boat back in the same way, following the channel to the yacht harbor while respecting the green and red buoys like railroad signals…” The killer, Martial Kermeur, is anxious to set the record straight, and he is impressed that this judge is “thirty, at most” and really seems to want to hear him out. In descriptive and involving prose, Kermeur describes his thoughts – “no they weren’t thoughts, images maybe…still whirling around.” And then suddenly, he sees the whole picture and begins: “It’s about a run-of-the-mill swindle, Your Honor, that’s all.”

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As soon as I saw the announcement that Australian author Peter Carey had published a new novel, his fourteenth in thirty six years, I knew I would read it, just as I have read and enjoyed six other Carey novels. I have just finished reading it, and I did, eventually, enjoy and even admire much of it, but I read the first twenty-five pages three times before I was able to get a sense of who the initial speakers are, how they are connected, and where this book will be going. Even now I see the plot as consisting of several loosely connected parts, instead of reflecting several different aspects of the same themes and a strong sense of direction and interconnection. When I finally read some of the professional reviews today, I saw a similar dichotomy among professional reviewers. The first plot line, lasting for almost half the novel, begins when car salesman Titch decides to gain publicity for his incipient car dealership by participating in the Redex Trial, a competition involving almost three hundred participants who plan to circumnavigate the whole Australian continent – all sixty-five-hundred miles around it. The winner is the team with the highest number of points gained and the fewest penalties. No big prize results, except for the immeasurable positive publicity for the winner. Titch and his wife Irene will be the two drivers for their team, and their new neighbor, Willie Bachhuber, will, with his map-making expertise, become the navigator as they prepare their Holden sedan for the long trip and the hazards they will face. The Redex Trial dominates the first half of the novel, and the plight of the indigenous black community dominates the second half. Many aspects to admire, and some to regret.

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In the ending of Unquiet, author Linn Ullman summarizes her feelings about her father, Ingmar Bergman, and her complicated relationship with him and her mother, Liv Ullmann. The book, which she calls a “novel,” is more like a memoir, containing descriptions of many intimate family events, the instinctive reactions of her father and mother to life’s circumstances as they face them, and her own thoughtful exploration of her own identity, which dominates the body of the narrative. Age forty-eight by the time the novel ends, Ullmann presents an honest and realistic depiction of her life from the time she was a tiny child to the present, and she is so determined to be honest with herself and her reader, and so hopeful that her commentary contains elements of universality that she does not even mention the names of her famous parents until well over a hundred pages of narrative have elapsed. Linn Ullman has created a work memorable for its authenticity, its insights into parents and children, and its forthright depictions of the struggles that even caring people have in showing love.

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On March 11, 2011, the most powerful earthquake in Japanese history, registering 9.0 on the Richter scale, hit northeast Japan, killing sixteen thousand people and creating massive devastation. The powerful tsunami that resulted from this earthquake obliterated towns along the coast, and was so powerful it would go on to affect even the coasts of North and South America. Most frighteningly, the rush of sea water had the immediate effect of creating meltdowns at all three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which then released terrifying amounts of radioactivity into the atmosphere and precipitated the evacuation of over three hundred thousand people. With a succession of disasters like these – a powerful earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear disaster – and all the cleanup and social management involving the population of the area, life in the Fukushima area was frantic – people displaced, many deaths, families torn apart, livelihoods gone, and the earth itself contaminated. In the eight years since then, life has been in “emergency mode,” with so much of immediate importance being faced every day by the people of the area that few former residents, service organizations, or concerned citizens have been able to go there, stand back, and see the results of this emergency in any kind of universal perspective. Until now. These two novellas, recently translated into English, provide the first real glimpses of life in this area of Japan in the aftermath of the disasters.

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