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Category Archive for 'Psychological study'

One thing a reader can often count on in a book by Hiromi Kawakami is that her main characters will be independent, but deliberately “ordinary,” and that her plot lines will also be unpretentious and solidly realistic. In this story collection, however, the author blurs the lines between reality and imagination in new ways, drawing the reader further into her plots, themes, and characters. In ten stories about the loves of Nishino, a man whose primary purpose in life is to seduce and “love” the women he meets, author Kawakami introduces his lovers, women who appear to be in charge of their lives, living independently. Their meetings with Nishino, sometimes by accident, are usually the catalysts for change, at least temporarily, and it is usually the women who end the relationships. Though this sounds as if it might be a feminist theme, Kawakami, a witty and insightful author, also fills her stories with ironies, since the women also become willing victims of a man who does not have to do much to win their approval or even their love. Nishino’s primary talent is in tailoring his behavior to whatever each woman wants in order to get whatever he needs. As a result, Nishino is a cipher – someone the reader never really gets to know – though he provides whatever the women seem to want for however long they want it – as long as he is not otherwise occupied. A strange and elusive collection of love stories on many levels, The Ten Loves of Nishino also raises questions about memory, commitment, and the different environments in which love is possible.

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It is almost Christmas in 1921, and Captain Sam Wyndham of the Imperial Police Force in Calcutta is running blindly across the rooftops of Chinatown, trying to avoid capture by his own men, who have no idea who they are chasing. An opium addict, as a result of his service in World War I and its aftermath, Sam has spent the evening fighting off his withdrawal symptoms by feeding his habit in an opium den. Then, inexplicably, the police attack. In his desperate efforts to escape, he climbs up through a hatch to a storage attic, where he finds a critically wounded Chinese man with ritualistic injuries – a man in such agony that he musters the last of his strength to try to kill Wyndham with a knife, before expiring. As the police work their way up, Sam escapes across the roof, eventually hiding in a crawlspace, covered with blood and carrying the bent-bladed knife with which the Chinese man tried to kill him.. With all this fast and flamboyant action stuffed into the first ten pages, readers may wonder, as they take a breath, if author Abir Mukherjee is creating a sensational, non-stop narrative to draw the reader into an action-for-its-own-sake story about exotic India and its unusual cultures. Mukherjee, however, has far bigger plans for this novel, both thematically and historically, and as the nonstop action begins, he simultaneously creates a vivid picture of his main character, Sam Wyndham, his problematic personal life, his fears, his role as a police officer trying to maintain control during the British raj in Calcutta, and his questions about why this raid was kept secret from him.

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French author Catherine Cusset, the author of thirteen novels, several of which have been nominated for the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Medicis, combines fiction and biography in new ways here as she recreates the life, feelings, thoughts, and conversations of British artist David Hockney, described by some as the world’s “most famous living English painter.” Although I have read a number of such “fictional biographies,” in which the author invents conversations and thoughts for her characters, this is the first time that I have seen such a work in which the subject is someone who is still alive. Hockney, born in 1937, studied art at a time in which nearly all contemporary artists were abstract artists. He, by contrast, does representational art, yet he was able to become a raging success. Handsome, gay, a traveler from London to LA, where lived for much of the time, and an artist who explored many media, David Hockney comes to life here in ways made possible by the author’s point of view.

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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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