twelve.

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura (2002)
 Taro Azuma is a billionaire who grew up as a poor boy with his aunt’s family where he was treated poorly. Taro is the gossip of the Japanese community in New York as he as always been stand-offish and mysterious. Minae meets him first when she is a young girl and he is the private chauffeur to one of the big men in her father’s company. Later, when Taro is rich and Minae is a writer, she is sought out by a Japanese, Yusuke, who wants to tell her Taro’s story.

Yusuke got to know the story when he by accident or pure luck crashed into a gate of a cottage in Karuizawa, where an old maid lives. She lets him sleep in the shed and from there he swears he sees the ghost of a young girl. The maid, Fumiko, has served the same family since the war, and has known Taro from he was a kid living in the neighbouring house and until now, when she is his employee. She decides to tell him about her life, and the story of Taro and Yoko, probably because she wants it off her chest.

The prologue to this story is so long that it’s a story in itself. And then when the real story begins and takes you back over time, it’s like reading a completely different book. At first I struggled with the real story because I was so caught up in the prologue, but as the story progressed it mesmerised me. I have been spending months reading this, just a couple of pages in bed at night, because I didn’t want it to end.

The author says that this is a Japanese twist of Wuthering Heights. It’s been 10 years since I read Wuthering Heights and I don’t remember much except moors and Heathcliff (but this might also been influenced by Kate Bush). I’m going to reread Wuthering Heights as soon as possible, and then I might (but probably not) write a note on the two books.

This is also a tough competitor to the prettiest book in my collection. Just look at the cover(s). And it was the thing which caught my eye and made me buy it (yes, I always judge the book by its cover). The paper is glossy and the book is full of black and white pictures of the places in the story. And dividing it in two makes it a lot easier to carry it around because it’s nearly 900 pages long.

Did I mention that this book is great?

two.

Cain by José Saramago (2009)
 “The history of mankind is the history of our misunderstandings with god, for he doesn’t understand us, and we don’t understand him.”

After killing his brother, Cain, is condemned to walk on the earth for eternity. He is lead from one major event in the Old Testament to an other, while witnessing the wickedness of God.

Cain is the last novel the Nobel Prize winner wrote before his death, and it is hard to not read it as a personal argument with God. That doesn’t mean that this isn’t an interesting or good book. I really enjoyed reading it, probably because I always teach the kids about God’s bad side in the Old Testament.

Another thing which stuck with me after reading the book, was the style. The first letter in the sentences were written with capital letters, the rest not. And the chapters didn’t have any paragraphs. At first it was hard to get used to, but it totally fits with the story and makes it more intriguing.

I kept comparing the book to the Testament of Mary because of the obvious Bible retelling, and I definitely liked Cain better. I think it is because Saramago dared to be personal and controversial and went a long way with the interpretation and retelling of the famous Bible stories. And the ending is brilliant.

This is the third book by Saramago that I have read, and my favourite. I definitely must read the Gospel According to Jesus Christ one day.

one.

the Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001)
 Meet the Lamberts; the parents, Enid and Alfred, and their grown children Denise, Chip and Gary. Alfred has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and he’s getting worse. Enid wants all the kids and Gary’s family back home to St. Jude for one last Christmas, but this turns out to be hard to achieve.

Chip is dumped by his girlfriend, Julia, on the day his parents come visit and he leaves them to run after her. Instead he runs into her husband, who offers him a job in Lithuania. Gary is being overrun by his wife in daily battles and their kids usually side with Caroline. And there’s no way Caroline’s going to celebrate Christmas in St. Jude. And then there’s Denise, the little sister, who is a recognised chef and beautiful. But she has a tendency to fall for her bosses and/or their beautiful wives.

Are any of the Lamberts likeable? I found them more dislikeable by every book, and I guess that is one of the reasons why I liked the book so much. And there is so much dark humour in here. My absolute favourite part was when Enid and Alfred were on their cruise and they were seated with a Norwegian and a Swedish couple. That conversation was so spot on, especially with the whole Norwegian-Swedish rivalry. Hilarious!

I can’t believe I waited so long after reading Freedom, before I read this one. I seem to keep the good authors on my shelves for years and I get anxious if I have read all the works by them. Thus, I need to buy more Franzen books!

fifty-seven.

the History of Love by Nicole Krauss (2005)
 “Once upon a time, there was a boy. He lived in a village that no longer exists, in a house that no longer exists, on the edge of a field that no longer exists, where everything was discovered, and everything was possible. A stick could be a sword, a pebble could be a diamond, a tree, a castle. Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived in a house across the field, from a girl who no longer exists. They made up a thousand games. She was queen and he was king. In the autumn light her hair shone like a crown. They collected the world in small handfuls, and when the sky grew dark, and they parted with leaves in their hair.

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” 

Alma Singer is named after the woman in a book called the History of Love, which her mother is translating from Spanish to English. Alma is trying to figure out who the Alma in the book is. The other main narrator is Leo Gursky, an old man who went to America to look for his love after they got separated in a small Polish town during World War II. When he finds her, she is married to another man, but Leo is the father of the oldest son. Devastated, he spends the rest of his life alone.

There are plenty of other characters and their stories, and they are all fascinating. But the way all the stories eventually become one is the best thing about the book. And Alma Singer. I definitely loved it, and as always with books I love, I have a hard time coming up with smart things to say about them. Read it and find out for yourself why it’s great.

This was this year’s final book in Line’s 1001 books reading challenge.

forty-five, forty-six: maddaddam

Oryx & Crake (2003), MaddAddam (2013) by Margaret Atwood

 ““What if they get out? Go on a rampage? Start breeding, then the population spirals out of control – like those big green rabbits?”
“That would be a problem,” said Crake. “But they won’t get out. Nature is to zoos as God is to churces.”
“Meaning what?” said Jimmy. He wasn’t paying close attention, he was worrying about the ChickieNobs and wolvogs. Why is it he feels some line has  been crossed, some boundary transgressed? How much is too much, how far is too far?”

Jimmy, or the Snowman as the Crakers call him, is the only man left after the human population has been wiped out due to a virus. The Crakers are a specie designed in a gene-lab by Crake; they are perfect and lack the destructive tendencies of mankind. Snowman tells them stories about how Oryx and Crake made the world. But although the world is free of men, there are other human-made dangers, like the wolvogs and pigoons – enormous pigs with human organs and cells.

While telling the story in the present day, we also get a glimpse of what Jimmy’s life used to be, and who Crake is. The second book in the trilogy, the Year of the Flood, happens at the same time as Oryx & Crake, but at a different place in the same city, and with Ren and Toby as the narrators. MaddAddam starts when Jimmy meets Ren and Toby and then finally takes the story forward. You also get to learn the story of Zeb. The stories of the characters are really fascinating and definitely my favourite part of the trilogy. I also like how MaddAddam is built-up like a bible for the Crakers, and I just adored the Crakers, especially Blackbeard.

I read the trilogy as a critique of how the humans are abusing the planet’s resources and how the technology will destroy us all if we aren’t careful. And it is (of course) set in a totalitarian state. I have read a couple of dystopian novels and this trilogy is high on my list of favourites. Thanks to a week on the couch, I read them all in a couple of days and they turned into some pretty vivid dreams.

I read Oryx and Crake when it was published 10 years ago, but I felt that I needed to reread it after reading the Year of the Flood. What I really like is that it doesn’t matter which one you read first. And I found it easier to read the Year of the Flood first, then Oryx and Crake. Although MaddAddam has a recap of the two other books, I strongly recommend to read them!

Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite authors, and I’m glad I still haven’t read her most famous works, so I have something to look forward to. She’s also one of my favourites for the Nobel prize.  

forty-four.

All Dogs Are Blue by Rodrigo de Souza Leão (2008)
And what if a blue dog really existed? It would be fucking amazing to have one. And if it had a puppy, would it be born blue, too? If he could bark and eat, what would a blue dog eat? Blue food? And if he got ill, would he take blue medicine?”
The narrator is a schizophrenic who is a patient at a psychiatric hospital in Brazil. He spends his days thinking, and conversing with his imaginary friends, Rimbauld and Baudelaire.

I had a hard time following the train of thoughts of a mad man. What was real and what wasn’t? There were parts, mainly stand-alone sentences which I really enjoyed reading, but most of the time I kept counting the pages I had left to read. Thankfully, it’s just a mere 109 pages long.

I have a feeling that this is a book you’ll either love or hate. Or rather, understand or not getting the point. And I’m definitely one of those who don’t get it.  

forty-three.

the Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (2009)

 “As the first heat hits, mist rises from among the swath of trees between her and the derelict city. The air smells faintly of burning, a smell of caramel and tar and rancid barbecues, and the ashy but greasy smell of a garbage-dump fire after it’s been raining. The abandoned towers in the distance are like the coral of an ancient reef – bleached and colourless, devoid of life. There is still life, however. Birds chirp; sparrows, they must be. Their small voices are clear and sharp, nails on glass: there’s no longer any sound of traffic to drown them out. Do they notice the quietness, the absence of motors? If so, are they happier?”

Year 25 in the Gardeners’ calendar; the year of the waterless flood. The year which wiped out most of the human race. Toby is a survival at a spa, where she lives off the organic food and the rooftop garden. Another survivor is Ren, who has been locked in an isolated room at the sex shop where she works as it is suspected that she is unclean. Both women have been members of the Gardeners – a religious eco-cult.

This is the second book in the MaddAddam-trilogy, and it’s almost a decade since I read the first book, Oryx and Crake, which I barely remember, but remember as difficult to grasp until the end. And that’s probably why it has taken so long before I started on this one (and because the final book has just been published). the Year of the Flood is a lot more easier to read. Im really curious about how the trilogy is going to end. But first I’m going to reread Oryx and Crake.

thirty-four.

Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner (2001)
 Cannie discovers that her ex-boyfriend is writing a column about their love-life in a popular magazine. Most furious is she about the way he is describing her big body. Humiliated, she realises that she is not over Bruce yet and tries to get him to stop writing about her and get him back at the same time.
Cannie, why are you so angry? I definitely didn’t like her personality, and although she is meant to be snarky, I found her whiny and bitter. Yet there were many things I could identify with (and I guess every girl can). Still, she isn’t the kind of heroine I need or want.
Not my favourite genre by far, I read it because I had it up to here with wars and other sad and difficult topics I usually read about.  It is an entertaining story for sure, sort of a modern fairytale and quite predictable. Love the cover and I loved the author’s introduction more than Cannie.

twenty-three.

Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo (2006)
 If you kill with homemade bombs it’s called terrorism, and if you kill with machine guns and hunger it’s called defense. It’s a play on words, isn’t it? Do you know what the difference is? We don’t care. But your people piss with fear without a machine gun in their hands.”
 Felix Chacaltana is the district prosecutor in Ayacucho when a burnt out body is discovered during the Carnival. Is it simply a murder or is the resurrection of the terrorist organisation Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path)? The Prosecutor has a difficult time getting the police to investigate the murder properly.

The setting is certainly interesting and as the author states in his note, most of the events in the book are true, they are just set in a fictional setting. And in the beginning it was certainly interesting to read about the prosecutor’s struggles with the corrupt and lazy police. But as the story evolved, I was less impressed. I’m not sure why, but I think the main reason is that it just turned messy and rushed. I wish it would have stuck to the path with the terrorist and the resurrection theme.

Yet Roncagliolo does a wonderful job portraying the brutality of both sides of the conflict. And that even the best of men can have the worst intentions.  

twenty-one.

the First World War by Michael Howard (2002)
A Very Short Introduction
How did the Great War start? And what happened?
I was going to teach my super smart class about World War I and I knew that I needed to come prepared to class, so I bought this small book of 156 pages and used it prepare myself.
It gives a very good overview of the reasons the different countries had to enter the war and a good overview of what happened in the war, both on the battlefields and back home in the major participating countries. But I missed a couple of things when reading it. Most importantly a simple time line because there are a lot of dates to keep track of. And then I would have liked more pictures, maps and statistics. 
And although it didn’t answer all my kids’ question like what did Japan do and how did it go with Serbia, it definitely made me able to do a much better job teaching the subject. 
  • Oxford University Press has published many Very Short Introductions books on a whole range of topics and I will probably pick of more of them on topics I feel I know too little about.