Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

19288239Title: The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Author: Haruki Murakami
Publisher: Bond Street Books
Publication Date: August 2014
ISBN: 9780385352109

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

 Synopsis from Goodreads:

Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends at school. By chance all of their names contained a colour. The two boys were called Akamatsu, meaning ‘red pine’, and Oumi, ‘blue sea’, while the girls’ names were Shirane, ‘white root’, and Kurono, ‘black field’. Tazaki was the only last name with no colour in it.
One day Tsukuru Tazaki’s friends announced that they didn’t want to see him, or talk to him, ever again. Since that day Tsukuru has been floating through life, unable to form intimate connections with anyone. But then he meets Sara, who tells him that the time has come to find out what happened all those years ago.

Have you read Murakami’s latest book yet? What do you think?

What an excellent book! I was a little disappointed with 1Q84 (2011), so I was nervous to give Murakami’s writing another try. But am I ever glad I did! What drew me to this book initially was the title: The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki. This simple line hold so many questions: Why is he colourless? How does that effect him? What did that have to do with his years of pilgrimage? Without even picking this book off the shelf I knew I was going to finish it. I had to find out.

Inside this book are pages of beautiful and vibrant descriptions. Tsukuru believes himself to be an empty vessel, a nothing. He thinks that he has no personality and it is his boringness that causes all the friends he cares about to leave him behind with no explanation. It was impossible for me to agree with Tsukuru’s description of himself because the stories he tells and the observations he has are so moving and full of life. Check this one out: “They didn’t speak. Words were powerless now. Like a pair of dancers who had stopped mid-step, they simply held each other quietly, giving themselves up to the flow of time. Time that encompassed both past and present, and even a portion of the future” (324). I could share more, but I don’t want to ruin it for you. ;) I just love this image of two people stopped in time, so wholly involved with one another that their time spent together is indefinite. They are in all of time together. It’s breathtaking.

“His feelings were wrapped in layer upon layer of thin membrane and his heart was still a blank, as he aged, one hour at a time” (53). Tsukuru struggled with the idea of death. It was a welcoming thing to him, but he eventually chooses life. In his life he simply exists. However, as he meets new people , he experiences a journey of recovery and acceptance. He is so wonderfully human, scarred by his past and emotionally struggling to connect with those in his present. He is motivated by a desire to be free to love to rid himself of his emotional baggage and to finally, after sixteen years, begin his life anew. After years of attempting to forget his past, he chooses to confront it and finds peace.

Do you think Tsukuru finds peace of mind in the end? Does he find happiness? How does your reading of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki differ from mine?

 

Funky Cover Friday

This cover of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne is perfect for this heart breaking tale. I’ve seen the movie, and I’ve yet to read the book, but from what I know of the story, the image of the faded ink lettering printed over the worn blue stripes of the Nazi camp issued pajamas is a simple, yet incredibly profound choice for a cover image. The stripes are unmistakable, but they are subtly in their message. They convey the tone and the topic on the novel within, without taking away from the story.
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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas / John Boyne / David Fickling Books / 2006 / 9780385751063

 

What do you think of this cover? Do you like the subtle way in which it portrays its message? What are comparable book covers?

Review: The Universe Versus Alex Woods

15984268Title: The Universe Versus Alex Woods

Author: Gavin Extence

Publisher: Redhook Books

Publication Date: June 2013

ISBN: 9780316246576

 

The Universe Versus Alex Woods

Synopsis from Goodreads:

A rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn’t had the easiest childhood. 

But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count.
So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing …

Alex Woods is set apart from his peers early on. At the age of ten, he is hit in the head by a meteorite–an occurrence that should have killed him. He is held back a year, develops epilepsy, and becomes an outcast, no longer fitting in with the status quo. Here’s something else: Alex is awesome. He’s an innocent, curious, intelligent, Kurt Vonnegut-loving young man who’s excited by the world around him, but he hasn’t learned the things he should know at his age. As he puts it: “I knew quite a lot of things — things that some twelve-year-olds didn’t know. I knew a surprising amount about the anatomy and physiology of the brain. I knew the difference between meteoroids, meteors, and meteorites…I didn’t know half of the things I was supposed to know at twelve years old” (79).

Alex’s friendship with Mr. Peterson is heart-warming. This school aged boy and this Vietnam veteran make an unlikely pair, but they are brought together in companionship and an enjoyment of reading Vonnegut, listening to classical music, and discussing pacifism. Mr. Peterson treats Alex like an adult and provides him with the respect that Alex doesn’t receive in his daily school life. Alex is tortured by the cruelty of the jocks in his class and finds refuge in the intellectual conversations and explorations that he finds with Mr. Peterson. In return, Alex provides Mr. Peterson with stimulating conversation, unwavering devotion, and loyal friendship.

At the heart of this book is the moral question of a person’s right to choose between life and death. It questions a person’s control over their body and their choices. It brings to light the harsh judgement and unforgiving nature of the media. Alex grows into a decisive and opinionated young adult, who at seventeen is “old enough to drive and procreate, but…not old enough to vote or drink alcohol” (382). The argument is whether he is old enough to have opinions and make decisions about free will. The media casts him to be a sociopath, a troubled youth, or a misguided innocent, but never is he a thinking, motivated adult with a brain of his own. Can he be judged for his actions if he’s too young to be considered an adult? The Universe Versus Alex Woods toes that moral line.

This book made me laugh, it made me cry, but above all else, it made me want to read more Vonnegut. It’ll break your heart, but it’ll also bring a smile to your face. A definite must read!
 

Top Ten Tuesday

I’ve been fighting a cold this week. Reading has fallen to the wayside in favour of sleeping and vegging. But I’ve emerged for Top Ten Tuesday. This week’s topic is top ten books I really want to read but don’t own yet.

1. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
2. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
3. California by Edan Lepucki
4. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
5. Beautiful You by Chuck Palaniuk
6. And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Story by Charles J. Shields
7. Survival Colony Nine by Joshua David Bellin
8. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman
9. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
10. The Blue Dragon by Robert LePage

Review: The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

51fWzr7ewXL._SL500_AA300_Title: The World Before Us

Author: Aislinn Hunter

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Publication date: September 9, 2014

ISBN: 9780385680646

The World Before Us

Synopsis from Goodreads:

When she was just fifteen, smart, sensitive Jane Standen lived through a nightmare: she lost the sweet five-year-old girl she was minding during a walk in the woods. The little girl was never found, leaving her family, and Jane, devastated. Now the grown-up Jane is an archivist at a small London museum that is about to close for lack of funding. As her one last project, she is searching the archives for scraps of information related to another missing person–a woman who disappeared some 125 years ago from a Victorian asylum. As the novel moves back and forth between the museum in contemporary London, the Victorian asylum, and a dilapidated country house that seems to connect both missing people, it unforgettably explores the repercussions of small acts, the power of affection, and the irrepressible vitality of everyday objects and events. 
     
Here is a riveting, gorgeously written novel that powerfully reminds us of the possibility that we are less alone than we might think.

For lovers of history, mystery, archives, or memory, The World Before Us is the perfect read for you. In her upcoming novel, Hunter weaves an intricate tale of human existence to demonstrate that all that we are and all that we do is connected through time and distance.

Jane is an archivist. She is drawn into a story of a woman who goes missing near the Whitmore Hospital for convalescent Lunatics, a story that so closely parallels her own story of her young charge, who goes missing one day on a walk in the park. Jane, traumatized by her own experience, is fueled to solve the mystery of the missing N-. Her obsession is a passionate quest for healing that Jane has been searching for throughout her entire adult life. Her experiences are led by her inability to know the truth. She finds control in her own life by uncovering the mysteries of the past. The story is complicated and Jane struggles with some difficult thoughts, memory, and emotion.

This book was an excellent read, but I definitely have a few issues with it. I found the start to be less than welcoming. It took a long time to get into the story, but fear not! If you persevere, the story unfolds into a beautiful, intriguing, and romantic tale, Jane’s modern setting tightly knit with the setting’s Victorian past. The perspectives shift constantly from the modern era to the Victorian in a smooth and intelligently interconnected way. Each perspective reinforces and informs the other. This leads me to the second thing that caused me some issue in The World Before Us. Regularly, the story moves into a first person perspective with the speaker being the collective of ghosts from the asylum patients. For example, they might saw, “We watch Jane walk towards the bed.” or “We follow Jane out to the car.” It’s difficult to establish for much of the book who the “we” is and why they are narrating Jane’s actions in a play-by-play manner. It caused me a lot of confusion at the beginning. My first impression was that Jane herself was a ward of the asylum, suffering from schizophrenia. When I established the identities of these supernatural beings, their significance to the story slipped away. They are not helpful to Jane, they are only helpful to the reader in that the reader personally gets to know the asylum patients as they come to understand themselves through Jane’s research. Beyond that, to me they added no value.

Overall though, The World Before Us is a very enjoyable read. The story is compelling and the setting is stunningly captivating. Aislinn’s authorial style builds a beautiful and vivid world. Once you are engrossed, it’s impossible to put down.

Funky Cover Friday

Frog Music / Emma Donoghue / Little, Brown and Company / April 2014 / 9780316324687
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I love this cover of Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music. It’s bright, colourful, and eye catching. A woman’s silhouette comprised of frogs indicates that not everything is as it seems. The cover characterizes Blanche, a French burlesque dancer who lives a life full of secrets. It’s definitely a cover that I’d reach for. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my to-be-read list!

Review: Mãn by Kim Thúy

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*I received my copy of Mãn from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Mãn

Author: Kim Thúy

Publisher: Random House of Canada

Publication Date: August 26, 2014

ISBN: 9780345813794

Mãn

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Mãn has three mothers: the one who gives birth to her in wartime, the nun who plucks her from a vegetable garden, and her beloved Maman, who becomes a spy to survive. Seeking security for her grown daughter, Maman finds Mãn a husband–a lonely Vietnamese restaurateur who lives in Montreal.

Thrown into a new world, Mãn discovers her natural talent as a chef. Gracefully she practices her art, with food as her medium. She creates dishes that are much more than sustenance for the body: they evoke memory and emotion, time and place, and even bring her customers to tears.

Thúy’s writing is beautiful and elegant and reading Mãn is a new and exciting reading experience. Her prose is delicate and vivid and I enjoyed reading this short collection of memories. I was touched by the speaker’s interactions with Luc and the tenderness of their relationship. Their love is beautiful and comes to a sad and unfulfilled end.

However, the writing is so poetic that it edges on the abstract. It is beautiful, but it doesn’t have a tangible form. It’s difficult to grasp the story arc. I couldn’t relate to the speaker and I couldn’t find a consistent flow in the story. I felt really disconnected from the story itself and often felt lost or confused as to who the characters were and what the setting was. The story tends to jump around and I didn’t think that all of the characters were thoroughly introduced.

Overall, Mãn is full of beautiful language and elegant prose, but the story doesn’t reach out and grasp you. In creating poetic prose, Thúy looses a sense of characterization and fluid plot.