Japanese Short Stories from Akutagawa, Enchi, Endō, Inoue & Kawabata

Meredith at Dolce Bellezza is hosting The Japanese Literature Challenge 14, which takes place from January to March 2021, and this post on five Japanese short stories is my contribution to the challenge (see all the other exciting entries here and for my entries to the previous Japanese Literature Challenge 13 see my reviews here and here).

I. Murder in the Age of Enlightenment [1918] by Ryunosuke Akutagawa ★★★★

This memorable story with confident prose by the “father” of Japanese short stories Akutagawa (Hell Screen [1918]) is told through a letter and diary entries written by one young man to Viscount and Viscountess Honda. The story’s unreliable narration that deludes the truth and makes motives questionable introduces us to one hidden obsession as we plunge deep into the psyche of one disturbed man. If Akutagawa’s short story The Spider’s Thread [1918] relied on Dostoyevsky’s story of a woman and an onion from The Brothers Karamazov [1879], here we also see certain close similarities with other works. The story starts close to The Sorrows of Young Werther [1774] by Goethe (unrequited, forbidden and passionate love/drastic action), but finishes very similarly to Doctor Glas [1905] by Hjalmar Söderberg (doctor/mental torment/similar action taken to secure the future of a beloved woman). I read this story in Murder in The Age of Enlightenment (Essential Stories) by Ryunosuke Akutagawa [translated by Bryan Karetnyk, Pushkin Press 2020].

Continue reading “Japanese Short Stories from Akutagawa, Enchi, Endō, Inoue & Kawabata”

Thoughts on Non-Fiction

Since November is designated for the Non-Fiction Reading Challenge, I thought I would talk about my favourite non-fiction genres and my experience of reading non-fiction books. The only non-fiction genre which I love but will not cover below is medicine/cognitive science. It will be the topic of my next post and I also previously covered it in this list here.

This new book on my TBR list traces the history of human movement on water

Some of my favourite non-fiction books fall into the categories of history and travel (culture exploration). Be it dinosaurs (The Rise & Fall of the Dinosaurs), the Middle Ages (A Distant Mirror) or stories of survival in hostile terrains (Miracle in the Andes), I find all these topics completely fascinating. My previous favourite reads also included books on Mexico, New Orleans, New York and Rome. Though some I enjoyed more than others (for example, I did not get along with Peter Mayne’s Marrakesh book nor with Kurlansky’s Havana), I am always keeping my eyes open for interesting books in these categories. Thus, I am currently looking forward to reading A History of the Bible by John Barton, The Ghost: A Cultural History by Susan Owens, The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia, and Medieval Civilisation 400-1500 by Jacques Le Goff, an author that was recommended to me by Ola G.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Non-Fiction”

The 15th Readers Imbibing Peril Reading Challenge

My favourite time of the year has started, and this year I have decided to start the Readers Imbibing Peril Reading Challenge earlier than usual. This is because, firstly, yes, I am impatient to delve into all those exciting scary books, and, secondly, I want to have plenty of time to decide what I want read for this challenge, and then read and review those books. This year I spotted this challenge at Robin’s A Fondness for Reading (it was first started by Carl V), and the goal is to read a certain number of books associated with the Halloween season. This year I am planning to read at least four books in one or more of the following categories: horror, thriller, mystery, dark fantasy and the supernatural. I have not yet decided on specific books, but I will definitely be reading something from both Daphne du Maurier and Shirley Jackson. Are you participating in this challenge this year? What authors or books are you planning to read?

Review: The Silent Cry by Kenzaburō Ōe

the silent cry The Silent Cry [1967/1988] – ★★★★★

Since I am participating in the 13th Japanese Literature Challenge hosted by Dolce Bellezza, I am now reviewing this book by Japanese Nobel Prize winner Kenzaburo Ōe. In The Silent Cry, we are presented with the early 1960s and Mitsu, a disillusioned husband to an alcoholic wife and a father to a child who is now in an institution. Mitsu sees his life changing when his estranged brother Takashi arrives from America and together they travel to their native village in Shikoku, one of the main islands in Japan. There, they find that there is a shift in local power and one rich Korean magnate is proposing to buy what remains of Mitsu and Takashi’s land inheritance – their storehouse. Reluctantly, Mitsu finds himself drawn into a complicated political situation of the village, while also realising that Takashi starts to wield the unprecedented power over the village inhabitants. The Silent Cry is a slow-paced descent into one kind of a nightmare where the violent history of the village is about to be re-enacted and other grim discoveries made as the relationship between the two brothers takes an unexpected turn. Full of uneasiness and foreboding, The Silent Cy is a subtly powerful work that masterfully evokes the unsaid, the forbidden and the terrifying, getting us close to the real Truth and to the final Hope. It really becomes one of those books you do not have to enjoy, but to simply experience and live through. Continue reading “Review: The Silent Cry by Kenzaburō Ōe”

The Year of the Asian Reading Challenge – Completed!

year of the asian reading challenge

I am happy to inform my followers that I have completed my Year of the Asian Reading Challenge for 2019. My initial, very modest, goal was to read 12 books by Asian authors in 2019, and I managed to read 15 (coupled with time pressure and my other reading challenges). I know that there is still one month left before this challenge officially expires, but since I do not plan on reading Asian authors in December, I thought I would make an official concluding announcement. My mascot for this challenge was an Indian cobra (corresponding to the level of between 11 and 20 books), and, in 2019, I read authors from the following six countries: South Korea, Pakistan, Japan, China, India and Afghanistan. The books that impressed be the most during this challenge came from the Japanese writers Kobo Abe (The Woman in the Dunes/The Face of Another), Durian Sukegawa (Sweet Bean Paste), Akira Yoshimura (Shipwrecks) and Yoko Ogawa (The Memory Police), as well as from the Chinese-born author Eileen Chang (Half a Lifelong Romance). Below are all the books with the corresponding links to reviews.  Continue reading “The Year of the Asian Reading Challenge – Completed!”

October 2019 Wrap-Up

The Memory Police [1994/2019] by Yōko Ogawa – ★★★★★

This book is the one that surprised me the most this month. I found myself enchanted and slightly disturbed by Ogawa’s world of disappearing objects. It was very interesting to read about the uncertainty and characters’ determination to live normal lives despite the disappearances and the Memory Police’s harassment.

The Face of Another [1964] by Kōbō Abe – ★★★★★ 

Kōbō Abe’s unusual book proved to be a great read for me. When a scientist in this story becomes facially disfigured, he vows to become “normal” again and have a face to fit into the Japanese society again. Abe explores the mental torment of someone who no longer sees himself as part of a society, making insightful observations on the power of personal transformation. 
Continue reading “October 2019 Wrap-Up”

Review: The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin

the axeman's jazz The Axeman’s Jazz [2014] – ★★★

This is a debut historical fiction book that fictionalises real serial killer murders that shook New Orleans in 1918 and 1919 and were dubbed the Axeman’s murders. The book is a winner of the 2014 John Creasey (New Blood) Award, and I just could not pass by an opportunity to read this book since it is set in New Orleans of all places, a city that has been fascinating me for a long time and so much I have previously mentioned/talked on my blog about its history, art and notable celebrations. This very atmospheric book follows three people investigating the gruesome murders of the Axeman: (i) a professional investigator Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot; (ii) a nineteen year-old amateur sleuth and secretary at a local detective agency Ida Davis, and (iii) a recent convict and once detective Luca D’Andrea. Each one of them is under pressure to discover the identity of the murderer before anyone else, and the task is not easy since the murderer taunts the police and leaves strange clues behind, such as Tarot cards. Soon corruption in high places, the Mafia and false leads all complicate the case, as well as the most recent strange demand of the murderer: “play Jazz on one particular Tuesday and you will be safe”. Charmingly evoking the atmosphere of one-of-a-kind place in the world which was New Orleans in the early twentieth century, Ray Celestin concocts a worthy-of-a-read crime thriller, even if it is at times slow, overwritten, unnecessarily confusing and wobbly in its logic.  Continue reading “Review: The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin”

The 14th Readers Imbibing Peril Reading Challenge

rip14 imageIt is not long now until that spooky period of the year begins when we have to be careful if we do not want to become victims of witches, goblins and vampires. Halloween has always been my favourite festivity, maybe because I was born near this period and have always been fascinated by mysteries and the unknown. Thus, this year I have decided to participate in The Fourteenth Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) Reading Challenge hosted by Andi, and this challenge is all about reading books of mystery, horror, dark fantasy, or the supernatural. There are numerous levels of participation, such as Peril on the Screen and Peril of the Short Story, and I am going for Peril The First which means my goal is to read four books of any length in the broad horror genre in the month of October 2019. I do not have a preliminary list of books, but I do have a goal to cover the works of Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allan Poe. Does this challenge sound interesting to you? Would you like to participate?

The “Appalachian States” Reading Challenge

AppalachiaI have set myself a challenge to read books set in the “Appalachian States” in the United States (since I cannot possibly take up the challenge of reading 50 books set in all 50 different states). For those who do not know, Appalachia is a “cultural region in the Eastern US that stretches roughly from New York to Northern Georgia”. I reside in the UK and, so, it will be interesting for me to discover and learn about life in some American states through literature, as well as bring visibility to that part of the world. I am especially interested in small and remote American towns. Continue reading “The “Appalachian States” Reading Challenge”

The Colour Coded Reading Challenge

Color Coded Reading ChallengeRecently, I have been looking for other reading challenges to sign up to this year (I am already participating in the YARC 2019), and I came across this fun reading challenge hosted by My Reader’s Block The Colour Coded Book Challenge. 

The challenge is to read nine books in the following categories in 2019: 

I. A book with “Blue” or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc.) in the title/on the cover.
II. A book with “Red” or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgandy, etc.) in the title/on the cover.
III. A book with “Yellow” or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.) in the title/on the cover.
IV. A book with “Green” or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc.) in the title/on the cover.
V. A book with  “Brown” or any shade of Brown (Tan, Beige, Sand, etc.) in the title/on the cover.
VI. A book with “Black” or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc.) in the title/on the cover.
VII. A book with “White” or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc.) in the title/on the cover.
VIII. A book with any other colour in the title/on the cover (Purple, Orange, Silver, Magenta, Pink, etc.).
IX. A book with a word that implies colour in the title/on the cover (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Shadow, Paint, Ink, etc.).

I will monitor my progress on this page, and to make this challenge more difficult for myself, I will be reviewing solely those books that have colour in their title. Everyone is welcome to join since the sign-up lasts until November 2019 and there is a links headquarters provided where your reviews can go according to a particular colour.

The Year of the Asian Reading Challenge 2019

This week I heard about The Year of the Asian Reading Challenge (YARC) 2019, organised by the amazing bloggers from Shut Up, Shealea, The Quiet Pond, Sprinkles of Dreams, & Vicky Who Reads, and cannot help but join the celebration of Asian authors. The challenge is to read as many books as possible written by Asian authors, and this is a great challenge because there are tons of books by Asian writers, which are just amazing and deserve more recognition. 

cobraFor this challenge I am going for a very modest goal of reading 12 books by Asian authors by the end of the year, and will be updating my progress on this page. This is because I am already participating in my other personal reading challenge on travel, and have too many to-be-read books that have been on my shelf for far too long. As I am going for 12 books, my “mascot” for this challenge is an Indian cobra, representing a challenge to read between 11 and 20 books. I strongly urge everyone else to join this challenge, because there will be monthly prompts, link-ups, as well as interesting discussions and exciting giveways.