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The Empty Family: Stories
The Empty Family: Stories
by Colm Toibin
Edition: Hardcover
76 used & new from $0.01

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Falls a little short of the Toibim standard, September 5, 2011
The Empty Family is the latest collection of stories from one of the better fiction writers today, Colm Toibim. Toibim writes in a sometimes dry and clinical fashion, but with this sparse and elegant prose he is somehow able to pull the deepest emotions from his characters, to show them at their most vulnerable and human, even as they fight to mask it. His most recent works, Brooklyn, and his last story collection, Mothers and Sons, were both masterful works.

The Empty Family though falls a little short of its predecessors.

There are some memorable stories here. The opener, `Silence', is a brilliant historical piece about one Lady Gregory, widowed by an elderly husband and abandoned by her true love, who at a dinner party reveals her secret pain to the novelist Henry James as an idea a for a novel. In `Two Women', a rude and domineering set designer is humbled in a surprise encounter with a former rival. `The New Spain' shows us an exile who comes home to post-Franco Spain to find a country, and a family, she doesn't recognize. These first two especially show Toibim's mastery of hidden pain. The last delves into loneliness, also a recurrent theme here.

But there are a few duds this time around. `The Empty Family' requires another reading to decipher, if one would only want to. `Barcelona, 1975' seems to be primarily about sex. (And this is something to be aware of if you haven't read Mothers and Sons: Toibim sometimes likes to get graphic.)

Still, though it's not perfect, Toibim is always worthwhile. But If you haven't read him before, I would start with one of his earlier works, like The Master, Brooklyn, or Mothers and Sons.

The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels
The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels
by Michael Watkins
Edition: Hardcover
272 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A good framework and guide for transitions, August 7, 2011
The First 90 Days is a good primer for any new business leader, or even anyone starting a new project at work. A few reviewers have noted that there's really nothing new here content-wise, and I would agree with that, generally speaking. As I read, I found that I already knew many of the tactics Watkins writes about, and a lot of the things he addresses here I was already instinctively doing. Thus I don't think this is a good book for someone looking for general business learning.

But as a situational guide, I think this book is helpful. What I liked about it is that it put all the information I knew into a framework for action. As I read this during my current transition, I found that I was already doing a lot that he suggested, but reading it on the page somehow solidified what I was doing in my mind. Though I was doing some of these things, I hadn't really thought about why and what it meant in the broader context of my transition strategy.

Watkins breaks the 90-day period into 10 different components, with Chapter titles such as Promoting Yourself, Securing Early Wins, and Creating Coalitions. He further breaks the types of transitions one might experience into four kinds: realignment, turnaround, sustaining success, and start-up. In fact, I thought the most instructive chapter was Matching Strategy to Situation. In it Watkins discusses how your strategy will be different depending on the type of transition. Again, something that might be intuitive for some, but putting it in this framework really helps. For example, I'm in a `sustaining success' situation and one of the challenges is avoiding making rash decisions that rock the boat. As someone who tends to be blunt and to the point, I found this a helpful reminder that my usual way of doing things won't earn me success in my new role.

Perhaps this book is most suited for those of us less organized than others, to help us focus. But I certainly think it's worth a look if you're going into a transition and would like a touchstone to lead you through.

The Elephant Vanishes: Stories
The Elephant Vanishes: Stories
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.47
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Window into the real through a surreal frame., August 7, 2011
The Elephant Vanishes is a collection of Haruki Murakami's early stories, written from 1980-1991. Murakami's hallmark is the humorous and surreal. He likes to use strange and unusual means to show us the too common moments of loneliness and pain that are part of the human condition. He tries to reflect on the spiritual emptiness of modern life and culture, especially as it relates to life in post-War Japan, while also entertaining his readers.

This can be a difficult to do, and when Murakami fails, he fails spectacularly, like in "TV People". But when he's on target, his stories are exquisite windows into the real, framed by the surreal. "The Second Bakery Attack" shows us the fear and hunger for connection of newlyweds as they join forces for a late-night hamburger robbery. "Lederhosen" shows us how a relationship can be made to implode by something so simple as a pair of shorts. We feel a woman's loneliness through a days long bout of insomnia in "Sleep". A vanishing elephant is used as a metaphor for the disintegration of Japanese culture in "The Elephant Vanishes".

Unfortunately, I don't think Murakami is for everyone. But if you're into stories that don't take the easy road, that like to challenge us before showing us that what's behind the curtain is entirely recognizable, then I would suggest giving Murakami a try.

Heart of Darkness
Heart of Darkness

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The manual on the duality of human nature, July 31, 2011
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This review is from: Heart of Darkness (Kindle Edition)
Upon first reading Heart of Darkness, I couldn't help but feel disappointment. It is a book I've always wanted to read, but have put off for one reason or another. But after seeing Apocalypse Now again recently, and being fully mesmerized by it again, I finally decided that I had to read the book. But it just felt like such a letdown after the movie.

The differences between the book and the movie are obvious--one is set in 19th century Africa while the other is set in Vietnam. But the core plot lines are the same: a man is sent into the wilderness to `return' a rogue agent named Kurtz who has gone `native', or mad. In HOD, Charlie Marlow is a man of the sea who lands a job as a steamship captain in Africa through the efforts of his `dear aunt'. As he arrives, Marlowe finds many objectionable things. He distrusts many of the Europeans running things, and finds that the steamship he was supposed to take to find Kurtz has been `sunk', causing much delay. As he awaits repairs, he witnesses the inhumanity with which the Europeans treat the Africans.

Marlowe finally gets on his way, is attacked as he approaches Kurtz's camp, but finds the man. Marlowe learns that Kurtz has convinced the natives to treat him as a god and help him violently gather mass quantities of ivory, which Kurtz then uses to enrich himself. (The real reason the rest of the Europeans hate him.) But he is also sick, and Marlowe's crew easily takes him on-board. On the return, Kurtz shows a sliver of the darkness that he has seen, and it affects Marlowe. By now, he is firmly on Kurtz's side.

HOD is a short but dense book. The disappointment I felt after my first read mostly stemmed from its difficulty. It didn't grab me. When I read it a second time however, more of it stuck, and I think I could more easily grasp what Conrad was trying to do. HOD is a study of the `darkness' that can live within us all. But it's not just Kurtz who has seen and lived in darkness, but also the Europeans, who so brutally treat their African `hosts'. Conrad shows us this battle between good and evil--the good the Europeans thought they were doing by `teaching' the Africans to be `civilized' versus their inhumane treatment of them. This is at core a deep and satisfying story that will enrich the reader more with each reading. In fact, I would say don't bother with the book at all unless you plan to read it at least twice.

Other disappointments I had with the book probably arose from having watched Apocalypse Now first. The movie centers on the trip down the river, where as the trip itself is barely touched upon in HOD. Also, Kurtz is barely on the stage and most of what we know of him is shown to us through other people's eyes. As such, he is hard to get a grasp of, especially with just one reading. (There was a reason the movie needed a Brando to play Kurtz... the brief glimpses we get of the character needed a strong and mesmerizing performance.)

Still, this is a classic. I haven't read anything that better crystallizes the duality of human nature. There are probably no other topics that we need to read about and understand more than this one, and here Conrad wrote the manual on how to approach it.

As for the Kindle version, it had the usual occasional typo, but nothing major. The biggest miss here is not having some sort of introduction or critical material. HOD is such a difficult book and I would recommend that most people buy a version with additional material to help them navigate the story.

Sarah's Key
Sarah's Key
by Tatiana de Rosnay
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.30
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The reverberations of history, June 6, 2011
This review is from: Sarah's Key (Paperback)
Sarah's Key follows two plot lines. The first, set in Paris in July 1942, tells the fictional story of ten year-old Sarah, who is taken away with her parents in the infamous Vel' d'Hiv roundup of Jews by the French police, which really did happen at the instigation of the occupying Nazis. As the police allow the family to gather their things, Sarah locks her younger brother in a tiny, hidden cupboard, and promises to return. We then follow her as she is lead through different stops on the way to Auschwitz, witnessing the horrors of their confinement, the realization that she is not meant to return home slowly dawning on her. But she is intent to keep her promise.

The second storyline is set sixty years later, about Julia Jarmond, an American living in Paris with her French husband and daughter. She's a journalist working at an American magazine. She is dissatisfied with her life, primarily with her chauvinistic husband. Then she is assigned to cover the sixtieth anniversary of the Vel'd'Hiv round-up, and her research brings her into Sarah's world, and drastically changes the direction of her own life.

This is a fantastic and moving novel. It grabs the reader immediately. De Rosnay alternates between Sarah and Julia's stories with short, alternating chapter so we're never far away from either character. She writes crisply, with very few digressions from these characters utterly compelling stories. She deftly and compassionately handles the various interests in the narrative, which not only include Sarah's desire to free her brother and Julia's journey into the heart of Sarah's story, but also the French guilt over the events. This book demonstrates how history can reverberate for decades after its written.

I thought de Rosnay's one mis-step was her characterization of Julia's husband. He's depicted as a cad, and it's hard to fathom how Julia could have ever loved him. Attempts to portray him empathetically are too little, too late. Still, it's the only thing I found to fault this book. This is definitely one to pick-up if you haven't already.

The Pale King
The Pale King
by David Foster Wallace
Edition: Hardcover
104 used & new from $0.45

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and gutsy work, June 4, 2011
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This review is from: The Pale King (Hardcover)
The Pale King is the unfinished novel David Foster Wallace had been writing for more than a decade when he committed suicide in 2008. More than 1,000 pages of narrative and notes were found amongst Wallace's belongings after his death and narrowed down by his editor, Michael Pietsch, into this 50-chapter, 538-page work. The project must have been daunting.

Readers of Wallace's previous works will know that reading him is difficult. He largely ignored the basic building blocks of fiction, like linear plot and rhythm. He often wrote in long, multi-clause sentences, about mundane things. And The Pale King sticks mostly to form.

The novel is about a group of IRS `wigglers', the agents who give a tax return its first look. It's set in the mid 80's, when Reagan-era tax reform resulted in massive changes to the code and a power struggle at the agency. The plot, such as it is, is about competing groups within the agency: the old-guard who sees tax collection as a matter of `self-righteousness' and pride in the patriotic hard work that goes into it; and the new guard, who want to run the agency like a business and focus on revenue-maximization.

Of course, this plot never resolves, either because the work is unfinished or because it wasn't Wallace's primary goal. His primary goal was to show us the boredom and tedium of the job as a proxy for the boredom and tedium of life. This was a major concern of his, getting us out of our comfortable but unconscious minds and into a life of full presence and compassion. (His book, This is Water, is a reprint of his 2005 commencement speech to Kenyon college in which this was the major theme.) And he does this by taking us into the world of these agents, showing us the ennui of their work and lives, and then pulling us back out before we get swallowed up and bored ourselves. (I assume that was the plan anyway.) This is a risky undertaking, and Wallace was probably the only writer who would have tried it and the only writer who could pull it off. (Maybe with the exception of Franzen.)

For example, here's a snippet from one thankfully short chapter: "Howard Cardwell turns a page. Ken Wax turns a page. "Groovy" Bruce Channing attaches a form to a file. Ann Williams turns a page." And so on. But then he writes a long, beautifully-written chapter relating the death of one agent's father and we're captivated. Much of the book's tension comes from this push and pull between tedium and beauty. One chapter will leave you scratching your head and the next will leave you in awe.

There's also irony and humor in great abundance, two other hallmarks of Wallace's writing. He inserts a character who happens to be named David Wallace, though not meant to be the author, and not content with that, he pushes the joke further by only using his trademark footnotes in those chapters. He turns a Greyhound and shuttle bus ride into a hysterical reading experience. A 50-plus page dialogue between a beautiful female and male co-worker keeps us engaged that long mostly because of the painfully funny tension Wallace creates from the male character's shy and almost autistic manner of conversation.

As with any book, there are flaws. Almost all the characters are male and sound very similar to the author himself. The novel isn't complete and probably isn't in the form the author intended it to be read, so there will always be doubts about its structure. And this is a messy, challenging read, so is only for anyone willing to be patient with it-- probably, unfortunately, a small segment of the population.

But this is a work that deserves attention. What Wallace was trying to do was both gutsy and brilliant. It's no wonder he hadn't finished even after ten years. There are very few authors who challenge their readers the way Wallace did. And probably none who challenged them to the extent he did. His death was a major loss.

Norwegian Wood
Norwegian Wood
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.44
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A coming of age story that you won't be able to put down, May 8, 2011
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This review is from: Norwegian Wood (Paperback)
Murakami is someone I've never fully embraced, yet keep coming back to. I don't like some of the fantastic and surreal elements of his writing, but I'm also drawn by the energy, intelligence, and inventiveness of it. And I also love how he infuses his work with elements of Western culture, especially music.

Norwegian Wood is a straight-on story about love and loss, and coming of age. It's not cluttered by any surrealism or fantasy. And it's loaded with musical references to classical and jazz, as well as the Western rock music of the late sixties. (As the title would suggest.) Thus, Norwegian Wood was exactly the right Murakami book to pick up next, the one book to push me further into his work.

It tells the story of Toru Watanabe, a college freshman living in Tokyo. Like many young men his age, he doesn't know what he wants to do with his life, and majors in drama for no real reason. And like many men his age, women both complicate and clarify things.

He has relationships with two completely different women: the troubled and introspective Naoko and the outgoing and spunky Midori. Naoko poses the most trouble for Toru for many reasons. First, she's the ex-girlfriend of Toru's best friend in high school, Kizuki, who committed suicide at 17. Kizuki's death had a major impact on both friends. For Naoko, she lost not just a boyfriend, but someone she had known since childhood, someone who had become almost a part of herself. For Toru, his friend's suicide changed his perspective on life, filling everything with the taste of death. `Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it', becomes his new motto.

So when Toru and Naoko meet again, accidentally, on the subway, there's a connection, but a troubled one. The ghost of Kizuki hangs over them. They begin with odd walks through the city, Toru trailing Naoko like a puppy. But eventually a form of love develops. Once things eventually come to a head on her 20th birthday, their relationship becomes further complicated as Naoko runs away to a kind of sanatorium in the mountains over Kyoto. Months pass before Toru even knows where she's gone, and he lives in a sort of limbo, going to school, working at a record store. Waiting.

Meanwhile, he meets Midori, a fellow drama student. They form an immediate bond, though she has a boyfriend and has her own problems with her troubled family life, including a father dying of brain cancer. They become fast friends, and Toru finds himself attracted to her despite the pain he still feels at the loss of Naoko.

Of course, Naoko muddies the waters again by writing him to tell him where she is and inviting him to visit. There he meets Naoko's roommate, Reiko, an older woman with a talent for music. The three spend much time sitting around while Reiko plays guitar for them, including Naoko's favorite song, Norwegian Wood. In a sense, Reiko becomes the third woman in Toru's life, because she is open, and they develop a friendship in his short time there. With Naoko, he learns some more about her issues, but just enough happens to keep him connected to her, not enough to resolve their love. He is still in a limbo.

Murakami teases the frustrations of this state out of Toru. Toru agonizes over his dilemma, stuck between a woman he loves but can't have and a great woman he can have. Midori begins to fall for him and pressures him. But he's waiting for something to happen. Of course, something does. But then what? Has he waited too long?

This is a great story, but it is further strengthened by great characters. Besides Toru and Midori, whose honest, straight-forward manners combine with deep vulnerabilities to make them both irresistible, Murakami fills the landscape with great supporting actors as well. Reiko steals each scene she walks into. Toru's anal roommate "Storm Trooper" makes for some good laughs, and is a great source of conversation for Toru. Nagasawa is a privileged student of an elite university who is drawn to Toru through a shared love of Western literature and uses his influence to help Toru out of a few jams. Yet his arrogance and womanizing also adds a layer of complexity to the friendship, as these traits both compel and repulse Toru. The characters really make this book hard to put down.

Norwegian Wood is a great read and will definitely keep me on the path to reading more Murakami.

by Shusaku Endo
Edition: Paperback
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A challenging and masterful look at faith, May 6, 2011
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This review is from: Silence (Paperback)
Shusaki Endo's masterpiece, Silence, tells the tale of a 17th c Portuguese priest, a Father Rodrigues, who goes to Japan to ease the suffering of Japanese Catholics, who at this point in history were being run underground and killed by the government, and to investigate the supposed apostasy of another priest, a Father Ferreira, a real-life historic figure.

Fr Rodrigues is a man of strong faith, as demonstrated by the hardship he suffers on his voyage to Japan. Despite the difficult journey, he is anxious to provide succor to the faithful there, and in fact goes on with the final leg of the journey despite being begged not to by the rector of the Catholic college in Macao, who warns Rodrigues and his traveling companion, Father Garrpe, of the dangers awaiting them. But much of the book tests that faith.

Upon arrival, the pair immediately discovers a Christian village, thanks to the help of a Japanese Catholic they found at Macao, named Kichijiro. They are pleased with this quick luck and see it as a sign of God's blessing for their mission. But they soon become disillusioned because they can only practice their faith in symbolic bits and pieces so as not to alert the vigilant samurais always on the lookout for Catholics. They spend almost all their time in a shack high up on a mountain overlooking the village, disappointed and anxious to help, until their presence causes trouble for the village and they are forced to flee. The two priests split up at this point to lessen the chance of both of them being captured, and we only see Garrpe in one more, horrific scene.

Meanwhile, Rodrigues continues to run into trouble, often at the hand of the Judas-like Kichijiro. Throughout, his faith seems to dwindle as he sees more and more Christian suffering at the hands of the Japanese officials. The title of the book comes from Rodrigues's frustration at God's silence while all the suffering occurs in His name. The Japanese authorities used torture to force Christians to perform fumie, or the ritual trampling of Christ's image, to prove that they weren't Christians. In Rodrigues's presence however, this practice is turned on its head as they force him to choose between the cessation of the suffering and his own faith. They bleed him slowly, torturing him without having to physically do so.

Silence is rightfully called Endo's masterpiece, and one of the best novels of the last century. I felt the book started a little slow, but once it got going, it really got going. At first, Endo uses letters from Rodrigues to relate the story, and I think that contributed to its slow start. But later, after we reach a point where the writing of letters probably couldn't have happened, he switches to 3rd person. He also shifts from past to present tense to further dramatize certain scenes, and I found this more effective. The coda of the book is in the form of diary written by a Dutch clerk. (Anyone who has read David Mitchell's fantastic "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet will know all about the Dutch in Japan at this point in history.)

Of most importance to this work are the moral dilemmas we discover. There are of course the many crises of faith the Rodrigues endures, and the dissonance of faith for a God who seems absent. But in a dramatic moment, towards the end of the aforementioned horrific scene, a Japanese interpreter unleashes on the priest: "Father, have you thought of the suffering you have inflicted on so many peasants just because of your dream, just because you want to impose your selfish dream on Japan." The interpreter flips the perspective both on Rodrigues and the reader, who will feel unsure for a moment who the bad guy is here. It's a momentary sensation, but it will come and go throughout the remainder of the book, especially when Fr Ferriera finally enters the stage. It is masterful work by Endo.

Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age (New York Review Books Classics)
Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age (New York Review Books Classics)
by Bohumil Hrabal
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.08
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The old man at the bar, May 3, 2011
Bohumil Hrabal, who is probably the best-known and most important Czech writer of the second-half of the twentieth century after Milan Kundera, began writing professionally late in life. His first collection of poetry wasn't published until after World War II, when he was 34. The communist regime then forced him into an underground writing group, in which he wrote but didn't publish. It wasn't until the early sixties, then almost fifty, that he became a writer by profession. It was around this time, in 1964, that he published Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age. It is perhaps because the author was himself advanced in age when he wrote it that this book seems more reminiscence than novel.

Hrabal often wrote in long sentences, but DLFTAIA pushes this style to the limit: it is one 117-page sentence. Of course, it isn't really one long sentence. It's stream of consciousness punctuated with commas where periods should rightly go. I considered this to be a gimmick at first, but the style seems a good artistic choice given the novel is nothing more than one long monologue of an old man, telling stories to a group of women. (And us.) But he doesn't just tell us stories. He unleashes a cascade of anecdotes, jokes, and maxims.

We learn that the narrator has remained a lifelong bachelor, and was at various times a soldier, a shoemaker, and a brewer. He brags of his many sexual conquests, the majority of which were initiated by women (he would seem to have been a looker in his day). So though he does ramble, we're amused because it's obvious he's led an interesting life and done lots of things. He's a good and vivid storyteller, though he won't stick with one particular story very long and like many older folks, is easily distracted. He tells us about an acquaintance,

"...a hatter from Prostejov (who) once told me he took a woman with a glass eye to the pictures and she sneezed and it flew out and during the break they had to go crawling under the seats for it, but she found it and wiped it off, pulled up her eyelid, and pop! in it went.."

before moving on to a friend named Kocourek, who,

"had a bandaged finger, and one day he was stuffing liverwursts and the bandage disappeared into one of them, and because chances were an enlisted man would get the one with the bandage he forgot about it, but guess what young ladies, it was the doctor! (the one who bandaged him) ...he was on his third liverwurst, and the minute he cut into it he recognized his handiwork and puked and Kocourek was sent to the front..."

And so on.

He sometimes pleasantly surprises us by throwing in profound bits, such as,

"marriage is like dragging a cow hide along a sheet of thin ice"


"Socrates and Christ they never wrote a line yet their teachings are still valid, while others are less read the more books they publish".

Like anyone who has really lived life, simple reflections can sometimes carry the knowledge of centuries, and we recognize his and our own inward smiles as he unleashes this wisdom.

But reading this book is a bit like sitting at a bar with any old man who's rambling on about his life; and like anyone rambling on about their lives, he goes on too long. It's getting late and our eyes are starting to glaze over. We try to suppress a yawn. We sense there's some underlying order to his stories, some pattern to it all, but we can't figure it out and begin not to care. Then he gets a little crude, telling us about a friend who pisses on people. Then he get real dark as he relates the scene of a policeman catching a woman in the act of sawing meat off her own dead and hanging daughter. Still, we feel bad because he is an old man after all. He probably doesn't have anyone to talk to anymore. We realize how important this time to reflect is for him, how proud he is to share his life experiences and knowledge. But we can't help it. We have to interrupt him to excuse ourselves. DLFTAIA ends without punctuation-- no periods pollute this work, perhaps as a sign the old man will go on without us.

Hrabal is a great writer and he writes of weighty matters, even when he's being funny. This juxtaposition of light and dark is in fact a strength of his. As are his his vivid renderings of these experiences. But like the listener at the bar, I could only take so much. I enjoyed it for awhile, but tired out long before he did. I feel bad about not loving this book since he is such a great writer, but I just can't. I can appreciate it, but it remains at arm's length. It entertained for part of an evening, but it won't be long before the experience will be gone from my mind completely. Except perhaps for stray images of eyeballs rolling along the floor of a darkened theater, or a mother hacking her daughter to pieces.

Thousand Cranes
Thousand Cranes
by Yasunari Kawabata
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.20
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5.0 out of 5 stars Of timelessness and the transience of human life and love, April 27, 2011
This review is from: Thousand Cranes (Paperback)
Thousand Cranes is about a young man named Kikuji, whose mother and father have died. His father's presence still weighs heavily on events however, in the form of two of his former lovers, Chikako Kurimoto and Mrs. Ota. The first things we learn about Chikako is that she is having a tea ceremony and has a birthmark on her breast, which Kawabata seems to use to mark her as the outcast in events. And as we will see, it seems Chikako was merely a plaything for Kikuji's father, while Mrs. Ota was a truer love. Chikako is now bitter about this, and meddles hurtfully in Kikuji's life. When Kikuji follows in his father's footsteps and has an affair with Mrs. Ota, Chikako tries to disturb this in many ways, primarily by trying to set Kikuji up in marriage.

Kawabata uses the tea ceremony to add meaning to the novel. Much is discussed about tea bowls that have been passed down and used in formal and informal ways. Indeed, just as tea bowls have been passed down through generations, so have lovers, as Kikuji takes first Mrs Ota as a lover, and then later falls in love with her daughter, Fumiko, after Mrs Ota commits suicide in shame over the affair. Kawabata writes beautifully of the timelessness of things in contrast to the transience of human life and love. It is a brilliant formulation, simple in its application but deep in its meaning.

I enjoyed Thousand Cranes more than Kawabata's masterpiece Snow Country because it had more energy. There is certainly subtlety here, and as with the tea ceremony, plenty of metaphor. But I was thoroughly engaged by every page Thousand Cranes. There is more drama and more pointed dialogue here than in Snow Country. Thus I think this book would play better with modern readers. This is a good entry point for anyone interested in Japanese literature generally and Kawabata in particular.

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