Archive for Book review

1Q84

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 19, 2013 by cgeary

I listened to 38 discs of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. This is the third book of his I have listened to and this story contained many of the same elements as his other books – magical realism/surrealism – leaving one reality to enter another one that leaves us slightly off kilter…cats…an examination of consciousness and time and memory. This book contains a story within a story. The inside story is proposed as a book of fantasy that an editor and a writer try to appropriate for their own benefit…one for money the other for what it gives him as a writer…but they end up being appropriated by the story itself which reveals itself to be true but possibly only in one dimension of realty. In the end we don’t know exactly where this dimension begins and ends, but it feels plausible that the main characters went into it and came back out of it again. It is very Alice in Wonderland like. The main character goes down the rabbit hole and finds herself in a set of circumstances subtly different than what she knows, but different enough to make her question what is going on. Everything isn’t different, but the things that are lead her down a path that takes her to her one true love.

 

At its core this is a love story between Aomame and Tengo who are now both 30 but knew each other as children. An event when they were 10 years old remained in the memory and hearts as they grew older. Though Aomame’s family moved away and they had not seen each other for twenty years, they each yearned in their separate ways for a truth they had experienced earlier. A very interesting (and much shorter) novel could have been written about this love story without the surrealistic story created for 1Q84. The use of an alternative dimension to support the quest of Aomame and Tengo to find each other is almost decoration, rather than substance. At times I was annoyed with it and other times I was charmed by it. I kept hanging on trying to understand it, to grasp what I thought Murakami might be trying to say or at least get us to think about. It certainly provided the opportunity to consider themes common to many of his books such as time, memory, consciousness, ethical ambiguity, children at the mercy of overbearing parents and cats. As in his other books, discussion of Western culture is sprinkled throughout – classical music, movies and Carl Jung. It was hard not to think of the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet, and Tengo alluded to Macbeth more than once. The setting in 1984 means relying on technology of that time and the plot is constrained by this feature. (Many times I thought…if only they had the internet or cell phones this wouldn’t be a problem.) There is so much discussion of the NHK (Japan’s television channel) and collectors of the monthly subscription fee, I was wondering what bad experience Murakami had with them get such a prominently unattractive role in this book.

 

There is something in Murakami’s style that makes me feel like I am in the almost dream world he describes while I am listening to it. I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly, but it pulls me in, even when I’m feeling uncomfortable with the action or the fantasy seems to be too much. I worried that I would be let down by the ending, but I liked the ending and thought the book was thought-provoking and entertaining and I have not quite shaken 1Q84 out of my consciousness.

On reading Sacred Hunger (by Barry Unsworth) (Part 2)

Posted in Comment with tags on April 2, 2013 by cgeary

The historical theme of this book was slavery and the ways in which power of the wealthy and privileged is institutionalized in the social fabric of our lives, but it is also very impressive how Unsworth deals with the intrapsychic and the interpersonal aspects of our lives that are pervasive across time and geography. The largest arc of the story focuses on the power of intense emotion felt in one act that propels actions of one of the characters across a lifetime. In this case the emotion was humiliation and I think was very particular to how men relate to each other, though I can think of other seemingly small actions in the lives of women that could have similarly longlasting effects. I don’t want to say more for those who might want to read the book. I mention it here though just to say that part of the joy of reading the book was that it was engaging at many different levels and I am awed by novelists who can do this well. 

On reading Sacred Hunger (by Barry Unsworth) (Part 1)

Posted in Comment with tags on April 2, 2013 by cgeary

This is a very compelling, very beautifully written novel. The story was about the European slave trade to the Americas in the 1700’s, but for me, it very quickly took me on a personal journey into moral ambiguity. How could slavery occupy any gray area? I started out the book thinking, “Everyone blames America, but really it was the Europeans who started this and profited as much from it.” I was not removing blame from the Americans who profited but somehow (sadly), it made me feel a little less guilty as an American, but only for a little while. The book does an excellent job of situating the slavery into a seemingly rational way of life that helps us understand how evil is sustained. We are introduced to amiable characters who are part of the slave trade who do not seem to be monsters; there are many ways in which we relate to them, understand them. They are people trying to make a living, who love their families, who want them to prosper. This is just one of many ways they seek to grow their wealth. It seems reasonable to them. For them it is just part of the world of trade, and they believe it is trade from Africa to Jamaica back to England that propels progress (and innovation?) and improves the lives of everyone. It is easy to get sucked into the drama of their day-to-day lives and forget the horror of how they make their living. Even the most enlightened characters, at least initially, have no moral outrage against slavery. And it is not just Africans whose freedom is compromised, nor is it only the English who enslave Africans. A number of the crew were pressed into service and it was African “middle men” who captured men and women and sell them to the ship’s captain, taking a cut along the way and making things better for themselves and their families.

So, I had this rude awakening that I can’t feel better about myself because I can just blame the English in the 18th century for these crimes against humanity. It is everyone that lets this happen. Then and now, injustice is part of a system that is difficult to disentangle. Or at least that is what the people who are profiting from it want you to believe. That it is too complicated and that there will be unintended consequences…that someone else will get hurt along the way…that you just don’t understand. “It’s not that easy,” is what my father used to say when I would complain about sexism or racism or the Vietnam War. But now I believe that is all subterfuge. There has to be a way to cut through what is wrong to get through what is right.

Slavery is still happening around the world, just not as blatantly, not openly supported by legitimate governments, but undoubtedly happening with many governments turning a blind eye. And thinking about slavery made me think of every other morally reprehensible act that enables us to live in relative comfort and luxury while it causes pain to or degrades other human beings. Start anywhere…sweat shops…mining…the toxicity from manufacturing that is in our soil and water and bodies..…the tragedy of drug addiction while so much money lines the pockets of criminals and politicians and is laundered through ‘legitimate’ businesses. Think of the arms trade all around the world and think of the guns that are bought and sold and stockpiled in the United States and politicians too gutless or evil to take a stand against laws giving people the right to own assault weapons. And how pharmaceutical companies use the bodies of people in developing countries to test new drugs. Undoubtedly some benefit could accrue to these people, but not in proportion to the benefit realized from drug companies. We do not push ourselves hard enough to see the interconnectedness of everything or to figure out how to leave the faintest mark on the world. It is all complicated, and sometimes there seems to only be a choice between several evils, but the consideration of the effects of what we do on others and the intention to create as few negative consequences as possible will create the possibility of it while looking the other way will not.

The genius of this book, for me, was that the story held up a mirror to my own ability to ignore evil in everyday life and to acknowledge that the bad stuff it not “out there” but everywhere where we do not acknowledge it and try to stop it.