Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
(Alfred A. Knopf, New York: 1988)

Translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman, 1988.

READ: March 2007

I'd read One Hundred Years of Solitude many, many years ago (back in high school, in fact), and really enjoyed it. This book was one of the few left to me by my predecessor, but I hadn't gotten around to reading it yet.

Now, I was feeling a bit down about Japan at the time I read it, so I think it was a bit of a relief to be so suddenly transported to Colombia. It is the story of Florentino Ariza and his lifelong wait for Fermina Daza, a beautiful, haughty woman who once told him she would marry him but then did not.

It was a compelling read. It was supposed to be the book I brought with me on my trip to Hokkaido, but I handily finished it in the 3 days before leaving. That being said, I started to be filled with dread sometime during the last 100 pages. The characters were starting to do and say things that I thought were leading to a dumb, Disneyfied, happy ending. While that's a bit harsh, I was disappointed in the end. I guess I just don't have any sympathy for Ariza, who spends his life in a weird fantasy world where everything is done with the intention that one day Fermina Diaz will come back to him, and when she does, everything must be just so. I see that as being a bit compulsive, in a creepy way rather than a cute, or devoted, way. Maybe I'm just too unromantic to appreciate it.

Vintage Murakami by Haruki Murakami

Vintage Murakami
Haruki Murakami
(Vintage Books, USA: 2004)

Includes the opening chapter of his novel Norwegian Woods; "Lieutenant Mamiya's Long Story: Parts I and II" from his novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle; "Shizuko Akashi" from his non-fiction book on the 1995 Tokyo subway attacks, Underground; and the short stories, "Barn Burning", "honey pie", and "ice man".

READ: March 2007

Reading this collection of works from Murakami, who is apparently one of Japan's top contemporary authors, was a bit of a tease. I'd just start getting into a story when it would end, leaving me wanting more. Luckily, many of these stories are, of course, parts of longer novels, and so someday, more I can get!

His style is sparser than I normally like (sometimes I wonder if that's more of a translation thing, though I guess the trick to being a good translator is to use a style consistent with the author's style in their original language), but they are interesting and insightful. The excerpts from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in particular still leave me shuddering while thinking about them late at night (almost a month after I finished reading the book!), and I may definitely have to read that entire book someday, if none other, in order to exorcise those memories.

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham

The Moon and Sixpence
W. Somerset Maugham
(Penguin Books, London: 1944)

First published in Great Britain by William Heinemann Ltd. in 1919.

READ: March 2007

I hadn't read this kind of book in a while (you know, "real" literature) and wasn't sure what to expect, but it had an interesting premise as being loosely based on Paul Gauguin's life.

Well, once I picked it up, I almost couldn't put it down, and finished it in a compulsive burst of reading. I think it took me three days, and only then because I had to stop reading for sleeping and working. The narrator, a writer (go figure), is likeable enough, but the main subject, Charles Strickland, is a thoroughly disagreeable, unlikeable man. Yet somehow it didn't matter. The book is cleverly written in such a way that I spent my time not wondering what is going to happen to Strickland, which would have held much less interest for me (we know the outcome from page one anyway), but in a way that compelled me to see how the narrator learned more about Strickland. It's really quite good. Disappointing lack of anybody resembling Vincent van Gogh, however. ;)

Wild Grass: China's Revolution from Below by Ian Johnson

Wild Grass: China's Revolution from Below
Ian Johnson
(Penguin Group, London: 2004)

Some of the material previously appeared in a slightly different form in the Wall Street Journal .

READ: March 2007

Here's an excellent example of how a well-respected journalist should write a book based on his columns and expertise in a particular area.

Ian Johnson is a roving correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, and lived in Beijing for seven years. In his book, Wild Grass, he tells the stories of three people in China, three stories of people who tried in little ways to resist the corruption and oppression of the Communist Party. The first is a paralegal who is jailed for having helped peasants mount a legal battle against illegal taxes. Second is an architect fighting to save Beijing's historic buildings, which are being destroyed at an alarming rate. The last is a daughter who has been jailed and running into difficulties with authorities because she tried to find out answers about her mother's death in prison (where she was jailed as a Falun Gong practitioner).

I know shamefully little about China and its politics, and understand even less. I was depressed for at least two days straight after finishing this book. That being said, it was an excellent read and I strongly encourage anyone with any interest in the outside world (esp politics) to read it. Johnson knows his subject, he knows how to make a story interesting, and he knows how to make things resonate on a personal level. There were a few "of course Communism is bad and of course it is failing" moments, but overall, he does a good job of exposing the Chinese government's current weaknesses in policy and strategy without devolving too far into the land of democracy-and-market-freedom-is-great. It is well-written, and the endnotes put Thomas Friedman to shame.*

* Not that that is very hard to do.

Mightier than the Sword: "Who's Afraid of Beowulf?" by Tom Holt

Mightier than the Sword: "Who's Afraid of Beowulf?"
Tom Holt
(Orbit, London: 2002)

Mightier than the Sword is Tom Holt's Omnibus 2 which consists of the novels "Who's Afraid of Beowulf?" and "My Hero". "Who's Afraid of Beowulf?" first published by McMillan (London) Limited in 1988.

READ: March 2007

Hildy Frederiksen is just your average archaeologist until the day she accidentally awakens King Hrolf Earthstar and his twelve companions from their centuries-old sleep. King Hrolf is determined to carry on, and finish once and for all, his war against the Sorceror King.

This is only the second book of Tom Holt's that I have read. I quite enjoy his style so far, and plan on reading more (including, of course, the second novel that is included in this book, "My Hero"). He's a bit of an oddball, an interesting mix of scifi-meets-fantasy-meets-humour. Anyway, this book was quite enjoyable; a quick, easy, entertaining read (just over 200 pages), and made me laugh out loud at a number of points.