(McClelland & Stewart, Toronto: 2000)
READ: June 2007
As always, I love Michael Ondaatje. I would leave everyone and everything in the material world behind, if only I could spend more time immersed in Ondaatje novels. Seriously.
I've read this one 2 or 3 times now (I've read all his books before, except the new one, Divisadero, for which I am anxiously awaiting the paperback release), and it is coming dangerously close to supplanting "The English Patient" as the most beautifully-written book ever. I love losing myself in his words. This book just gets more delicious each time. Anil is a forensics specialist who returns to her native Sri Lanka after almost two decades abroad as part of a human rights organization investigating some crimes committed during the ongoing civil unrest. It is a beautiful, moving story. Ondaatje was originally a poet, and that influence shows time and time again in his novels. His words are fluid, and trigger vivid images of what he is describing.
To prove I'm not entirely biased, while it is an excellent book, I must admit it is not perfect. The ending left me slightly unsatisfied. It ends quickly, on a sour note (for both the characters and the readers), and feels somewhat unresolved. Perhaps, however, that is a good parallel to the book's tale itself, of war and uncertainty and strife.
The Lady and The Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto
(Knopf (distributed by Random House), New York: 1991)
READ: April-June 2007
In the late 1980s, Pico Iyer came to Kyoto for a year, to try his hand at learning more about the Japanese culture. What he learns, and what any person who has spent a significant chunk of time in the country will likely corroborate, is that Japan is a country of contradictions, a country pushing relentlessly into the future while still holding particular ties to many of its traditional cultural and religious roots.
Iyer doesn't learn this by contemplating in front of a Zen rock garden, however. His guide turns out to be the most unlikely person, a petite, 20-something mother of two called Sachiko. She is small and superbly naive, but she dreams big, sharing her thoughts and ideas in her devil-may-care English.
This was quite a lovely book, though I sometimes found it strange and jarring to be reading it while in Japan. I'm not sure why that was. Perhaps it was that the Japan that I was reading about was all too much like the Japan in which I was actually living. While perhaps that seems strange, it isn't. Iyer's Japan is magical and mundane, steeped in culture and completely removed from the outside world at the same time. This is entirely too much like the Japan I know. If you've never been to Japan, Sachiko's character might seem overly precocious and naive, a cute character sketch from the late 1980s, but not possibly a real person...but once you come here, you realize that not much has changed, and people are really like this.
That aside, it was a great read and I recommend it to anyone who has the slightest interest in Japan. It's a nice, little romance, but can also be taken as much more.