Book Review | Men without Women by Haruki Murakami

men without women.jpegIt’s always exciting when your favorite author comes out with a new book. Last month, Murakami’s newest collection of short stories, Men without Women, was released in the US. With seven stories included, this book was a quick read. Versions of some stories had previously been published by The New Yorker or Freeman’s. As the title suggests, these tales share a similar thread: men without women. The men are affected differently by their lack of women in each story, and Murakami uses the circumstances to share interesting insights about love, relationships and matters of the heart.

Though certainly not a happy, feel good book, it was an enjoyable read. Murakami’s signature style is evident and comforting, like an old friend. The stories jump right in and hold the reader’s attention. The characters are anonymous enough to be relatable for many readers, yet developed and well-rounded. Manageable section lengths make the book easy to pick up and put down. This book most reminded me of Murakami’s previous work South of the Border, West of the Sun. It is more of a return to the quality of the author’s earlier works than some more recent publications may have been. Highly recommended for long time Murakami fans, those who enjoy a short story, and those looking for insights into matters of the heart. It’s new now and there are likely to be several holds, but check it out from a library near you!

*If you’ve enjoyed reading Men without Women, you may be interested in This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz (2012).

Book Review | The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura

nakamura gun.jpegTranslated from the Japanese, The Gun is a noir story following college student Toro. On a rainy night Toro discovers the scene of a suicide in his neighborhood while heading home. After short consideration, he decides to take off with the gun and not report the incident. The gun becomes his focus, a new companion whose affection he wishes to earn. This attention grows into an obsession as Toro convinces himself that he must use the gun as it was meant to be used.

Nakamura’s writing style in this text is very distinctive. He focuses on the plot above the development of characters, of which there are only a handful. The noir writing is concise and without much feeling, as are the events and characters. The book is a quick read, very easy to follow, with only a few repetitive instances. It would appeal to crime fiction, noir or Japanese literature fans. Ultimately, there seems to be a message the author wishes to convey with The Gun. Check it out from a library near you.

This text was originally published in Japan in 2003, but not translated into English until 2015 by Allison Markin Powell. It was the winner of the Shinchō Prize for debut fiction in Japan. 

Exhibition | Behind the Glass Eye: Photographs by Toyo Miyatake at KSU’s Beach Museum of Art

Miyatake worked in Los Angeles in the 1920’s and 30’s after immigrating from Japan. With the advent of World War II, he was placed in an internment camp and continued to take photographs. He was inspired by Edward Weston and offers unique perspective in his photographs. 

From April 5 through July 31, 2016 Miyatake’s photography exhibit will be on display at the Beach Museum

                

Film Review | Journey to the Shore (Kishibe no tabi) directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

indexThree years after his disappearance, Mizuki’s husband Yusuke returns home and calmly explains to his wife that he drowned at sea. Pleased that he has finally come back to her, Mizuki seems mostly unfazed by the fact that her husband is dead. Yusuke asks her to go away with him and she agrees, leaving the mundane life she has established as a children’s piano teacher behind. The couple embarks on a journey where they cross paths with various people in need of some type of spiritual release, ranging from a man whose wife has abandoned him, to a couple who has lost a child.

This movie was very well done. It was both moving and thought provoking. Although it dealt with seemingly impossible happenings, such as dead people blending in among the living, Kurosawa has done so tastefully, in a palatable manner. The movie captured my interest from the beginning and continued to keep my attention for the whole two hour duration. Fans of Japanese cinema are likely to enjoy this feature, especially because it moves at a decent pace with a logical and easy to follow plot. It may also appeal to those going through relationship issues away from a loved one or those who may have lost someone very close to them.

Book Review | Sad Peninsula by Mark Sampson

book cover - sad peninsula by mark sampsonSad Peninsula is an excellent read, one of my favorite in 2014. This novel actually shares two storylines and protagonists. Chapters alternate focus between Michael, a modern day Canadian man working abroad in South Korea as an ESL teacher at a cram school, and Eun-Young, a young Korean woman kidnapped by the Japanese during World War II and forced to serve as a “comfort woman” for the soldiers in their camps. Michael has come to Korea to escape a journalistic career catastrophe and failed relationship. During a night out on the town with his buddies he meets Jin, Eun-Young’s grand-niece, and they begin dating. Back in 1943 the story begins with the Japanese occupation in Korea and Eun-Young going to school. After she is taken, we experience her trauma as a sex slave in the war camps.

Sampson delves deeply into both of these characters’ stories. He paints clear pictures of the emotions and situations that both Michael and Eun-Young are experiencing. This was a book that I continually wanted to get back to reading. I was interested in the many details shared concerning an English speaker living in Korea and also in the historical aspects of the text. Though some of the passages from Eun-Young’s past were sexually graphic, they were not overdone or without purpose. This book would appeal to those interested in living abroad, historical fiction buffs, and those who enjoy an emotion packed read. Check out Sad Peninsula from a library near you.

Book Review | The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

book cover the strange library by haruki murakami english edMurakami followers are psyched about this month’s English release of illustrated novella The Strange Library. Previously released in Japan in 2005 as Fushigi na toshokan, the work was a revised edition of 1982 story Toshokan kitan. At just about 100 pages, this book is really a bedtime story for adults. The story follows a student to the public library. He’s looking for some books about tax collection in the Ottoman Empire when the librarian refers him to a research room that he hasn’t previously heard of. Upon entering the room, he’s greeted by an eerie old man who fetches the books he’s after, but then imprisons him deep in the bowels of the library.

Long time Murakami fans will be delighted with the return of the sheepman from the “Trilogy of the Rat”: Pinball, 1973, A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance. More recent fans will appreciate stylistic similarities and textual magical realism or surrealism. This book will get you laughing. Though this story could be thought of for children, it may also make them afraid of the library or older librarians – beware. Check to see if this book is available at a library near you. After you’ve finished reading it, hop over to the New Yorker’s page to read Murakami’s short story Scheherazade that they published in October.

Book Review | Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

book cover Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki MurakamiMore than a year after its release in Japan, Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, debuted in English last month. The wait had been a long one for Murakami fans who quickly devoured the previous tome, 1Q84, after its English release in 2011. Colorless currently tops the New York Times hardcover fiction list, just as Japanese sellers struggled to keep up with buyer demand for the release in April last year. The sales may be more of a nod to Murakami’s successful career and fan following than a reflection of this book’s greatness in comparison to others he’s written.

Main character Tsukuru Tazaki is an engineer in his mid-30’s working to update and build railway stations near Tokyo. He’s dating a slightly older woman and finds it to be one of his first meaningful relationships, but seems stuck with how to progress. As they get to know each other better, she deduces that his current emotional troubles have deep roots going back to friendship bonds formed in high school. Through the book, we witness Tsukuru battling past and present demons in a meaningful and mostly straight-forward way.

This book left me wanting more. Of course, as a fan, I’d like each new Murakami book to be better than the last, but this novel wasn’t better. Murakami does a great job laying a difficult story line and keeping the serious and somber tone without over-dramatizing, but something seems missing. Colorless does not have some of the same elements of magical realism or surrealism as other Murakami favorites like A Wild Sheep Chase or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but it has a few missing connections that don’t quite come together, like in After Dark. Overall, I enjoyed the book. The characters were realistic and many Murakami-isms came through – classical and jazz music, Cutty Sark, swimming, dreams and interpersonal relationships. The novel allowed the reader to pass into the life of another (slice of life), a realistic portrayal of what someone else might have struggled with. For Murakami fans, or those interested in a serious, somewhat psychological read, check out Colorless from the library if you can handle the hold queue, or buy the ebook on Google Play.