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 | Brussels Noir edited by Michel Dufranne

What a fun, quick read this book turned out to be!

Brussels Noir is comprised of 13 short stories divided into three categories. Stories range in length from about 15-30 pages each with varying themes and styles. While reading them, I found myself laughing and crying as the authors really have done a great job here.

As for the noir title, I’d say it’s best not to go in with too many expectations. More than typically noir, I found the stories to simply focus on some of the darker aspects of life. The surreal section of stories was especially impressive and would certainly appeal to fans of magical realism.

I’d definitely recommend this book to those who enjoy short stories with a slightly macabre leaning, fans of Haruki Murakami and readers looking for a travel-themed read. Check it out from your local library.

I received an advance reading copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to the authors/editor/publisher for participating.

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. 

Book Review | The Mountains of Parnassus by Czeslaw Milosz

mountains of parnassus.jpegPublished in Polish in 2012, The Mountains of Parnassus was completed by Nobel Prize winner Milosz in the early 1970’s. Though the novel is classified as science fiction, it is dystopian fiction and currently quite applicable. The book is broken into seven sections and introduces the reader to four distinct characters: an astronaut, a cardinal, an exiled man and a struggling man. Each character has a very different story, which allows for wider reader appeal.

The quality of the writing in this book is excellent. Milosz has set some feelings in words in a very touching way. Some of the characters were easier to relate to than others, and their stories combined well to form the novel. It is a quick read, more of a novella that can be read in a few hours. The text is thought provoking and considering when it was originally written, brings to mind the foresight seen in the writing of Ira Levin. This English translation is expected to be published on January 10, 2017.

I received an advance uncorrected proof of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the translator/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

Book Review | The Storm by Akiko Miyakoshi

book cover the storm by Akiko Miyakoshi

The Storm is about a school age boy excited for a weekend trip to the beach. When a storm threatens to ruin the family’s plans, he dreams up a solution.

I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway. It is the new (April 2016) English language translation of the Japanese story published by the author in 2009. I was impressed with the hardcover’s physical quality when it arrived. The story itself was just alright. As other readers have mentioned, the drawings are of more interest than the plot. While the story could maintain the interest of a small child, it’s not interesting enough for an adult to really want to reread it. Though there isn’t much text, it wouldn’t be a great beginner book for learning to read because of some difficult words. Although not aimed at older children, they may possibly gain inspiration from the many detailed drawings. Check out this new release from a library near you!

Book Review | Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila

tram 83 english book coverTranslated from the French, Tram 83 is Mwanza Mujila’s first novel and takes place in an unnamed African city-state resembling the DR Congo. Two middle-aged men, old friends Requiem and Lucien are the main characters. Requiem is heavily involved in illegal activity and Lucien, with a history degree, is trying to make it as a writer. Their meetings take place mainly in Tram 83, a seedy night club, influenced by surrounding mines, crooked statesmen, student activists, tourists and prostitutes.

Mwanza Mujila’s nonconforming writing style adds flavor to the text, but also at times makes it difficult to understand who’s saying what. Perhaps limiting the aliases and one line repetitions would have served this same purpose. The author has a remarkable talent for humanizing objects and concepts, through detailed descriptions. It was also refreshing for the character of the writer to stick to his ethical guns, despite having an unpopular and uncommon view in his surroundings. This book took nearly 30 pages to become interesting and is not recommended for those sensitive to sexuality in literature. Read the NPR article about the book and if you’re interested, check it out from a library near you.

Book Review | So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood by Patrick Modiano

cover so you don't get lost in the neighborhood by patrick modianoFrom the beginning, this book was an inviting read, but was at times difficult to follow chronologically. Protagonist Jean Daragane is a bit of a hermit in his Paris apartment. He is drawn outside by a strange couple who claims false identities when returning his lost address book. Beyond simple pleasantries, the couple shares documents from a former police investigation and asks for Daragane’s assistance in giving additional background information. At first he is unable to recall any relevant details, but upon closer inspection he realizes just how much of his own past seems to be hidden. 

There are many things to appreciate about So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood. The writing style is very straightforward and concise. Images are depicted fairly well and the main points of the novel are clear. With few characters it is easy to keep them straight during this generously spaced quick read of about 150 pages. If you’re looking for a brief escape to Paris, this will do.

Modiano has chosen three distinct time periods in which this novel’s events occur: Daragane as a child, as a man 15-20 years later, and 40 years later believing himself to be a different person. Without any chapter breaks, I found it hard to tell the exact chronology of events. Characters were not well developed and though this was a conscious choice by the author, I have to question whether the book would have been better served with more text. I found the first half of the book much more intriguing than the second half. Check it out from a library near you. If you really enjoy this book, try The Silence of the Wave by Gianrico Carofiglio