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Rise 2012

Group: Club Read 2012

Club Read 2012

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Edited: Dec 31, 2012, 5:51am

My 2011 reading journal here. Reviews are usually posted first in my blog. Books read (2012):

About This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.


PseudoAbsurdoKapritsoUlo by Ronaldo Vivo Jr., Danell Arquero, Erwin Dayrit, Ronnel Vivo, and Christian De Jesus Tree by F. Sionil José Po-on by F. Sionil José Thousand Cranes by Kawabata Yasunari, trans. Edward G. Seidensticker Three Novellas by Thomas Bernhard, trans. Peter Jansen and Kenneth J. Northcott Meaning and History by Ambeth R. Ocampo Mga Biyahe, Mga Estasyon/Journeys, Junctions by Rio Alma, trans. Marne L. Kilates Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb, trans. Adriana Hunter "Esquire Fiction 2012", ed. Luis Katigbak, in Esquire Philippines, November 2012 (The Fiction Issue) The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea by Mishima Yukio, trans. John Nathan 12 by Manix Abrera Trese: Midnight Tribunal by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo Confessions of a Mask by Mishima Yukio, trans. Meredith Weatherby Dust Devils by Rio Alma, ed. and trans. Marne Kilates Desert by J. M. G. Le Clézio, trans. C. Dickson Luha ng Buwaya by Amado V. Hernandez 3 Strange Tales by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, trans. Glenn Anderson Kikomachine Komix Blg. 4 by Manix Abrera Maganda pa ang Daigdig by Lazaro Francisco Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties by John J. L. Mood It's a Mens World by Bebang Siy El Filibusterismo by José Rizal, trans. Ma. Soledad Lacson-Locsin Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles by Erik Matti and Ronald Stephen Y. Monteverde Kapitan Sino by Bob Ong Kikomachine Komix Blg. 3 by Manix Abrera The Devil's Causeway by Matthew Westfall Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag by Edgardo M. Reyes The Aesthetics of Resistance, volume 1, by Peter Weiss, trans. Joachim Neugroschel Zsazsa Zaturnnah sa Kalakhang Maynila #1 by Carlo Vergara Sa Aking Panahon by Edgardo M. Reyes My Prizes by Thomas Bernhard, trans. Carol Brown Janeway Sugar and Salt by Ninotchka Rosca, illus. Christina Quisumbing Ramilo The Gold in Makiling by Macario Pineda, trans. Soledad S. Reyes A Contract With God by Will Eisner Maoh: Juvenile Remix, Vol. 10, by Megumi Osuga and Kotaro Isaka, trans. Stephen Paul Soledad's Sister by Jose Dalisay Dekada '70 by Lualhati Bautista This Craft of Verse by Jorge Luis Borges Mondo Marcos: Writings on Martial Law and the Marcos Babies, eds. Frank Cimatu and Rolando B. Tolentino Fair Play by Tove Jansson, trans. Thomas Teal Ang Huling Dalagang Bukid at ang Authobiography na Mali by Jun Cruz Reyes Style: The Art of Writing Well by F. L. Lucas Lumayo Ka Nga sa Akin by Bob Ong Ang mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan by Bob Ong Masterworks of Latin American Short Fiction, ed. Cass Canfield Jr. Black Rain by Ibuse Masuji, trans. John Bester Augustus by John Williams Bartleby & Co. by Enrique Vila-Matas, trans. Jonathan Dunne Threesome by Mark Angeles Engkantado by Mark Angeles Lover's Lane by Axel Pinpin Vertigo by W. G. Sebald, trans. Michael Hulse The Box Man by Abé Kobo, trans. E. Dale Saunders The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke, trans. Michael Roloff Snow Country by Kawabata Yasunari, trans. Edward G. Seidensticker Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges, ed. Anthony Kerrigan Almost Transparent Blue by Murakami Ryū, trans. Nancy Andrew The Woman in the Dunes by Abé Kobo, trans. E. Dale Saunders Six Not-So-Easy Pieces by Richard P. Feynman Trilce by César Vallejo, trans. Michael Smith and Valentino Gianuzzi Ariel: The Restored Edition by Sylvia Plath Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas, trans. Anne McLean Elizabeth Costello by J. M. Coetzee Our Lady of the Assassins by Fernando Vallejo, trans. Paul Hammond Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene Responde by Norman Wilwayco Mandarins, stories by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, trans. Charles De Wolf 1Q84 by Murakami Haruki, trans. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel Maoh: Juvenile Remix, Vols. 4-9, by Megumi Osuga and Kotaro Isaka, trans. Stephen Paul Mondomanila by Norman Wilwayco Nowaki by Natsume Sōseki, trans. William N. Ridgeway Varamo by César Aira, trans. Chris Andrews Laughing Wolf by Tsushima Yūko, trans. Dennis Washburn The Wild Goose by Mori Ōgai, trans. Burton Watson Alphabetical Africa by Walter Abish Voyage Along the Horizon by Javier Marías, trans. Kristina Cordero Stoner by John Williams The Athenian Murders by José Carlos Somoza, trans. Sonia Soto The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño, trans. Natasha Wimmer


Top reads (2011):

Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges

Dusk: A Novel by F. Sionil Jose Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata Three Novellas by Thomas Bernhard Meaning and history: The Rizal lectures by Ambeth R Ocampo Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima Dust Devils: A Bilingual Selection of Poems on Youth by Rio Alma Desert by J.M.G. Le Clézio Luha ng buwaya by Amado V Hernandez KIKOMACHINE KOMIX BLG 4 ni Manix Abrera (O kaligayahang Walang Hanggan yeh!) by Manix Abrera Maganda pa ang daigdig: Nobela by Lazaro Francisco Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties: Translations and Considerations by Rainer Maria Rilke El Filibusterismo by José Rizal Kapitan sino by Bob Ong Die! Die, Evil! Die! Ahrrrgh! (Kikomachine Komix, #3) by Manix Abrera The Devil's Causeway: The True Story of America's First Prisoners of War in the Philippines, and the Heroic Expedition Sent to Their Rescue by Matthew Westfall Sa mga kuko ng liwanag by Edgardo M Reyes The Aesthetics of Resistance, Volume 1: A Novel by Peter Weiss Zsazsa Zaturnnah sa Kalakhang Maynila (Blg. 1 ng Tatlong Bahagi) by Carlo Vergara Sa aking panahon : 13 piling katha at isa pa! by Edgar Reyes My Prizes by Thomas Bernhard Sugar and Salt by Ninotchka Rosca Ang ginto sa Makiling, at ibang mga kuwento by Macario Pineda A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories by Will Eisner Maoh: Juvenile Remix, Volume 10 by Megumi Osuga Soledad's Sister by Jose Dalisay Dekada '70 by Lualhati Bautista This Craft of Verse by Jorge Luis Borges Mondo Marcos (writings on Martial Law and the Marcos babies) by Frank Cimatu Fair Play by Tove Jansson Lumayo ka nga sa akin by Bob Ong Ang mga kaibigan ni Mama Susan by Bob Ong Masterworks of Latin American Short Fiction: Eight Novellas by Cass Canfield Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse Augustus by John Edward Williams Bartleby & Co. by Enrique VilaMatas Vertigo by W. G. Sebald The Box Man by Kōbō Abe The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata Almost Transparent Blue by Ryū Murakami

1. Don Quixote, trans. John Rutherford 2. The Ubu Plays by Alfred Jarry, trans. Cyril Connolly and Simon Watson Taylor 3. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald, trans. Anthea Bell 4. Toddler-Hunting and Other Stories by Kōno Taeko, trans. Lucy North and Lucy Lower 5. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell 6. On Translation by Paul Ricoeur, trans. Eileen Brennan 7. Your Face Tomorrow (3 vols.) by Javier Marías, trans. Margaret Jull Costa 8. Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me by Javier Marías, trans. Margaret Jull Costa 9. Stasiland by Anna Funder 10. The Future of Life by Edward O. Wilson 11. The Castle by Franz Kafka, trans. Mark Harman

The Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe Six not-so-easy pieces [sound recording] by Richard P. Feynman Trilce by César Vallejo Ariel: The Restored Edition by Sylvia Plath Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas Elizabeth Costello by J. M. Coetzee Our Lady of the Assassins by Fernando Vallejo

Some 2011 reading statistics:

Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene

63 books read - 43 fiction, 12 nonfiction, 7 poetry, 1 play 50 books by male writers, 11 by female writers, 2 mixed/anonymous 44 translations - 15 Japanese, 9 Spanish, 8 German, 3 Russian, 3 French, 6 others 19 in original language - 17 English, 2 Filipino Most read authors - 6 Murakami Haruki, 4 Javier Marías

Mandarins: Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami Maoh: Juvenile Remix, Volume 9 by Megumi Osuga

2 Rise

Jan 31, 2012, 6:24am

Nowaki by Natsume Soseki Varamo by César Aira

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Natasha Wimmer Mexico, 1975. We are reading the diary entries of one Juan García Madero, 17 years old, law student, budding poet, and frequent attendee to poetry workshops. García Madero's narrative is conversational, self-conscious, sympathetic, almost unreliable, and frequently courting the cliché. What happened next was a blur, but at the risk of sounding corny, I'd say there was something miraculous about it. Two visceral realist poets walked in and Álamo reluctantly introduced them, although he only knew one of them personally; the other one he knew by reputation, or maybe he just knew his name or had heard someone mention him, but he introduced us to him anyway. The voice is honest, sincere, even if full of assumptions and self-confessed forgetfulness ("what happened next is hazy", "what happened next was a blur", "If I'm remembering right (though I wouldn't stake my life on it)", "Maybe she mentioned it, although I may have just made it up."). In fact, it was not only García Madero who could not be relied on 100% in his reminiscences here. The characters in the novel constantly alluded to their sketchy recollections of the past, their half-remembrances and hazy memories.

Laughing Wolf (Michigan Monograph Series in Japanese Studies, 73) by Tsushima Yuko The Wild Geese by Ogai Mori Voyage Along the Horizon: A Novel by Javier Marías Stoner by John Edward Williams The Athenian Murders by José Carlos Somoza The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra The Ubu Plays by Alfred Jarry

Translated by Natasha Wimmer, these diary notes began and closed The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño, which appeared in translation in 2007. In 1998, five years before his death and six years before the posthumous publication of his other masterpiece 2666, Bolaño published Los detectives salvajes to great critical acclaim from Spanish readers. It earned for him the coveted Premio Herralde de Novela and Premio Rómulo Gallegos. The novel was a hit due to its totalizing scope and brave narrative techniques. Its themes were deeply personal and yet communal—life on the run, the passage of time, the reliance on memory, the faultiness of memory, poetry as a way of life, the search for meaning, the lack of meaning, madness, boredom, the uses of boredom, the uses (and misuses) of art, friendship, literature and books, the politics of existence, death. The two poets who crashed Álamo's poetry workshop, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, were patterned after the author Bolaño and his best friend Mario Santiago. They herded a group of young poets in Mexico City and formed a poetry movement called visceral realism, which was also based on Bolaño and Santiago's founded poetry movement called the Movimiento Infrarrealista de Poesia. Their group "wreaked havoc" in the '70s by crashing and disrupting poetry readings of established writers like Octavio Paz, exporting fear in the literary elite. They were, of course, not taken seriously by the establishment. Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima were determined to track a female poet named Cesárea Tinajero, a predecessor of a similar poetry movement in the 1920s. Somehow, in the middle of the first part of the novel, García Madero and Lima and Belano became involved with Lupe, a young prostitute under the charge of a nasty gangster-pimp. As a result they had to escape the pimp and Mexico City in a white Ford Impala. "The Savage Detectives", the second chapter, interrupted the first part to give way to the testimonies of a horde of writers, poets, and drifters— representatives from Bolaño's "lost" generation of literati and lowlifes. The interviewees were members, ex-members, non-members of visceral realism, speaking to mostly unknown interlocutor or interlocutors. Their stories tried to shed light on Lima and Belano's pathetic and peripatetic lives before and after their escape from Mexico City. Listening to these different streams of voices was like listening to jazz, raw and improvised. What emerged, partly, was a satire of the literary and intellectual life of poets and writers in Mexico, from the early 70s to mid-90s.

Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald Toddler-Hunting and Other Stories by Kono Taeko 1984 by George Orwell On Translation by Paul Ricœur Your Face Tomorrow, Volume 3: Poison, Shadow, and Farewell by Javier Marías Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me by Javier Marías Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder The Future of Life by Edward O. Wilson The Castle by Franz Kafka 2666 by Roberto Bolaño A Woman of Means: A Novel by Peter Taylor A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor Your Face Tomorrow, Volume 2: Dance and Dream by Javier Marías A Void by Georges Perec

The structure of the novel invites detective work. The Rashomon-style confessions in the second chapter will strike some as an unsettling and infuriating technique. After the first chapter ended in a sort of cliffhanger of a chase, it was as if a precipice suddenly opened up in front of the reader. An abyss that, by the looks of it, would take a fair amount of time to cross. It was an explosion of voices that unsettled the calmness and controlled edge of the linear narrative. These voices are singing nonstop, describing the social, political, public, and private aspects of living in the margins of literature and society.

Eunoia by Christian Bök

One of longest digressions devised in fiction, this section would take some time of getting used to. A receptive reader will have to submit and open himself to the artifice of structure that the author has adopted. What happened in between the multiplicities of singing was unclear. But somehow, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, the multitude of voices converged into a modern jazz opera. In the course of their telling, the characters ceased to be individuated voices and became one sustained song, a song singing across times and places, singing of their generation, their dreams, and lost causes.

Brazilian Tales by Isaac Goldberg

Oxford Anthology of the Brazilian Short Story by K. David Jackson The Oxford Book of Latin American Short Stories by Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria The Devil's Church and Other Stories by Machado de Assis A Chapter of Hats: Selected Stories by Machado de Assis Helena by Machado de Assis

There's an inner seduction to the whole ride, the reader made privy to adventure, naiveté, nonsense, emptiness, senselessness, or a combination of these. The memorable events before and after the holiday celebrations of '75-76 acquired a surreal quality. Hysteria and humor mingled together; the high seriousness of the novel punctuated by the low. As begun and imagined by García Madero, neophyte poet and sex initiate, and as extended into various splinters of voices that populate the midsection of the book, the parade of stories resembled a long drawn out joke and yet the feelings engendered were authentic, propelled by a certain mystery, a certain kind of truth, poetry. This my second read of this book which I read for an online group read (off LT).

The Road by Cormac McCarthy Shooting Gallery and Other Stories by Yūko Tsushima The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling Sans famille, tome 1 by Hector Malot Nobody's Boy by Hector Malot

3 Rise

Jan 31, 2012, 6:35am

The Aesthetics of Resistance by Peter Weiss Hiroshima by John Hersey

Stoner by John Williams

Kokoro by Natsume Soseki

"Every man contains within himself the entire human condition," says David Shields (quoted by Tim Parks). William Stoner, a professor of English literature, proved that statement. In the novel after his name and in which he lived like a true human being, novelist John Williams portrayed his character as entrenched in quiet and world-changing upheavals. World-changing because Stoner's experiences shaped him and changed him along the way, and a reader could sense the world of conflicts silently residing in a human heart. Stoner came from a poor family. He was given a chance to study agronomy at the university to eventually help his parents with farm work. But the allure of another subject caught him unawares. He "fell in love" with the written word. It was as simple as that. He was aware that he nodded to Sloane and said something inconsequential. Then he was walking out of the office. His lips were tingling and his fingertips were numb; he walked as if he were asleep, yet he was intensely aware of his surroundings. He brushed against the polished wooden walls in the corridor, and he thought he could feel the warmth and age of wood; he went slowly down the stairs and wondered at the veined cold marble that seemed to slip a little beneath his feet. In the halls the voices of the students became distinct and individual out of the hushed murmur, and their faces were close and strange and familiar. He went out of Jesse Hall into the morning, and the grayness no longer seemed to oppress the campus; it led his eyes outward and upward into the sky, where he looked as if toward a possibility for which he had no name. This epiphany occurred to him right after his teacher Archer Sloane told him that he was destined to be a teacher of literature. The hypersensitively observed details (imagining the feel of "the warmth and age of wood", "the veined cold marble" seeming to "slip a little beneath his feet", the closeness and strangeness and familiary of students' faces, etc.) were signs and symptoms of "love". This love carried all its manifestations within it: the love of literature, the love of life, and the love of a woman. Many years later, after enduring various circumstances that tried and tested his life, he will look back on this momentous realization and feel anew the same "tingle", the same profound force of feeling. Suddenly it was as if she were in the next room, and he had only moments before left her; his hands tingled, as if they had touched her. And the sense of his loss, that he had for so long dammed within him, flooded out, engulfed him, and he let himself be carried outward, beyond the control of his will; he did not wish to save himself. Then he smiled fondly, as if at a memory; it occurred to him that he was nearly sixty years old and that he ought to be beyond the force of such passion, of such love. But he was not beyond it, he knew, and would never be. Beneath the numbness, the indifference, the removal, it was there, intense and steady; it had always been there. In his youth he had given it freely, without thought; he had given it to the knowledge that had been revealed to him— how many years ago?—by Archer Sloane; he had given it to Edith, in those first blind foolish days of his courtship and marriage; and he had given it to Katherine, as if it had never been given before. He had, in odd ways, given it to every moment of his life, and had perhaps given it most fully when he was unaware of his giving. It was a passion neither of the mind nor of the flesh; rather, it was a force that comprehended them both, as if they were but the matter of love, its specific substance. To a woman or to a poem, it said simply: Look! I am alive. He was alive, and in the novel's pages he lived not a perfect life, but a perfect existence. We comprehended Stoner's lifetime of loving as it was dragged and weighed down by personal challenges a man in his position could face—an unhappy marriage, difficulties at work, problems with students and colleagues, teaching, infidelity, raising a child, and (even if they were waged in the far distance) world wars exacting tolls on the mind. Stoner was a work of restraint. Its flashes of feelings and quiet devastation were wrought in the controlled and leisurely rhythms of a mindful prose. It was the kind of writing that evaluates and explores personal ideas even as the characters were drawn in situations of truths and consequences. The plot moved its characters as they carry kindling to the fire, until the fuel wood runs out and one is forced to observe the last flickers of a life. The precision of Williams's writing reminded me of the stories of Peter Taylor (A Woman of Means, A Summons to Memphis, "Dean of Men"). Like Taylor, Williams dispensed insights and visions that allow his characters to recognize the predicaments they found themselves in and the general sense of futility surrounding them. And also like Taylor, Williams could capture in a single luminous sentence or in a short passage the whole of the novel's breadth and reach. 4 baswood

Jan 31, 2012, 6:12pm

Two excellent reviews. After reading 2666 last year I intend to read The Savage Detectives some time this year. I was fascinated by the multiple voices in 2666 and so will look forward to reading a similar technique in The Savage Detectives.

The Gate by Natsume Soseki The Art of Murder by José Carlos Somoza Zig Zag by José Carlos Somoza Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene The Lives of Animals by J. M. Coetzee La asesina ilustrada by Enrique VilaMatas The Trial by Franz Kafka The Face of Another by Kōbō Abe Waiting for the Barbarians by Lewis H. Lapham The Master of Petersburg by J. M. Coetzee The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata Innocent Erendira and Other Stories by Gabriel García Márquez Three Trapped Tigers by Guillermo Cabrera Infante The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by Alvaro Mutis Hydriotaphia (Urn Burial) and The Garden of Cyrus by Thomas Browne The Devil to Pay in the Backlands by João Guimarães Rosa Black Rain by Georges Simenon The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald Ang Huling Dalagang Bukid At Ang Authobiography Na Mali: Isang Imbestigasyon by Jun Cruz Reyes Leche by R. Zamora Linmark Noli Me Tangere by José Rizal Finnegans Wake by James Joyce Ulysses by James Joyce Seven Nights by Jorge Luis Borges Prose and Poems by Nick Joaquin 3 Strange Tales (Modern Japanese Classics) by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa The Beautiful and the Grotesque by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa Gathering Evidence: A Memoir by Thomas Bernhard Wittgenstein's Nephew by Thomas Bernhard Authors F. Sionil Jose

5 Linda92007

Feb 1, 2012, 9:07am

Rise - I agree. Both excellent reviews. Stoner has long been on my wishlist. I own The Savage Detectives, but based on other reviews had found it slightly "intimidating" and therefore haven't read it yet. Your review makes me think that it is time to rectify that. 6 deebee1

Feb 1, 2012, 11:54am

Great reviews, Rise.

Yasunari Kawabata D. H. Lawrence Hans Kohn Rio Alma Søren Kierkegaard Yukio Mishima Manix Abrera

Stoner was a work of restraint. Its flashes of feelings and quiet devastation were wrought in the controlled and leisurely rhythms of a mindful prose....

Budjette Tan Roger Smith J. M. G. Le Clezio Amado V Hernandez

This is writing after my own heart. Now on my wishlist.

Lazaro Francisco Rainer Maria Rilke

7 Rise

Feb 4, 2012, 1:30pm

José Rizal Bob Ong

- 4

Matthew Westfall Edgardo M Reyes

Barry, you will also appreciate themes that relate The Savage Detectives to 2666.

Peter Weiss

- 5

Carlo Vergara

Linda, the intimidation part is understandable, given the length of the novel and its fractured narrative style. One will question whether the payoff is worth the reading effort. I think it is.

Edgar Reyes Thomas Bernhard Ninotchka Rosca Macario Pineda

- 6

Will Eisner

Deebee, thanks. For me it's a great reissue by NYRB.

Megumi Osuga Jose Y. Dalisay

8 Rise

Edited: Feb 6, 2012, 3:48am

Voyage Along the Horizon by Javier Marías, translated by Kristina Cordero

Jorge Luis Borges Frank Cimatu Deirdre Martin

The day that witnessed the departure of the Tallahassee—a sailboat with a metal hull, three masts, and a steam engine, classified by Lloyds Register of Shipping as a mixed vessel, property of the Cunard White Star, built by Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in the United States, purchased by Great Britain (where it was newly registered in 1896, though its original name, that of the city where it was baptized, remained the same), capable of reaching a velocity of 11.5 knots, with capacity for seventy passengers, and operating under the command of Ship's Captain Eustace Seebohm, Englishman, and First Officer J. D. Kerrigan, American—there was a great celebration at the port of Marseilles. The ship was fêted and festooned with balloons, confetti, and streamers that dappled the surrounding waters with their dazzling colors. As they boarded the vessel one by one, the passengers were cheered by the onlookers. Finally, at ten in the morning, after all the obligatory ceremonies had finally come to a close, the boat pushed away from the coast with forty-two prominent society figures, fifteen men of science, and an inevitably furious, resentful crew. This is a sophomore effort by Javier Marías, started when he was 19 years old and published two years later, in 1972. I'm still eagerly waiting for when his first book, Los dominios del lobo (1971, Domains of the Wolf), will appear in translation. That's that book, along with La asesina ilustrada (The Enlightened Assassin) by Enrique Vila-Matas, that for Roberto Bolaño, "marks a departure point for our generation." Voyage Along the Horizon is, by Marías standards, a minor novel that I'm still glad to have read. One gets to see similarities and contrasts with the novelist's late style. In this, the young novelist already displayed a tendency for playful tinkering with plot. I can see why Bolaño, fed up with the imitations of magical realist novels of Boom writers, would prefer a novel by a young Marías. The form, structure, and diction of Voyage Along the Horizon eschewed the magical and folkloric reference; it did not anchor itself on "nationalist" literature. Instead it pays homage to the English adventure novels, openly acknowledging the influences of Joseph Conrad, Henry James, and Arthur Conan Doyle. The time of the "novel within the novel" was 1904. A trip to Antarctica was organized by the charismatic and gloomy Captain Kerrigan, who invited men and women of prestige aboard the Tallahassee: writers, artists, and scientists. The idea for this kind of journey must be bold and vain at the time, but it is prophetic too. A similar trip was recently undertaken by "a mix of scientists, academics, students and journalists" to raise awareness about climate change (news link here, provided by a friend).

Jun Cruz Reyes F. L. Lucas Cass Canfield Georges Simenon Allan Massie Enrique Vila-Matas W. G. Sebald Kōbō Abe Peter Handke Ryū Murakami Richard P. Feynman César Vallejo Sylvia Plath J. M. Coetzee Fernando Vallejo Graham Greene Norman Wilwayco Simone de Beauvoir Haruki Murakami Natsume Soseki César Aira Nicholas Maes

This journey is a background story framed by the present story where the unnamed narrator learns about a novelist named Victor Arledge who retreated from society and who died abjectly. A guest in the narrator's party mentions that he had with him a certain manuscript of a novel entrusted to him by a late friend. The novel is entitled Voyage Along the Horizon. The manuscript recounts the journey of the Tallahassee where Arledge was one of the passengers. Arledge's experiences aboard the ship may or may not have contributed to his mysterious decline in old age.

Ron Ferguson

A young woman who studied the works of Arledge is very interested in the contents of the manuscript, so she asks the literary executor (Mr. Holden Branshaw or Hordern Bragshawe, the narrator "hadn't quite caught" the name) permission to read the novel which, once published, Branshaw (let's assume) strongly believes, would catapult his friend to literary limelight and would pave the way for him to be considered "one of the great novelists of his time". Later on, this assessment will change, and Branshaw will pass a definitively harsh judgement on the novel. The winking self-reference in this book must be one of its enjoyable aspects.

Roberto Bolaño

Instead of letting the lady borrow the novel, Mr. Branshaw invites the lady and the narrator to his house where he would read from his friend's story. From this unpublished manuscript of Voyage Along the Horizon, within this novel of the same title, Marías produces other branching stories in the form of letters, confessions, and investigations. The novelist luxuriates in the same storytelling tics and antics that characterize his later books. The safekeeping of secrets, the confession of unpleasant deeds, shady or morally corrupt characters, ever so lengthy digressions —these are all here, surprisingly anticipating the elements swirling in his literary cosmogony. In addition, the scenes in its pages are as unlikely as assembled: kidnapping, duel on a ship, smuggling on the shores of Formosa and Southeast Asia, pirate attack, journey in search of a habitable island.

Reuben A. Brower

Walter Abish Javier Marías John Williams José Carlos Somoza Marcia Williams Alfred Jarry Kōno Taeko George Orwell Anna Funder Edward O. Wilson Franz Kafka Peter Taylor Georges Perec Christian Bök

For a writer who was always concerned with the act and art of storytelling, this novel is a kind of variation of his literary maneuvers. Marías may have hardened in his dense prose style, as in the "difficult" and extremely long Your Face Tomorrow, but his stance as a "secret sharer" and "secret withholder" has always been intact. "One must learn how to cultivate the art of ambiguity", someone said in the novel. A principle that the novel seems to have taken to heart. The novel resists resolution that would tie up everything neatly together. Readers are instead treated to nontraditional murder and mystery stories, wide open to interpretation, and whose ultimate ending provides only cold comfort.

K. David Jackson Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria Arthur Conan Doyle Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis Machado de Assis Cormac McCarthy Gaz Hunter

The book contained an appendix—an interview called "Eight Questions for Javier Marías" where he discussed the novel's style and influences, its metafictional elements and open ending, and the quality of his fiction that predisposes it to translation. 9 arubabookwoman

Feb 6, 2012, 8:39pm

I agree there are great reviews here. I too loved 2666, and I hope to get to The Savage Detectives this year.

Rudyard Kipling Hector Malot Masuji Ibuse Yūko Tsushima John Hersey François Bizot

10 Rise

Feb 18, 2012, 11:26am

Ryūnosuke Akutagawa Ernest Hemingway

- 9

Marguerite Duras Lewis H. Lapham

Thanks! The Savage Detectives is just as unusually structured as 2666.

Gabriel García Márquez

11 Rise

Feb 20, 2012, 5:37am

Guillermo Cabrera Infante Alvaro Mutis

Alphabetical Africa by Walter Abish (New Directions, 1974)

Robert Westall

I first heard of this book from The Art of Fiction by David Lodge. Under the section on "experimental novel" Lodge made mention of lipogram novels. Perec, of course, wrote something called La Disparition, a novel allergic to letter "e" in French. The English translation, A Void, was true to its linguistic esprit. The American writer Walter Abish (b. 1931) does something similar in his first novel Alphabetical Africa. The rules of its construction are alphabetical. There are fifty-two chapters, each with letters for title: A to Z and then Z to A. As with acrostics, the first word of the chapter begins with the letter of the chapter title. Hence, Chapter "K" begins: "Knowing Kant intimately helps, as I keep a clear head." The second Chapter "K" begins: "Knowledge derived from books hardly ever improves killing efficiency ..."

João Guimarães Rosa R. Zamora Linmark Lualhati Bautista John Edward Williams James Joyce William Childress Soledad S. Reyes Nick Joaquin

Every word in Chapter "A" starts with the letter A: "Are all archeologists arrogant Aristotelians, asks author, as Angolans abduct Alva. Adieu Alva. Arrivederci. (2)" The words in chapter "B" begin with letters A or B. Each word in Chapter "K" will begin with letters from A to K. And so on until Chapter "Z" where the words begin with any letter. That's the first pass (A to Z), expanding the word choices as allowable letters start to accumulate. And then it reverses in the second, backward pass (Z to A), shrinking the word choices as letters begin to be subtracted one at a time.

Robert Louis Stevenson

As if writing with 26 letters isn't hard enough. But here, it all appears wickedly simple. Effortless. And the plot? The plot is funny as hell. We have a narrator named A. or with an initial of A. (Author? Abish?). He is pining for his love, Alva. There are two shady characters, Allen and Alex, who killed a jeweler. There's the queen of Tanzania, the transvestite Queen Quat, and her invasion of another African territory. There are attacks of colonies of ants. Espionage. Escape and detection. War and wild sex. There are also, inevitably, linguistic concerns African click languages, mixed vocabularies, dictionaries of African words, the writing of history. The alphabetical structure is closely tied to the content. There is Africa's land area shrinking fast by continental drift, mirroring the shrinking of words in the book. Africa is diminishing in size. It is considerably smaller than all the pocket atlases indicate. Still, it is roomy enough for an Abercrombie & Fitch organized outing, six or seven men in bush jackets accompanied by fifty black gun carriers, basket carriers, tent carriers, but not more than fifty, since the now smaller Africa couldn't absorb it. ("V", 58) What else do we get? Puns, word plays, quick brown foxes. Tanzania is celebrating the anniversary of Quat's arrival. Everyone is rehearsing for the gigantic tableau. Since's (sic) Quat's coronation, no one can quite trust or accept another person's gender. The customs officials have learnt to ask: are all airplane pilots airmale. They're always compulsively touching all those control knobs. ("T", 52) By the time the book reaches the "S" chapter in the forward pass, the constraint becomes more and more relaxed as a good many words can now be accommodated. It also provides a summary of the first half of the book. Summarizing Africa: I can speak more freely. I find fewer and fewer impediments. Soon I'll reach my destination. Soon I'll also complete my documentation and my book. ("S", 47) A. is writing a factual book about Africa, a cross between history and memoir. He details all the means he is exerting to find his lost love, Alva. The literally expanding and contracting text is the very means by which characters enter and leave, locations change, and scenes play out, as determined by the letters that begin the proper nouns of names and places. We know that Allen and Alva and Alex can safely appear in all the chapters while Zambia and Zaire will have limited exposure in a pair of chapters. We can vaguely predict when an introduced character will be dropped in the second pass based on his or her name alone. This is all well and good. Except for one thing: it fails the alphabetical scheme. Drastically. The violation of the constraints will gently, then savagely, strike the reader who pays very close attention to the slips. On page 2, the final sentence of "A" chapter, we read: "Alex and Allen alone, arrive in Abidjan and await African amusements" (emphasis added). On the "D" chapter, words are supposed to start only with A, B, C, and D. But instead we have, in page 9: Alva's bare breasts droop, as Chester's alarming deafness darkens African continent, and all despair because Chester cannot hear Dogon birds chirp: biu, biu, biu, or Dogon birds bark: bow, bow, bow, or antelopes: blit, blit ... ("D", emphases added) The web blog Attempts by Stephen Saperstein Frug collates these into a table of errata. Some 43 errors are so far identified (excluding the debatable second words in compound words). Surprisingly the errors I mentioned above, occurring in the first few pages, are not in the table. I detected five more errors not given in the errata, listed below. There may be more. I'm not paying that too close attention. Did Abish deliberately plant the errors in Alphabetical Africa? I would like to believe that these errors are intentional, that Abish constructed a pattern around them, a hidden formula. In the same way that the constraints of poetry (rhyme schemes, number of lines in sonnets) are doggedly pursued to focus and concentrate language, lipogrammatic works strictly adhere to an instituted rule or system. But sometimes poetry deviate from a rhyme scheme to create powerful effects beyond euphony. An iambic pentameter is broken by an anapest. In the end, poetry can soar free as blank verse. Fixed rules being better served when violated. From time to time, that is. Two consecutive erroneous I's appear back-to-back, in the second chapter "C". For a chapter that should contain only A-B-C words, these discrepancies seem much too obvious to be overlooked. After considering all alternatives, I capture a couple crocodiles. (146) After I cross a close-by creek, am accepted by barricaded army as a celebrity. (147) Perhaps A. (or Abish) is too sentimental to let go of "I". Just as he wrote a few pages back, in the chapter of the same letter, before bidding final farewell to that letter: Eventually, I'm convinced every "I" imparts its intense experience before it is erased and immobilized in a book. Ahhh ... how fast it disappears. He is being deceitful, claims Alva. Everytime I approach, he flees back into a book. He's afraid ... ("I", 131) And so he, "I", flees back into the book. This failure of an alphabetical book by author Abish is about the creation myth: creating things (plot, characters, places, details) as they are written, as they happen on the page, as letters and words give birth to unintentional meanings and unintended ideas. The book is also about apocalypse, as it folds into itself, disappearing into another alphabet, another Africa. In between are human errors, typographical faults, reminding us that we are aware of the rules and that we can spot the flaws if we decide to look. 12 Linda92007

Feb 20, 2012, 8:35am

What an unusual book and an insightful review. I am not sure that I could have seen that deeply into the author's intent. 13 janemarieprice

Feb 20, 2012, 10:47am

Very interesting review. 14 Rise

Feb 22, 2012, 5:09am

Linda, they could very well be real mistakes. I don't know yet what Abish had to say about his "errors". janeprice, it can be addictive. There are others just as linguistically (letter-arily?) strange, Eunoia for one. 15 Rise

Mar 8, 2012, 10:13am

Stories by Machado de Assis (1839-1908) The stories I've read of Machado are: the 10 collected in Oxford Anthology of the Brazilian Short Story (2006, ed. K. David Jackson), one called "Midnight Mass" from The Oxford Book of Latin American Short Stories (1997, ed. Roberto González Echevarría), and the two online (link, tr. Clifford Landers) from Words Without Borders (one of which was in an earlier translation in Oxford Anthology). Most of Machado's stories are acknowledged as "masterpieces of world literature". However, a substantial number of them are yet to be translated and collected in a comprehensive English edition. The primary source translations of Machado's short stories are found in: Brazilian Tales (1921, tr. Isaac Goldberg, stories by four Brazilian writers, in Project Gutenberg), The Psychiatrist, and Other Stories (1963, tr. William L. Grossman and Helena Caldwell), The Devil’s Church and Other Stories (1977, tr. Jack Schmitt and Lorie Ishimatsu), and A Chapter of Hats (2008, tr. John Gledson). The novella The Alienist is set to be reissued by Melville House publisher later this year. Readers are almost always privileged to read/hear a Machado story. This privilege arises from the confession of a secret that weighs heavily on a conscience. The narrators often feel they must set the record straight. The mystery cannot be long suppressed. In "The Nurse" (also translated as "The Attendant's Confession" in Brazilian Tales), the eponymous narrator writes his confession from his death-bed: So you think that what happened to me in 1860 can be printed in a book? Do whatever you please, but with only one condition: do not divulge anything before my death. You will not have to wait long, perhaps a week, if not less; I am incurable. Look, I could tell you about my entire life, during which time other interesting things took place; however, in order to do that, one needs time, spirit, and paper, and I have only paper. My spirit is weak and time resembles a night lamp at dawn. It will not be long before the sun rises on another day. It is the sun of demons, as impenetrable as life. Good-bye, my dear sir. Read this and wish me well; forgive me for whatever seems improper to you. Do not mistreat the rue if it does not smell like a rose. You asked me for a human document, and here it is.... The reader asks for a story, and it is given, began in earnest, imparted in a unique voice. The story is of great human interest, a mock-display of unstable emotions and the ensuing crime of passion. The nurse is caring for the sick Colonel who has a serious attitude problem—"If he had only been grouchy, it would not have been so bad; but he was also mean." The nurse is honoring his own end of the bargain, telling the secret story in graphic details, another Machado quality. The reader will have to keep the story to himself, for it is a privilege to be told this by a nurse harboring a criminal past. In "The Secret Heart", one is privileged to encounter another secret heart. The opening is a domestic scene. Garcia, who was standing, studied his finger nails, and snapped them from time to time. Fortunato, in the rocking chair, looked at the ceiling. Maria Luiza, by the window, was putting the final touches to a piece of needlework. Five minutes had now passed without their saying a word. They had spoken of the day, which had been fine, of Catumby, where Fortunato and his wife lived, and of a private hospital that will be explained later. As the three characters here presented are now dead and buried, it is time to tell their story without pretense. The true story is then recounted with characteristic linguistic verve and, as promised, without pretense. The pertinent details of a "love triangle" and "forbidden love" (favorite Machado topics) are laid bare. We are once more treated to priceless instances of beastly and saintly human behavior. The stories are generous in the serving of delicious gossip. The sharing of a common interest tightened the bonds of friendship. Garcia became a familiar of the house. He dines there almost every day, and there he observed Maria Luiza and saw her life of spiritual loneliness. And somehow this loneliness of hers increased her loveliness. Garcia began to feel troubled when she came into the room, when she spoke, when she worked quietly by the window, or played sweet, sad music on the piano. Gently, imperceptibly, love entered his heart. When he found it there, he tried to thrust it out, that there might be no other bond but friendship between him and Fortunato. But he did not succeed. He succeeded only in locking it in. Maria Luiza understood—both his love and his silence—but she never let on. It's fascinating how that single paragraph propelled the plot from easy friendship to familiarity and then to love. Clichés are embraced and also dispensed with, "gently, imperceptibly", the story is coaxed forward and the scene set up for the great conflict. Machado had a way with inner psychology, sometimes tactless, sometimes full of tact, always attuned to the quick transformation of feelings. But he also had the propensity to mix the lyrical with the ugliest of human tendencies. "The Secret Heart" not only captures the unraveling of a secret love but that of corruption inside men. Readers had to endure a sickening description of animal mutilation. Within the spaces allotted to tenderness and infatuations, Machado had prepared a place for the baseness of humanity—"It was like a moral tapeworm, which, although torn into many pieces, always regenerated itself and kept on going." The mastery of Machado's fine short stories is contemporary. His words and metaphors are exquisite at the level of the sentence. A story ambles along, then is cut to the quick, exceptionally, efficiently told. He came back to the house, and he did not go away. Dona Severina's arms enclosed a parenthesis in the middle of a long, tedious sentence of the life he led. And this added clause contained a profound, original idea specially invented by God and the angels for him alone. He stayed on, and his life went on as before. Finally, however, he had to leave, never to return. Here is how and why. ("A Woman's Arms") The "how and why" is the very resolution of the story in question. The milieu and contexts of Machado are important in the appreciation of his shorts, all period pieces. His nudge to the years the stories were set in is a permanent marker. Just imagine that it is 1813. ("Wedding Song") This was the selfsame explanation that was given by beautiful Rita to her lover, Camillo, on a certain Friday of November, 1869, when Camillo laughed at her for having gone, the previous evening, to consult a fortune-teller. ("The Fortune-Teller") Garcia had obtained his M.D. the year before, 1861. ("The Secret Heart") The above scene took place on the Rua da Lapa in 1870. ("A Woman's Arms") It was May 1882, and Venancinha hadn't seen her aunt since Christmas. ("Dona Paula") The lawyer died two years later, in 1865. ("Wallow, Swine!" and "Justice Unbalanced") The years don't lie but they might as well happen in 2016. Machado seems to be writing specifically for posterity. The mischief in his tales is the mischief a week ago. The active lust of his characters does not go out of date. His depiction of male and female, free and slave, old and young, wants and needs is astute. Irrespective of century, incorporated in each story is the tangibility of dreams and desire.

16 baswood

Mar 8, 2012, 6:26pm

Enjoyed reading your thoughts on the Machado short stories. 17 Rise

Mar 9, 2012, 11:55am

Thanks, Barry. I would love to eventually get to some Machado novels too. 18 arubabookwoman

Mar 17, 2012, 3:51pm

I also enjoyed your thoughts on the de Assis stories, and the information you provided. I wonder if you would mind reposting this entry on the Reading Globally Classics in their Own Country--Brazil thread. I see that you are a member of Reading Globally, and I'm sure that people over there would be interested. Thanks! 19 Rise

Mar 18, 2012, 6:59am

Thanks, Deborah. I've done that. 20 Rise

Edited: Mar 25, 2012, 7:21am

Laughing Wolf by Tsushima Yūko, trans. Dennis Washburn (Center for Japanese Studies – The University of Michigan, 2011) It was around 1889 that the Ezo wolf of Hokkaido was believed to have gone extinct. The main cause, according to Hiraiwa Yonekichi in Ookami—Sono seitai to rekishi (The wolf: its ecology and history) (Tokyo 1981, revised ed. 1992), was the intense persecution the animal suffered at the hands of humans. By 1905, the Japanese wolf, a distinct and endemic species found only in three islands of the Japanese archipelago, went missing as well. Its extinction was largely a result of hunting, the spread of disease, and the loss of habitat and prey. (Anecdotal reports gave information of the possibility that the wolves were still in existence beyond these dates, but the truth of these claims was in question.) In fact, the extinction of the wolf species in western Europe came before these two species: 1680 in Scotland and 1710 in Ireland. A worldwide trend indicated that the population of the species was in decline. Hiraiwa claims that wolves went extinct so early in Europe because they were always seen as a threat to people who from ancient times had raised livestock such as sheep and cattle. They feared the wolf as man's mortal enemy, and constantly persecuted the animal by every possible means—guns, poisons, traps, and snares, even hand grenades—until they had finally eradicated them. This natural history of wolf, including the appearance of the animal in legends and classic novels, was contained in "Prelude", in the opening of Tsushima Yūko's novel Laughing Wolf (published in Japan in 2000). The prelude ended with the mention of the extinction of the Japanese wolf in 1905 coinciding with the end of the Russo-Japanese war, after which, Japan was again involved in a war with China and then in the world war which ended in 1945, after Japan's unconditional surrender: "The Japanese wolf was no longer around, but as things turned out, wild dogs who had lost their masters could be spotted running through the smoldering ruins of Japan's cities." For a work of fiction it was strange to read a long precis of a nonfiction book on wolves. It was also strange, and particularly jarring, when the following chapter changed in tone and took up a completely different narrative thread, indicating a hybrid approach to the novel. The story turned to a father and his four-year old son living in the apocalyptic landscape and waste of postwar Japan. The two survived air bombings and were left homeless and hungry. The child's point of view could remind one of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. The child recalling his early life through hazy memories: "One day fire came pouring down from the sky. The fence burned, the house burned, his mother, brother, and sister all burned. Even the cat burned. They all vanished from the earth." Later the child's father also died and the child was taken to an orphanage. But memory of one event particularly lingered in the boy's imagination. While he and his father were sleeping in a cemetery, he witnessed the suicides of three adults, two men and a woman. When already grown up, he investigated the deaths of these three and even visited the house of the wife and daughter of one of the men. The narrative also took up the point of view of the daughter, the young girl Yuki being visited by the now grown up young man Mitsuo. The tenuous connection between them did not prevent their becoming easy friends. The young man and the girl, 17 and 12 years old, both orphaned of fathers, decided to leave Tokyo and take a train trip to the countryside. The novel then recounted their adventures while on train journeys and stops, inadvertently witnessing the social and economic realities of postwar Japan. As with The Shooting Gallery, Tsushima's collection of translated stories, the two characters in Laughing Wolf were wont to escape their present situations, and in the process create and inhabit for themselves avatars or surrogate identities. In this novel, Mitsuo and Yuki took on the names Akela and Mowgli, respectively, characters from The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. With their new aliases, they appropriated not only the identities of the children's book's characters but also the fictional reality associated with them. Hence, their every adventure was colored by plot elements of The Jungle Book, as well as the difficulties they faced in their takeover of Cold Lairs, the world of men, which they were seeking to understand via the book's law of the jungle—We be of one blood, ye and I. This newly created "alternate" reality allowed the novelist Tsushima and her characters to navigate the inhospitable, savage world-at-war heightened by poverty and crimes faced by the Japanese in the 1940s. In this reality, they resolved to adopt role-playing as a viable strategy for the two of them, Akela and Mowgli, to survive the world where they found themselves outsiders: "He's the leader of the wolf pack, the solitary emperor who embodies the law of the jungle. He's the reason the human child Mowgli is allowed to live on the margins of the pack. I'm not all that distinguished, but I'm taking the name (Akela) because I have responsibility for you. I'm the leader—the father, older brother, and teacher all rolled into one—and you're the apprentice. So I think Akela and Mowgli are perfect for us." And so they transformed into the wolf and the young boy, outsiders in the midst of monkeys, the "Man Pack". Among the people they encountered in their long train journeys were homeless zombie-like men traveling to work in the coal mines. After the war, when poverty and scarcity of food struck the majority of the population, some of the homeless, including children, were forced to enter into manual labor in the mines in exchange for low salaries. After this incident, where Akela and Mowgli observed the men consigned to backbreaking work, several news clippings were inserted into the text, dated December 1945 to January 1947. The news provided direct context and circumstances of child labor in the coal mines. By the second half of the novel, the set of news clips were interspersed in the text more and more frequently. The effect was jarring. It forced collisions between what was happening in the made-up (fictional) world and the actual (real) events, the collisions of private and public lives. In the first place the real and imagined identities of the main characters already dissolved into their respective stories. In addition, the not seamless juxtaposition of the adventures of Akela and Mowgli and the accompanying news excerpts were also forcing the collisions of individual and collective histories. The hybrid text was now bringing out human-interest stories from war-torn Japan in two parallel narratives, introducing a clash, or perhaps more appropriately a necessary confrontation, between fiction and nonfiction, to tell a larger story. These episodic news and stories concerned the aforementioned labor in the coal mines, the corrupt police raiding trains and confiscating rice and barley from the common peasants, a serial killer of young women, a major train accident, outbreaks of epidemic diseases, and other newsworthy social problems brought about by the just concluded war. With this device of side-by-side , the novelist was inviting a pairwise comparison of the fictive and the realistic, in a manner that was more interesting than the 1Q84-1984 dichotomy of Murakami Haruki in his 1Q84 (trans. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel). The latter novel was bogged down by didactic tendencies and narrative spoon-feeding doled out in serviceable prose. Tsushima, in contrast to Murakami, had the novelistic flair to use language and plot elements in a seemingly conventional manner at first and then turn it on its head without apparent self-indulgence and self-validation. Also, by the middle of the book, Akela and Mowgli once again changed their avatars, as Remi and Capi of the French novel Sans Famille (1878) by Hector Malot (trans. Florence Crewe-Jones, Nobody's Boy, 1916; also trans. Adrian J. de Bruyn, Alone in the World, 2005). With these active shifts in characters' identities, the "Prelude" about the wolf at the start of the novel suddenly made sense. The states of extinction and of orphanhood as logical consequences of abiding wars, lawlessness, cruelty. In the words of Mitsuo/Akela/Remi: "I've thought it over carefully, and the scariest thing in the world is the Man Pack. Radiation and germs are scary, but unlike humans, those things don't think up evil ideas or try to inflict suffering on people." She could hear the students and the old man chatting. "I heard that some smallpox patients escaped again. Why in the world would they do that?" "Because they're worried about their families and their jobs. It's a real hardship for them to be suddenly locked away in a hospital." "I've also heard rumors that there's been an outbreak of the plague." "Good god, they do everything they can to control it with vaccinations and DDT, but I wonder how much they can do to suppress it...." "Armed robberies, bandits, murders, whole families committing suicide—all are the result of losing the war." "There was a robbery in my neighborhood. The victim was hit on the head with an iron bar." "The way society's going, it's possible that someone will suddenly shoot you with a pistol and kill you." "That's right. Kids like them have no compunctions about committing really atrocious crimes. When there's no order in society, kids are the first to go bad." "But it's always kids and young people who are being sacrificed. There was a family suicide that happened in Kyūshu ... six kids were killed ..." Writing about the immediate aftermath of WWII in Japan, Tsushima was doing something interesting and innovative to the fictional form of the novel. Her technique had unassuming intelligence behind it. Laughing Wolf was a jarring text, in a provocative and brilliant sense, because it unsettled the pace and expectations of reading. The non-fictionality of past events was almost like a comment on the surrealism of the fictionlike present or future ("On a gigantic television screen atop a tall building the leaders of North and South Korea are shaking hands."). A novel must somehow clear a path, demonstrate its mastery on the page, and this novel did that by writing about aspects of Japanese postwar history in a manner that was not entirely beholden to the methods of conventional historical fiction. The central story of the novel—the friendship between a young man and a girl and their endless train journey—was ultimately heartwarming for its generous sympathy and understanding.

21 edwinbcn

Mar 25, 2012, 8:47am

Interesting books and good reviews, here. I will look forward to your comments on your current read, viz. Die Ästhetik des Widerstands (The Aesthetics of Resistance, Volume 1: A Novel (Aesthetics of Resistance). 22 Linda92007

Mar 25, 2012, 8:59am

Excellent review of Laughing Wolf, Rise. I recently read another Japanese novel set in the immediate aftermath of Hiroshima- Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse- which was excellent. I'd be interested in comparing that with Tsushima's book. 23 baswood

Mar 25, 2012, 7:57pm

Yes excellent review of what would appear to be a difficult novel Laughing Wolf, Tsushima Yuko 24 Rise

Mar 25, 2012, 11:27pm

21 Edwin, thanks. I'm on page 40 of The Aesthetics of Resistance and my initial impression is that it is deeply philosophical and political, unapologetically Marxist and leftist. But it could escape being totally propagandist by putting the impassioned speeches in the mouths of the characters, who are all activists debating with each other. It's a bit difficult for me to sustain reading it as the very long passages are not set off by paragraph breaks. 25 Rise

Mar 25, 2012, 11:28pm

22 Thanks, Linda. I'll be reading Black Rain in July for a group read. I'll also look out for similarities. I've read Hiroshima by John Hersey and it had interesting multiple perspectives on the bombing. 23 Thanks, Barry. There certainly are risks and leaps of faith taken by the author. The difficulty is probably in convincing the reader to accept them. And for me there are payoffs. 26 Rise

Apr 5, 2012, 5:58am

Nowaki by Natsume Sōseki, trans. William N. Ridgeway (Center for Japanese Studies – The University of Michigan, 2011) Nowaki was an early Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916) short novel first published in 1907. It was the story about an aging writer's hard stance on the ethical and moral responsibility of the artist in society. Sōseki dramatized this stance through the ex-middle school teacher Dōya’s philosophy of education. Despite the soundness of his philosophy, the rather didactic delivery of his ideas and his methods led to Dōya being discredited by the school authorities. He was vilified by his students and shunned by the educational establishment for his uncompromising adherence to his principles. The book's propagandistic writing style probably hewed closely from the way Dōya had described his frustrations from his failed generation and prescribed ways for its regeneration by the youth. A good contrast to Dōya’s worldview were those provided by two young men in the story. Inexperienced and impulsive and yet with strong artistic and literary inclinations, Takayanagi and Nakano were close friends who were newly graduated from the university. Nakano was from a well-off family, while his friend, the sickly Takayanagi, was dirt poor. The stark contrast in their backgrounds provided Sōseki an opportunity to explore the ways in which class status determines the dominant preoccupations of a writer. Nakano was concerned about the "anguish of love", while Takayanagi was bent on surviving the present world he described as "full of cynicism" and "an open competition of coldheartedness": “What I wish to write is not such a dreamy stuff as yours. Mine may not be pretty, but on the contrary it may be painful, stinging to read, yet I shall be satisfied if it should reveal my innermost feelings. Whether it is poetical or not, I do not care. I will have written well if I stab myself hard enough for the pain to make me jump and I am able to convey that pain to the reader, to make him say, ‘That hurt!’ I wish to enlighten the comfortable and complacent to the reality that can find no expression in their deepest dreams. I want to open the eyes of the debauchee to the essence of man, so that he may confess with bowed head that he had never entertained such a thought before but now acknowledges it to be undeniably true.—A different direction entirely from yours (Nakano's).” The confessions of the characters, full of passion and intensity, were writ large in the book. A lot more of these ‘insights’ of the heart and mind made for a didactic novel, but the ideas must be welcomed for their honesty and the forthcoming way they were blurted out and shared. It was inevitable that, of the two friends, it was Takayanagi (who happened to be one of the students who harassed Dōya while still a teacher) who will be attracted to the singular philosophy of Dōya. His were also the inner conflicts of a person of seeming duality or contradiction which Sōseki was delineating in his other books. “There is something strange about your face. The right side in the sunlight looks very ruddy, whereas the left side in the shadows looks unhealthy. Strange. As if your face appears as a conjoining of half a mask of tragedy and half a mask of comedy,” declared Nakano without taking a breath. The two masks of comedy and tragedy were evident in many scenes, making it hard whether to categorize them as serious or satire. The delicate balance of the two weights always threatened to tilt on one side or the other, a constant juggling that required novelistic skill—proof that this early work was important on its own in the Sōsekian oeuvre. Nowaki was not only an epigrammatic novel, with every other page containing the kind of insane quotes worth underlining, but also a key work closely tethered to the novelist's themes. It explicitly identified and discussed the abstractions that beset the protagonists of later novels. It could be Sōseki's most 'preachy' novel, surprisingly political in parts, and was a definite throwback to the subtle feelings and subdued atmospheres generated by works such as Kokoro and Mon (The Gate). Nevertheless it illuminated the undercurrent of cynicism running through his mature novels. The unnamed 'disease' of his protagonists in the late novels was here already identified and prefigured: the physical and psychological sickness arising from living a hard and poor life. The characters of this novel were likewise bent on attaining a form of salvation even as they wrote or continued living under the shadow of death. In the translator's afteword, William N. Ridgeway mentioned that, with this latest translation, only Sōseki's novel Gubijinsō remains to be translated. (The Gate, for me his masterpiece so far, will appear in a retranslation from New York Review Books at the end of the year.) Also, according to Ridgeway, the word nowaki referred to the autumn wind blowing between September 1 and September 11, a time of "violent winds and typhoons, and of potential crises." The same wind blew at the culmination of the novel, a tour de force scene where Dōya was set to deliver his lecture to a hostile crowd, a speech which was oddly stirring for all its obtuse demagogic arguments. His speech underlined the crux of his hardline ideas on the necessity for artists and writers to embrace anti-materialism and on the limitations of freedom. For Dōya, and arguably for Sōseki himself, freedom is not a totally free commodity. It is subject to the exercise of morality: "Those born into a society without precedent ought to create their own precedent. Those who enjoy unlimited freedom are already limited by freedom itself. How to make use of this freedom is your responsibility, as well as your privilege. Gentlemen! If you do not maintain high ideals, your freedom is only depravity."

27 Rise

Apr 5, 2012, 6:09am

The Wild Goose by Mori Ōgai, translated with an introduction by Burton Watson (Center for Japanese Studies - The University of Michigan, 1995) The events of my story took place some time ago—in 1880, the thirteenth year of the Meiji era, to be exact. At the start of this short novel, the narrator described his friendship with a handsome student named Okada. Okada often walked the streets of Muenzaka in the evening and one time he happened upon a beautiful young woman living in a house in a silent neighborhood. Through his regular walks he had become acquainted with her, even if "the appearance of the house and the way the woman dressed strongly suggested that she was someone's mistress." The Wild Goose, also known as The Wild Geese, by Mori Ōgai (1862-1922) was a dazzling and iconic Japanese novel about Otama, the woman who agreed to become the mistress of Suezō, a shrewd moneylender, and her acquaintance with Okada, the young student she fell in love with. Through gentle prose, Ōgai presented their interlinked stories while illuminating the attitudes and mores of late nineteenth century Japan, at the cusp of its transition to a modernist society. It was a time when men of means like Suezō could hire go-betweens to negotiate and procure for them a mistress. The practice was then taboo and mistresses were then, as now, strongly discriminated against. Otama's previous marriage to a policeman turned out to be a sham, leaving her completely discouraged about her future prospects. Her plight was to be poor and her acquiescence to become a rich man's mistress was driven by her need to secure material comforts for her and her old father. Part of the charm of the story was the narrator's close observations of Otama, Suezō, and Okada's motives and actions. Like the character of Suezō, the man despised by society for his occupation as moneylender, the narrator had "keen powers of observation", in the way he delineated not only three strong characters but believable secondary characters as well. Suezō's suspicious wife Otsune and Otama's father had their own complexities. Ōgai's marked evocation of a distinct place and culture and the marginal status of women at the time revealed a "not-quite" vanished age, in the sense that his characters' desires, despair, and anguish were just as transparent as the present. In addition, Ōgai's use of animal symbols (a pair of caged birds, a fierce snake, a flock of geese) and references to classical Chinese and Japanese literature had such cunning and grace that they didn't feel like literary devices at all but the very essence of the story, like fire to the brazier. In her mortification there was very little hatred for the world or for people. If one were to ask exactly what in fact she resented, one would have to answer that it was her own fate. Through no fault of her own she was made to suffer persecution, and this was what she found so painful. When she was deceived and abandoned by the police officer, she had felt this mortification, and recently, when she realized that she must become a mistress, she experienced it again. Now she learned that she was not only a mistress but the mistress of a despised moneylender, and her despair, which had been ground smooth between the teeth of time and washed of its color in the waters of resignation, assumed once more in her heart its stark outline. The unnamed narrator was a voice of kindness. His large sympathy for the fates of Otama and his friend Okada was unmistakable, relating their stories with penetrating understanding, even affecting a degree of respect and love for the two characters. He later revealed his storytelling method as a play on two perspectives: "Just as two images combine in a stereoscope to form a single picture, so the events I observed earlier and those that were described to me later have been fitted together to make this story of mine." February marked the 150th year of Ōgai's birth. He was one of the exemplary prewar Japanese writers of national stature, and The Wild Goose (Gan), published serially in 1911-13, was his most esteemed work. According to Murakami Haruki (if I remember him correctly), Gan had the same special status in Japan as Sōseki's I Am a Cat, Botchan, and Kokoro; Akutagawa's stories; and Shiga's A Dark Night's Passing. Translator Burton Watson mentioned in his thorough introduction that the original title Gan could mean both the singular and plural words, hence the two distinct English titles. I have also read the earlier 1959 translation, The Wild Geese, by Kingo Ochiai and Sanford Goldstein. This full translation by Watson contains endorsements from Edwin McClellan and Edward Seidensticker, two powerhouse Japanese translators, so that should count for something. Indeed this version I find quite beautiful. Gan was adapted into a movie in 1953. My copy acquired from Bookmooch. 28 Linda92007

Apr 5, 2012, 6:44am

Two fabulous reviews, Rise. Very insightful and interesting. You are the only LT member listing Nowaki in their library, but I see that the U of M Center for Japanese Studies has a website for direct sale of their books. I am definitely going to explore that further. Thank you for introducing us to these works. 29 Rise

Apr 5, 2012, 11:12am

Welcome, Linda. CJS has a very good catalog of Japanese lit. I've read 4 books from them so far. 30 baswood

Apr 5, 2012, 6:14pm

I agree with Linda, excellent reviews. Rise, I find myself scribbling all over my books, mostly in pencil and so when you come to those insane quotes that you must underline you can find yourself with some books underlining more sentences than those that remain not underlined. I have added The Wild Goose to my to buy list, your review makes it a must read. 31 Rise

Apr 6, 2012, 10:12am

Barry, I also do that, note-taking in the books using pencil. Hard to do in books where every third sentence is worth noting. 32 Rise

Apr 10, 2012, 3:50am

The Athenian Murders by José Carlos Somoza, trans. Sonia Soto (Abacus, 2002) Set in ancient Greece in the time of Plato’s Academy, this postmodern, heavily footnoted murder mystery was ostensibly a scholar’s translation of a Greek text, also called The Athenian Murders, written by an anonymous author just after the Peloponnesian War. Like the Quixote, therefore, it was a meta-translation, a text put forward as a translation of a fictional original by a narrator who was conscious of the fact. Here, the fictional translator himself gave his comments on the story and his translation in the footnotes. As he worked on the chapters of the text and immersed himself in the cryptic images ‘hidden’ in the story, his copious notes at the bottom of the pages became more and more desperate in tone. The fictional translator (the qualification was necessary, in deference to Spanish-to-English translator Sonia Soto) of the fictional Greek text was starting to cave in, so to speak. Both the original Spanish title of the novel and the purported Greek text were called La caverna de las ideas (2000, The Cave of Ideas). The Cuban writer José Carlos Somoza must have been fond of what-if stories. His other novels translated after this one—The Art of Murder and Zig Zag—were both set in the future, so the speculative and futuristic may be a constant preoccupation with the author. 'Poetry, tragedy, comedy, prose, epics and many other things.... I must make it clear, Plato, that I do not "see" the future: I invent it. I write it and that, for me, is equivalent to inventing it. Simply for pleasure, I conceive worlds that differ from this one, voices that speak from other times, past or future.... On occasion, Apollo has allowed me to deduce what the future might be like ...' That was the writer Philotextus speaking to Master Plato. For Somoza, the novel was a literal cave of ideas and possibilities. The puzzle was evident from the novel's epigraph, from Plato of course: There is an argument which holds good against the man who ventures to put anything whatever into writing on questions of this nature; it has often before been stated by me, and it seems suitable for the present occasion. For everything that exists there are three instruments by which knowledge of it is necessarily imparted; fourth, there is the knowledge itself, and, as fifth, we must count the thing itself which is known and truly exists. The first is the name, the second the definition, the third the image ... The fifth instrument, the thing itself, requires that knowledge of the thing must fold in on itself. Plato's theory of ideas cautions against the very danger of steeping oneself in incomplete, unverifiable ideas, and the (Kafkaesque) danger of interpreting everything. In this story of crime solving, the narrative role of the translator was given utmost importance. Translation became the vehicle for solving the crime at the center of the story and for illuminating the unsolved enigmas brought about by Plato's dangerous ideas. "Translator figures" haunt The Athenian Murders, both novel and meta-translation, in various guises, all plausible roles for the translator: detective, philosopher, sculptor, and reader. Somoza's cave-like book was quite the entertaining and thought-provoking detective story. 33 baswood

Apr 10, 2012, 5:53pm

Nice review of The Athenian Murders which sounds good fun 34 Linda92007

Apr 11, 2012, 1:40pm

Somoza's cave-like book - You certainly do know how to write an intriguing review, Rise. 35 Rise

Apr 11, 2012, 10:37pm

33 - Thanks, Barry. It's a good take on the Hercule Poirot genre. One of those books with translators as characters. 34 - Thanks, Linda. To extend the metaphor, the surprise ending was like coming out of a dark cave and being blinded by the light. 36 Rise

Apr 15, 2012, 6:40am

Our Lady of the Assassins by Fernando Vallejo, trans. Paul Hammond (Serpent's Tail, 2001) This novel from Colombia was a guided tour of hell. The hell portrayed was Colombia itself, where young hitmen, kids even, were murdering and assassinating with or without cause. Set in Medellín, the story was narrated by Fernando, an old gay "grammarian", decrying the atrocities and brutalities of his birth place, which he had recently come back to. Fernando had an affair with Alexis, a teenage hitman he took under his wing. Alexis will be killed later in the novel, a spoiler shared right at the start of his story. Alternating between vociferous ranting and utter resignation, Fernando was touring his "foreign" readers around the slums and seedy sides of Medellín, always making a detour around churches and stone monuments of the saints who silently listen to the prayers of victims and their sincere assassins. When a government crackdown on a powerful drug cartel had ended its operations, several assassins in its employ suddenly found themselves without jobs. They were left to wander the streets, still carrying guns and facing a larger number of potential targets: anybody who 'exist' and can be used for target practice. The author Fernando Vallejo, like his narrator, was gay and a writer of a book on grammar. After obtaining citizenship from Mexico in 2007, he renounced his Colombian citizenship. It was evident from the novel's text that Vallejo wanted the city of Medellín ("the capital of hate") to represent the wider, national culture of hate in Colombia. The narrator's diatribes took on the Catholic church, the police, the drug cartels, the President, the power structure, all of his fellow citizens who brought Medellín (and Colombia) to the state of anarchy. There was something fundamentally disturbing about Fernando describing the scenes of random killings in an almost detached voice. When innocent bystanders became casualties (unwitting or intentional) in the story, the grammarian's irony could be pointed. The puns could be troubling. The taxi-driver would no longer have to tolerate impertinent passengers, he was released from working. Death released him: Lady Death, the lover of justice, the number one boss, retired him. With the momentum the man's rage had given the taxi, plus what the bullet added, it carried on until it hit a post and exploded, but not before taking out, in its crazy careering towards the other side of the street, a pregnant woman with two little kids, who'd be having no more, thus cutting short what was promising to be a long maternal career. The language of hate in fiction was always a risky proposition. The rhetoric of hate sometimes undercut portraits of violence and evil, especially when the loudness of curses and oaths tended to shout down the crimes or to create stereotypes of evil. Another possible danger that narratives of hate was risking (especially here, being told by an insider to outsiders/gringos) was a tendency to trivialize the issues by lending an 'exotic' feel to the story, and to evil deeds permeating it. Vallejo mostly avoided this trapdoor by producing a playful, darkly comic, and a very frank court summary. It must have been tricky to translate this novel. Written in the word-playful voice of a grammarian, the diction was probably made slippery by the use of colloquialisms and street slang. The equivalents in English did not always sound convincing in English. Although the translation read well, it sometimes played false notes here and there. Fernando's detached voice, through Paul Hammond's translation, was generally wellcalibrated, but there were some passages and rants, a particular combination of swearwords and local color and idiom, that distracted for sounding artificial. Originally published in Spanish in 1994 as La Virgen de los Sicarios, this novel was a harsh judgement on the ineptitude of authorities and the 'religious' to stem the tide of violence in Medellín. The state of hate had become the very way of life in the city. The 'system in place' was unable to prevent young men from taking up arms and firing them indiscriminately. With ever increasing body count, Fernando at one point realized that "the cinema and the novel are not enough to capture the reality of Medellín." The gratuitous scenes in the novel already gave us an idea of the magnitude of Medellín reality. The novel was adapted into a movie in 2000, directed by Barbet Schroeder and with the script written by Vallejo. The homicide rate in Medellín went down by early 2000s. It picked up again in 2008-09 before going down again. The city was now overtaken by Cali (also in Colombia) as that country's "most violent" city, based on a recent global violence index.

37 Rise

Apr 15, 2012, 8:29am

Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene (Penguin Books, 2008) Father Quixote was peacefully tending to his parishioners at El Toboso when he received a letter from his bishop. The Holy See was promoting him into a monsignor, and all because he was endorsed by a bishop (a different one) who was once aided by Father Quixote in a time of need. This was a surprise, all the more for his superior who considered the priest's ways to be bent and misguided. He and the bishop did not always see eye to eye, but the Holy See had the final say and that's that. With his promotion, the now-Monsignor Quixote found himself vacillating about his new ministry. A new parish priest was sent to replace him and Father (he was still not used to be called Monsignor) Quixote took the opportunity to ask for some time off, a holiday where he could recover his wits and take things in stock. It's not everyday one gets to be elevated to a position one was not asking for. The bishop approved the request, obviously still reeling from the turn of events. How did Father Quixote maneuvered his way into this? Animosity and hatred among men of the cloth weren't really that uncommon. It was hard for Father Quixote to be leaving El Toboso after all these years. But he had his marching orders. Leaving with him on his holiday was Mayor Enrique Zancas, also known as Sancho, an open communist and fresh from his defeat in the recent election in the village. The two of them were to ride in Father Quixote's old but beloved Seat 600, named Rocinante. They were bringing a lot of good old Manchegan wine. The journey of our two characters was a sally into the map and territory of spiritual and religious life. The romp across the Spanish landscapes framed Father Quixote and Mayor Sancho's constant philosophical exchanges, their endless debates between the merits and virtues of Catholic life and Marxism. The parallelism with Father Quixote's "ancestor" was apparent in the way theology was treated as a form of chivalry. In the same way the ancestor steeped himself in books of chivalry (and in the process may have irreversibly lost his mind), the priest learned the doctrines and teachings governing his religion and blindly stuck to them. For his part, the unbeliever and worldly Sancho always set off his communist ideals against the Catholic priest's belief. The interaction between the two was not always easy, but with banter and wine, the right mix of good chemistry, a close friendship developed between them. Their adventures "on the high roads of the world" consisted of set pieces that were always a riot of wit. Mayor Sancho, who played the devil with gusto, was ever taunting Father Quixote's religious beliefs. But one could also sense the devil's advocate in the character of the priest himself, who despaired: "How is it that when I speak of belief, I become aware always of a shadow, the shadow of disbelief haunting my belief?" Considered Graham Greene's last religious book, Monsignor Quixote first came out in 1982. In it, the novelist must have given a synthesis of his belief in God and the ways fiction can dramatize it. Greene's was not a faithful adaptation, but boy was it so faithful. Like belief in the reality of fiction, belief in a supreme being was predicated on how much reality the Author could offer his readers. The Catholic novelist relied on clever dialogues and beautiful ironies to deliver his point across. "{Don Quixote} was a fiction, my bishop says, in the mind of a writer...." "Perhaps we are all fictions, father, in the mind of God." Like Father Quixote's ancestor, the character of this novel insisted on the recognition of his existence in fact, perhaps in the same way the novelist insisted on the existence of God. The literary imagination as metaphor for the religious imagination. With the cast-iron conviction of his ancestor who vehemently denied the truth behind the "fake Quixote", Father Quixote's passionate insistence on his own free will and selfdetermination lay at the very root of his religious belief. "Why are you always saddling me with my ancestor?" "I was only comparing—" "You talk about him at every opportunity, you pretend that my saints' books are like his books of chivalry, you compare our little adventures with his. Those Guardia were Guardia, not windmills. I am Father Quixote, and not Don Quixote. I tell you, I exist. My adventures are my own adventures, not his. I go my way—my way—not his. I have free will. I am not tethered to an ancestor who has been dead these four hundred years." The novel's climax was a cunning one. It showed Greene's position cemented via transubstantiation (in a manner of speaking) of fiction into fact and of doubt into belief. When it comes down to it, belief in something does not really require the existence of the thing one believes in. In the words of another priest in the novel, a Trappist monk: "I suppose Descartes brought me to the point where he brought himself—to faith. Fact or fiction—in the end you can't distinguish between them—you just have to choose." 38 baswood

Apr 15, 2012, 5:26pm

Excellent review of Monsignor Quixote, I read it a couple of years ago and thought it was one of Greene's best novels. What struck me was the way he got his points across in a story that was genuinely funny. 39 Rise

Edited: Apr 15, 2012, 8:45pm

Thanks, Barry. It was my first book of Graham Greene. A wonderful introduction to this Catholic writer. I enjoyed the light touch of this book. 40 janemarieprice

Apr 18, 2012, 9:28pm

37 - Excellent review, I've added it to the wishlist. 41 Rise

Apr 21, 2012, 8:08pm

Thanks, Jane! 42 Rise

Apr 29, 2012, 3:42am

Mandarins, stories by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, trans. Charles De Wolf (Archipelago Books, 2007) Mandarins was a substantial story collection by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke (1892-1927), the Japanese grandmaster of short fiction. It showed that his sublime style did not end with "Rashōmon" and "In a Grove", the pair of signature stories that formed the basis of Kurosawa Akira's acclaimed film. Even with the absence of these two famous stories, the fifteen stories comprising this collection had elegantly defined what 'rashomonesque' was all about. The selection and translation by Charles De Wolf were beautifully accomplished. They revealed Akutagawa's preoccupations with themes centering on adultery, Christian legends, the decay of a generation, and suicide. My favorite stories included "O'er a Withered Moor", about the impending death of the haiku poet Bashō, and the title story "Mandarins", which turned out to be referring not to Chinese personages at all. In "O'er a Withered Moor", the dying poet was surrounded by his disciples, each of whom was contemplating mortality and expressing his own grief in different ways. Each poet had a unique personality and temperament that colored his perception of this momentous event. Their various feelings almost mirrored the conflicting testimonies given by several witnesses to a crime in "In a Grove". The difference with this story was the way in which an omniscient narrator tended to interrupt the narrative to give his own subjective commentary and appraisal of what is happening. This narrator even had something to say about Bashō's farewell haiku containing the story's title: "Ill on a journey, / Wandering in fevered dreams / O'er a withered moor."

None of this had the remotest bearing on the imminent death of his master, whose fate was now faithfully fulfilling what he had so often predicted in his verses, for truly he was now being left as a bleached corpse in a vast and desolate moor of humanity. His own disciples were not lamenting the death of their master but rather their own loss at his passing. They were not bewailing the piteous demise of their guide in the wilderness but rather their own abandonment here in the twilight. Yet as we humans are by nature coldhearted, of what use is it to offer moral reprobation? Lost in such world-weary thoughts, even as he exalted in his capacity to indulge in them, Shiko wetted the lips of his master and returned the plumed stick to the water bowl....

The title story was equally beguiling for its simplicity and compression. In a few pages the writer crafted the personal sensibility of an irritable and snobbish middle class train passenger.

It was a scene that eerily matched my own mood. Like the looming snow clouds, an unspeakable fatigue and ennui lay heavily upon my mind. I sat with my hand deep in the pockets of my overcoat, too weary even to pull out the evening newspaper.

Akutagawa efficiently supplied images and sensations that supported the attitudes of this narrator, telling his story in brief snapshots:

The train in the tunnel, this country girl, this newspaper laden with trivia – if they were not the symbols of this unfathomable, ignoble, and tedious life of ours, what were they?

And then the writer supplied a final sequence of images that led the passenger to a convincing epiphany that overturned his first impressions, and that allowed him to recognize how biases and prejudices could distort our worlds and that it is only through appreciation of kindness and love that we could live in peace.

Everything I had seen beyond the window – the railway crossing bathed in evening light, the chirping voices of the children, and the dazzling color of the oranges raining down on them – had passed in the twinkling of an eye. Yet the scene had been vividly and poignantly burned in my mind, and from this, welling up within me, came a strangely bright and buoyant feeling. ... A now for the first time I was able to forget, at least for a moment, my unspeakable fatigue, my ennui, and, with that, this unfathomable, ignoble, and tedious life.

The concentration of trenchant images in this collection allowed for the characters to inhabit shifting states of feeling: from anxiety to serenity, from lust to resignation, from paranoia to ferocity. The latter feeling, that of fierceness or ferocity, of vulgarity and passion, may fully describe the elevated state of 'having deeply lived and loved' – in contrast to a life of pure intellect and culture – that must have been an essential component of Akutagawa's artistic vision.

They understand Bashō; they understand Tostoy. They understand Ike no Taiga and Mushanokōji Saneatsu. They understand Karl Marx. Yet what is the result? Of fierce love, the joy of fierce creativity, or fierce moral passion they are ignorant. All in all, they know nothing of the sheer intensity of spirit that can render this world sublime. And if they are marked by a mortal wound, they surely also contain a pernicious poison. One of its properties is direct, enabling it to transform ordinary human beings into sophisticates; another works by way of reaction, making them all the more common. ("An Evening Conversation")

More than the notions of moral subjectivity and relativism, that strong feeling perhaps came close to what was 'novel' in Akutagawa, to what was rashomonesque – the enunciation of what is human, what is intense, and what is poetic. The multiplicity of literary influences of Akutagawa was evident in this collection. It was as if his ink well was a melting pot of Eastern and Western letters. In "The Life of a Fool", several European names were dropped (Maupassant, Baudelaire, Strindberg, Ibsen, Shaw, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Flaubert). The fragmentary nature of this story, consisting of 51 numbered short passages, could even remind one of a streamlined The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. Published posthumously (like Pessoa's Disquiet), "The Life of a Fool" documented a writer's dissembling. It had explicit references to suicide and thus was considered autobiographical. It also contained a reference to Tanizaki Jun'ichiro, an acquaintance of the writer, and Akutagawa's mentor Natsume Sensei (Sōseki). In fact, several stories in Mandarins seemed to be haunted by the spiritual presence of Sōseki. Mandarins contained well-researched and must-read translator's notes, glossary, and afterword at the end of the book. Charles De Wolf's idiomatic translation, vocabulary, and diction seemed to have captured well Akutagawa's poetry. He seemed to have an intuition for words such that the Japanese writer came across as an English prose stylist.

Even in those days, the view of the water in the evening may not have been worthy of comparison with the elegance of the more distant past, but something of the beauty that one sees in old woodblock prints remained. When on that evening too we rowed downstream past Manpachi and entered the Great River, we could see the parapet of Ryōgoku Bridge, arching above the waves that flickered in the faint mid-autumn twilight and against the sky, as though an immense black Chinese ink stroke had been brushed across it. The silhouettes of the traffic, horses and carriages soon faded into the vaporous mist, and now all that could be seen were the dots of reddish light from the passengers' lanterns, rapidly passing to and fro in the darkness like small winter cherries. ("An Enlightened Husband")

Two stories in Mandarins also appeared in Jay Rubin's translation in Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories. A version of the story "An Enlightened Husband" is online at The Brooklyn Rail. 43 Linda92007

Apr 29, 2012, 9:05am

A fabulous review, Rise. This is one I think I will purchase soon. 44 edwinbcn

Apr 29, 2012, 9:15am

45 Rise

Apr 29, 2012, 10:03pm

Thanks, Linda and Edwin. Linda, it's a beautiful edition from Archipelago, with a sketch by Auguste Rodin fin the cover. 46 baswood

Apr 30, 2012, 10:09am

Really enjoyed your review of Mandarins - first class. 47 SassyLassy

May 1, 2012, 9:59am

Enjoyed your review of Monsignor Quixote, which I haven't read. I did read The Power and the Glory, Greene's excellent novel about the" whisky priest" who must come to terms with the purge of priests in Mexico. I will follow it up with the Monsignor. 48 Rise

May 1, 2012, 9:56pm

- 46 Thanks, Barry! - 47 Thank you! I'm intrigued with the religious novels of Greene and am considering exploring it. In this novel, "wine" had a significant role too. 49 dchaikin

May 4, 2012, 8:54am

Catching up very late. It took me a few days to find the time to read all these reviews, but I thoroughly enjoyed all you've into these. You've made me want to read every book reviewed here. 50 Rise

Edited: May 5, 2012, 12:46pm

Dan, thanks for taking the time to read through the reviews. I've a heart to join the Alter readalong, but it would upset my reading plans. I'm still considering tackling it sometime though. 51 Rise

May 15, 2012, 1:01am

Elizabeth Costello by J. M. Coetzee (Viking Penguin, 2003) The lecture as a species of the novel? And this academic invasion works? I've read two novels of this kind. One was this novel by J. M. Coetzee, constructed out of its novelist character's lectures which were, in large part, transcribed verbatim in the text. The other was Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas Some sections of Elizabeth Costello's lectures were paraphrased, other "extraneous" writings or events in the book were merely glossed over, dismissed with a stylistic flourish. Here's the omniscient narrator, right before Elizabeth Costello's delivering a "lesson" on the subject of realism.

The presentation scene itself we skip. It is not a good idea to interrupt the narrative too often, since storytelling works by lulling the reader or listener into a dreamlike state in which the time and space of the real world fade away, superseded by the time and space of the fiction. Breaking into the dream draws attention to the constructedness of the story, and plays havoc with the realist illusion. However, unless certain scenes are skipped over we will be here all afternoon. The skips are not part of the text, they are part of the performance.

This was from the first lecture, entitled "What is Realism?" It already pointed to the lecture novel as a form of performance. The omission of supposedly insufferable parts was the rule ("There is a scene in the restaurant, mainly dialogue, which we will skip.") Skip, skip, skip. The reader was delivered from unnecessary scenes. He should be thankful for this consideration on the part of the narrator. And Costello, for her forthright behavior, despite her unstable and opinionated nature. And Coetzee, for keeping everything to the interesting minimum. But skipping ahead to the third lecture, a two-part talk on "The Lives of Animals", the novelist Costello was up to some provocative argumentation. (This double lecture first appeared as a self-contained book, with commentaries from four scholars, in 1999. I read an edition of this lecture that was without the commentaries.) In her argument against animal cruelty (or, in Coetzee's argument against animal cruelty, via fiction), Costello brought in some serious comparison.

Let me say it openly: we are surrounded by an enterprise of degradation, cruelty and killing which rivals anything that the Third Reich was capable of, indeed dwarfs it, in that ours is an enterprise without end, self-regenerating, bringing rabbits, rats, poultry, live-stock ceaselessly into the world for the purpose of killing them.

Despite the tone, the speech had room for self-deprecation. She basically spoke her mind because such "philosophical language", which at the same time was literary language, was "available" to her. And so she resorted to it:

But the fact is, if you had wanted someone to come here and discriminate for you between mortal and immortal souls, or between rights and duties, you would have called in a philosopher, not a person whose sole claim to your attention is to have written stories about made-up people.

She basically defined the surface work of a novelist. Perhaps the great quality of Coetzee, and that of Costello, as a writer is sympathy. Costello later spoke of the deeper, human, role the novelist could embody.

There is no limit to the extent to which we can think ourselves into the being of another. There are no bounds to the sympathetic imagination. If you want proof, consider the following. Some years ago I wrote a book called The House on Eccles Street. To write that book I had to think my way into the existence of Marion Bloom. Either I succeeded or I did not. If I did not, I cannot imagine why you invited me here today. In any event, the point is, Marion Bloom never existed. Marion Bloom was a figment of James Joyce's imagination. If I can think my way into the existence of a being who has never existed, then I can think my way into the existence of a bat or a chimpanzee or an oyster, any being with whom I share the substrate of life.

Skirting around (and yes, skipping) the main argument Costello made about animals, the fact is, The House on Eccles Street never existed. "Costello's Marion Bloom" never existed. It was a figment of her imagination. Creating the persona of Costello in this novel of lectures probably originated from the novelist's need to put some distance between his views and that of the radical ones of his protagonist. He was always examining the controversial contents of his character's speech--usually through Costello's detractors and even her own self-examination--even if he obviously shared and believed in them. Through a fictional persona he produced and structured a layer of inquiry wherein the novelist adopted the very fictional methods of his character, and so demonstrated the capacity of fiction to augment the imagination and enlarge the spirit. Costello, as character, was both likeable and unlikeable. Mostly she was unlikeable. But her intelligent and realistic representation was more than enough for her vitality of ideas and sympathetic imagination to leap off the page. To skip from fictional design and enter the reader's universe of ideas. 52 Rise

May 15, 2012, 1:07am

Never Any End to Paris (Paris no se acaba nunca) by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated by Anne McLean (New Directions, 2011) Framed as a three-day lecture by a novelist looking back on his days of youth, Never Any End to Paris directly referenced the earnest writer Hemingway and prominently featured Marguerite Duras who was the young apprentice novelist's landlady. By his candid reminiscences, the boundaries between lecture and novel and between fiction and memoir not only blurred but dissolved into each other. Vila-Matas's lecture novel was also a species of the memoir. How it panned out that way was a pleasure and privilege to observe. The humor of Vila-Matas was light and buoyant. Unrestrained laughter was to accompany its reading. With the help of accommodating mentors, the young narrator was completing a first novel called The Lettered Assassin, a book that would cause the death of everyone who read it. (Vila-Matas actually wrote one called La asesina ilustrada, his second book.) Upon learning of the book's malicious premise, Marguerite Duras could only comment that "killing the reader, apart from absurd, was quite impossible, unless, for example, a swift and sharp poisoned arrow were to fly out of the book directly into the heart of the unsuspecting reader." But Marguerite was able to impart a cryptic (to the narrator) suggestion on how to achieve his murderous objective, and later she also gave some guidelines (thirteen) on how to actually write it. Unintentionally or not, this lecture novel was also a creative writing workshop. The lecture's unstructured portrait of Parisian art and literary scene, through the young writer's ubiquitous involvement in the city's cultural life, was sui generis. The reader was witness, often with a smile and a wink, to the stereotypes of a frustrated writer that the narrator was consciously acting out. His failures and pretensions were endearing, such as his ceaseless namedropping and his hanging out in cafés affecting the look of an intellectual immersed in lofty thoughts while holding a book. The scenes crackled loudly. There was, for example, the unforgettable scene of our young writer’s hair-raising meeting with Georges Perec – a literal face-to-face encounter with the latter’s shaggy facial appendage. In this novel of delightful literary encounters, Paris never ends because its memories linger in the minds of writers like Vila-Matas who spent their formative years navigating a city of luminous lights. Reading it was like having a drink with a friend. An amiable time lasting the whole night and where there was never any end to banter and good talk. 53 Rise

May 15, 2012, 2:16am

The Woman in the Dunes (1962) by Abé Kobo, translated by E. Dale Saunders (Vintage International, 1991) I've watched the movie after reading the novel, and my review below is for both of them. The story is about Niki Jumpei, a teacher who made a field trip to a desert near the sea. He collects insect specimens. As an amateur entomologist, he is determined to discover an unrecorded beetle that would make his name. Trying to find lodgings for the night, he is helped by men of the village to descend a sand pit leading to a hut using a rope ladder. A woman living below (the "woman in the dunes") will take him in for the night. When he wakes up in the morning, however, he finds the rope ladder is removed. He realizes that he is trapped. Against his will, he is held down there to help the woman clear away the accumulating sand that continually threatens to bury the village. Sand is the element that propels the novelist Abé Kobo's story. The 1964 film adaptation by Teshigahara Hiroshi captures its tactile physicality. In the film, the landscape is grainy, and the black and white photography enhances all the textures. Of sand on skin, sand on hair strand, sand mixed with beads of sweat, wind carving the face of sand cliffs, sand percolating in the air. The close ups of the two characters' perspiring faces and bodies show the gray grains of sand sticking on the open pores of their skin. Outside the hut, the landscape is suffused with flowing sand, falling sand, sliding sand. Sand is the very way of life. The effect of this textural treatment of sand in the film--together with the subtle imagery of light and shadows and the desert heat and a lack of moisture--is a sensual battle of desires and wills. There is an erotic component to Jumpei's seemingly futile attempts to escape the sand pit. As opposed to Kafka's portrait of a man seeking employment under an unavailing power structure in The Castle, Abé and Teshigahara's depiction of a man's imprisonment into work itself, into slavery, for the sole purpose of daily shoveling away sand, is seen as a predicament of modern man in capitalist society. The apparent conflict is between the meaninglessness of resistance and the discovery of meaning out of an extreme (environmental) situation. Both K. and Jumpei, however, do resist their fates and work toward changing their contrasting "employment status". If anything, Jumpei's extreme situation shares more with Josef K. in The Trial who one day finds himself guilty of an unknown and unknowable offense. This is apparent in a passage in the book where Jumpei reflected on his fate.

This entire nightmare could not be happening. It was too outlandish. Was it permissible to snare, exactly like a mouse or an insect, a man who had his certificate of medical insurance, someone who had paid his taxes, who was employed, and whose family records were in order? He could not believe it. Perhaps there was some mistake; it was bound to be a mistake. There was nothing to do but assume that it was a mistake.

But as one character in Kafka's The Castle said with ironic certainty: No errors occur, and even if an error does occur, ... who can finally say that it is an error. As with any fertile allegorical story, The Woman in the Dunes dramatizes a situation that can be read in many ways. Jumpei's entrapment can be seen as a spiritual imprisonment. In context, the novel is published in 1962 and is set in 1955, ten years after the atomic bombings of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, events that led to the surrender of Japan in the world war. As signature work of this period, the novel is grounded in postwar anxiety. The threat of a destructive war and nuclear event still hangs in the air. This is not referenced verbally in the film, but in the novel it is directly alluded to. Apart from the titles of articles in a newspaper, such as "Ingredient in Onions Found Effective in Treatment of Radiation Injuries", a reference to the war is given in conversation between the two characters.

"But I have taken walks," she said abruptly in her monotonous, withdrawn voice. "Really, they used to make me walk a lot. Until I came here. I used to carry a baby around for a long time. I was really tired out with all the walking. ... Yes, he remembered, when everything was in ruins some ten years ago {1945}, everybody desperately wanted not to have to walk. And now, were they glutted with this freedom from walking? he wondered.

The woman here, who is unnamed throughout the novel, is presented as a victim of war. Homeless, she must have wandered around after escaping from air bombings until she finds this seaside community. When the character of the woman was introduced for the first time, she is called "Granny" by the village men but she is actually a young woman, about thirty years of age. Perhaps her wartime experiences has aged her. Maybe she has been living in that metaphorical cave for all eternity. Sand, its oppression, can be thought of as symbol of time or eternity (as in sands of time). Its dynamic processes are powerful, destructive, and beautiful. In the book, Jumpei equates unsympathetic sand with death, the "beauty of death", "a rejection of the stationary state",

... a world where existence was a series of states. The beauty of sand ... belonged to death. It was the beauty of death that ran through the magnificence of its ruins and its great power of destruction.

The imagery of the natural destruction wrought by sand is not that different from the destruction wrought by wars. Both lead to houses being buried, to peoples being left homeless and destitute. The sand pit, therefore, can also be seen as a bomb shelter where people take cover in order to survive the air raids. For all its stifling and suffocating set up, the hopeful ending of The Woman in the Dunes can be seen as a response to Rousseau's proposition of a social contract. Man is born free, and everywhere finds himself enchained. Living in an inhospitable environment, under parched conditions, sentenced into a lifetime of manual labor, man's resilience is tested to its outer limits. Jumpei is in denial of his "unchanging" reality. He is answerable to the general will of the people (the villagers) and his acknowledgement of it can lead to his redemption. Though Kafka's protagonists and Jumpei shared the seeming futility of life experience, the latter's slow acceptance of his absurd condition signal a renewal of life in the face of perpetual destruction. Through the repetition of activities, he has discovered new aspects of desert life that are robust for investigation. His curiosity for scientific knowledge is rekindled. "Loneliness was an unsatisfied thirst for illusion," he concluded at one point. Perhaps his happiness lies in attempting to satisfy his thirst for empirical knowledge. Teshigahara's film adaptation is faithful to Abé's science fiction. Human nature is presented with a savage precision, as with the scene where the masked villagers gathered round the sand pit to witness Jumpei's temptation and his consequent psychological undoing. The accompanying ritualistic beats of drum heighten the voyeurism. The technical aspect of Teshigahara's direction is excellent. But beyond the production values, the film is to be credited for bringing out through tactile images Abé's novelistic use of illusion and perspective. Perspective or point of view as a way of looking at the scheme of things, a way of recognizing one's place in the world. Illusion as the image we think we see. At the end of the film, after numerous failures to escape the sand pit, Jumpei has partly seen through the illusion and has gained a deeper perspective of his enchained state of being. This perspective is illustrated in the novel through the image of a Möbius strip, a continuous band of twisted paper where front and back is indistinguishable.

He was still in the hole, but it seemed as if he were already outside. Turning around, he could see the whole scene. You can't really judge a mosaic if you don't look at it from a distance. If you really get close to it you don't get away from one detail only to get caught in another. Perhaps what he had been seeing up until now was not the sand but grains of sand.

In the movie, the thinking gaze of Jumpei (played by Okada Eiji), his meditation on the immensity of the sand dunes, as if looking from a farther distance and within a bigger desert picture, gives him a perspective of his state of nature. He is both outside and inside the pit. He is both free and slave at the same time. His duty now is to live and rethink his own morbid diagnosis of his condition. He will study the emergent properties of sand. Sand is its own paradigm shift. 54 dchaikin

May 15, 2012, 8:36pm

Wonderful stuff, all three. I love all the different ways you taken A Woman in the Dunes. It sounds very elemental, in the sense that any reader can use in any different way or ways that work for them. I had to look up a picture of Georges Perec because I had to know what the "shaggy facial appendage" was. 55 Rise

Edited: May 16, 2012, 9:15am

Thank you, Dan. 'The Woman in the Dunes' was in some way like a jigsaw with more than one solution. Btw, the Perec encounter was reproduced here.

56 Rise

May 16, 2012, 9:51am

1Q84 (2009/2010) by Murakami Haruki, trans. Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel (Knopf, 2011) Murakami Haruki's extra-long 1Q84 was full of narrative strategies that went against the grain of conventional storytelling. It represented a hardening of his hyper-realistic style and its ambitiousness was patterned after that of George Orwell's dystopia, with the Little People in the novel imagined to have the same iconic stature as Big Brother. This well-intentioned novel, however, was bogged down by its own paper weight. The story was simple, if a bit long drawn out. It was 1984 when Aomame, a sports fitness trainer and physical therapist, suddenly found herself in a 'strange' new reality where policemen wore a new style of uniform and sported a new weapon. There was more to Aomame than meets the eye. She was also a hired killer for the dowager, an old wealthy woman who targeted powerful men who beat women. Meanwhile, Tengo, a cram school Maths teacher and aspiring novelist, was telling his own reality in parallel alternate chapters. He was 'commissioned' by Komatsu, his editor, to act as ghostwriter of Air Chrysalis, a promising novel by a teenage girl named Fuka-Eri. The novel was entered in a writing competition and Komatsu wanted to polish its prose for it to eventually win. Behind the increasingly intertwining (love) story of Aomame and Tengo was the dark shadow of the religious Sakigake cult, the ultimate source of all the troubles and strangeness of their world. As with previous works, Murakami built into his fictional system an aspect of the metafictional. As a key text defining the principles that govern the double moon world of '1Q84' (the name Aomame gave this new reality/world), Air Chrysalis could also be seen as a template for the novel 1Q84. It was at least instructive how Tengo approached the work he was rewriting. Even his definition of what constitutes literature was very telling: "If the work succeeds in gaining many people's approval and if they identify with it, then it becomes a literary work with objective value." Hence, for Tengo, and arguably for Murakami, "literary value" was contingent on mass appeal. Part of the appeal of Murakami's novels was the 'friendly' nature of his novels and stories. They unfolded in strange worlds and yet they were very understandable and relatable, well grounded in reality. They had complexity but were made to appear simple. They were full of life's lessons. And Murakami was all too helpful to explain to the reader the mechanism of his story. It was narrative spoonfeeding, using the pages of the novel as venue for his fiction writing workshop. The narrative principle was given by Komatsu, Tengo's helpful editor.

"In my opinion, you haven't written enough about the two moons. I'd like you to give it more concrete detail. That's my only request." ... "Your readers have seen the sky with one moon in it any number of times, right? But I doubt they've seen a sky with two moons in it side by side. When you introduce things that most readers have never seen before into a piece of fiction, you have to describe them with as much precision and in as much detail as possible."

And describe the moons Tengo did. By the novel's end, Tengo, and Murakami, not only described them very well but bashed them into the readers' head, over and over, until the reader's head hemorrhages. 57 dchaikin

May 16, 2012, 12:48pm

Interesting review. I think I had already decided not to pursue this, but I certainly don't want anything bashed into my head over and over until hemorrhaging. 58 baswood

May 16, 2012, 5:02pm

Brilliant review of The woman in the Dunes and linking it to the film proved to be very worthwhile. I saw the film a long time ago but your review brought back a feeling of claustrophobia that I remembered when watching it. 59 Linda92007

May 16, 2012, 6:54pm

Great reviews, Rise. Coetzee is one of my favorites, but I have been avoiding Elizabeth Costello and I think I will leave it that way. The Woman in the Dunes is high on my wishlist and I will now also seek out the film. I do plan to tackle IQ84 later this year, as I already own it, but your closing comments do give one pause. 60 Rise

May 17, 2012, 10:12am

--Dan, whew, you're spared. :p --Barry, thanks. The feeling of claustrophobia was really one aspect of the book that the film brilliantly captured. There's another AbéTeshigahara collaboration that I would like to see--The Face of Another. --Linda, I share your admiration for Coetzee. I very much like his early efforts like Waiting for the Barbarians and The Master of Petersburg. I'm obviously not supportive of 1Q84, but I acknowledge various perspectives on it. 61 janemarieprice

May 24, 2012, 9:27pm

Wonderful review of The Woman in the Dunes! You've got some interesting reading going on lately. 62 Rise

May 26, 2012, 1:01pm

Thanks, jane. I'm finding Kobo Abé to be unique. I just read The Box Man and it's disturbing. 63 Rise

Edited: May 28, 2012, 9:42pm

Snow Country (1937; Rev. ed. 1948) by Kawabata Yasunari, translated by Edward G. Seidensticker (Vintage International, 1996) Set in the perennially snow-cold region of western mainland of Japan, Snow Country features one of the coldest characters in fiction. Shimamura is a wealthy Tokyo-based gentlemen who from time to time visits a mountain hot spring and his geisha lover Komako. He appreciates the beauty of nature and culture (music and the art of Chijimi weaving), but his carefree aristocratic attitude cannot conceal his insensitivity to other people’s emotions. However much Komako expressed her deep feelings for him, Shimamura does not reciprocate. As the story progresses, Shimamura’s snow-like passivity and Komako’s fiery love intensify. The novel is an evocation of “inexpressible beauty” and passionate human nature. This is achieved through an ecological aesthetic that relies on a powerful sense of place and culture. Kawabata describes landscapes and gestures with the pithy ruthlessness of a haiku poet, imbuing words with lyricism and care. The insidious cold is effectively evoked through the inhabitants’ clothes (mountain trousers), skin (reddened and cracked), and comportment. Details are integrated to the setting. Cultural values are woven into the fabric of prose.

It was clear, from the familiar way she had talked to the station master the evening before and from the way she wore “mountain trousers,” that she was a native of this snow country, but the bold pattern of her obi, half visible over the trousers, made the rough russet and black stripes of the latter seem fresh and cheerful, and for the same reason the long sleeves of her woolen kimono took on a certain voluptuous charm. The trousers, split just below the knees, filled out toward the hips, and the heavy cotton, for all its natural stiffness, was somehow supple and gentle.

Culture and arts seem to embody the harsh cold environment. As with his later novel The Old Capital, Kawabata appears to be delineating the relationships between man and woman and nature. Harmony with nature is the desirable objective; love is most desired. The way the samisen string instrument sounds, the powerful way of playing it, can be dictated by a clear sky over snow.

“The tone is different on a day like this.” The tone had been as rich and vibrant as her remark suggested. The air was different. There were no theater walls, there was no audience, there was none of the city dust. The notes went out crystalline into the clean winter morning, to sound on the far, snowy peaks. Practicing alone, not aware herself of what was happening, perhaps, but with all the wideness of nature in this mountain valley for her companion, she had come quite as a part of nature to take on this special power. Her very loneliness beat down sorrow and fostered a wild strength of will.

Kawabata’s writing is a delicate balance between expressing overwhelming beauty and containing it. The novel suggests that both the purity of art and the ability to master one's self can be derived from and conditioned by nature. One's destructive feelings, however, get in the way of fully achieving the harmony between human beings and nature. Although Shimamura's coldness does not hinder him from appreciating the traditional arts of weaving and samisen music playing, his disengagement from other people and his shallow intellectual curiosity are probably sufficient causes for his "estrangement" from nature. In this novel in which the souls of the characters seem to be blanketed in snow, love is unrequited. “Do you understand how I feel? ... If you understand, then tell me. Tell me, if you see how I feel”, Komako at one point implores Shimamura. The question reveals the gulf between two different persons. 64 baswood

May 29, 2012, 5:14am

Excellent review of Snow Country I particularly liked the paragraph quoted about the sound of the samisen playing and its relationship with the natural world. 65 Linda92007

May 29, 2012, 7:44am

An excellent and insightful review of Snow Country, Rise. 66 StevenTX

May 29, 2012, 9:14am

A very nice review of Snow Country, a beautifully written book indeed. When I read it I was fortunate to be reading it with a group that included someone who could explain a number of cultural references and metaphors from the Japanese literary tradition that would otherwise have been meaningless to me. 67 Rise

May 29, 2012, 10:36pm

- 64 Thanks, barry. The samisen playing was an extended scene in the book and it was beautifully described the whole time. - 65 Thanks, Linda. - 66 Steven, I can imagine that to be a great reading experience. Some references are so specific to the place. A cultural background enriches its reading. 68 deebee1

May 30, 2012, 12:47pm

Great book choices and fantastic reviews here, as usual. 69 Rise

Jun 3, 2012, 9:22am

Salamat, deebee! 70 deebee1

Jun 4, 2012, 12:48pm

:-) 71 Rise

Aug 6, 2012, 9:10am

Black Rain (1966) by Ibuse Masuji, translated by John Bester (Bantam Books, 1985) An antiwar novel, Black Rain probes the effects on humans of the atomic bomb dropped on the city of Hiroshima on August 1945. It is presented as diary entries of a family (husband, wife, niece) describing their escape from the destroyed city and their encounters with the victims of the bomb. The frame of the story is the niece Yasuko being involved in matchmaking for a promising marriage. Having learned that she was possibly exposed to radiation while fleeing Hiroshima, single men who were considering Yasuko for a wife eventually started to back out of the negotiations. In order to prove that she is healthy and free of symptoms of radiation sickness, Yasuko's uncle instructed her to copy out her diaries written right after the period of the bombing so that her whereabouts were accounted for during the whole ordeal. In using the marriage negotiations as the initial impetus for relaying the events of the bombing and in highlighting the way a potential marriage is being threatened by suspicions of radiation disease, Ibuse Masuji's novel thus underscores not only the immediate toll exacted on human lives and health but also the deleterious effects of the bomb on an entire culture and tradition. Sick or not, the survivors from Hiroshima were faced with social discrimination. The uncle, Shigematsu Shizuma, later finds another reason to copy out the diaries of his family: "This diary of the bombing is my piece of history, to be preserved in school library." The novel becomes the fictional repository of this "Journal of the Bombing" which was based on documents, interviews, and actual diaries of real persons. Documentation of a significant historical event accomplishes Shigematsu's desire to preserve memories for the information and education of future peoples. The unspeakable nature of the bomb was evident from the harrowing effects it produced. The novel did not shy away from graphically describing some of the destruction. Alongside the horror, Ibuse has infused his characters, details, and setting with such strong and realistic particularities that the novel does not devolve into pure critique and fury. The dry humor, the day-to-day routine of the characters before and after the bomb, the understated despair of the characters, and their bravery and resilience—all of these contributed to a novel of compelling interest. The novel's small, perfectly realized details stand out against the pathos of the larger story. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the first large-scale laboratories for the atomic bomb, whose destructive power was clearly unseen before. Its name was not even known at first to the victims. It was always referred to as a "new weapon", and also called, as Shigematsu observed, as "new-type bomb", "secret weapon", "special new-type bomb", "special high-capacity bomb". Whatever its name and whatever justifications for its use were made, it cannot be denied that the man-made bomb is a product of a man-made war. Its harmful effects last for a very long time. It ended the second world war and yet it continues to perpetrate an intergenerational crime—the crime of unleashing unstable radioactive substances which can lead to fatal diseases. New research indicates that even low levels of radiation produce genetic damage that can be passed on to one's offspring. Furthermore, chronic low-dose radiation exposure had carcinogenic effects that only become evident years after the exposure. Black Rain is a forceful reminder of the destructive capacity of nuclear energy then and now.

72 Rise

Aug 6, 2012, 10:11am

Masterworks of Latin American Short Fiction: Eight Novellas, edited by Cass Canfield Jr., introduction by Ilan Stavans (HarperCollins, 1996) The eight novellas in this anthology represent a diversity of Latin American styles. Each is retrofitted with a theme distilled from the writer's worldview. Each represents an articulation of the his linguistic brio. There is one work translated from Portuguese—that of João Guimarães Rosa. The rest is from Spanish. As with any discussion of the novella form, the accessible introduction by Ilan Stavans notes the apprehensions surrounding a story whose length ranges inconsistently between a long short story and a short novel. What really makes a novella? Is it the mileage of pages or the wattage of effect? To be more precise, what makes for a Latin American novella? The scholar has an elegant answer: From the Latin American writer's point of view, a novella is a most challenging endeavor, a trial of will and muscle. It requires the meticulousness, the mathematical approach of a short story, each word sitting in its right place so as to carry the plot's overall effect; but it also needs the panoramic appetite and ardor of a novel, its wider cry and spell, to be properly effective. Parsimonious by nature and perhaps even avaricious, a {short} story succeeds by subtraction; its beauty is in its smallness, its delicate balance between brevity and scope. The novel ... is an anything-goes, hodgepodge genre whose main principle is addition ... The novella is far less flexible—"the middle ground," in García Márquez's words, "an addition by way of subtraction." As noted also in Stavans's introduction, a useful reference point around which to gauge the effect of the novellas assembled is the period of la generación del boom. This Latin American burst of creativity in the late 1960s put many writers on the world literature map and set a new literary aesthetic and standard. The "Boom" is represented in the collection by Gabriel García Márquez, G. Cabrera Infante, and Julio Cortázar. The signature works of this fertile period—One Hundred Years of Solitude, Hopscotch, Conversation in The Cathedral, Terra Nostra, and Three Trapped Tigers—still cast their awesome shadows. Succeeding writers, those enamored by the spell of magic realism and intergenerational sagas, failed in their imitations of this generation. Magic realism, unfortunately, is the literary movement that has been largely associated with the Boom. Those who took a crack in overthrowing the old vanguards also didn't come up with lasting alternatives. It was not until the late 1990s and onwards that new novelists emerged from the shadows of their predecessors and made an emphatic generational break through works that better "explain contemporary Latin America". The trio of Alejo Carpentier, João Guimarães Rosa, and Felisberto Hernández represents the preboom era in this collection. Collectively, their works are as varied and inventive as can be. Carpentier is baroque; Guimarães Rosa, avant-garde; and Hernández, surreal. Ana Lydia Vega is the only female writer here, a reflection of what Stavans observed as a "male-dominated affair" in Latin American letters right up to la generación del boom. Vega's is the only post-boom response in the collection while Alvaro Mutis, while almost contemporaneous to the famed generation, writes his own series of existentialist novellas. Here are brief descriptions of the "masterwork" novellas included in the volume. 1. The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother by Gabriel García Márquez (43 pages), translated by Gregory Rabassa Here presented in its full revealing title, Innocent Eréndira has the tired mannerisms of magic realism but is nevertheless engaging for crisp descriptions and forward plot movement. The story of young Eréndira was conditioned by the sesonal blowing of the "wind of her misfortune." Her abject fate was to be pimped by her ruthless grandmother to countless men. García Márquez relied on absurdity on top of absurdity to propel Eréndira's tale into an incredible and sad and heartless conclusion. 2. Ms. Florence's Trunk by Ana Lydia Vega (67 pages), translated by Andrew Hurley Ana Lydia Vega's historical novella is framed by old Florence Jane's reading of her diaries stored in her ancient trunk. When she was young, the beautiful and timid Florence became tutor to the scion of a slave-owning household in Puerto Rico. Based on real life figures like the antiabolitionist Samuel Morse, the grandfather of Florence's student, the novella is a sentimental period drama of family and racial conflicts. Feelings of loneliness, physical and spiritual imprisonment, and unrequited loves are so unabated and freely flowing that the whole sob sister narrative feels like a deliberate subversion of both female psychological fiction and male swagger. 3. I Heard Her Sing by G. Cabrera Infante (53 pages), translated by Donald Gardner and Suzanne Jill Levine in collaboration with the author The tragic story of the obese and proud diva-in-the-making La Estrella, Ella cantaba boleros is a self-contained excerpt from the Cuban novel Three Trapped Tigers. It is animated with the chic rhythm of the Cuban bolero and the angst of its outcast characters. Set in the pre-Castro days (and nights) of Havana, La Estrella's rise and fall is recorded by a photographer who spotted her in one of his bar hops and immediately recognized her latent talent, her naked a cappella. Without any music, I mean without orchestra or accompaniment from radio record or tape, she started singing a new, unknown song, that welled up from her breasts, from her two enormous udders, from her barrel of a belly: from that monstrous body of hers, and I hardly thought at all of the story of the whale that sang in the opera, because what she was putting into the song was something other than false, saccharine, sentimental or feigned emotion and there was nothing syrupy or corny, no fake feeling or commercial sentimentality about it, it was genuine soul and her voice welled up, sweet, mellow, liquid, with a touch of oil now, a colloidal voice that flowed the whole length of her body like the plasma of her voice and all at once I was overwhelmed by it. It was a long time since anything had so moved me and I began laughing at the top of my voice, because I had just recognized the song ... Cabrera Infante's sentences are serpentine, with a certain rhythm to them, and charged with cunning and punning. No surprise that two translators collaborated with the author to bring the novel into English. Not every passage sounds natural or unconstrained but the bearable lightness and wit make this stand-alone novella stand out as a verbal triumph. 4. The Snow of the Admiral by Alvaro Mutis (67 pages), translated by Edith Grossman The Snow of the Admiral is the first of seven novellas featuring Maqroll the Gaviero (the Lookout). Like Vega's Ms. Florence's Trunk, it is an epistolary story consisting of the Gaviero's diary entries accidentally found by the narrator inside the pocket of an old book. This is probably representative of the Maqroll novellas as it references earlier adventures (that are still to be written!) collected in The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll. When I boarded the barge I mentioned the sawmill, but nobody could tell me its exact location or even if it really existed. It's always the same: I embark on enterprises that are branded with the mark of uncertainty, cursed by deceit and cunning. And here I am, sailing upriver like a fool, knowing ahead of time how everything will end, going into the jungle where nothing waits for me. The fatalist, world-weary voice of Maqroll is sustained throughout. His long journey upstream of a river as a businessman intent on buying and selling timber is rightly compared to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. But his story is not so much about him as about people who interacted with him and has gained insight into their own lives. The transformation of people around him matters more than his own. His journey is not so much physical as the spiritual descent of Jorge Luis Borges in "The South" where the nature of man is revealed by the flash of a knife. The many aphorisms contained in the diaries are worth underlining and thinking about. 5. The Road to Santiago by Alejo Carpentier (31 pages), translated by Frances Partridge The shortest story in the anthology oddly feels like the longest. That is because Alejo Carpentier is a maximalist. His sentences are packed choked with details, often dangling interminably, extended by clauses dependent and independent. Digressions happen at the level of the sentence such that one paragraph is like one novel already, and one chapter is a Proustian sequel. The story: massacres, indoctrinations, wars, escapes, invasions, plagues. Next there was a battle with syringes filled with sea water; a pole was tied to the next of an infuriated dog, which broke more than one head with its gyrations; a blindfold man chased a cock tied between two planks and decapitated it with a single sabre-stroke; and when all this had become tedious and money had changed hands ten times over at games of quinola or rentoy, fevers broke out, people collapsed with sunstroke, someone left his teeth in a ship's biscuit already gnawed by mice, a dead man was thrown overboard, a jet-black negress gave birth to twins, some vomited, others scratched themselves, yet others voided their entrails; and when it seemed that the fleas, lice, filth and stench had got beyond endurance, a cry from the look-out announced one morning that at last he could see the headland by the port of San Cristobal at Havana. 6. The Pursuer by Julio Cortázar (49 pages), translated by Paul Blackburn The story makes evident to me how much Roberto Bolaño's insouciance and improvisational brilliance in The Savage Detectives and his free style stories owed to the spontaneity of Cortázar's jazz. The pursuer is Bruno, the jazz critic and narrator of the story of the self-destructive, genius horn player, and heroin addict Johnny Carter. The latter is also the subject of Bruno's recently published biography. The entire story is framed as a kind of essay or criticism where the critic tries to capture the essence of his subject, if such a thing is possible at all. Johnny seems to be past saving. He hallucinates about "fields full of urns" (Sir Thomas Browne's Urn Burial?). The Pursuer is dark and funny and emotional. It is my runaway favorite in the anthology. This is not the place to be a jazz critic, and anyone who's interested can read my book on Johnny and the new postwar style, but I can say that forty-eight—let's say until fifty—was like an explosion in music, but a cold, silent explosion, an explosion where everything remained in its place and there were no screams or debris flying, but the crust of habit splintered into a million pieces until its defenders (in the bands and among the public) made hipness a question of self-esteem over something which didn't feel to them as it had before. ... Johnny had passed over jazz like a hand turning a page, that was it. 7. My Uncle, the Jaguar by João Guimarães Rosa (39 pages), translated by Giovanni Pontiero "The Jaguar" is a tour de force monologue that describes a descent into madness and captures civilization and barbarity existing side by side in a human being. It is a work of high craftsmanship, representative of the Portuguese novelist's stream of consciousness in the watershed novel Grande Sertão: Veredas (The Devil to Pay in the Backlands). The intricate ironic tale traced its own ruthless direction and produced its own taxonomy of several wildcat species for the purpose. I find in Guimarães Rosa the same handling and concentration of language in César Vallejo's Trilce: neologisms and archaisms, visually suggestive puns, auditory effects. The same novella also appeared in another translation, as the centerpiece in the selections translated and collected in Jaguar and Other Stories. 8. The Daisy Dolls by Felisberto Hernández (41 pages), translated by Luis Harss The Daisy Dolls is the kind of story Hitchcock would have filmed. The childless couple at the center of the story has a collection of life-sized female dolls which they dress and put in different places according to a selected "theme" for the day. The surface of the story is the collapse of a marriage in a suburban home. Underneath, however, is the encroachment of perversity on the normal course of things as the dolls begin to be treated as members of the family. "Why must the transmigration of souls take place only between people and animals? Aren't there cases of people on their deathbed who have handed their souls over to some beloved object? And why assume it's a mistake when a spirit hides in a doll who looks like a beautiful woman? Couldn't it be that, looking for a new body to inhabit, it guided the hands that made the doll? When someone pursues an idea, doesn't he come up with unexpected discoveries, as if someone else were helping him?" Hernández's tale of psychological tension is perfect finale in an anthology whose myriad ideas were single-mindedly pursued and seen through to their end, by readers and writers both. 73 stretch

Aug 6, 2012, 8:31pm

That's a truly excellent review of Black Rain. 74 Rise

Aug 6, 2012, 11:06pm

Thanks, stretch. It's brilliant. A book for serious consideration in the year-end best list. 75 lilisin

Aug 6, 2012, 11:31pm

Nice review indeed of Black Rain. It was a touching book when I read it and have never ceased to recommend it to others. Were you aware that it's the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing? 76 Rise

Aug 6, 2012, 11:51pm

Thanks, lilisin. I read this for an online readalong in anticipation of the anniversary. 77 Linda92007

Aug 7, 2012, 9:01am

Excellent review of Black Rain, Rise. It was my first read from Japanese literature, just earlier this year, and will forever be a favorite of mine. Masterworks of Latin American Short Fiction: Eight Novellas also sounds very interesting. Thanks for the detailed review. 78 baswood

Aug 7, 2012, 2:31pm

Rise riseth with two brilliant reviews. I love that definition of a novella by Llan Stavans 79 Rise

Aug 7, 2012, 10:44pm

Thank you, Linda. The novella anthology succeeds in introducing new Latin American writers I'm considering exploring further. And Black Rain really stays with one. Thanks, Barry. I suppose distinctions between story/novella and novella/novel are sometimes fluid. In any case the novella is really worth celebrating as a separate genre.

80 dchaikin

Aug 29, 2012, 7:20pm

Rise - I'm doing some catch-up... I enjoyed your review of Black Rain, but your review of Masterworks of Latin American Short Fiction is absolutely fantastic. So much interesting stuff there. 81 Rise

Aug 30, 2012, 10:32am

Thanks, dan, and welcome back. The anthology is a great eye opener about the variety of Latin American styles. Among the writers in it, I most want to pursue reading further on Felisberto Hernández who had a very quirky style. 82 Rise

Aug 30, 2012, 10:35am

Vertigo (1990) by W. G. Sebald, translated by Michael Hulse (Vintage Books, 2011) There is in medical science what is called Stendhal syndrome, a "psychosomatic illness that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, confusion and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art, usually when the art is particularly beautiful or a large amount of art is in a single place." This sickness is named after the French novelist Stendhal (1738-1842) who in his diaries described having experienced dizzy spells while visiting Italy. Stendhal is the subject of the novel Vertigo's first section, titled "Beyle, or Love is a Madness Most Discreet". This section is based on the writer's diaries and autobiographical works. It tells of his wartime experiences as a soldier under Napoleon, the destruction and death he had witnessed during that time, and the numerous love affairs he had. The portrait makes references to the inadequacy of his memory to record events. Often he had to remember scenes and events from the vantage of different times under different psychological states. The discrepancy between what he imagines and what he remembers causes him "various difficulties", including vertigo. Now, however, he gazed upon the plain, noted the few stark trees, and saw, scattered over a vast area, the bones of perhaps 16,000 men and 4,000 horses that had lost their lives there, already bleached and shining with dew. The difference between the images of the battle which he had in his head and what he now saw before him as evidence that the battle had in fact taken place occasioned in him a vertiginous sense of confusion such as he had never previously experienced. Vertigo is a novel of memory-narratives shuttling back and forth in time, weaving a tapestry of many pasts whose collisions induced feelings of melancholy and dizziness in the characters. Disorientation triggered by recollections of memory has been experienced as well by the other protagonists in Sebald's novel as they constantly travel and visit art museums and cathedrals. The unnamed narrator of the second section of the novel recounts a visit in 1978 to a home for the elderly with his companion Clara. This recollection is actually a digression from a previous memory of his visit in the same place two years later. Through the barred, deeply recessed windows there was a view down onto the tops of the trees on the steeply sloping ground to the rear of the house. It was like looking upon a heaving sea. The mainland, it seemed to me, had already sunk below the horizon. A foghorn droned. Further and further out the ship plied its passage upon the waters. From the engine room came the steady throb of the turbines. Out in the corridor, stray passengers went past, some of them on the arm of a nurse. It took an eternity, on these slow-motion walks, for them to cross from one side of the doorway to the other. How strange it is, to be standing leaning against the current of time. The parquet floor shifted beneath my feet. A low murmuring, rustling, dragging, praying and moaning filled the room. Clara was sitting beside her grandmother, stroking her hand. The semolina was doled out. The foghorn sounded again. A little way further out in the green and hilly water landscape, another steamer passed. On the bridge, his legs astride and the ribbons on his cap flying, stood a mariner, signalling in semaphore with two colourful flags. Clara held her grandmother close as they parted, and promised to come again soon. The narrator imagined his surroundings to be a heaving sea, a comparison brought about by a steeply sloping ground at the back of the house. (This novel was full of sloping surfaces and objects moving along inclined angles.) His imagination transformed the home into a "water landscape" complete with foghorn, steamers, engine rooms, and mariners. The elderly became passengers walking infinitely slowly from one doorway to another. They seemed to tread slowly so as not to lose their balance. The narrator felt like "leaning against the current of time", the current seemingly like a force intent on destroying lives and memories. Elsewhere in this section, the narrator's frequent travels abroad brought him face to face with strange events that he strongly felt were strangely connected to each other. The section's title, All'estero (Abroad), alluded to the partly Italian setting of his journey, but a play on the word estero could be intended in a work full of references to water bodies (tidal waves, canal crossings, wave surges, lakes) and ships. Interspersed with his walks were the narrator's ruminations on the diaries of Grillparzer and Casanova, often reflecting about each writer's experience of injustice in the legal system and the imminence of death. He also saw several artworks, describing in detail the frescoes of Tiepolo, Pisanello, and Giotto. While seated on a cafeteria he imagined people around him as looking "like a circle of severed heads." He had a nagging feeling of being observed and, sure enough, when he glanced around he saw two men with their eyes on him. He believed that he had crossed paths with them before. Other misadventures followed the narrator in a later (1987) travel in the same territories of Vienna, Venice, and Verona. Once, while trying to solicit pictures of a boy from his parents (the boy looks very much like the writer Kafka whom the narrator seemed to be obsessed with), he was unfortunately suspected of being a pederast! In a conversation with a waiter about a book by the Italian writer Leonardo Sciascia, the waiter confided to him: "Once I am at leisure, I take refuge in prose as one might in a boat. All day long I am surrounded by the clamour on the editorial floor, but in the evening I cross over to an island, and every time, the moment I read the first sentence, it is as if I were rowing far out on the water. It is thanks to my evening reading alone that I am still more or less sane." The figure of Kafka, much hinted at in the previous section, finally appears, as Dr K., in the third section. Dr K. journeys to Vienna in a "fretful state of mind". He notices things with the same feverish intensity as Stendhal and the first person narrator in the previous two sections. The final section of Vertigo again picked up the thread of the first person narrator in the second section. This time he "decided one afternoon ... {to} return to England, but before that go to W. for a while, where I had not been since my childhood." It was "a good thirty years" since the narrator had left W. (Sebald himself was born in Wertach im Allgäu.) It was about time to come back. Once again he was about to enter a labyrinth of memories, dreams, hallucinations, and ghosts. But mainly ghosts. So, the odd chapters (I and III) of Vertigo talk about the travels of two European novelists while the even ones (II and IV) follow the narrator in his own physically and mentally taxing adventures. The novel's four-story structure hints at a "mirroring effect". Doppelgängers and doubles frequently appear. Connections and coincidences, unintended or not, are implied. Out of well-selected historical facts, events, dates, and places, coincidence is unifying the details. To what ends? "It's this whole business of coincidence," Sebald explained in an interview, "which is very prominent in my writing", illustrating the need to "make sense of our nonsensical existence". Sebald seems to be delineating an artistic point of view and using his K.-type characters to make sense of confounding personal and collective experiences. Memory comes to grips with the history of destruction. It learns it cannot catch up. Yet sharp memory is what all these literary artists have in common, the main instrument of their vocation. Exercising memory brings them to uncanny associations of previous experiences, delivering to their senses extensive bouts of vertigo. Memory undoes the writers even as it consoles their troubled souls. The text of Vertigo is studded with photographs and illustrations which serve to authenticate the text and, in some instances, throw into question its authenticity. 83 Rise

Aug 30, 2012, 10:45am

Fair Play (1989) by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal (Sort Of Books, 2007) Fair Play is about two women-artists, one writer and one filmmaker, who are life-long friends and who try to make sense of their lives through art. Their relationship is told in vignettes describing their work and life in a seaside house and their constant engagement with different art forms: film, painting, literature, and photography. That doesn't look very appealing based on synopsis alone. But the Finnish author Tove Jansson (1914-2001) is a peerless practitioner of concision. Her work is precise and tightly edited, making no room for anything that will destroy the whole composition. A seemingly extraneous detail must be thrown away; it is simply "idiotic" to let it stay. The principle is laid out early on while Jonna, the filmmaker, helps Mari arrange the pictures on her walls: "That pretty mirror is idiotic, it doesn't belong, we have to keep it austere. The sword's okay, if a little pathetic. Here, measure – it'll be seven, or six and a half. Give me the awl." No excess, no nonsense. "I know," she said, "rejection's not easy. But you reject words, whole pages, long impossible stories, and it feels good once it's done. It's no different rejecting pictures, a picture's right to hang on a wall. And most of these have hung here too long; you don't even see them any more. The best stuff you have, you don't see any more. And they kill each other because they're badly hung. Look, here's a thing of mine and here's your drawing, and they clash. We need distance, it's essential. And different periods need distance to set them apart – unless you're just cramming them together for the shock effect! You simply have to feel it... There should be an element of surprise when people's eyes move across a wall covered with pictures. We don't want to make it too easy for them. Let them catch their breath and look again because they can't help it. Make them think, make them mad, even..." The prose itself follows this aesthetic of ruthless editing. Crop the unwanted stuff, emphasize the best parts, arrange things strategically, allow freedom of space, be intuitive, be instinctive, don't dumb down things for people, make them think, make them mad. This is not a call for minimalism for the sake of minimalism, however. This is a thinking, pulsing piece. It's not entirely averse to the "irrational" and hodgepodge, but those tendencies must be required by genius in order to be permitted in a work of art. The great film directors, according to Mari, know all about the irrational. They use ill-fitting things for a purpose, to make a whole, to make a point. They know what they want to show. Their apparent quirkiness is part of the play. In Fair Play, the barriers of art, work, and life are fluid. The characters' work ethic dictates the form and content of the art they create and the moral imperatives they set for themselves. A life-style of discovery and contemplation seems to be the ideal way to set one's self into the world. Jansson's short pieces usually begin with a simple conflict, then the quirks and seemingly out of touch behavior of her characters are set off against that conflict ("It was excellent bringing in an irrational detail," Jonna said of a detail that seems out of place in a movie.), and then after an understated resolution the stories end with a seemingly harmless sentence – e.g., "They came back to the island from a totally new direction, and it didn't look the same." – that does not sound in the least bit arbitrary but very wise and full of import given the intelligence and perception she invested in the simple telling. "Endings can be really hard," Mari said of stories. Jansson's other strength is in stating the obvious but giving them a little tweak. Her sentence endings usually have a feel for the double entendre. It's obvious that a lot goes into thinking how to end emphatically but she makes the final sentence a unitary element of the whole. It was a very small bar, long and narrow with a pool table in the back. Annie herself tended the bar, the jukebox played constantly, and people came in steadily and greeted one another in passing as if they'd seen each other an hour ago, which perhaps they had. No ladies among the clientele. ... The friendly crowding, the jukebox, the pool balls clicking from the curtained-off section of the room, a sudden laugh in the even flood of conversation, a voice being raised to object or explain, and people coming in the whole time and somehow finding space. Annie worked as if possessed but with no traces of nerves, her smile was her own, and the fact that she was hurrying did not mean time was short. We realize from the end of that paragraph ("the fact that she was hurrying did not mean time was short") that Annie's natural energy through all that hustle is partly derived from her love of her work and place. But we recognize it as we assess the whole room, visualize the atmosphere in the bar; all the details (the crowd, bar, jukebox, pool table, laughing, and conversation) clicking into their proper places. In omitting the unnecessary and reducing things to their bare essentials, Jansson is the perfect model of Strunk & White school of writing. They would have gladly indorsed the novelist's clear and bright prose free of artificial darknesses. The picture went black and stayed black for a long time. Several weak flashes of light, nothing more, and the screen was empty. Mari said, "You have to cut that; no one will get it. It was too dark." Art appreciation, and an uncompromising principle of art editing, nourish Jonna and Mari even as their friendship and love sustain them both. Readers of the novel can sense all these from a prose of high polish. Catch your breath. The wonder on offer is as limpid as a seascape under clear skies watercolor. 84 SassyLassy

Aug 30, 2012, 12:39pm

>82 Rise: and >83 Rise: Wow! Excellent reviews as usual and I am always struck by the range of your books. 85 deebee1

Aug 30, 2012, 2:16pm

> 82 I had a sense of vertigo reading your review --- it's that convincing! Fascinating read. > 82 & 83 Both books refer to art -- are you following it as a reading theme?

86 Rise

Edited: Aug 31, 2012, 2:06am

--84 Thanks. There are a lot of seasoned readers here who inspire one to sample from a larger field of books. I think it may be my first time to read a writer from Finland. --85 LOL. I didn't think of simulating a sense of vertigo but I'll take that description. I've also not intended an art reading theme. (edited to fix grammar) 87 baswood

Aug 30, 2012, 5:31pm

Great reviews Rise 88 Rise

Aug 31, 2012, 2:10am

Thanks, barry! 89 Linda92007

Aug 31, 2012, 8:04am

Fabulous reviews of Vertigo and Fair Play, Rise! I have Sebald's Austerlitz waiting and am particularly interested in reading something by Jansson, as I am seeing great LT reviews of her books.. 90 dchaikin

Aug 31, 2012, 8:29am

Wonderful reviews. Fascinated by your review of Vertigo, mentally putting a little asterisk next to the name Sebald. 91 Rise

Sep 1, 2012, 10:56am

--89 Thanks, Linda. I've read Austerlitz after an initial failed attempt. It required a certain frame of mind and a group read initiative before I was able to get into it. I've been hearing good things on Jansson too. I will definitely try to read more of her, whether her adult novels or her famed Moomin series. --90 Thank you, dan. You might find him a worthy novelist to explore. The Emigrants is my favorite novel by him. It's also a quartet of stories like Vertigo. 92 Rise

Sep 24, 2012, 11:42pm

Ang Huling Dalagang Bukid at ang Authobiography na Mali by Jun Cruz Reyes (Anvil, 2011) Prof. Jun Cruz Reyes is one of the leading writers in the Filipino language. He is a multiple awarded author known for producing significant contemporary novels like Tutubi, Tutubi ... Huwag Kang Magpahuli sa Mamang Salbahe (Dragonfly, Dragonfly ... Don't Get Caught by a Bad Guy, 1981), Utos ng Hari at Iba Pang Kuwento (King's Behest and Other Stories, 1987), and the 1998 Centennial Literary Prize winning novel Etsa-Puwera (2001). Ang Huling Dalagang Bukid at ang Authobiography na Mali (The Last Farm Girl and the False Authobiography) is his latest masterwork, capping a career of excellence in fiction. I am impressed with the way the novel presented its unique strain of postmodernism. Its creative form is quite distinct from the realist novels that populate local bookstores. The enigmatic title hints at two strands of storyline splitting the novel. "Ang Huling Dalagang Bukid" (The Last Farm Girl) pertains to the title of a draft novel which the narrator – a novelist-artist who bears the same name, physical appearance, and biographical details as the actual author – is attempting to write. But this draft novel is in danger of not being completed as the fictional novelist (narrator) veered off in many directions while he is writing or is contemplating the writing of the novel-within-the-novel. He specifically digresses on many topics, including his unusual approach to novel-writing, the germ of its idea, his literary influences, the draft novel's working plot, the candidate characters (based on real life) who will appear in it, and the constraints and personal difficulties hindering him from finishing the work. The first part of the title refers to the main character of the novel-in-progress. "The last farm girl (and boy)" stands for the young Filipinos who left the country in search of greener pastures abroad during the latter part of twentieth century. The females usually went to work in Japan and earn enough to escape poverty. They were known as "cultural dancers" at home but later were called "Japayukis", a derogatory name for club entertainers. Prof. Reyes emphasized their previous status as "farm girls" as he discoursed on the increasingly alarming sight in the countryside: productive agricultural lands sold and converted into industrial zones, giving way to factories, business spaces, housing projects, and malls. The novelist was critiquing both the loss of agricultural lands and the mass diaspora of Filipino workers going abroad for better job opportunities – workers who were now ironically canonized as bagong bayani (modern-day heroes) for their efforts in pouring in dollars into the national economy. The Last Farm Girl in some ways expresses deep reservations on the implications of global capitalism on culture and values. The other strand of the novel, "Ang Authobiography na Mali" (The False Authobiography), refers to the semi-autobiographical treatment of the narrator's own life as he tells his own story beginning from his birth and spoiled childhood to his days of student activism, his unfortunate experience as a target of harassment by soldiers because his published works were critical of the military establishment's abuses, and his travails as a Ph.D. student, teacher, and academic in a state university that is not free from petty politics. With these narratives, the writer paints an absorbing picture of the artist in a society in the grips of global forces and corruption. What particularly fascinates in these two intertwining strands of the novel (the novelistic and the autobiographical) is Prof. Reyes's honest, forthcoming presentation of personal details of his writing and working life. In the novelistic strand, we read something fictional but we note the disclaimer that it was just a rough draft. Even so, it more or less resembles a writer's journal where he documents his process of writing and the socio-political environment around him. In the biographical strand, we are presented an actual biography of the novelist, but it could be unreliable as it was branded as "false" in the first place. The most obvious deception lies in the misspelling of the word "Authobiography" in the title, which can be seen as a word play or shorthand for "Author's Biography". I personally do not know Prof. Reyes but his generous telling of the story of a person also called Jun Cruz Reyes left no doubt in my mind that the story he is telling has grains of truth in it. The story of the narrator is truthful and it is true. True in the sense that it captures the life of a man trying to live according to his principles and ideals. Here's a thought: the "Authobiography" we have in our hands was really false, and the converse is true. The "autobiography" we also have is true. The incorporation of a draft novel within an unstructured biography while investigating several themes at once is further turned on its head by the cross-pollination of several genres: informal essay, history, and memoir. It points to the potentialities of the novel to be an accommodating, all-inclusive medium of creative expression. Reinforcing this postmodern mix of genres is an expansive, expressive style and a language of free play. Prof. Reyes's handling of language in his early works was labelled by literary critics as balbal (coarse or vulgar, from the root word of kabalbalan, crudeness/vulgarity). The narrator, however, is right to reject this unfortunate classification. His language here is more colloquialism than coarseness. He does mix high and low registers in his prose. From this pseudo-novel alone there is no recognizable coarseness or transgressive value. The transgression partly comes from his handling of figures of speech which can be both playful and radical in their formulations. It is whimsical, like the postmodern quality of stream flow: Dahil natataranta pati ang tubig, hindi na rin nito alam ang tamang direksiyon. Noong araw, nang sinaunang lumang araw, aagos lang ang mga bukal mula sa kabundukan, tapos ay magtatagpo sa mga sapa para magparami, saka tutuloy na sa mga ilog hanggang makarating sa dagat. Medyo formulaic at predictable ang dulo ng kuwentong ilog. Lagi iyong nagwawakas sa dagat. Ngayo'y postmodern na rin ang daloy ng naratibo ng ilog. May mga literal na twist and turn na rin ito. Anti-structure at anti-canon na rin. Ngayo'y nagmamadali ito, hindi na padaloy tulad ng isang tula, na dumadausdos mula sa bundok, kundi rumaragasa, kung minsa'y pabuhos at pabulusok, walang pasintabi ni awa, isang tropa sila, ang tubig na may kasamang troso, layak at burak. Kung minsa'y may patangay pang mga bahay at kalabaw, malauna'y may patangay pang mga taong nakagapos at may tape sa bibig at may nakapaskil sa dibdib na, "Huwag akong pamarisan." Bahagi rin iyon ng kalikasang postmodern. May mga patay kaliwa't kanan pero wala namang pumapatay at hindi rin naman nagpakamatay. Huwag nang alamin ang kuwento ng mga patay. Sapat nang magpasalamat na tayo'y buhay at nalilibang. Ang ilog ay parang militar na nag-ooplan lambat-bitag na ang madaraana'y collateral damage na lang. Mapahamak ang makasalubong ng nagwawala, ng nagwawalang kalikasan, ng mundo at ng tao. (Even the waters are now in turmoil, not knowing the right direction to turn. Once, once upon an ancient time, the springs flowed freely from the mountains, then congregated in streams to fill volumes, and then coursed through rivers and reached the sea. The end of the river story was a bit predictable and formulaic. It always ended in the sea. But now even the coursing of the river-narrative is postmodern. It now literally twists and turns. Anti-structure and anti-canon. Now it's on a headlong rush, no longer issuing like a poem, as it slides down the mountains, but gushing down, sometimes in a flood and in a flash, with no excuse or leniency, a troop of waters, a torrent accompanied by tree trunks, junk, and mud. Sometimes it washes away houses and water buffaloes, then later it washes away hogtied persons, whose mouths were taped shut, with notices pinned to their chests saying, "Don't follow my example." That is also part of postmodern nature. The dead appeared left and right yet nobody killed them and nobody took her own life. Better to close your eyes to the story of the dead. Be thankful for what we have. Play and be merry. The river is like the military with its operation fish-trap wherein those caught in crossfires are but collateral damage. They are at risk, those who encounter the rage, the rage of nature – of the world and men.) This passage follows the writer along an indefinable flow of the "postmodern river" story, improvising from that whole chaos a riff on the human rights abuses by the military. Improvisation is the way with which Prof. Reyes merged his double stranded narrative and its forking themes, genres, and linguistic play. Smashing the categories attributed to modernist and even postmodernist works, the novel then becomes freeranging and unconstrained, like an open mic performance. It becomes receptive to the scrutiny of literary theory: Marxism, post-colonialism, postmodernism, and even ecocriticism (as the passage above, along with the novel's discourse on mechanization encroachment on farm lands, illustrates). In short, Prof. Reyes's novel of ideas is forward looking, futuristic. It is stitched from existing forms and yet reveals new ways of assembling and expanding the novel's universe. The only weakness I can think about it is its length. Its unwieldiness is evident from the introduction of extraneous ideas that could otherwise have been left out. The novel's status as a "draft" cannot excuse it from having gone on interminably in several places. I feel that a good editor can tighten the book and strengthen further its readability. This editorial issue aside, I am looking forward to read more of Prof. Reyes's other books. 93 Rise

Sep 24, 2012, 11:54pm

Augustus (1972) by John Williams (Vintage International, 2004) John Williams wrote a supreme novel in Augustus, his fourth and last. It's a historical drama set in the ancient republic of Rome and revolves around the eponymous emperor. The style is epistolary, with letters, memoirs, and memoranda exchanging hands among a fairly large cast of characters deserving of an ensemble acting award, or rather distinct voices award, for moving along the strands of plot toward a visionary conclusion. Williams's cohesive vision of power and consequential human destiny is Shakespearian. He has consolidated exacting language, strong characters, flashes of awesome feelings, and moments of simplicity and grace. I was actually quoting these qualities. Mankind in the aggregate I have found to be brutish, ignorant, and unkind, whether those qualities were covered by the coarse tunic of the peasant or the white and purple toga of a senator. And yet in the weakest of men, in moments when they are alone and themselves, I have found veins of strength like gold in decaying rock; in the cruelest of men flashes of tenderness and compassion; and in the vainest of men moments of simplicity and grace. Augustus shared with Williams's early novel Stoner not only the well-chiseled and polished prose of a modern classicist but a rather ruthless understanding of characters, their deep contradictions and inconsistencies, and their heroic and base natures. "How contrary an animal is man ... !" exclaimed the emperor Augustus at one point. The book is a theater of human contrariness and inconsistency. Its cinematic scenes have the heft of an epic. It's wonderful to see the action develop from the volley of hand delivered letters. The novel's sequencing of letters alone is informed by the craft of a builder of suspense. Without the televisual prompts, the novel enacts an intelligent game of thrones. The quote above is from a letter of Octavius Caesar (Augustus) to Nicolaus of Damascus, dated A.D. 14. Here's another clip, from an earlier letter by Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid) to Sextus Propertius, 10 B.C.: I shall not subject you, my dear Sextus, to one of my disquisitions; but it seems to me more nearly true, as the years pass, that those old "virtues," of which the Roman professes himself to be so proud, and upon which, he insists, the greatness of the Empire is founded—it seems to me more and more that those "virtues" of rank, prestige, honor, duty, and piety have simply denuded man of his humanity. How Ovid was able to come up with a bleak assessment of civilization lies at the core of this historical novel. It is an aphoristic text, especially the essential Book III which is the point of view of Augustus himself, and I am here resisting the urge to ransack for this review the many scintillating passages I've noted on my copy. Powerful leaders and literary figures of the day populate the book: Julius Caesar, Cicero, Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Ovid, Livy, Brutus, and Horace. Their relations play out in a stunning display of hunger for power and immortality. Through the character of the charismatic emperor, Williams comes close to establishing a hierarchy of loves (love of literature, love of a woman, love of one's child, love of countrymen, love of power). At a very high price, Augustus comes close to recognizing "the highest form of love ... for an object that approaches the absolute." He also comes close to identifying the essential attribute of a true leader, the key to fulfilling a destiny. What is said of Augustus by Mark Antony, his perennial rival to power, is accurate: "I know that he does nothing from passion or whim. He is such a cold-blooded fish that I must almost admire him". From one Machiavellian leader to another, that is as good as an acknowledgement of the well-rounded character of the emperor, his cunning and intelligence. Of the fate of the human race, Augustus is not optimistic. We tell ourselves that we have become a civilized race, and with a pious horror we speak of those times when a god of the crops demanded the body of a human being for his obscure function. But is not the god that so many Romans have served, in our memory and even in our time, as dark and fearsome as that ancient one? Even if to destroy him, I have been his priest; and even if to weaken his power, I have done his bidding. Yet I have not destroyed him, or weakened his power. He sleeps restlessly in the hearts of men, waiting to rouse himself or to be aroused. Between the brutality that would sacrifice a single innocent life to a fear without a name, and the enlightenment that would sacrifice thousands of lives to a few that we have named, I have found little to choose. This is a very wise novel if only because it underlines life's crucial paradoxes and the compromises, traditions, and belief systems we can hardly escape from. If Augustus has no faith in a Roman god or an ancient god, then in humanity at least his trust is not completely revoked. He himself, as shaper of destinies, is part of this "remaking". It was more nearly an instinct than knowledge, however, that made me understand that if it is one's destiny to change the world, it is his necessity first to change himself. If he is to obey his destiny, he must find or invent within himself some hard and secret part that is indifferent to himself, to others, and even to the world that he is destined to remake, not to his own desire, but to a nature that he will discover in the process of remaking. In this novel of power, the novelist has hardly changed the world. Yet in registering the changes in his characters as they take over the world, he has at least remade it. 94 Rise

Sep 25, 2012, 2:36am

Mondo Marcos: Writings on Martial Law and the Marcos Babies, edited by Frank Cimatu and Rolando B. Tolentino (Anvil, 2010) Mondo Marcos is an anthology of short fiction, essays, and poems looking back on the years 1972-1986, when the Philippines was under the iron rule of the dictator president Ferdinand Marcos right up to his ouster by the People Power Revolution of 1986. It is a companion volume to the Filipino anthology of the same title and with the same editors. The writings in these two volumes are distinct from each other, not translations. My impressions on the Filipino anthology, which I read two years ago, apply as well to this English volume. The two anthologies are a mixed set of writings, particularly the fiction section where brilliant works sat alongside the humdrum. But the editors certainly knew how to put their best pieces up front. The English anthology started with an outstanding story ("When Dovie Moans") written by R. Zamora Linmark, just like what they did in the Filipino volume where they started with the best story "Kulto ni Santiago" by Kristian S. Cordero. Linmark's story was about a crude aspect of the "Marcosian" – the president's maintenance of his macho public image through his publicized sexual relationship with his mistress. The story was taken from Linmark's novel Leche which came out last year. Another wonderful, and linguistically playful, story from the collection was the one from Cesar Ruiz Aquino, "The Diaries of Mojud Remontado: 55 Days in Dumaguete". The influence of Borges was evident in this story's imaginative, intertextual, and metaphysical handling of the epistolary form, creating effective layers of inquiry from the journal entries of a writer who was seemingly shielded from the reach of history. I would bet there are plenty more contemporary stories by Filipino writers that were as good, if not as better, as these by Aquino, Cordero, and Linmark. Their stories made me doubly aware of my neglect of excellent writings here at home. "Engine Trouble" by Robert J. A. Basilio Jr. had all the makings of an absorbing suspense story. It was about a man hired to assassinate the senator and once political prisoner Benigno Aquino Jr Despite a promising material, the pedestrian language of the story failed to capture a sense of inevitability to the plot. His use of bland metaphors partly hampered its telling. But overall I still found it a good short story. It's my third favorite in the volume. The rest of the stories did not engage me as these ones I mentioned. There was, to me, a sense that the remaining pieces fell prey to either too little effort at imagination or too much nostalgia (i.e., the pining for popular childhood television fares of the period, like robot cartoons). In fact, popular culture seemed to be the entry point of some of the stories, essays, and poems in the two anthologies. Nothing wrong with that; a totally valid approach. But then again, capitalizing on these familiar markers without saying anything new creates a danger of trivializing the imaginative experiences in a critical historical period like the Martial Law years. If all that the filters of memory could provide were itemized lists of cultural references, they worked less as powerful synthesis of injustice than as misplaced nostalgia. Regarding the essays and poems in the volume, I would say that, like the ones contained in the Filipino volume, those included here were particularly strong. The variety of subjects in the personal essays alone formed a very balanced view of an era fraught with personal and collective disappointments and hopes. The essays, and a good proportion of the poems, saved the two anthologies from being mere exercises in nostalgia. They were not only informative and personal. Their very tones were critical. And the critiques did not end with the past. They went beyond their years, beyond being "Marcos Babies" of their time, to speak their minds to contemporary readers. 95 Rise

Sep 25, 2012, 2:54am

Dekada '70: Ang Orihinal at Kumpletong Edisyon (1988) by Lualhati Bautista (Cacho Publishing House, 1991) Walang subersibo dito. Bakit magiging subersibo ang katotohanan? (There's nothing subversive here. Why will the truth be considered subversive?) – Dekada '70 Lualhati Bautista gained notoriety when Dekada '70 came out in 1984, after having shared the grand prize for the Palanca Award for Best Novel one year previous. This novel about a Filipino family drastically affected by political forces beyond their control was a national narrative of resistance against the Marcos dictatorship and its repression of individual and societal rights and liberties. The story was told by Amanda Bartolome, wife to a dominating husband, mother to five sons, and – as she learned in the course of the novel – woman of her own mind. We found Amanda contemplating her role beyond her family of men, beyond a traditional patriarchy where a woman is only expected to serve a husband and rear children. This even as her world was being swept by the tides of history. Her strong-willed eldest child, Julian Jr. (Jules), was becoming more and more sympathetic to the ideology of leftist groups even as he increasingly felt alienated to the national government's raw display of totalitarian power. When the President handed down martial law in 1972, civil rights suffered in consequence. Student councils and school papers were closed down; the freedom of the press and the freedom to organize were curtailed; curfews were set; the writ of habeas corpus was suspended. It was only a matter of time before Jules joined the communist insurgency and for Amanda to lose many a night's sleep over her son's uncertain fate. Higit kailanman ay ngayon ko nadarama ang mga trahedya ng maging ina. Hindi pala natatapos ang hirap at kirot sa pagsisilang ng anak, may mga sakit na libong ulit na mas masakit kaysa mga oras ng panganganak. (Now more than ever I feel the tragedies of being a mother. It seems that my pains and sacrifices did not end with my giving birth to my son. There are pains a thousand more painful than the hours of labor.) What started as a domestic drama suddenly became a politically charged look at the lives of ordinary individuals in repressive regimes. Bautista dramatized the temper of the times using explicit images, language, and scenes. The action of the novel revolved only around a single family and yet she managed to infuse the domestic conflicts among brothers and parents with conviction. The Bartolomes were a nuclear family that could be viewed as a microcosm of a country descending into chaos. We followed Amanda as she began to question her relationship with her husband and internalize the violence threatening her children. From the seventies until the lifting of martial law in 1981, and even beyond that, we were privy to Amanda's increasing awareness of injustices around her, the socioeconomic and political issues hidden from sight, and her emerging political and feminist principles – these two principles becoming inseparable and closely tied together. As the Bartolomes braved the dark shadows of military rule, vigilante killings, and social unrest, the reader was witness to a freak history. There were some wrenching scenes that seared into the mind, yet there were simple moments in the book that were equally hard-hitting in its emotional tenderness. Dekada was squarely in the tradition of José Rizal's 19th century protest novels against Spanish colonialism, the Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, because it dared to question and critique the ruling power and its cohorts and because it presented a synthesis of abuses, corruption, and violence under martial law. The novel lived up to its titular era as it proposed its own "truthful", and hence "subversive", aesthetic of resistance against a dictatorship regime. The family is the basic unit of society, we are taught and constantly reminded in schools. Bautista had shown that its values are also its pillars and that the seeds of resistance to any unjust authority at any time could very well dwell in a family. Dekada, arguably the defining novel of the period, had set the bar for a martial law novel so high that I shall be reading succeeding Filipino novels on the topic against Bautista's standard. She managed to distill an epoch of madness in those trying times, in that "world of men" that Amanda was starting to reject. In the words of her protagonist, the novelist defined the role of the writer in abnormal circumstances: "Manunulat ang nagpe-preserb sa katinuan ng lipunan nya." ("It is the writer who preserves the sanity of her society.") Indeed they do, the very best of them. They restore it to its senses. They slap it so hard that it may wake from its sleep. First published in edited form in 1984, Dekada anticipated the 1986 EDSA Revolution that toppled President Marcos from power. In one of its deft ironic touches, it was prescient in detecting a major change in the air: Naiisip ko . . . naiisip ko lang naman . . . wala sanang magalit sa 'kin pero naiisip ko . . . na kailangan na nga yata natin ang rebolusyon! (I was thinking . . . I was just thinking . . . let no one mind me but I was thinking . . . that maybe it's time we need a revolution!) The writing style of Dekada was considered controversial during its time because some passages in the novel were written in Taglish, a mixture of Tagalog and English words. Language purists must have felt discomfort at the threat to the purity of the Tagalog vernacular and so failed to acknowledge the realist style of Bautista's language. The writing was also deemed "unpolished" for its straightforward, colloquial dialogue and presentation even if that's how Filipinos talked then and now. 96 Rise

Sep 25, 2012, 3:09am

Soledad's Sister by Jose Dalisay (Anvil, 2008) "The Woman in the Box", the title of the first chapter of the second novel by Filipino writer Jose Dalisay, recounts the story of Aurora Cabahug's journey as a corpse in a casket from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to her home country. Aurora was one of millions of Filipino workers scattered all over the world who left the Philippines in droves in order to bring home the dollar, or riyal or whatever currency can fill empty pockets. Lacking sufficient source of income at home, they were swayed into working jobs abroad to earn enough for a few years and then come home to live the Filipino dream. There's a profession for every determined person. These were the maids, cooks, drivers, dancers, plumbers, draftsmen, welders, able-bodied seamen, and other purveyors of sundry services and trades who had left their kitchens, pigsties, classrooms, fruit stands, videoke bars, shoe factories, and vulcanizing shops in search of better jobs—in roiling sea and burning sand, from Singapore to Stockholm, London to Lagos, Riyadh to Reykjavik, in backstreet bar and oil rig, in nursing home and cannery, in wave after leaping wave across all the seas and oceans that ringed their island. In exchange for financial gain, they had to make the sacrifice of leaving their children, spouses, parents, siblings, and friends. They had to brave the discrimination and abuses that some intolerant foreigners heap on them. Sometimes Filipino women who were taken in as domestic helpers were maltreated by their employers. Along with hard-earned dollars, some were unlucky enough to also earn bruises, scratches, and marks of flat iron on their back. Some had to escape their place of work and run to the Philippine embassy to report the physical assault and torture they suffered under their cruel employers. One also hears of news reports of a Filipina leaping from a high building in order to escape male employers who were about to rape them. The government, instead of creating attractive jobs at home, was complicit in this diaspora. Grateful for the cash that their Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) bring home, the government hailed them as "modern-day heroes". Their sacrifices were a big factor in bolstering the economy. Those who were hardworking and lucky managed to come home moneyed and triumphant. But some 600 of them—the likes of Aurora Cabahug who was dead from a mysterious drowning and Filemon Catabay who was beheaded for some unspecified crime—yearly arrived in Ninoy Aquino International Airport in boxes, sealed tight and properly tagged with names and other identifying information. Soledad's Sister is a darkly comic novel of Aurora's premature homecoming. The tragedy is not lightened by the frankness of the telling but the comedy is so potent it brings silent chuckles with its prose alive with brilliant asides, snides, and scathing ironies. And so it happened that a family of seven had come all the way in a jeepney from Lingayen to meet and to claim the two segments of Filemon Catabay, who had been executed three months earlier. They had learned of his death the way many others did—after it happened, from a routine news report on DZXL, between an involved discussion of a movie star's rumored abortion and a commercial for a new and more potent livestock dewormer. The man's mother was gutting fish when her grandson ran in with the news; the fish she was holding trembled in her hand and then leapt out altogether in a final spasm, as though it had come back to life. It was a case of "corpse switching". It was a mistake, like every mistake and quirk of fate in the rest of the novel's story. The body in the box was that of Aurora's, not Filemon's. The cause of this fiasco was a switching of the documents in the hands of an inconsiderate and vengeful viceconsul. Dalisay used an irreverent omniscient narrator who had recourse to every detail from what's being reported in radios to what the fish did after its last moments on earth. The enjambment of scenes delineates the fickle narrator's switching from one detail to another. The narrator did not lack for things to say about certain characters introduced in the novel. In fact, new characters are still introduced even until late in the game. The narrator was tirelessly describing things, people, and their backgrounds and their circumstances in life. At the same time, he seems to be the harbinger of the fateful happenings in the story. Just like what the real Aurora, Soledad's sister, observed: Who knows why people do what they do? Every day we do things we ourselves don't understand, although they seemed to make sense when we did them. Why is that? Can you tell me? Who knows why novelists do what they do? The narrator will not tell but he will describe every nook and cranny of anything his mind alights on. The rest of the novel's plot ambled along according to this principle of random-like addition of story elements. But instead of swiftly panning from one area of interest to another, the narrative started to linger longer on every character. This had the effect of killing the pace of the story. The pace rather flagged in the end such that the masterful, darkly comic opening scene devolved into a solemn exercise in writing descriptive passages. It became a bit boring when its embrace of its initial conceptual framework began to loosen. Nevertheless, Dalisay consistently cultivated at the heart of his tale a paradox as universal as it is human. Something to do with a person's pining for and expectation of something right, something better, something that will improve her station in life. When the overseas worker is far from home, there is no contingency for which she is ever prepared for. Her loved ones, for their part, are no less ready for any externality. Soledad's Sister is in the shortlist of the 2007 inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize.

97 deebee1

Sep 25, 2012, 5:11am

Excellent reviews, Rise, of Filipino lit which remains, sadly, a yawning gap in my reading. I'm taking note of the titles and your thoughts on them -- this short list seems a good place to start. I'm particularly intrigued by Ang Huling Dalagang Bukid. A pleasure to read the Tagalog quotation and yes, great job with the translation! 98 Rise

Sep 25, 2012, 10:26am

Thank you, deebee. That was my nth draft of translation, for a short paragraph. A branch of National Book Store recently opened up in the neighborhood and I was able to scoop up some local titles not otherwise available to me. So I guess I shall be reading and reviewing more local books in the coming days. 99 Mr.Durick

Sep 25, 2012, 5:43pm

Rise, when you say 'the Filipino language' which language are you referring to. Back when I was visiting the Philippines from time to time I learned a phrase that sounded like Hindi ko alam ng Tagalog. It was later that I was exposed to, without comprehension, Ilocano and a language from the community of Visayans (which I suppose could be Visayan), and as I understand it there is a multitude of Philippine languages. Is there much commonality between them? Robert 100 Rise

Sep 25, 2012, 11:14pm

Good question, Mr. D. There are dozens of languages spoken in regional areas in the Philippines. Tagalog, Ilocano, Bisaya, etc. "Filipino" is officially adopted as the national language and it resembles Tagalog, the regional language of most speakers (also called Tagalog) in the capital Manila and in southern Luzon region. But Filipino and Tagalog are essentially the same. I think the Wikipedia entry explains it well. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filipino_language

101 Mr.Durick

Sep 26, 2012, 12:38am

That link was far more informative than I would have expected. Thank you. Robert 102 baswood

Sep 26, 2012, 4:13am

I really enjoyed your excellent and well written review rise and of course learnt a little about the Filipino diaspora. I have added Augustus, John Williams to my to buy list. 103 Rise

Sep 26, 2012, 11:46pm

Thanks, Barry. One for every 10 Filipinos is outside the country and this has some implications that are yet to be understood. Williams is a great discovery for me this year. There's a revival of him of late with the NYRB editions of his two novels. 104 dchaikin

Sep 27, 2012, 1:49pm

Wow, Rise, five brilliant new reviews, with your own translations! A terrific window on the Philippines and Filipino literature...and John Williams. 105 Rise

Sep 28, 2012, 2:35am

Thanks, dan. I hope somebody get to translate the entire book. 106 Linda92007

Sep 28, 2012, 8:21am

Dan's comments express my sentiments exactly, Rise. Very impressive! 107 Rise

Edited: Sep 28, 2012, 12:39pm

Thanks, Linda. 108 Rise

Oct 6, 2012, 11:13am

This Craft of Verse by Jorge Luis Borges (audio) Posterity saved the lectures that Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) delivered in Harvard University in the fall of '67 and spring '68. The Argentinian was nearing 70 when he gave this series of lectures. The recordings were discovered from the university archives and were transcribed and published in book form in 2000. Borges's voice boomed across space and time. I found it ideal to listen to the lectures while following along with a transcription posted in a blog. It may be a better experience than just reading the transcriptions or just listening to the audio. He spoke in a clipped, staccato manner, catching breath and thought at once. He groped for ideas, rather like a blind man groping for things in the dark. But he always found them, and he brought them out to the light. We can sense him groping for ideas several moves in advance, building a construct from his previous readings, and then revealing the final elegant construction of the library of the mind, the library in his mind. The audience listened intently, keenly, as the penetrating gaze of the master pierced through lines of poetry as he gave his literary interpretations. He spoke the six lectures impromptu, with perhaps only a few days preparation for each topic. The range of his subjects are as varied as can be. He began with the "riddle" of poetry and continued with metaphor, epic poetry and the novel, and translation. He ended with sharing his own creed as a poet wherein he "try to justify my own life and the confidence some of you may have in me, despite this rather awkward and fumbling first lecture of mine." It was hardly awkward and fumbling. In every lecture he demonstrated utter erudition, which was to be expected from himr, but still there's a pure kind of magic in the words he was unleashing. He had a way of saying things in a punctilious manner, of punctuating ideas even if they were, in retrospect, obvious observations. Like, for example, "Happiness, when you are a reader, is frequent." Or, on reading lists: "The danger of making a list is that the omissions stand out and that people think of you as being insensitive." On long books: "Though we are apt to think of mere size as being somehow brutal, I think there are many books whose essence lies in their being lengthy." And this came from a writer who supposedly never wrote a novel. Among the verses he discussed included lines or passages from Keats's " On First Looking into Chapman's Homer ", the sonnet " Inclusiveness " by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, Robert Frost and Browning, and a translation of San Juan de la Cruz. He recited them with feeling, bringing out the stresses where they fall, sometimes going at length in describing the choice of words of the poet and pointing out their distinctiveness, what makes the lines go on ringing in the reader's ears. Sometimes it felt like he was sharing his conversations with the old masters from Greek and Old English, giving us an exclusive preview to ancient poetry. Aside from erudition, two other things marked the genius of these lectures: humor and humility. The speaker's rapport and interaction with the audience were amazing. One imagined the listeners hanging on to every word, as when he shared his propensity to book-buying: Sometimes, looking at the many books I have at home, I feel I shall die before I have come to the end of them, and yet I cannot resist the temptation of buying new books. When I go, when I walk inside a library, I find a book on one of my hobbies—for example, Old English or Old Norse poetry—I say to myself, "What a pity I can't buy that book because I already have a copy at home." That last statement elicited laughter among the listeners who also broke into a hearty applause. There are many moments in the recording that were given to the audience's acknowledgement of the speaker's humor. The interaction between speaker and listeners was just precious. The lectures also revealed a man of humility and self-effacing disposition, one who acknowledged his forebears and influences, and the sources of his metaphysical ideas. If I were a daring thinker (but I am not; I am a very timid thinker, I am groping my way along), I could of course say that only a dozen or so patterns exist and that all other metaphors are mere arbitrary games. In fact he said them, those things about the patterns and the games of metaphors. But he always gave fair warning on what and what not to expect from him. But still the things he spoke about! His thoughts on translation were as timely as ever. In his lecture on translation he debunked the supposed inferiority of translations to the original text by stating, "I suppose if we did not know whether one was original and the other translation, we could judge them fairly." It's one of the best defense of translations I've read. On the strange beauty of literal translations, he had an interesting take: In fact, it might be said that literal translations make not only, as Matthew Arnold pointed out, for uncouthness and oddity, but also for strangeness and beauty. This, I think, is felt by all of us; for if we look into a literal translation of some outlandish poem, we expect something strange. If we do not find it, we feel somehow disappointed. That only a very few patterns and rhyming schemes existed in poetry led the poet to declare that free verse is much more difficult to pull off than rhymed poems. I began, as most young men do, by thinking that free verse is easier than the regular forms of verse. Today I am quite sure that free verse is far more difficult than the regular and classical forms. The proof—if proof be needed—is that literature begins with verse. I suppose the explanation would be that once a pattern is evolved—a pattern of rhymes, of assonances, of alliterations, of long and short syllables, and so on —you only have to repeat the pattern. While, if you attempt prose (and prose, of course, comes long after verse), then you need, as Stevenson pointed out, a more subtle pattern. Because the ear is led to expect something, and then it does get what it expects. Something else is given to it; and that something else should be, in a sense, a failure and also a satisfaction. So that unless you take the precaution of being Walt Whitman or Carl Sandburg, then free verse is more difficult. At least I have found, now when I am near my journey's end, that the classic forms of verse are easier. Another facility, another easiness, may lie in the fact that once you have written a certain line, once you have resigned yourself to a certain line, then you have committed yourself to a certain rhyme. And since rhymes are not infinite, your work is made easier for you. This idea, unorthodox as it is, was way more interesting than William Childress's recent rant against free verse. The latter's arguments was sometimes undermined by formalist attitudes. In contrast, the poet here spoke with a fire in his voice, a bibliophile's enthusiasm that was hard to resist. Perhaps because he primarily thought of himself as essentially "a reader". As you are aware, I have ventured into writing; but I think that what I have read is far more important than what I have written. For one reads what one likes—yet one writes not what one would like to write, but what one is able to write. On novels, it was clear he doesn't like the narrative strategy of Ulysses. He liked epics instead. He disdained self-conscious stories. By epic, he meant the simultaneous singing of a verse and telling of a story. By self-consciousness, he meant stories where "the hero is the teller, and so sometimes he (the hero) has to belittle himself, he has to make himself human, he has to make himself far too believable. In fact, he has to fall into the trickery of a novelist." Like many critics, he saw the "death" of the novel: I think that the novel is breaking down. I think that all those very daring and interesting experiments with the novel—for example, the idea of shifting time, the idea of the story being told by different characters—all those are leading to the moment when we shall feel that the novel is no longer with us. What is to be done? The poet was not worried. "Because we are modern; we don't have to strive to be modern", he said. "It is not a case of subject matter or of style." Even if we are now postmodern, we are still modern. He was confident that something was at hand. He prophesied the comeback of the epic: Maybe I am an old-fashioned man from the nineteenth century, but I have optimism, I have hope; and as the future holds many things—as the future, perhaps, holds all things—I think that the epic will come back to us. I think that the poet shall once again be a maker. I mean, he will tell a story and he will also sing it. And we will not think of those two things as different, even as we do not think they are different in Homer or in Virgil. Things could only go up from there. The epic novel was nigh. Maybe it was already with us. Maybe the metaphor was already made. He had made the suggestions, pointed to some interesting directions, and these were enough to fertilize the mind. Anything suggested is far more effective than anything laid down.… When something is merely said or—better still—hinted at, there is a kind of hospitality in our imagination. That's what it felt like listening to the poet. One was a visitor being treated to the hospitality of an estimable and kind imagination. The recorded lectures can be downloaded here: http://www.ubu.com/sound/borges.html 109 Rise

Oct 6, 2012, 11:46am

The Gold in Makiling by Macario Pineda, trans. Soledad S. Reyes (Anvil, 2012) The novel began with the mysterious disappearance of an old woman in the town of Malolos in 1947. When informed of this by a letter, the editor of a popular weekly magazine sent a writer (the narrator) to investigate this incident and perhaps write about what he finds out there. The narrator was in fact a bit familiar with the story of the woman. He himself was a relative of hers: "If it was true that an old woman disappeared, and that woman's name was Susana de los Santos, what I would face in Malolos was the culmination of a story of love, unique and not comparable with any other story written and published elsewhere in the world." The novelist was getting ahead of himself, but that love story, between Sanang and Edong, was the story told to the narrator by Tata Doro, the nephew of Sanang and witnessed as a young boy the mysterious series of events in the novel. Tata Doro's story went back to the beginning of the century, in 1906. When Doro was a young boy, his aunt's lover Edong went to Mount Makiling with his friends to gather orchids. The mythical Mount Makiling in the province of Laguna was believed to be haven of a goddess-like being called Mariang Makiling. Edong fell down the mountain while trying to save a small bird at the edge of a ravine. He was believed to have met a certain death though his body was never found. What followed was the beginning of magic, mystery, and enchantment, including an encounter with the mountain goddess herself. Edong returned to the village. He was alive after all. He attributed his survival to the power of Mariang Makiling, who saved and healed him because of his concern for the animals of the mountain. Mariang Makiling was as perfect as she was idealized: "She's a ray of light, a flower, a drop of dew teetering on the tip of a blade of grass in the early morning, a brilliance, a fragrance, a lovely poem, an idea ..." The land she guarded in the heart of the mountain was a secret village. In this community everyone treated each other like brothers and sisters; food was shared by all; peace reigned; there's a strong sense of unity; there's no political structure, no hypocrisy. Every smile was sincere and true. Most significantly, the place was a version of utopia and Elysian Fields. It was populated by the most noble and charismatic figures in Philippine history, both real and imaginary: the real heroes who contributed to the fight for independence against Spanish oppressors and the imaginary characters in great literary works. The novelist was offering an alternative reality. He had put in one place, to live as a community, the best men and women of the past, the champions of history, what he called kakanggata ng lahi, a beautiful concept and term in Tagalog. Kakanggata is literally the first milk extracted from freshly grated coconut meat. The translator rendered it as "the cream of the race", a good approximation that contains the sense of "cream of the crop". The cream of the race were the pride of the nation. That they all lived together in the heart of Makiling was plausible. Where else but in magical novels can these people be assembled? But Pineda went beyond this fantastical idea by raising a more fantastical possibility. What if these people come back to us? What if they climb down the mountain at some time in the future and assist their people in their struggles? What if they are already with us right now? To be able to live in this community, a sacrifice must be made, an unconditional offering of the self. This was the fate of Sanang as a lover; her love must be tested to the limits; her fortitude, her worthiness must be weighed against gold. Sanang was destined to brave the ravages of time before she could return to the arms of Edong and finally ascend and join the commune in Makiling. The translation by Soledad S. Reyes rings true and confident to me. It gave a distinct flavor that must be beholden to the original quality of the Tagalog prose. The English captured the magic and lyricism of the story. It was able to communicate a strong sense of atmosphere, as with the following passage before a climactic event, notable for its snappy rhythm and a sense of dread to come. The whole village was quiet. The windows were shut in the early evening. No one walked about. All the lights in the houses were turned off. Even the dogs seemed not inclined to bark, and the owners immediately restrained the occasional growl. The owl roosting on Tandang Isko's bamboo tree was the only creature left to make a vigil, but its repeated hooting, echoing in the forsaken night, merely heightened the desolation that cloaked the town. In a manner of speaking, it could be said that the whole village of San Juan, in the grip of fear, hardly dared to breathe. Published in the year 1947, Ang Ginto sa Makiling was considered the finest novel by Macario Pineda (1912-1950). The novel was a window to the attitudes and lifestyles of townspeople in the Philippines during the first half of 20th century. Pineda presented a unique magic realist narrative rooted in local folklore, legends, and nationalist history. It must be squarely in the crème de la crème among postwar Filipino novels.

110 baswood

Oct 6, 2012, 5:48pm

More great reviews rise and an excellent link to those Borges lectures, which sound fascinating 111 edwinbcn

Oct 6, 2012, 7:37pm

Great review of the Borges lectures. Unfortunately, the link is blocked in China. 112 Rise

Oct 6, 2012, 8:40pm

Thanks, Edwin. I'm sorry to hear that it's not available there. Barry, thanks. The writer seems to be more accessible in his essays than in his fiction. 113 deebee1

Oct 8, 2012, 7:16am

Wonderful review of the Borges lectures, Rise. Borges seems to me very intimidating, but I'll take your word on the accessibility of his essays compared to his fiction -- I will try to summon courage to try one of them, and go from there. Interesting about Ang Ginto. Another one to add to the list. 114 Rise

Oct 9, 2012, 7:42pm

Thanks, deebee. Also worth the try are the seven lectures of Borges in Seven Nights. 115 dchaikin

Oct 11, 2012, 11:09pm

Fascinated by your review of The Gold in Makiling. Wondering, if one were to read a single book of Filipino literature (in English), what you think would be the book to read? Also, wonderful review of Borges lectures. 116 Rise

Oct 12, 2012, 12:13pm

Thanks, dan. That's a hard question. My reading is so far limited but the one that came to mind is the prose (and play) parts in Prose and Poems by Nick Joaquin.

117 dchaikin

Oct 12, 2012, 12:46pm

That's is on my wishlist now. Thanks! ... maybe not so easy to find. 118 Rise

Edited: Dec 3, 2012, 12:47am

The Devil's Causeway, by Matthew Westfall (Lyons Press, 2012) In 1896, the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish who occupied and governed the Philippine Islands for more than 300 years broke out. The Katipunan, a clandestine organization bent on toppling the colonial government, was discovered, and this commenced a series of bloody confrontations between Spain and the freedom fighters. Two years later, the Empire of Spain was threatened by another interest. The Americans intervened in the Spanish government in Cuba and later defeated the Spanish armada both in Santiago de Cuba and Manila Bay. By June 1898, the Philippine revolutionary force proclaimed the country's independence from Spain. Its leader, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, became the first president. The Spanish surrendered and ceded its territories to the American victors through the Treaty of Paris in December 1898. The Philippines was effectively sold to the American government who did not recognize the sovereignty of the islands. The Filipino freedom fighters woke up to find their territory annexed to a new imperialist government, once again groomed to become colonial subjects of a new master. Those who previously resisted the Spanish rule also opposed the American empire who wanted to implement its own program of expansionism. A new war ensued in 1899. The turn of the century saw the turn of another chapter in the history of the Philippines, a chapter tainted with tears and blood. This historical gloss, familiar to most students of history, was unfortunately simplified and incomplete, like all versions of history. Nonetheless, it was a necessary background to understand The Devil's Causeway by Matthew Westfall. The book filled in some gaps in the PhilippineAmerican War and provided significant facts and perspectives while recounting an untold story of combat and rescue. The details of the incident would have been forgotten, but thanks to Westfall, a spotlight was now trained on a 110-year old encounter whose significance was not lost on modern conflicts and use of force. In a Spanish church in Baler in the eastern coast of Luzon Island, some Spanish soldiers were trapped by the Filipino Army of Liberation. The siege lasted for all of several months, prompting an attempt of the Americans in Manila to rescue the soldiers of their former enemies. A battleship, the USS Yorktown, was sent to Baler. Following the ill-advised command of an American officer, a gunner boat from the ship entered a river and was ambushed by Filipino soldiers. A couple of soldiers were killed. Some were mortally wounded. The commander and the rest of his sailors were held captives. The dead were buried on the spot while one of the critically wounded was buried alive by order of a cruel Filipino commander. The rescue of Lt. James C. Gillmore Jr. (the officer) and his men was a run to the hostile mountain passes of Sierra Madre and the Cordilleras. The pursuit was more like a cat-and-mouse game. Every attempt by the Americans to corner the mobile Filipino soldiers to get to the prisoners was rebuffed. The prisoners of war were dragged deeper and deeper into the forest interior of Luzon, battling not only war wounds and fatigue but deadly tropical diseases, not to mention being exposed to the territories of notorious headhunting tribes.

Their advance brought them to steeper and rougher trails. In places, the prisoners had to crawl hand over hand, helping each other over the large boulders.... Gillmore later recalled, "The penalty of a single misstep {would have been} to dash to death into the rapids perhaps a hundred feet below." They had entered, he colorfully described, "a veritable devil's causeway." Just before dusk, they reached the head of the dark canyon and camped for the night, "more dead than alive."

Westfall spent considerable time researching the primary materials for this book from various libraries in the US, the Philippines, and Spain, sometimes even taking the trouble to have the Spanish documents translated. The credibility of his historical narrative was due in part to his use of first-hand accounts by participants in the conflict. A remarkable quality of his version of events was its objective presentation. One could sense the writer's attempt to tell a balanced view of events by considering both the military objectives of American and Filipino officers. Westfall, a filmmaker on the side, had the instinct of a storyteller to tell a compelling drama. He assembled a narrative that appeared at times like a detailed treatment for a period war movie. He knew when to fade out from his immediate narrative to set out the larger historical contexts and when to point out the far-ranging implications of seemingly small but ultimately decisive political and military decisions. The use of vintage photographs was also rather effective. His motivation to pursue the story itself, Westfall admitted, was inspired by his discovery of a photograph of the then-nameless rescued American soldiers, whose stories he vowed to research and write. Appearing on the book's front cover, the photograph was one of its kind. At the time it was taken, the folding pocket Kodak camera was just introduced. The photograph was moreover a fitting emblem of the book's photomontage style. The filmic editing of multiple narrative strands was appropriate as Westfall was able to zoom in and out of the viewpoints of a large set of characters, panning from one location to the next without loss of continuity. It would have been easy for The Devil's Causeway to be overwhelmed by details, but the details were used ingeniously to produce a singular photograph of a protracted war. It was finally refreshing to read a historical narrative with a post-nationalist perspective centered on actions and motivations. By taking advantage of a novelistic framework, The Devil's Causeway was not weighed down by any nationalistic ideology that were sometimes detrimental to a holistic appreciation of history. It was also crucial that the writer knew who was "the center of gravity" of the war; and for this narrative, he had himself chosen a young American soldier as the conscience of his story. The latter was the boy Venville whose story of disappearance became a sub-plot from which the book gained some of its emotional tug. In his epilogue, Westfall was able to tally up the "cost of conquest", which might as well be the cost of arrogance. The cost was no less than the life and health of many soldiers on both sides. This history book that reads like an adventure novel was a riveting look at the earliest American "adventure" in the Philippines. Westfall prefaced the chapters in the book with excerpts from Joseph Conrad's contemporaneous Heart of Darkness (1899), making clear his position on the vagaries of imperialistic war. Time and again, a nation's soldiers fought and waged war in the name of the flag – the flag which was the easiest way for the war machine to solicit blind obedience. As Harry Wilmans exclaimed in Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology (1916):

With bullying, hatred, degradation among us, And days of loathing and nights of fear To the hour of the charge through the steaming swamp, Following the flag, Till I fell with a scream, shot through the guts. Now there’s a flag over me in Spoon River! A flag! A flag!

I received an advance reading copy of this book from Goodreads.

119 Rise

Dec 2, 2012, 10:46pm

3 Strange Tales by Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, translated by Glenn Anderson (One Peace Books, 2012)

I met the couple yesterday, a little past noon. The breeze blew through and pulled back the silk scarf draped over the woman and I saw her face for just a moment. It was just a second, because then I couldn't see it anymore. Maybe that was the reason, I'm not sure, but she looked like she'd fallen from heaven and I made up my mind then and there to steal her away, even if it meant killing the man.

The speaker, the notorious bandit Tajomaru, was confessing to the crime. All he needed was just a second to be waylaid. He wasn't sure what compelled him to do harm. He thought it was the breeze momentarily revealing the face of a woman. Maybe that was the reason, I'm not sure. But he made up his mind there and then. Later:

But you didn't see her face. You didn't see the way her eyes burned when she said it. When I saw her face, let God strike me dead, I had to have her for my wife. I had to have her—that was the only thought in my head.

The actions of Akutagawa Ryūnosuke's characters are strange. They are rash, impulsive. They are strange because they went unexplained. Or the explanation was insufficient—You didn't see her face. The characters decide things rather quickly, without regard for the consequences of their acts. They—in a word—snap.

The moment I stood the man kicked me to the ground, and it was just then that I saw the glint—it's hard to describe it, but there was a glint in my husband's eyes. I don't know how to describe it, but just the memory of it sends shivers down my spine.

The woman's testimony, contradicting the bandit's, was equally strange. She knew what she had seen—a glint—and was terrified of it. There was uncertainty on her part (it's hard to describe it ... I don't know how to describe it) but she nonetheless left an indelible image—a glint—that will be very hard to forget. These passages were taken from the popular story of Akutagawa Ryūnosuke called "In a Grove". The last story from the recent translation 3 Strange Tales. It was in fact the fourth story, a "bonus story" after the first three. The inexact number of stories in the title may be fitting, given the set of unreliable narrators in "In a Grove" whose testimonies regarding what happened on the day a man was killed were (oddly) at odds with each other. All four stories were unified by a mood of passionate intensity. The characters were impulsive, highly sensitive, slaves to their feelings. Their violent deeds were executed with no fuss. In moments of desperation, they were, moreover, not quite themselves. They seemed to be possessed by somebody else. Here was the murdered victim of "In a Grove", his testimony spoken through a medium, no less.

The grove was silent, or I thought it was. Straining my ears in the quiet, I could just make out the sound of someone crying. Soon I discovered that it was only my own quiet sobs that filled the clearing.

Yet another kind of possession was at work in the third story, "Agni", which appeared here in translation for the very first time. The story was about an Indian woman, a witch, who kidnapped a young girl which she forcefully used as the medium for Agni, a powerful Indian god who could tell the future. The witch was notorious as a fortune teller; she was selling Agni's prophecies to rich buyers. At the start of the tale, a man called on the witch to ask when Japan and America will go to war. A possession was scheduled at midnight so the woman could give the answer in the morning. With the help of a man who was searching for the girl, the girl hatched a plan to escape the witch. She would pretend a false possession by Agni right before she went to sleep. As Agni, she would then command the witch to immediately return her to her father or else she will be killed. Will the girl be able to pull it off? Will she be able to pretend as being possessed before she went to sleep and became actually possessed by Agni? And, in that case, will she be able to convince the witch? This "possession", a kind of wholesale transformation of character, was an essential device for Akutagawa. The transformation may be brought about by an actual possession, or it may be compelled by extreme events and circumstances, but the result was the same. A character was changed into someone else, someone violent. The other two stories in the slim collection—"Rashomon" and "A Christian Death"—were widely anthologized. They also closely followed the framework of unpredictability brought about by the characters' sudden emotional outbursts and violent actions. They captured the strange territory of the rashomonesque, the relative notion of good and evil. But this time, the stories unfolded within apocalyptic settings. "Rashomon" was set in the declining city of Kyoto in the aftermath of disasters: earthquakes, typhoons, fires, and famines. A servant, newly dismissed by his master, was contemplating the surrounding wasteland below the gate of Rashomon. It was raining and he was trapped. The moral decay around him was essential to understanding the moral choice he made at the end of the story, while confronting an old woman in a tower. The choice—his conviction—suddenly came to him, as if it possessed him.

As he listened he was gripped by a new conviction, one that worked on him in precisely the opposite way than his earlier ruminations on evil had when he leapt into the tower and grappled with the woman. It was the very conviction that he had lacked when he sat under the gate. The servant had been profoundly troubled when confronted with a choice between death and a life of crime. But now—now, the very concept of starvation had left him entirely.

"A Christian Death", a fictional account of an event in Nagasaki sometime in the late 16th century, was also concerned about moral choices. With the same economy of detail in the other stories, Akutagawa sketched a story of Christian missionaries faced with a moral crisis. A young boy they adopted and grew very fond of was accused of impregnating a girl in the neighborhood. He was expelled from the church. The tale culminated with an apocalyptic fire, an event that became a testing ground for the faith of all involved characters and the veritable stage for Akutagawa's successive unfolding of revelations, as unpredictable as they were incredible. The translations of three (plus one) stories, by Glenn Anderson, sounded simple and conversational. They are a perfect sampler of the most intense stories by the acknowledged "father of the Japanese short story". Readers who would like to sample a more substantial number of Akutagawa's work can check out Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories (published by Penguin), Mandarins (Archipelago), or The Beautiful and the Grotesque. I received a review copy of the book from the publisher.

120 lilisin

Dec 2, 2012, 10:59pm

Great review. Akutagawa is such a fantastic writer, isn't he? Have you read his Hell's Screen? I think it's the most gruesome and terrifying yet mesmerizing tale I've ever read. 121 Rise

Edited: Dec 3, 2012, 9:49am

Thanks, lilisin. Indeed. Fantastic and fantastical. There is a unique flavor of the speculative in his stories that is different from other Japanese masters. I haven't read Hell's Screen yet but I will! 122 Rise

Dec 3, 2012, 12:56am

My Prizes by Thomas Bernhard, trans. Carol Brown Janeway "Now is the time to stand firm, I thought, demonstrate my intransigence, courage, single-mindedness. I'm not going to go and meet them, I thought, just as (in the deepest sense of the word) they didn't meet me." The attitude—pure Thomas Bernhard—was unmistakable. There was pride, hardheadedness, combativeness. The novelist was about to receive the Grillparzer Prize from the podium but he went unrecognized by the prize administrators. No one at the front door received him and his aunt. So they just went in. The guests of honor had arrived. The musicians were in place. Everyone was seated. But he didn't budge from his seat. "Of course the ceremony didn't begin", Bernhard wrote. The ceremony couldn't begin. Bernhard had stood his ground. He had made up his mind. He would only come in front if the President of the Academy of Sciences would personally fetch him from his seat. That offending and offensive spirit was what characterized the novelist's recounting of the prize ceremonies he attended in My Prizes: An Accounting (2009), a short volume which also appeared alongside his childhood memoirs, Gathering Evidence (2011 edition). If one deigned to give Bernhard a prize, one must give it on Bernhard's own terms. If one would believe him, he was participating in those (to him) nonsensical ceremonies only for the prize money. But it was obvious that he also relished receiving them, particularly for prizes honoring his early works (like the ones for his early novels Frost and The Lime Works). In these essays he was, as in his works of fiction, honest and frank, if a bit tactless. He was in his usual fighting form.

Herr Bernhard was receiving the prize for his play A Feast for Boris, said Hunger (the play that had been appallingly badly acted a year before by the Burgtheater company in the Academy Theater), and then, as if to embrace me, he opened his arms wide.... He shook my hand and gave me a so-called award certificate of a tastelessness, like every other award certificate I have ever received, that was beyond comparison.

The usual cantankerous Bernhard was also one who deplored the least sight of his country. It would not be the same Bernhard if the reader was not treated to his anti-Austria rant.

I didn't like the town. It's cold and repulsive and if I hadn't had {Elisabeth} Borchers and my thoughts of the eight thousand marks {the prize money}, I would probably have left again after the first hour. How I hate these medium-sized towns with their famous historical buildings by which their inhabitants allow themselves to be perverted their whole lives long. Churches and narrow alleys in which people vegetate, their minds turning more mindless all the time. Salzburg, Augsburg, Regensburg, Würzburg, I hate them all, because mindlessness has been kept warming over in them for hundreds of years.

Interestingly, the handful of short essays and speeches here would make for a good entry point to the novelist. There were incidents told here that would be exploited further in his fiction. The incident of his buying a decrepit house, for example, was also recounted in Yes. The infamous awarding ceremony in Wittgenstein's Nephew was also told in compact form here. When Bernhard sat in a jury to award the Bremen Literature Prize (having won the previous one), he had made up his mind to vote for Canetti, only to be overruled by the other jurors.

I wanted to give Canetti the prize for Auto-da-Fé, the brilliant work of his youth which had been reissued a year before this jury met. Several times I said the word Canetti and each time the faces around the long table grimaced in a self-pitying sort of way. Many of the people at the table didn't even know who Canetti was, but among the few who did know about Canetti was one who suddenly said, after I had said Canetti again, but he's also a Jew. Then there was some murmuring, and Canetti landed under the table. I can still hear this phrase but he's also a Jew although I can't remember who at the table said it. But even today I often hear the phrase, it came from some really sinister quarter.

This display of anti-Semitism was unacceptable to Bernhard. What further inflamed him was the manner of the selection of the eventual winner (Hildesheimer). It was just as thoughtless and crude. Hildesheimer was chosen as the compromise winner if only because time was running out and "the smell of evening roast was already seeping through the double doors".

Who Hildesheimer really was, not one of them seemed to know.... The gentlemen stood up and went out into the dining room. The Jew Hildesheimer had won the prize. For me that was the point of the prize. I've never been able to keep quiet about it.

Bernhard couldn't take seriously any prize that was showered on him because the same standard that selected Hildesheimer for a winner could have been used to select him as a winner in the past and could at any time be used to select future winners. That was the pointless point of the prize for him.

But no prizes are an honor, I then said, the honor is perverse, there is no honor in the world. People talk about honor and it's all a dirty trick, just like all talk about any honor, I said. The state showers its working citizens with honors and showers them in reality with perversities and dirty tricks, I said.

But the height of Bernhard's adventure with prizes was his conferment of the Austrian State Prize for Literature, where the Minister walked out on him while he was still in the middle of his acceptance speech, not before hurling some curses his way. Reading the text of the winner's speech one would have an idea why the Minister walked out, and all his people after him:

Our era is feebleminded, the demonic in us a perpetual national prison in which the elements of stupidity and thoughtlessness have become a daily need. The state is a construct eternally on the verge of foundering, the people one that is endlessly condemned to infamy and feeblemindedness, life a state of hopelessness in every philosophy and which will end in universal madness.

Thomas Bernhard won the prestigious state prize and while delivering his speech he was shunned. Those statesmen must have lacked for a sense of humor. 123 deebee1

Dec 3, 2012, 7:26am

Excellent reviews of the last three books, Rise. I will certainly look for The Devil's Causeway. I worked for several months in Baler and neighboring towns many years ago, and while I knew that the place was steeped in history and would have been very interested to know more, I went away practically as ignorant of it as when I came for utter lack of information available in the town itself. It saddens me every time I come across bits and pieces of information about the country's history abroad, especially during museum trips in Spain, things most Filipinos are ignorant of because very little of these find their way into school books. Bernhard was certainly no bore. Would be interested to read My Prizes. 124 edwinbcn

Dec 3, 2012, 9:38am

Great reviews. Why don't you post them on the respective book pages? There more people can more permanently enjoy reading them 125 baswood

Dec 3, 2012, 7:03pm

Those statesmen must have lacked for a sense of humor. I can't think of many statesmen with a sense of humour, perhaps that is why most of us are governed so badly. My Prizes sounds great Great reviews Rise and edwin is right they really deserve to be copied onto the book pages. 126 Rise

Dec 3, 2012, 10:09pm

-123 Thanks, deebee. You'll definitely read a lot about turn of the century Baler history in the book. A great thing that some local information in libraries and museums are systematically archived and need only the curiosity of researchers to be unlocked. -124, 125 Thanks edwin and bas. I'll consider adding the reviews to the book pages.

127 dchaikin

Dec 5, 2012, 12:27am

You're back with more wonderful reviews. Your review of The Devil's Causeway is simply brilliant, I'll keep the book in mind. 128 Rise

Dec 5, 2012, 8:38am

Thank you, dan. 129 Rise

Dec 17, 2012, 10:14am

The Aesthetics of Resistance, volume 1, by Peter Weiss, translated by Joachim Neugroschel (Duke University Press, 2005) A group of students debating about art in the dialectical style of Plato. Squabbles and machinations between Social Democratic and Communist parties. The art and poetry of resistance, rebelling against the existing order, supplanting the prevailing thoughts with progressive notions, ideas. The first translated volume of a German trilogy, Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, must already count among the high points of resistance art. It is difficult, stylish, philosophical, and Marxist. Novel is too limited a genre to describe its complex structures. One could consider it a hybrid of philosophical categories: a manual on Marxist literary criticism, a guide to the appreciation of proletarian art, a manifesto of aesthetic revolution, a treatise on the history and philosophy of political art. These categories provide the key words but lack the corrosive power of the text. Whatever literary species and genera it belongs to, this work of Weiss is a construct of profound inventiveness. It contains probably one of the best readings there is of The Castle by Franz Kafka and other artworks (paintings, sculptures, novels). In transposing an actual event to the range of art, the painters had succeeded in setting up a monument to radical instants. They had shifted experience to their own present, and we, who saw each crystallization, brought it back to life. What was shown was always different than what it had emerged from, a parable was shown, a contemplation on something in the past. Things drifting by had become something lasting, freestanding, and if it possessed any realism, that was because we were suddenly touched by it, moved. 130 edwinbcn

Dec 17, 2012, 10:20am

Nice and tickling review of Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, I made be tempted to read it next year. 131 Rise

Dec 18, 2012, 3:58am

Thanks, edwin. You've been forewarned. :) 132 SassyLassy

Dec 18, 2012, 10:47am

>129 Rise: Sounds intriguing. There don't seem to be many books like this around anymore. I can see myself looking for it. Your review of 3 Strange Tales also tempts me into some Japanese fiction which is pretty well uncharted territory for me. In addition to your reviews themselves, I appreciate your comments on language, translation and the social aspects of the books you're reading. 133 dchaikin

Dec 20, 2012, 2:14pm

These categories provide the key words but lack the corrosive power of the text. Rise, you do short reviews well too. The Aesthetics of Resistance is something I might be afraid to try, but what an interesting approach. 134 Rise

Dec 22, 2012, 6:36am

-132 Thank you, SassyLassy. Language and translation are some of my favored aspects of novels. The Akutagawa was prompted by my current interest in Japan and the yearlong focus on Japanese writers in the Author Theme Reads group. I am hoping the next 2 volumes of Aesthetics of Resistance will also find its way in translation. The trilogy certainly is shaping to be a major work. -133 Thanks, dan. I had several marginal notes on the novel but was unable to make sense of them and write a longish review. Another interesting thing I forgot to mention is that the novel is made up of long trailing sentences within blocks of text lacking any paragraph breaks. Something I noticed to be a mannerism of a handful of modern European writers.

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