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Review – The Tattoo Murder Case March 15, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 2.5 stars, Foreign, Mystery/Thriller.
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The Tattoo Murder Case

by Akimitsu Takagi

A female’s limbs and head are found in a locked bathroom, and all the doors and windows of the house are locked. The dismembered body is discovered by two admirers, Professor Heishiro Hayakawa, a collector of tattoo skins, and Kenzo Matsushita, the naive, lovestruck younger brother of Detective Chief Inspector Daiyu Matsushita. The police’s problems are compounded by two additional murders. A tattooed man?the brother of the first victim?is found dead and has been skinned, and victim number three, the jealous lover of the woman, is found dead from a gunshot to the head. Frustrated by their inability to solve these crimes, the brothers Matsushita, who have joined forces, enlist the services of Kyosuke Kamizu, the “Boy Genius.” Kamizu methodically analyzes the deaths, interviews the prime suspects, and quietly solves the case. Intermingled among the twisted plot is the Japanese tradition of myth and superstition, ritual, male and female relationships, the strong tradition of family and family honor, and the relationships of younger brothers to older brothers.

This book was hard to read. I bought the Kindle version and it was filled with typographic errors. There were too many to count. It was ridiculous and extremely frustrating. I think it colored my enjoyment of the book itself.

As for what I could make out of the book, it wasn’t a very decent mystery. You have what was supposed to be a perplexing crime that stumps the local crime force. It’s steeped in exotic undercurrents of the forbidden tattoo world. Then along comes the “Boy Genius” Kyoskuke Kamizu who solves it in little under a week or so.

It kind of reeked of a Sherlock Holmesian typecast setting. It just seemed ripped out of the pages of an Sir Ian Doyle novel then placed in a Japanese cultural setting. This might have been refreshing if the characters had been anything but two-dimensional.

The whodunnit was fairly obvious from the get-go. The only question for me was how. So that kept me reading until the end. On the whole though, it was a very unsatisfying read. It had me rolling my eyes and muttering under my breath.

Review – Life in the Cul-de-Sac March 13, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 4.5 stars, Foreign, Literature.
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Life in the Cul-de-Sac

by Senji Kuroi

Life in the Cul-de-Sac is considered “one of the most important Japanese novels of the last two decades” and is the winner of the Tanizaki Prize. It’s a series of interlacing stories about families who live in a cul-de-sac. At first the stories don’t seem to be connected but then the connection becomes more obvious even if it’s a bit tenuous at times. It still makes for a strong story as it proves that this is a modern kind of “Japanese floating world” versus the traditional group-ethic.

The families are insulated in their own worlds yet they touch upon each other in meaningful ways. They’re interleaved together in a mesh of humanity that aches for understanding. The women are the strongest voices in the stories. Ultimately they’re the strongest characters in the book.

In “The Door Across The Street”, Shizuko Takigawa needs to keep things unchanged and to stand up for what she wants. In “Night Guest”, Masayo Yasunaga aches to be free of the traditional role her life’s put her in.

Even though the women resonated within me the loudest the men did have a say. In “Toy Room”, you find Fusao Oda aching for days gone by for example.

Each character went through the aches and pains of every day life. Yet many had a nobility and/or a poignancy I found admirable and touching. They were real people going through very real problems and I could relate to them on a very human level.

You can see why this book won the Tanizaki Prize. I hope to read more books by Senji Kuroi. He’s a masterful storyteller.

Review – Some Prefer Nettles March 11, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 3 stars, Foreign, Literature.
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Some Prefer Nettles

by Junichrio Tanizaki

The conflict between traditional and modern Japanese culture is at the heart of this novel. Kaname is a smug, modern man living in a modern marriage. He gamely allows his wife to become the lover of another man, an act that does not cure the profound sadness at the heart of their relationship. So Kaname gradually retreats into the protection of traditional rituals, attitudes and tastes, eventually making love to Ohisa, his father-in-law’s old-fashioned mistress, as he abandons the modern world entirely. The novel’s other characters, including Kaname’s wife, his lover, his father-in-law, and even the cities in which they live, all symbolize the modern and ancient ways of life in Japan. Tanizaki’s characteristic irony, eroticism, and psychological undertones make Some Prefer Nettles an exceptional and compelling read.

The synopsis is somewhat misleading. Kaname doesn’t, in fact, “make love to Ohisa”. He simply spends more time with his father-in-law and his mistress.

What it is, is a fascinating insight into the psychology of the mindset of the Japanese mentality of that era as Kaname and his wife, Misako deliberate over the act of divorce. Kaname is of the “Tokyo” style and wishes to cause the least amount of inconvenience to all parties. So they choose to wait until the moment is most “opportune”.

In reality, it seems as though his heart is not made up about the parting of ways with Misako. It doesn’t seem as though Misako is entirely sure either.

I waffled between being intrigued over their dilemma and being frustrated over their indecision. What could be construed as deliberation over a very monumental decision, seemed to also be a weakness and a profound shortcoming in Kaname. So I was at once mesmerized by their dilemma and then in another moment frustrated by it.

On the whole, even though it was well written, I found it a very unsatisfying and unsettling read. I didn’t enjoy it and I wouldn’t truly recommend it for anyone looking for a breezy Sunday afternoon read. If you’re looking for insight into how a Japanese man tries to transition from traditional Japan to modern Japan then this is the book for you. Otherwise I’d be cautious about reading it.

Review – Hotel Iris March 9, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 4 stars, Foreign.
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Hotel Iris

by Yoko Ogawa

(also available in paperback and NOOK)

Hotel Iris is a small hotel on an resort island in Japan owned by a Mother and a 17-year-old daughter named Mari. Mari strikes up an affair with “the translator”, a middle-aged man. This novella is about their forbidden and sometimes violent love.

Mari’s mother is very controlling and I thought that this affair was also about Mari’s way of rebelling. Mari’s father also died at a very young age, so you can’t help but feel that maybe she has “daddy issues”.

Either way, the tale is a good one. It’s sultry and tantalizing, as well as poignant and sweet.

I liked the way Mari never refers to her lover by name. She constantly refers to him as “the translator”. In this way she’s constantly distancing herself from him, despite the love affair they’re engaged in and the feelings she professes she has for him.

Despite the fact this story was about a love affair, it didn’t completely center on their sex life. In fact it played a somewhat minor role. It’s there but only in context as the basis of their relationship.

The book surprised me in that I enjoyed it a lot more then I thought I would. I’m not a fan of romance of any genre but Ogawa did a masteful job of relaying her message in as tasteful a manner as possible.

Review – Sayonara, Gangsters March 6, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 3.5 stars, Foreign, Literature.
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Sayonara, Gangsters

by Genichiro Takahashi

(not available on Kindle)

Sayonara, Gangsters is strangely enough, about a poet named Sayonara, Gangsters which is set in a futuristic and dsytopic society. It’s a bizarre and tragic journey into his life as a poetry teacher and his life with his lover Song Book.

They inevitably run into the Gangsters. The Gangsters are a group of homegrown terrorists that are more like heroes. They’ve been put on pedestals and legends surround them.

The book itself is unceasingly bizarre, vague, and unfocused. More often then not it’s nonsensical. Making you wonder what it’s really about. Perhaps if I were a better educated reader I’d see past its many layers and come away with a greater understanding of the book. Instead I came away with a rather confused countenance.

In the end, it was simply a disquieting book that left me unsatisfied. I will say that, for the most part, the ride was pleasant as the lyrical nature of Takahashi’s style of writing lent a rarefied air.  Still, I didn’t feel it was worth the money I spent on it.

Review – 1Q84 March 4, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 5 stars, Foreign, Literature.
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1Q84

by Haruki Murakami

(also available in hardcover and on NOOK)

The year is 1984, but not for long. Aomame, on her way to meet a client–the gravid implications of which only come clear later–sits in a taxi, stuck in traffic. On a lark, she takes the driver’s advice, bolts from the cab, walks onto the elevated Tokyo expressway, descends an emergency ladder to the street below, and enters a strange new world.

In parallel, a math teacher and aspiring novelist named Tengo gets an interesting offer. His editor has come upon an entry for a young writer’s literary prize, a story that, despite its obvious stylistic drawbacks, strikes a deeply moving chord with those who’ve read it. Its author is a mysterious 17-year-old, and the editor proposes that Tengo quietly rewrite the story for the final round of the competition.

So begins Haruki Murakami’s magnus opus, an epic of staggering proportions. As the tale progresses, it folds in a deliciously intriguing cast of characters: a physically repulsive private investigator, a wealthy dowager with a morally ambiguous mission, her impeccably resourceful bodyguard, the leader of a somewhat obscure and possibly violent religious organization, a band of otherworldly “Little People,” a door-to-door fee collector seemingly immune to the limits of space and time, and the beautiful Fuka-Eri: dyslexic, unfathomable, and scarred.

Aomame names her new world “1Q84” in honor of its mystery: “Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.

This was truly a monumental book at over 990 pages and it took me awhile to digest it. Murakami did a magnificent job with this book. He gives so much detail you really get a feel for each character. Although they’re swept away by the plot and the events that surround it, the focus is mainly on the characters.

The book is divided into chapters focusing on the divergent perspectives of Tengo and Aomame. This is, in no way, disharmonious. In fact, the rhythm of the book is quite lyrical. There’s a gentle cadence to the book that lulls you and invites you to continue reading.

 As the book progresses you become more and more anxious for Tengo and Aomame to meet and cross paths. This also makes you even more anxious for the pages to turn. At the same time, I found myself savoring each word and letting the book take it’s time with me. I think I took the most time with this book then with any book I’ve ever read.

With the exception of Aomame, Murakamai manages to convey feeling without having his characters display overt signs of emotion. In this way he manages to display the perfect Japanese economy of demeanor without sacrificing any insight into the characters thought, feelings, and motivations. I thought this was particularly masterful of him as many authors are unable to do this.

Even though I was a teenager at the time, it was hard for me to grasp the technology gap between 1984 and the present. Computers weren’t so prevalent. Records weren’t all digitilized. You couldn’t just hack into the mainframe to get information and I’ve taken that kind of thing for granted.

The truly defined antagonist wasn’t introduced wasn’t introduced until the third “book”. Like an opera slowly building to a crescendo, that’s when the pace of the story really quickened. He was a sympathetic character that made me feel as much pity for him as loathing. Part of me didn’t want him to fail for his sake, but most of me didn’t want him to succeed for the sake of Tengo and Aomame.  It is this conflict of emotion that makes a perfect villain in my opinion.

This book has love. It has mystery. It has the light spinkling of surrealism/fantasy that I experienced in After Dark. It has a dystopic society. It’s about good versus evil and all the gray shades in between. It’s about so much more.

When I was done with this book, even though this was well over 900 pages, I still wanted to read on. I wanted to remain in Tengo and Aomame’s world. That’s the mark of a good book!

Review – After Dark February 22, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 5 stars, Foreign.
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After Dark

by Haruki Murakami

(also available in paperback and NOOK

A short, sleek novel of encounters set in Tokyo during the witching hours between midnight and dawn, and every bit as gripping as Haruki Murakami’s masterworks The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore.

At its center are two sisters—Eri, a fashion model slumbering her way into oblivion, and Mari, a young student soon led from solitary reading at an anonymous Denny’s toward people whose lives are radically alien to her own: a jazz trombonist who claims they’ve met before, a burly female “love hotel” manager and her maid staff, and a Chinese prostitute savagely brutalized by a businessman. These “night people” are haunted by secrets and needs that draw them together more powerfully than the differing circumstances that might keep them apart, and it soon becomes clear that Eri’s slumber—mysteriously tied to the businessman plagued by the mark of his crime—will either restore or annihilate her.

Experiencing this novel, because it was indeed an experience, was like watching a citified episode of Twin Peaks. It had all the elements of surrealism and all the eccentric characters you’d come to expect out of the show. While disconcerting at times, it was also all the more intriguing.

It also had an eloquent prose that was like music to the ears. It urged me on to read until late into the night.

This was a more plot-driven novel. From seeing Mari in a Denny’s meet Takahashi the trombone player to having her propelled to a love-hotel. Then onwards into the night, you’re taken on a fascinating trip into the deep night of Tokyo.

While Eri remains asleep throughout the book, she’s not left out of the book. You get a definite sense of who she is and what her personality is like from the story. In fact she’s a key player.

I especially liked the way Murakami drew you in as a reader, cajoling you to take part of the experience along with himself as the narrator. You weren’t simply reading. You were, like I said, experiencing.