Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami – Book

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“Beware the double metaphors”, our artist, our main character, our guy in an early mid-life crisis is told by the Commendatore. Haruki Murakami bends our brains in fiction once again and his readers, and I, enjoy every minute.

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami does something several books have done recently. It begins at the end and then fills us in. Of course by the time I immerse myself in this story I forget that it is all a flashback. The end of the story we get in the beginning is hardly definitive. But we do meet the artist, acting like a true artist in that little scene.

In present time (in the novel) he is feeling that his life has robbed him of the excitement and ambitions he once had as an artist. He, in a way, blames his wife. He rationalizes that he has had to be practical since he is a family man. He earns his living painting portraits and as his wife works away from home and he is often working at home, he does most of the housework. He feels he has “sold out” by painting portraits, which he considers a lesser form of art. He is feeling dead inside. Just when he is most dissatisfied with life and his art his wife asks for a divorce, says she is sleeping with another man and will not sleep with two men at once.

Yuzu’s husband (the artist) grabs a few clothes (very few) and begins a long journey in his car along the northern coast of Japan. Until he begins naming roads he could be living anywhere. He could be any modern man in any modern nation. He ends his journey months later when he has a very strange and concerning sexual encounter with a young woman and meets the possibly evil man in the white Subaru Forester.

His old college friend and fellow student Masahiko offers him the small mountain house where his father, the famous artist Tomahiko Amada, who is now in a nursing home with dementia, had his studio. Masahiko cannot care for the home as he works and lives in Tokyo.

Up to now. I must say, our artist (unnamed) seems more like an engineer. He has a very pragmatic approach to his wife’s confessions and his road trip. But Haruki Murakami paints his portrait with words. Our guy cannot have a boring identity crisis or get to know himself without going through an ordeal.

From the time he enters that mountain home his inner journey begins and it is a doozy. Temple bells ring in the dead of night with no temple nearby, a deep and magical pit is uncovered with meticulous and unusual stonework walls. There is a secret painting Tomahiko Amada has hidden in the attic with the pretty little owl, there is a collection of opera and classical music on vinyl, and there is a millionaire neighbor with a purring silver Jaguar (car) and many secrets. Then there is the young girl, Mariye, he meets in his children’s art class (about the same age as his beloved sister, Komi, who died as a young teen) and the older, married woman from his adult art class who we get to observe, along with the Commendatore, having satisfying illicit sexual relations with her teacher. Who is the Commendatore and how does he get killed? That I cannot tell you.

There is no blatant spirituality and our artist seems far too self-absorbed and modern to accommodate a deeply religious life, but, even so, in this novel the symbolism (the temple bell, the little shrine, the pit) and a certain sparseness in the prose give a religious tone to the artist’s inward journey. Whether it strikes you as spiritual or not, you can at least enjoy the novel as one great big entertaining Haruki Murakami double metaphor.

 

 

Milkman by Anna Burns – Book

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Milkman by Anna Burns follows none of the rules for storytelling or literary fiction that we are used to. The novel seems to be written as one long sentence (of course it isn’t really). I enjoy reading authors who try something new, especially if they do it well. Anna Burns does it well enough.

Middle sister comes of age in a divided culture, almost a tabloid culture. It is a paranoid, male-dominated place in a perpetual state of war (although most of the fighting happens elsewhere) with the “over the border”, “across the waters” people. Readers identify this unnamed country as Northern Ireland because Middle sister speaks of the on-going hostilities as ‘the troubles’. Men are either renouncers, soldiers, paramilitaries or police. Terrorist bombs from unidentified groups occasionally plague the residents and acts of personal terror up to and including death happen frequently enough to keep people on edge. Toxic masculinity is the expected male behavior. Of course, not all men conform but those who don’t are not allowed much peace by those who enforce the convoluted code these folks live with.

Middle sister is also maybe-girlfriend to her car loving mechanic, maybe-boyfriend, who seems nice and who says he would like to not be a ‘maybe’ anymore. Middle sister has her own reasons for wanting to remain a ‘maybe’ for now. Middle sister does things that make her stand out in a culture where women especially are not supposed to stand out. She reads books while walking (nothing newer than the 19th century). Now that she is of marriageable age her behavior is considered deliberately provocative. She is not being properly observant of possible dangers. She is too self-absorbed. She attracts the attention of the creepy, middle-aged Milkman (who is not the real Milkman).

Around her in her single state swings the true chaos of this time and this place. Young people go to bars to drink and mingle – not to dance it seems. Some bars cater to only one group for example, the paramilitary, others attract a more mixed group –  a more dangerous situation with violent fights and explosions more likely. Once Milkman shows an interest in Middle sister other men in the bar scene back off and certain women begin to offer her tips about what to wear and how to act.

Her relationship with maybe-boyfriend continues as he is not part of the mainstream toxic male culture. Middle sister is seriously weirded out by Milkman. She no longer walks and reads. She now runs with Third brother-in-law rather than alone. She knows better than to get in Milkman’s cars or his van. Because of Milkman’s attentions Middle sister becomes an object of gossip because rumor has it that she is having an affair with this Milkman. Until her recent difficulties she did not see herself as belonging or identifying with these grown up mothers (including her own) and widows (lots of widows). As her fate gets more precarious she begins to learn of the subtle power these women have.

Maybe-boyfriend, the car guy, wins ownership of a ‘Blown Bentley’ engine from over the water. Gossips claim that he got to keep the bit with the flag (not the right flag), but he didn’t. Eventually Milkman uses this gossip to threaten maybe-boyfriend whenever he runs into Middle sister – not often if she can help it. He talks about “car bombs”. He’s a real subtle guy.

Some may find this book difficult to read, although words, at first, tend to be short and simple. The breakneck pace lacks pauses or temporary stops, and the vague war between basically unidentified enemies, all the jargon of a carefully controlled society, gets repetitive and makes us long for some specificity. But Middle sister makes the perfect protagonist because, although she knows the rules, she doesn’t always follow them. She is bright, and cautiously adventurous. On occasion her internal dialogue breaks away from the monosyllabic argot and reveals some pretty sophisticated language skills. Of course she was a girl who read books while walking.

Creating a world, or even turning a real world place into something more generic, is not always easy if it is to be a believable world that readers want to occupy for a time. For me the world of Middle sister in Milkman by Anna Burns was well done. But see what you think about that ending.

Find me at

https://thearmchairobserver.com/

Goodreads.com as Nancy Brisson

Tremr.com as brissioni

White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey – Book

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White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey starts with a real resistance movement inside Germany, the White Rose Society, and builds a novel around it. We can imagine that there were Germans living in Nazi Germany who did not buy into Hitler’s racism, his use of fear and instant retribution, the way he used his paranoia about what people said and did in privacy to justify invading everyone’s privacy, and setting neighbors to spy on neighbors.

In White Rose, Black Forest we meet a young German woman who was imprisoned for a short time because she had a boyfriend in the White Rose Society, the German resistance group which published underground news sheets called “The White Rose”. Franka Gerber, our young lady, a nurse in Munich, actually helped write that flyer and distribute it but was assumed to have been naively led astray by her boyfriend Hans. After serving time in prison she is now considered an outcast.

Now with all her family dead Franka lives alone in the family’s cabin in the Black Forest. She is devastated by the things that have happened to her family and the rumors of the terrible things happening to the Poles and the Jews. She sees no way forward for herself. She is planning to shoot herself out in the Black Forest with her father’s gun. It is the middle of winter and winter snows are deep on the ground, the cabin in a remote location, the roads closed due to the snow.

Her suicide is interrupted when she stumbles on a Luftwaffe officer attached to a parachute and unconscious, with two broken legs, who despite his extensive training speaks to her in English. This is where the story goes a bit off the rails. Some of the author’s explanations for what Franka does require a bit too much suspension of disbelief. Although the snow is a great device to buy her parachutist, John Lynch aka Werner Graf, time to heal.

What I did find relevant and worthy of attention were Franka’s interactions with her neighbors dished out in flashbacks to her years as a young girl when she joined the Hitler Youth movement, and with her earliest friends and her first boyfriend who shared these experiences with her. She eventually turned against Hitler and the Nazis, but her old beau, Daniel Berkel, became an agent of the Gestapo, became a loyal Nazi, and with promotions and power became quite a menacing figure.

Much is revealed about the role of women under Nazi rule which was defined by Hitler. Women were house frau’s and child bearers and kept an eye on their neighbors and reported their behavior when it seemed suspect. Women, unless single, did not work outside the home. However many German women became very good Nazi citizens and supported the regime in every way. Others obeyed because the penalties for not obeying were very steep, often even life-threatening.

White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey is a very readable story, but not a polished literary novel. We do end up on the edge of our seats, and you might want to see if they are able to escape their very precarious situation.

From Wikipedia – “The White Rose (German: die Weiße Rose) was a non-violent, intellectual resistance group in the Third Reich led by a group of students and a professor at the University of Munich. The group conducted an anonymous leaflet and graffiti campaign that called for active opposition to the Nazi party regime.”

Find me at Goodreads.com as Nancy Brisson

 

April 2019 Book List

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My April 2019 Book List is part of my ongoing attempt to keep track of new and interesting titles as they are released by publishers. Although I would like to read every title I cannot because of time constraints and financial ones. Some titles I include for others who might use these lists, such as the books about baseball which are on this month’s list. I have placed an asterisk next to books that sound especially to my taste. I may not stick with my original choices. Sometimes readers provide feedback that makes a title more desirable and moves it up in my priorities. Tempting to sit in a comfy chair surrounded by piles of books and just read, but I understand that sitting for long periods of time can rob you of your mobility. Thank goodness you can read at the gym or even in the park. Enjoy!

Amazon

Literature and Fiction

Normal People: A Novel by Sally Rooney *

The Parisian by Isabella Hammad *

Roar by Cecilia Ahem (Short stories)

Lights All Night Long: A Novel by Lydia Fitzpatrick *

Boy Swallows Universe: A Novel by Trent Dalton *

The Girl He Used to Know: A Novel by Tracy Garvis Graves

Courting Mr. Lincoln: A Novel by Louis Bayard

Stay Up with Hugo Best: A Novel by Erin Somers *

Outside Looking In: A Novel by T.C. Boyle *

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Mysteries and Thrillers

I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney

Odd Partners: An Anthology, Mystery Writers of America, Alison Brennan, et al

Redemption (Memory Man series) by David Baldacci

Someone Knows by Lisa Scottoline

The Mother-In-Law: A Novel by Sally Hepworth

Miracle Creek: A Novel by Angie Kim

Metropolis (A Bernie Gunther Novel) by Philip Kerr

The Better Sister: A Novel by Alafair Burke

Confessions of an Innocent Man by David R. Dow

The Eighth Sister by Robert Dugone

Biographies and Memoirs

Save Me the Plums: My Gourmet Memoir by Ruth Reichl

Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport by Yvon Chouinard

Colin Powell: Imperfect Patriot by Jeffrey J. Matthews

Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America by Jared Cohen

Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement by Rich Karlgaard

Women of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II by Sonia Purnell

The Honey Bees: A Memoir of Loss, Courage and a Girl Saved by Bees by Meredith May

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

Autumn Light: Seasons of Fire and Farewells by Pico Iyer

Women’s Work: A Reckoning with Work and Home by Megan K. Stack

Let’s Play Two: The Legend of Mr. Cub, The Life of Ernie Banks by Ron Rapoport

The Light Years: A Memoir by Chris Rush

Notes From a Young Black Chef: A Memoir by Kwame Onwuachi, Joshua David Stein

Nonfiction

The Last Stone: A Masterpiece of Criminal Interrogation by Mark Bowden

The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez: A Border Story by Aaron Bobrow-Strain

Hotbox: Inside Catering, the Food World’s Riskiest Business by Matt Lee, Ted Lee

The Mission of a Lifetime: Lessons from the Men Who Went to the Moon by Basil Hero

Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe by Steven Strogatz

American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy on the Great Space Race by Douglas Brinkley

Everything in it’s Place: First Loves and Last Tales by Oliver Sacks

Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice that Shapes what We See, Think and Do by Jennifer Everhardt, PhD

Shakespeare’s Library: Unlocking the Greatest Mystery in Literature by Stuart Kells

Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen by Mary Norris

The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive and Fall by Mark W. Moffett

Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Luminous Dead by Caillin Starling

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World: A Novel by C. A. Fletcher

(and a number of series that have added new volumes)

New York Times Book Review

March 8

Nonfiction

An American Summer by Alex Kotlowitz

Nobody’s Looking at You by Janet Malcolm

Good Kids, Bad City by Kyle Swenson

Nature’s Mutiny by Philipp Blom

El Norte by Carrie Gibson

Fiction

The Wall by John Lanchester *

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

Cherokee American by Margaret Verble *

New and Noteworthy

The Art of Bible Translation by Robert Alter

A Desert Harvest by Bruce Berger

Who Killed My Father by Edouard Louis

Max Havelaar, The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company by Multatuli

8 New Books Recommended by Editors this Week

They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers

Nervous States: Democracy and the Decline of Reason by William Davies *

Mamas Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves by Frans de Waal

The White Book by Han Kang

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison

Death is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa

The Heavens by Sandra Newman

March 15th

Fiction

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

Elsewhere Home by Leila Aboulela

House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

Nonfiction

I.M. by Isaac Mizrahi (Memoir)

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynne Olson

Ten Caesars by Barry Strauss

Figuring by Maria Popova

Truth in Our Times by David McCraw

The Impossible Climb by Mark Synnott

The End of the Myth by Greg Grandin

The Twice-Born: Life and Death on the Ganges by Aatish Taseer

March 22

Fiction

The Parade by Dave Eggers

The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib (eating disorders)

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray (eating disorders)

The Silk Road by Kathryn Davis

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

Nonfiction

First: Sandra Day O’Connor by Evan Thomas

The Mastermind by Evan Ratliff

Savage Feast by Boris Fishman (Memoir)

Survival Math by Mitchell S. Jackson

Ten Drugs by Thomas Hager

The Chief by Joan Biskupic (Life of John Roberts)

Zora and Langston by Yuval Taylors

Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman (memoir)

Spies of No Country by Matti Friedman

In a Different Voice by Carol Gilligan

March 29

If you search and find this issue of the NYT’s Book Review you will find a link to a list of 100 Notable Books of 2018.

Fiction

The Old Drift by Nomwali Serpell *

Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt *

The Women’s War by Jenna Glass

A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum

The Promise of Elsewhere by Brad Leithauser

Latest Horror Fiction

The Very Best of Caitlin R. Kiernan

A People’s Future of the United States, ed. By Victor LaValle, John Joseph

The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell

The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Bickering Family Novels

White Elephant by Julie Langsdorf

Little Faith by Nikolas Butter

A Weekend in New York by Benjamin Moskovitz

Nonfiction

Doing Justice by Preet Bharara *

Thin Blue Lie by Matt Stroud

Putin’s World by Angela E. Stent

The Age of Disenchantment by Aaron Shulman

Bending Toward Justice by Doug Jones

Foursome by Carolyn Burke *

America’s Jewish Women by Pamela S. Nadell *

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young (memoir)

Publisher’s Weekly Tip Sheet

10 Books Coming Up for Spring

Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Disappearing Earth: A Novel by Julia Phillips

We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

I Am God: A Novel by Giacomo Sartori

The Age of Light: A Novel by Whitney Scharer

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell

House of Stone: A Novel by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma

American Spy: A Novel by Lauren Wilkinson

March 1

Ancestral Night: White Space, Book 1 by Elizabeth Bear * – F

Lovely War by Julie Berry – YA

Little Faith by Nickolas Butler – F

A Fire Story by Brian Fies – Graphic Memoir

Survival Math: Notes on an All-American Family by Mitchell S. Jackson – Memoir

An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz – NF

Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland by Jonathan M. Metzi * – NF

The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt Och Dag, trans. from Swedish by Ebba Segerberg – Mystery

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara – Biography

Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi * – F

That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the 11th Hour by Sunita Puri * – NF

The Volunteer by Salvatore Scibona “this is a bold, rewarding novel” * – F

Solitary by Albert Woodfox with Leslie George * – Memoir

March 8

Wolf Pack by C. J. Box (A Joe Pickett Novel) – F

Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future by Kate Brown – NF

American Diplomacy and the Case for its Renewal by William J. Burns – NF

If, Then: A Novel by Kate Hope Day – F

See You in the Piazza: New Places to Discover in Italy by Frances Mayes  * – NF

The Selected Works of Abdullah The Cossack by H. M. Naqvi (Karachi) * – F

The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Aahaimbo Owour -Kenyan woman discovers Chinese heritage * – F

The Trial of Lizzie Borden: A True Story by Cara Robertson – NF

Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson – NF

March 15

A Town Called Malice by Adam Abramowitz – F

Doing Justice – A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment and the Rule of Law by Preet Bharara – NF

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams * – F

The Scar: A Personal History of Depression and Recovery by Mary Cregan – Memoir

Leaving Richard’s Valley by Michael DeForge – Graphic Novel

Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World by Lyndell Gordon – Biography

Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead by Bill Griffith – Graphic Bio

The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley – Science Fiction

Memories of the  Future by Siri Hustvedt – F

White Shoe: How a New Breed of Wall Street Lawyers Changed Big Business and the American City by John Oller – NF

The Sun is a Compass: A 4,000 Mile Journey into the Alaskan Wilds by Caroline Van Hemert – NF

Lot by Bryan Washington – Short Stories

March 22

The Workshop and the World: What Ten Thinkers Can Teach Us About Science and Authority by Robert P. Crease – NF

The Club: Johnson, Boswell and the Friends Who Shaped An Age by Leo Damrosch – NF

Murder by the Book: The Crime that Shocked Dickens’s London by Claire Harman – True Crime

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob – Graphic Memoir

A Change of Time by Ida Jessen, trans. from Danish by Martin Aitken * – F

The Other Americans: A Novel by Laila Lalami * – F

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell – “this is an astonishing novel” * – F

Coders: The Making of a New Art and the Remaking of the World by Clive Thompson – NF

Guantanamo Kid: The True Story of Mohammed El-Gharani – Graphic Narrative – NF

The American Agent: A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear – F

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays by Damon Young – NF

March 29

Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative by Jane Alison – “underlain with formidable erudition”  * – NF

The Last Stone: A Masterpiece of Criminal Investigation by Mark Bowden – True Crime

Gravity’s Century: From Einstein’s Eclipse to Images of Black Holes by Ron Cowen – “both a learning experience and a pleasure to read” – NF

Boy Swallows Universe: A Novel by Trent Walton –“an outstanding debut” – F

Diary of a Dead Man on Leave by David Downing – Thriller

Lost and Wanted by Neil Freudenberger – F

Is This How You See Me? by Jaime Hernandez – F

K: A History of Baseball in 10 Pitches by Tyler Kepner – NF

Loch of the Dead by Oscar de Muriel – Victorian mystery

Greek to Me: Adventures of the Comma Queen by Mary Norris – NF

Let’s Play Two: The Legend of Mr. Cub, the Life of Ernie Banks by Ron Rapoport – NF

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling – F

How Change Happens by Cass R. Sunstein – NF

Women Talking by Miriam Toews – F