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Japanese Lit Challenge #14 Review: Before the Coffee Gets Cold: A Novel by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

My Interest

Thanks to Deb Nance at Readerbuzz who introduced me to this book. I tucked this one away for this year’s Japanaese Lit Challenge.

The Story

Four patrons decide to test the urban legend that the backstreet, basement,  Cafe Funiculi Funicula offers time travel–but with a whole bunch of rules! Each person must obey the rules or …. [no spoilers]. They cannot change things (think Marty McFly starting to disappear). And, your time in the past must end before the coffee gets cold or [Sorry! No spoilers].

My Thoughts

Time travel is one of those things that I can occasionally enjoy. This story was perfect for my current mood. It reminded me a lot of Sarah Addison Allen–just a touch of magic. I liked the real world way the patrons responded to or learned from their experiences. There is a sweet poignancy to the story that never gets too precious of cloying–it is realistic. This is a quick, light read but well worth it.

My Verdict

4.0

Before the Coffee Gets Cold: A Novel by Toshikazu Kawaguchim

I listened to the audio version.

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Review: Ru: A Novel by Kim Thuy

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My Interest

For once I honestly cannot recall how I learned of this book. I suppose in trolling for prize winners (it won Canada’s prestigious Governor General’s Award) or for books in my Reading The World project. Regardless of how I found it, I’m glad I read it.

The Story

“From my father I inherited the permanent feeling of satisfaction….Very early, my father learned how to live far away from his parents, to leave places, to love the present tense, to let go any attachment to the past.”

(p. 64)

Nguyen An Tịnh, the fictionalized version of the author, tells her story in vignettes. Her birth in Vietnam, the harrowing trip out by boat. The years of waiting. Arrival in Quebec, which she confusingly calls her ‘American Dream’ which I supposed is more understandable than simply “my North American dream,” her life is told in episodes that sometimes run a few pages, sometimes barely cover an entire paragraph. The family’s immigrant experience is familiar–well off, well educated parents who speak fluent French had to earn a living cleaning toilets. Their daughter takes Quebec life in stride.

The writing was so captivating, the emotions right on the surface, that I had to remind myself again and again that this was a novel. Like many children whose childhoods are marred by trauma, she is always ready to go–she packs light, taking only books (p,100). Her memories in the story circle in and around present-day and everywhere in between.

“As a child, I thought that war and peace were opposites. Yet I lived in in peace when Vietnam was in flames and I didn’t experience war until Vietnam had laid down its weapons. I believe that war and peace are actually friends, who mock us.”

(p. 12)

My Thoughts

While there was one scene I felt must have been added to meet that seemingly mandated list of must-haves in the very p,c, world of publishing (well, it seems that way), this book is exactly enough of her story. Even one more page would have sent it over the edge and into “ordinary.” It is just short of extraordinary–exactly where it needs to be. I do not always agree when books have a long list of awards, but this one definitely earned them.

4 Stars

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Review: Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym

 

“Something to love, oh, something to love!” “Some tame gazelle or some gentle dove, Something to love, oh, something to love.”

(Donall Dempsey)

My Interest

Since picking up Pym’s Excellent Women last year, I’ve been on a quest to read all of her books. Her stories are compared to those of Jane Austen. I agree. Comedies of manners are always fun–especially for me since I love social history. The sly, dry, humor. The occasional &ictchy comment. And, oh the delicious shade thrown! The side-eyes! The resting &itch faces! Then too, in one of my [yet-to-be-published) novels I have an Agatha who is a Bishop’s daughter. You read it here first. I created my Agatha about seven years before I read this book!

“…as the wife of an Archdeacon she always had very good clothes which seemed somehow to emphasized the fact her father had been a Bishop….[X] would look odd in a familiar old-fashioned grey costume whose unfashionably narrow shoulders combined with [her] broad hips made her look rather like a lighthouse. Her relation Miss {Y] would wear a fluttering blue or grey dress with a great many scarves and draperies and she would as always carry that mysterious little beaded bag without which she was never seen anywhere. …the most magnificent person there would be Lady Clara…who was to perform the opening ceremony. It was, of course, fitting this should be as she was the daughter of an Earl and the widow of a former M.P., an excellent man in his way, although he had never been known to speak in the House [of Commons] except on one occasion when he had asked if a window might be opened or shut.”

This is a great example of her Pym’s style. I love the way each lady is “given her due” as though she were a balloon being pricked by a pin!

The Story

“Spinster” sister Belinda and Harriet live in a quiet country town. Well-educated, they have reached a “certain age” and they are comfortable in their spinsterhood. Oh, Poor Belinda has her old boyfriend nearby and dotes on him. Sadly, he married someone else. And Harriet dotes on each young curate in the parish in turn. Suddenly, their world, and their peaceful spinster lives, are threatened by visitors.

“Good wine and old books seem to go together.”

My Thoughts

“Nearly twenty-past one!’ said Harriet, as they sat down to their meal. ‘The Archdeacon has delayed everything. I suppose he imagined Emily would be cooking.’ ‘I don’t suppose he thought about it at all, men don’t as a rule,’ said Belinda, ‘they just expect meals to appear on the table and they do.”

Each Pym book that I read ends up being my favorite. I loved this story! The discussions of hand-knitted socks, of darning, of grafting heels! Loved it. The watered-down canned soup that tastes like the “fermented native porridge” according to the Bishop from a thinly disguised Malawi/Zambia/Zimbabwe (then The Federation of Nyasaland, and [Northern and Southern] Rhodesia). I could well imagine to what he was referring. It was called “Chimbuku” and it was a local “beer” that tasted like vomit mixed with dirt. The shade!

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I wish my audiobook had had this cover–it’s so much more in keeping with the book which gave so much thought to esthetics, and higher learning.

My Verdict

4.0

Such a good read that I may have to break with my decision not to re-read books any more and enjoy it all again.

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Women in the Kitchen: Two Books–One Older, One New

My Interest

I’ve long been a cook and  foodie. I’d never attempt to cook my way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking ala Julie and Julia author Julie Powell, but I have successfully made several of it’s recipes, including the famous beef bourguignon, I enjoy reading cookbooks, and used to buy a lot of them,  but now use the internet and the library for most of them. (Why did I quit? Space and I had one recipe I used in each. Sound familiar?) Recently, I’ve noticed a spate of interesting cooking/foodie books and have been in the mood to read them, so this week I “yummed” my way through two nice short ones–one older (old to some, but I was an adult in the late 80 so it doesn’t seem “old” to me, lol) and one new.

51sKy1GC1JL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Women in the Kitchen: Twelve Essential Cookbook Writers Who Defined the Way We Eat, from 1661 to Today by Anne Willan, rightly struck me as foodies’ delight. The history of cookbooks in one slim, fast-reading, collection of essays. I was well-versed already in Alice Waters, Julie Child, Fannie Farmer, and Irma Rombauer. The others were truly a fun education.

The “way-back-when’s” were fine, but most interesting to me were Edna Lewis and Marcella Hazan–neither of whom had come to my attention before. Lewis, the daughter of slaves, is the author of The Taste of Country Cooking–which even inspired Alice Waters. Hazan, in the era of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and pizza kits, brought Italian cooking to the American masses with her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Both–well, ALL, of the ladies were interesting people as well as great cooks. The recipes included range from Brown Sugar Carmel Pie, to Blond Gingerbread, to Ratatouille to Mango Salad With Chile Pepper and beyond. All sound delicious.

My Verdict: 4.0  stars

 

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The late novelist and wonderful home cook, Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen is just as delightful as her novels. It was fun to go back to a time when microwave ovens were not in every home and Starbucks was a Seattle thing only.

“Somehow I have never felt that ‘interesting’ is an encouraging word when applied to food.”

As Colwin tells the story of evolution as a cook, she continues to tell us how she really feels: “For hors d’oeuvres we had something which I believe is called cheese food. It is not so much a food as a product.” Or, another favorite quote of mine on iceberg lettuce: “Most people feel it is an abomination.” Yes! With these quotes to set the stage, you just know the recipes will be good, right? You betcha!

“Chicken salad has a certain glamour to it. Like the little black dress, it is chic and adaptable and can be taken anywhere.” As a life-long chicken salad aficionado, I concur completely. The recipes included for chicken salad alone are fabulous. Throw in the potato salads and…or the beef stew (and I have ONE beef stew recipe–one because no other comes close, but I will be trying this one!).

This book is like cooking with your best foodie-cooking buddy on a good day with the right wine. Thank you to Plucked From the Stacks for reminding me of this book that had been on my TBR too long.

My Verdict 4.0 stars

My review of Laurie Colwin’s novel, Family Happiness.

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Another new foodie book review:

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My review of the new book, In the Kitchen: Essays on Food and Life.

My reviews of a bunch of cooking and foodie books are combined into this post.

Are you a cook, a chef, a foodie–or a combination of the three? Do you like to read cookbooks or foodie books? Leave me a comment or a link to your post.

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Review: The first of two books with the same title: Wintering. Stephen Rutt’s Wintering: A Season With Geese

My Interest

I started this year determined to read “seasonally”–winter books in winter, etc. I had encountered both of these books, and both resonated with me when I read about them. I tried the sample on Amazon for each–something I rarely do. I actually purchased both because I did not want to rush through either one. They are the first two of my “winter” books that I’ve finished.

Thanks to Liz Dexter’s review at Shiney New Books for bringing this book to my attention, Won’t you be nice and click to read her review, too?

“I find hope in the borderless world of birds.”

(p. 29-30)

The Story

Geese have become fascinating to me because for the 12 + years on my current job, a gaggle of geese has made our office parking lot, and the little fake pond by the Mercedes Benz dealership next door, it’s Springtime home. A goose sits on eggs most years in the same little island in the parking lot, it’s ground covering plants [what are they? vines? Not grass that’s for sure] must appeal to female geese. They walk around the parking lot, risk their lives crossing the street to Burger King and Wendy’s or follow the cul de sac to Buffalo and Wild Wings or Bob Evans. They do not have nice toilet manners, nor are they always nice to passing humans. But it is enjoyable to see them arrive and, especially, to arrive in the morning and find the mother is now on her nest.

Author Stephen Rutt says of his childhood: “I grew up awkward. Always unsure of my place in the scheme of things. Never sure what I was working towards. The world was a vast and perplexing and the temptation to retreat into a book was always strong. Getting into nature–in its broadest sense of the world around me–was a salve. (p. 129). He began bird watching–his father liked bird watching around their home in Suffolk. In time he says, “The quest becomes something bigger. A way of understanding the world around me. A way of understanding me” (p, 131).

For a year he spends his time studying geese from his new home in Dumfries and in the environs known to have geese making their annual stop in the UK while migrating. Later in the year, he teams up again with his father to search for certain elusive geese in the marshlands near their home and elsewhere in the U.K,

My Thoughts

Educator Charlotte Mason championed educating only with living books, not textbooks. This is certainly a living book. the geese, their markings, their habitats, and habits are made real by Rutt’s prose.

The neck collar meets at the front, like a pearly white, expensive smile. It carries a clarity about it. The sharper goose” (p. 126).

I love some of his descriptions of the scenery in which he finds the geese, too.

I had never seen ice on a beach. The shingle solid, each individual pebble delicately thorned with hoar frost (p. 149)

Possibly this one entranced me because I’ve never been to “shingle” beach with rocks–only those with and. The picture he paints is awe-inspiring.

The marsh is bleached with ice” (p. 150) I can just picture. I’ve seen marshland. I know its look and its feel. “Bleached” is the very word needed for this description.

This is a delightful book. It may be a little slow for today’s kids to enjoy as a read aloud, but I would try it. Maybe in the Spring when the geese come back. Look for them at nearby ponds or lakes or even at the shopping center–they seem to like those as well as my office parking lot. Maybe throw in a viewing of Fly Away Home, a movie Stephen enjoyed as a child. Regardless, read this one yourself if nothing else. It is beautiful.

My Verdict

4.5

Wintering: A Season With Geese by Stephen Rutt

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Classics Club Spin #25 Review: Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck

#ccspin

What’s a Spin?

A Classics Club Spin is a game where you make a list of the 20 classics you want to read. Then, on the announced date, the Classics Club [blog] randomly draws a number. You read the book on your list that corresponds to the number drawn. It’s fun!

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My Interest in Tortilla Flat

I needed short choices from the classics for this challenge. I also wanted to try more Steinbeck even though East of Eden gave me real world nightmares. To date I’d read East of Eden, Grapes of Wrath, The Pearl Of Mice and Men (all three in high school in the 70s). I wanted a Steinbeck that wouldn’t depress me too much, too.

The Story

In a run-down part of town, Danny and his friends do their best to avoid working, yet still acquire wine. One day, Danny’s luck changes and he inherits his Grandfather’s two run-down houses. He agrees to ‘rent’ one to his friends who never actually pay rent. Danny begins to see the other side of owning something worth having. The friends start to resent his wealth. Then they are all friends again. A woman gets involved. A terrible accident sets the stage for conflict…that does….not…happen. In fact nothing much happens.

The chapter titles tell the story, for example:

“How Danny’s Friends sought mystic treasure on St. Andrew’s Eve. How Pilon found it and later how a pair of serge pants changed ownership twice.”

On and on nothing really happens. They talk. The find or beg or have gifted their wine. They steal chickens to eat. They have run-ins with others in the Monterey neighborhood of the title. They accomplish nothing.

Supposedly the story mirrors Arthurian legends with Danny as Arthur. Sure, John, if you say so. Whatever. Maybe I am too stupid to “get it” again–like with many Japanese books? To me, Arthur had class, style, manners, and did stuff. These guys are what used to be called “bums.” Not “hobos” because they (usually) have a home of some sort somewhere.

They reminded me of the guys in Last of the Summer Wine (a British sitcom in which little happens while the men avoid their wives) but dirtier and with coarser manners and different accents. And not enjoyable like LOTSW was.

My verdict

4.0 For the actual writing. 

2.0 For how it held my interest.

I’ll be honest–I’m done with Steinbeck except for Travels With Charley–I do still plan to read it and possibly Harvest Gypsies.

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck

Random episode of the random antics of Last of the Summer Wine

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Review: American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

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Helen Ellis came to my attention via her essay on how the husband didn’t want a divorce like his wife thought–he just wanted the dining room table to be clean and clear of clutter. Helen is like David Sedaris, and Bailey White–born to be beloved by NPR listeners. While her book, Southern Lady Code was a collection of humorous essays, American Housewife is a collection of short stories. Like the Haruki Murakami collection, I turned to this earlier this week, American Housewife was available when I ran out of audiobooks. Unlike the Haruki Murakami collection, I’m glad I did. Her writing just plain delights. Add in one story told in epistolary form, a fabulous cover, and you’ve got me completely hooked. Did I mention the author is a pro poker player? Or that her husband vacuums glitter in one story? Now I just have to talk myself off the ledge for liking both Chardonnay and wainscoting….

“I fix myself a hot chocolate because it is a gateway drug to reading.”

My favorite of the stories was Dead Doormen. Not because of the doormen, but because I’d LOVE to see that penthouse apartment! I’d love to go through that library of gardening books the late mother-in-law carefully annotated as she grew her terrace garden over the years. A four-bedroom penthouse in a coop by the park in NYC with a terrace garden, fine artwork, and original furnishings kept in museum quality. What’s not to love?

“Just because it’s gorgeous outside doesn’t mean you have to go outside.”

Hello! Welcome to Book Club is part Mafia, part sorority, part dream vacation. An elderly New York Grand Dame funds it all, and a Talbot’s store manager gives everyone her employee discount, add in a couple of “failure to launch” young people thrown in with the 50-60-somethings who comprise the world’s most privileged book club and you have a book club you won’t forget. The thing about Book Club is, you must pick your Book Club Name. “Mary Beth” is not pleased that “Bethany” encroached on her name, so no more anything like “Mary” or “Beth.” These gals will have you “elbow-deep in the onion dip” and grateful for the cocktails, “please and thank you.”

My Novel Was Brought To You By the Good People at Tampax imagines a world in which writer’s receive corporate sponsorship, but all the compromises that demands. I took it as a rift on the way publishers today seem to demand certain insertions in novels that pay homage to political correctness, or now, woke-ness. Maybe I’m right? It was quite a read, regardless of my guess.

“Fertile as a Duggar”

How to be a Patron of the Arts tells of both how to avoid writing and how to make a life for yourself when you are a stay-at-home, childless wife of a loving husband, while going everywhere with gay male friends. Too much to love here.

The Wainscoting War is the battle of wealthy apartment dwellers with a shared landing. It becomes all-out war both by email and by actions. Unforgettable. And, remember, “the only thing with less character than Chardonnay is wainscoting.”

Pageant Protection is a somewhat troubling, dark-humored account, of “rescuing” and “relocating” child pageant victims. It is stressed that the child supposedly applied for this help, but it depicts child abduction all the same. I get it–child pageants are horrendous. I hope pageant Moms who might stumble upon it get the message–or at least take photos of their daughter(s) sans makeup, flipper, wigs, hairpieces, and all the rest.

“Inspired by Beyonce, I stallion walk to the toaster.”

Among the short stories are little bits of essay or free form verse or jottings–How To Be A Grown Ass Woman lists qualities, actions, etc. I loved it.

Most of all, in all of Helen’s writing, I love that she is happily married to a successful man who seems to adore her in return. The little rituals she talks of–sitting with him as he changes out of his suit, even taking him breakfast in bed, are fun and loving. Who wouldn’t want that life in that apartment with that garden, those books, those friends, and all the rest.

An American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

My Verdict

4.0

 

You can read more by and about this author here: NPR Book Review of American Housewife by Hellen Ellis.

My Review of Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis

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Review: When We Were Young & Brave aka Bird in the Bamboo Cage: A Novel by Hazel Gaynor

My Interest

 

I loved Last Christmas in Paris, Meet Me in Monaco, and the author’s contribution to the short story collection, Fall of Poppies. I follow Hazel Gaynor on twitter, and I just like her writing. She’s become a must-read author for me! Plus, the story brought to mind a character on one of the few t.v. shows I watch–Call the Midwife. She had been interred by the Japanese as a child during World War II.

The Story

This book was based in part on the true story of Chefoo School’s internment during Word War II.

Unlucky in love, Elspeth Kent leaves her Yorkshire home and becomes a teacher at the Chefoo School in China–a school run by the Inland China Mission (missionaries) for the children of missionaries, diplomats, and businessmen who want to at least be able to see their children over breaks instead of exiling them home to the UK or the US or wherever. Among her duties is leading the Brownie Pack [troop here in the USA and I had to Google to learn what a “sixer” was in UK Brownie lingo]. She has met one girl and her mother on the ship and has promised to look after the girl. When the story opens though, Elspeth has written her resignation letter and plans to return home. Before she can deliver it, War officially starts between the Japanese and the UK and the USA. Soon Japanese soldiers enter the school and inform the staff, students, and servants that they are all enemy prisoners of the Emperor. Life changes fast.

The core group of girls include Nancy (who  has an older brother, Edward at the school), Dorothy nicknamed Sprout has an older sister at school (Connie) and Joan aka Mouse, is the quiet one of the trio. Nancy is Elspeth’s favorite though Sprout comes in for much care as well and Mouse is never just ignored. The other teachers include Minne, a “surplus woman” from the last war’s era, and Charlie, one of the boy’s teachers among a few others. They are the sort of decent, caring, dedicated people parents dream of finding in a boarding school.

Elspeth decides early on that Brownies, and later Girl Guides, will be a big help in morale. She uses the teachings of The Brownie/Girl Guides Handbook much more than the Bible, which strange in a school of the Inland China Mission (whose members included the stalwart Presbyterian parents of Ruth Bell Graham and the great Hudson Taylor for whom Taylor University is named), but she uses it to good effect. She keeps the girls busy and demands only correct behavior to help protect her young charges from possibly cruelty by their guards.

Such a woman as Elpseth would commonly be called “plucky.” In the manner of all the “girl” spies of today’s Word War II resistance novels, she steps up and does what must be done even taking on covert operations for the good of the school’s residents. She is courageous, level-headed and a gal I’d want on my team in any situation. I loved how this  strength was played off her memories of the man she loved. Theirs was a wonderful boy-next-door sort of romance and it made her softer and more feminine–more of her time, though both were weakness she dared not show their captors.

As the war goes on, the little community suffers privations of various sorts. There are heartwarming and heartbreaking events to come. [I don’t do spoilers so I have to be vague]. The girls grow up in all the normal ways, but must do so without a mother to guide them. Elspeth, and later a rather colorful older woman, help them. Eric Liddell, of Chariots of Fire fame, who would not run on the Sabbath–not even at the request of Crown, was a true part of this story.

War’s end finally comes and the Chefoo School staff and students go their separate ways. But who will ever replace the friends with which they survived Japanese internment? [No spoilers}

My Thoughts

I loved this story!

Elspeth’s no-nonsense, stiff upper lip manner was exactly what the girls needed. Even better that she occasionally let her self “love on” the little girls. That was sweet yet believable. Her remembered love for her late fiance was beautiful. I liked each of the girls–they were believable. And I liked Charlie for his steadfastness and courage and normalcy.

I really doubt that the Inland China Mission’s powers that be would EVER have allowed a mere teacher to have a Buddhist holy book! A pastor, perhaps, so that he was knowledgeable. And that a Chinese servant would have gifted it to her? I struggled with this little gift more than with anything else in the story.

I also thought it strange that she was accepted as a teacher yet her faith was very shaky. That would have been a deal breaker today, let alone back then. It is pretty easy to ferret out fakers–I’ve helped do it in too many job interviews with my employer, a Christian university. It all just seemed a bit too modern, a bit of social engineering to make it more palatable to today’s readers. And, had Mouse said that so many people were praying now that God couldn’t have time to answer them all (p. 95) within hearing of a mission school teacher she’d have been corrected in an instant. Doubting and mocking are not hallmarks of a a mission education. I’m assuming Mouse just said it to other girls and so easily got away with it.

Elspeth’s relationships with the servants seemed very modern, too, but I’ve been stuck in a foreign country with no one but my own house servant for company so I know that it does happen. It was interesting that she got so little flack for it.

So fun that the girls’ Guide Patrol was named for Queen Elizabeth’s own–The Kingfisher Patrol. Very patriotic–I loved this little detail.

In spite of my doubts on a few minor things, I know the author did her research. Perhaps I am just wrong. I hope so. I loved the story so much and it will remain with me. I stayed up until 2:30 am on a work night just to finish–I couldn’t bear to put it down. I hope there is a sequel of the years after the War. That would be just as compelling a story.

My Verdict

4.0

And, “Must-Read” status is accorded to Hazel Gaynor

Other books I’ve reviewed by this author

Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

I read and enjoyed all the stories in Fall of Poppies, but my review of the book as a whole has been lost in a crash of my old blog. I recommend it though if you are fond of World War I love stories. Fall of Poppies.

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Japanese Lit Challenge # 14 Review: after the quake: stories by Haruki Murakami

Note: The author insisted the title of this book be in lower case letters!

My experience reading this author’s work has not been very satisfying. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the only one I’ve finished. It was interesting enough and I gave it a good review, but I haven’t given it a thought since finishing it several years ago. Although it would be heresy according to his fans, I’m again left with words and phrases like, “Is that all?” “Really?” or “Weird,” and “Over-rated.” Mostly, I’m left feeling that I’m too stupid to “get it.” Like with math.

I started listening to this short story collection when I had nothing else on audio. It met two goals–one of my personal reading goals for 2021 to read more short stories and it worked for the Japanese Lit Challenge for which I still had nothing in at the library. Plus, it was only about 4 hours. Predictably,  an e-audio book I was waiting on hit my account the next day. I determined to finish this collection though. Maybe I would finally understand what makes this author so revered?

As the title indicates, the stories all take place after the horrible 1995 earthquake in Kobe. 6 stories tell of of quirky, odd, even somewhat perverted people. I skipped one story after incest seemed to be coming at me. People afraid of refrigerators or obsessed with bonfires, giant frogs,

The stories in this collection are:

“UFO in Kushiro”-– Man’s wife leaves him. Man goes on trip. Man meets women. Woman tells dirty story involving a bell and  bear.

“Landscape with Flatiron” The one with the refrigerator-fearing man and the bonfire freak. They mention literature.

“All God’s Children Can Dance”–skipped it do to looming incest.

 “Thailand” In which a perfectly normal doctor arrives for a medical conference in Thailand, meets her jazz-enthusiast driver and eventually the story gets around to another round of bears and sex.

 “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo” Too weird for words.

“Honey Pie” More bears. UGH

I’m thinking I’ll add Haruki Murakami to my “don’t bother again” list with Dickens and a few other authors. Life is to short….

My Verdict

3.0

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Review: Chanel’s Riviera by Anne De Courcy

My Interest

The Chanel Sisters sounded really good. I looked over a few early reviews and saw one that said skip the early chapters. I couldn’t agree more. They checked too many pet peeve boxes–especially contrived/stilted/oh too prescient conversations. Unfortunately, people who do not know a thing about Chanel must be brought into the story. I skipped, but unfortunately, I had already listened to a fictionalized Chanel story, Mademoiselle Chanel by C.W. Gorter. No offense to author Judithe Little, who I’m sure did a great job, but one novel was enough, and Gorter got my attention first. While browsing the libraries available E-audio books, I found Chanel’s Riviera by a favorite author, Anne de Courcy, which had been on my TBR since it was announced. I grabbed it and was so glad I did.

The Story

My interest in Chanel begins and ends with her raffia with the Duke of Westminster and her friendship with Winston Churchill. Of course, I love her scent, Chanel No. 5 and the Nancy Reagan-Chanel suits. An interesting “what if” of history is “what if” Chanel had conceived a child–an heir and had a hurried-up wedding to Bend’Or? A very lovely young man named Hugh would not now be the Duke in a Cousin Matthew-ish story in real life for one thing! What else might have changed? Churchill as godfather? An ex-Duchess of Westminster revising her fashion business? Oh well, that’s the “what ifs.” Today it’s the real story.

The Riviera pre-World War II was a haven for writers and creatives. Chanel lived there in the house given her by the Duke. Another Duke–Windsor, the ex-king who couldn’t get his life quite right (are you listening, Harry?) also stayed there a lot. The story of his near treason and his having to be reminded that, as a Field Marshall, he was disobeying orders to leave France, is better told by another character in this book, Alexandra Curzon Metcalf (aka Baba, married to Fruity, the Duke’s equerry) in her letters which were used in Frances Donaldson’s biography of the Duke. Somerset Maugham and other writers, Jean Cocteau, and “the little people” are also part of the cast of characters of this “Life and Times” sort of biography.

The Riviera was a playground of the rich and the creative. With the rise of the Nazis and later the fall of France it became something of a haven for Jews fleeing the Reich and for refugees from other parts of France. The story of those years is the best part of the book–though I had learned some history from the recent novel, Akin, both from history told within the story and from various rabbit trails it led me down. Chanel herself was, of course, a survivor. Like many another abandoned child, her allegiance was to herself.  Again, not a-typical of abandoned girls, she sadly, always had to have a man at her side–this is what caused much, but not all, of her post-war controversy. The discussion of who was and who was not a collaborator acknowledges that almost anyone working or in business during the occupation could have been rightly branded a collaborator. Chanel’s social status most likely helped her a great deal in this discussion. Certainly, her head was not shaved as it was for other women who slept with Nazis.

My Thoughts

I learned little additional information about Chanel, but enjoyed every moment. De Courcy’s books are so readable, so enjoyable that the backlist is a pleasure to work through.  I had already learned a lot about the hardships under the Nazis and the controversy of Chanel’s German lover, but it was fascinating to read “the big picture” that De Courcy assembled. It is well told and an enjoyable read.

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Chanel’s Riviera: Glamour, Decadence, and Survival in Peace and War 1930–1944 by Anne De Courcy