Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru and his Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
By Haruki Murakami
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385352109, August 2014, 400pp.)

The Short of It:

Loss, longing and the power of memory. This novel is like a drug. I was mesmerized while reading it.

The Rest of It:

This is classic Murakami…and not.

Every time I discuss this book with another fan, we end up agreeing that it’s a classic but at the same time I cannot help but peg it as ‘different’ in some way. Let me tell you about the story first. It’s about a guy name Tsukuru Tazaki. He had some good friends in high school, two boys and two girls. They completed one another and there was no hint at all, that their relationships would not last. But to Tazaki’s surprise, all four friends stop talking to him. Instead of investigating further, he decides that he is the one “without a color” as all of their names represent a color and his does not. In his mind, he is the outcast and seriously considers ending his life.

But as he goes through life simply existing, he meets two key individuals that force him to reconsider. One is a friend who has many similar likes, and yet he maintains an air of mystery that Tazaki cannot explain. The other, is a girlfriend who forces him to seek out his friends to put closure on the situation. She asks him to do this before they can take their relationship further, and in his eagerness to move into the next stage of their relationship, he decides to find them and hopefully find out why they abandoned him so many years ago.

As a long time fan, I find that this novel is a mix of old and new. It’s much more straight-forward in the telling. There are a couple of elements that could be fantastical in nature, but overall, the story is simply told. The themes that I’ve come to expect from Murakami are all here. His characters are always these lonely souls searching for something or someone, there is always the question of, is it real or is it a dream? As a reader, you can’t be sure. The story can be interpreted many different ways and that is what makes this such an exciting read.

Many of his books can be “out there” with the talking cats, the sexy ear lobes, the awkward sexual encounters and the like but even though that stuff can catch you off guard, they are SO Murakami to me, that I missed them in this novel. Missed them, but not enough for it to affect my enjoyment of the novel itself. It’s a different type of book for him and it has me wondering if he is evolving as a writer. I know writers do at some point, but this work is decidedly different in tone. I still loved it, but I always wonder if the writing has changed or the translation had something to do with it.

It’s getting harder to choose a fave these days. To date, I do believe that Kafka on the Shore is probably my favorite but it was also my first and probably the most wild of his books. However, Colorless is probably right up there but for different reasons. One of which, is that a very similar thing happened to me a few years ago. Friendships can be complex to figure out in general but when they go wrong, sometimes there is no rhyme or reason as to why and it’s baffling. I cannot to this day make sense of what happened to me and at this point in time, I don’t want to waste the energy trying to figure it out but it sure makes for some good reading when it’s happening to someone else!

If you want to give him a try, start with After Dark. It’s not too long but has a good mix of what I’ve come to recognize as his signature style.

Murakami recently announced a short novel to be released in the US this December. What? Yep! Another one! This one is called The Strange Library and let me tell you, it sounds like it’s back to surreal city. I. Cannot. Wait!

Special note from Ti:

When I was chosen to be a Fan Ambassador for Colorless, I was given a few copies of Norwegian Wood to giveaway. I will be posting that giveaway soon but wanted to give you all a heads-up since I gave one away recently via Facebook and some of you might have thought you missed it.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Station Eleven

Station Eleven

Station Eleven
By Emily St. John Mandel
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385353304, September 2014, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

Civilization ends and begins and through it all there is music and Shakespeare.

The Rest of It:

I’m not sure I can even sum this book up! This is a crazy good book but not in your typical sense of what crazy good is. It spans decades and begins with the death of an actor while he’s onstage during a production of King Lear. Through flashbacks, we get to know Arthur Leander, his loves, his personalities and all the relationships he’s touched in-between. His death on-stage is witnessed by many, including a child actor named Kristen, who later is part of the Traveling Symphony roaming what is left of civilization after a pandemic. The man who comes to his aid, and fails, also appears later in the story and is one of the first to figure out that the “flu” that everyone is coming down with, is not your average bug.

This story will haunt you. The visuals of a landscape changed by illness are chilling. I don’t want to scare anyone away from it so I will say this, it’s not your typical ‘end of the world’ scenario. You can read, even in the dead of night and not have nightmares but just the idea of art and music existing in such a wrecked and broken world is enough to blow your mind. Plus, the use of time is handled very well. I am not a huge fan of jumping back and forth in time to tell a story but the before and after in this one works to really give you an idea of just how much has changed.

Is there hope? Is it too bleak of a story? No. I think that the continuation of art in and of itself is a sign of something good. I’ve not read anything by this author before and I understand she has a few other books out. I will definitely check them out since I enjoyed this one so much.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Painter

The Painter

The Painter
By Peter Heller
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385352093, May 2014, 384pp.)

The Short of It:

Thoughtfully written novel about anger and loss. Surprisingly deep.

The Rest of It:

What did I expect when I picked this up? I seriously went into it without much knowledge about the story itself and sometimes that is a great way to go into a book. The only thing I  knew beforehand, was that I enjoyed Heller’s other novel, The Dog Stars and apparently, that’s not a bad way to choose a book because I really enjoyed this one.

The story is simple. Jim Stegner is sitting in a bar one day when one of its patrons makes an off-color remark about his daughter. Jim, not a man to let such a thing go, shoots the guy and goes to prison for it. Years later, after serving his sentence he chooses not to return to the Santa Fe art scene he left behind. Instead, he heads to rural Colorado to paint in solitude, fly fish and remember the marriage that he once had, and the daughter he lost to drugs.

This quiet novel stays with you long after reading it. Stegner is an interesting guy. He expresses himself through his paintings, but his temper gets him into trouble and when he sees a guy beat a horse on the side of the road, he can’t help but act and of course this starts a chain of events that he cannot ignore. Through it all, the reader is in his head as he ponders his predicament and somehow, he is not the bad guy no matter what he chooses to do. He’s imperfect but at the same time, his actions seem logical which makes him easy to relate to.

The writing is almost poetic. Sometimes, even lyrical in nature. It’s not flowery or overdone but it’s simple and lovely and I remember feeling the same way about The Dog Stars. I kind of dig his style. It’s no-nonsense and yet deep. It’s also a very quick read. I highly recommend it because there is all kinds of stuff to sink your teeth into.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: A Wild Sheep Chase


A Wild Sheep Chase
A Wild Sheep Chase
By Haruki Murakami
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780375718946, April 2002, 368pp.)

The Short of It:

Quirky, thought-provoking and strange. In other words, classic Murakami.

The Rest of It:

I’m not sure why it took me so long to finish this one. I purposely held this one back so that I’d have a novel to read before his new book came out, but when I finally allowed myself to read it, I think it took me almost three months to finish it! Unheard of. Seriously.

Why? Well, it’s one of his more quirky ones. It’s very dreamy and surreal in a lot of ways, but at the same time, it’s very “normal” and domestic, if you know what I mean. There is a lot of eating, and thinking and yes…drinking. The main character is sent on a wild sheep chase. No, seriously. He’s sent to find a sheep with a peculiar mark upon its rump. He meets all sorts of strange people, including a woman with magical, seductive ears and a man who likes to dress-up in a sheep costume. It’s all very bizarre but also fascinating. I marveled at each paragraph. Maybe that’s why it took me so long to read.

The story itself did not pull me in like some of his other stories have, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t good because it was. It’s definitely a book to ponder and coming here to share the review, well, is a bit of a challenge. What do you say about a book that is just so odd in so many ways? As I have said before, Murakami has a way of working all the parts of your brain that you haven’t used in awhile. He’s great for putting an end to a reading rut and his writing is somehow comforting in all its strange, little ways. I find myself seeking him out, after reading a lot of mainstream fiction.

After all my Murakami gushing over the years, some of you have taken the plunge and read him. Many of you have come back to tell me that you enjoy his writing. The rest? Some are too intimidated by him to give him a try, but I have hope.

Source: Purchased
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: California

California
California
By Edan Lepucki
(Little, Brown and Company, Hardcover, 9780316250818, July 2014, 400pp.)

*No Spoilers*

The Short of It:

In a post-apocalyptic world, is there safety in numbers?

The Rest of It:

The story in California takes place several years after the world has gone to hell. Cal and Frida leave the ruins of Los Angeles to make a life for themselves in the forest. The city has become too dangerous for them and with resources being as scarce as they are, the forest seems like the only reasonable option.

But they are not alone in the forest. Close to them, is a family that helps them and provides the much-needed interaction that Frida craves, but when Frida hints at wanting to know what is outside of their immediate circle, she’s basically told to stop thinking about it. This doesn’t sit well with Frida. Especially since she feels that her husband Cal, knows who is out there and is keeping the information from her. To further complicate the matter,  Frida believes that she might be pregnant, which forces her to consider her options.

I live in California so this book had obvious appeal to me, even without the whole Colbert/Indie bookstore buzz. But I must tell you, as readable as it was, it missed some key elements to really make it a success in my eyes:

  • I didn’t care about the characters. I don’t need to like them, but I need to care about what happens to them.
  • Too much build-up over Frida and whether or not she was pregnant.
  • The secrecy of everything was overplayed. Big time.
  • It wasn’t clear to me who was good and who was bad. You’ve gotta have people to root for and they all seemed a little sketchy.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t bothered by the ending which is what everyone seems to talk about. I wasn’t surprised or miffed or even curious because I didn’t care about the characters or what happened to them. ANYTHING could have happened and I would have been fine with it. I wanted to feel something for these characters but they were either too weak, too secretive, or their motives were unclear.

I know this all sounds very negative but I do think Lepucki captured the isolation of the early days, pretty well. When you are living in what could be the end of days as you know them, you must have hope or things get bleak pretty quick. I liked the story best when it was just Cal and Frida. They don’t entirely trust one another, which makes their marriage rather unique but Cal seems cautiously hopeful about the possibility of a child.

That cautious optimism was enough to keep me reading but then something happened.

The story took a turn and then I was like, what just happened? I thought the story was going one way, and then it went a totally different way. Not necessarily a bad way. I was still curious at this point but then the characters got all weird and their motivation seemed weird too and I suddenly had no patience for any of them.

Does it deserve the hype? Not really. Was it an interesting story? Yes. Is it book club worthy? Could be. There is a lot to consider. Is it better to be isolated or part of a community? When the world is ending, is procreation important or is it a bad idea to bring a child into a world without hope? I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead and when baby Judith was born, I was like… what in God’s name were you thinking? But at the same time, if you don’t populate the earth, eventually everyone will die out, right? So, this is an important question to ask but I am not sure it’s fully explored in the book.

I don’t know if the author has any plans to write additional books with these characters but if she does, then that may explain why some of it felt half-developed. If she does come out with another book as a continuation of this one, I’d read it just to see where she goes with it.

In the end, it was an okay read but it was fun to discuss with other bloggers.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Never Fall Down

Never Fall Down
Never Fall Down
By Patricia McCormick
(Balzer + Bray, Hardcover, 9780061730931, May 2012, 224pp.)

The Short of It:

McCormick delivers a heartbreaking account of survival.

The Rest of It:

Never Fall Down is about Arn Chorn-Pond and how he survived the Cambodian Genocide under the Khmer Rouge. I know many of you have read about the Cambodian Genocide before. There are lots of books on the subject, but what struck me about this one is that it’s tied to music and it’s told in novel form, but based on true events.

Arn and his family are forced to leave their home with thousands of others, to march along the road with just a few possessions and very little food. Their journey goes on for a very long time. Their only order is to keep walking. As the people around them die of dehydration and lack of food, Arn, eleven at the time, is forced to witness the countless killings of those too weak to continue. When Arn is chosen by the Khmer Rouge to play an instrument, he feels as if his life depends on it, and it does. He learns to play the khim, a rather difficult instrument to pick up, and as a result, falls in favor with some of the Khmer soldiers.

However, this brief respite (if you can even call it that) does not shield him from the horrors of war. Every day, someone is killed. Kids he’s come to know, or music teachers or other educated people. His slow starvation and the effects of malnutrition begin to take their toll. But through it all, Arn remains positive, hopeful even. When given a tiny bit of food, he opts to give it to those who need it more. But when forced to take up arms and fight alongside the Khmer Rouge, he becomes what he calls “a tiger” which is something he regrets and probably one of the hardest things he has to work through once he makes it to the States.

Arn’s story is truly amazing. His strong-willed personality and his love of music is what sets him apart. This was a tough read because of the subject matter, but McCormick’s decision to tell it in novel form gives the reader the distance he/she needs to experience the horrors but from a few paces back. Also, this isn’t a one-sided retelling of what we’ve all read before. This book touches on members of the Khmer Rouge and one soldier in particular that helps Arn survive his horrible ordeal.

The other thing to point out, is that this book was initially geared towards younger readers. Because of this, the material is very easy to read but at the same time, gives you a lot to consider and discuss. My book club discussed the book last night and we had the opportunity to do a teleconference with a survivor, which really added to the discussion. The book gives you a very realistic account of what went on during that time. There is also some humor and a lot of heartbreak. I listened to a portion on audio and it was a very emotional experience. I highly recommend the book and audio. It was a National Book Award finalist in 2012.

If you are interested in Arn’s story, I suggest you check out this video to get a good sense of the author’s purpose as well as Arn’s message to “never fall down” to always rise up.

 

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review & Tour: The Home Place

The Home PlaceThe Home Place 
By Carrie La Seur
(William Morrow & Company, Hardcover, 9780062323446, July 2014, 304pp.)

The Short of It:

Home is a place but it’s also something that resides within us.

The Rest of It:

Alma Terrebonne left Montana behind her when she accepted a position as a lawyer and made the city her home. But when her sister is found dead, she’s forced to return to the home place that she left behind.

Everyone knows how it is when you return home. If you left for a reason, then going back is not easy and that is very much the case here. The bleak winters, the isolation and the poor condition of the home place itself leave a lot to be desired, but at the same time, it’s home and there’s always a place for it within your heart. As I read this book, the conflict within Alma is obvious. There is a definite love/hate thing going on with being home, but at the same time, she is the “responsible” one and with her sister dead and her niece without a mother, she feels obligated to step in.

This tug of the heart, would have been enough to explore on its own but La Seur throws in some nasty dealings with mining folk making plays for the land, the ugliness of her sister’s death and some confusion over who she should be with romantically, the guy she left behind in Montana or her new love interest back in the city.

All in all, I think La Seur tried to give us too much at once. The result? Thin characters with very little substance. However, it read well for me. The flow of the writing was quite good which made it an easy and quick read. I’ve not read many books set in Montana and La Seur’s sense of place is strong in this one.  This is one of those books where I find myself scratching my head a little because it was enjoyable to read, and yet, I felt it could have been so much more.

If you enjoy novels that explore home and what it means and you don’t mind some nasty dealings messing up your perfect picture of biscuits and gravy and fried pork chops, then I say give it a try.

Carrie La Seur

For more information on the author, click here.

TLC Book Tours

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher via TLC Book Tours.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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