Review: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Ivey’s first novel, The Snow Child, was a 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction Nominee.   This lovely story is set in 1920s Alaska and I was initially drawn to it because it had been categorised as magical realism which is one of my favourite genres.

This is a well written story about life; its obstacles and miracles, and love.

Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart–he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm, she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning, the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.  (GoodReads)

It was an enjoyable read and a lovely little escape.

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

Review: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

I closed this book wondering what the hell had happened.  John Updike described it best in his New Yorker review: “Haruki Murakami’s new novel, “Kafka on the Shore”, is a real page-turner, as well as an insistently metaphysical mind-bender.” It is definitely both a page-turner and a mind-bender!

“Kafka on the Shore is powered by two remarkable kafka on the shore by haruki murakamicharacters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom.  As their paths converge, and the reasons for that convergence become clear, Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder. Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world’s great storytellers at the peak of his powers.” (GoodReads)

Kafka on the Shore was published in 2006 and went on to win the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (2006), the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Nominee for Longlist (2006), and the PEN Translation Prize (2006), among others.

Murakami tells the stories of the two protagonists, Kafka and Nakata, in alternating chapters building us up to the main event in splendid Murakami fashion.  The way is sprinkled with metaphysical breadcrumbs moving you forward in the story, letting you know something extraordinary occurred and will occur.  It is a fascinating read but like his Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World you don’t get clear cut answers.  You must make sense of the mystery for yourself.

I’d be lying if I said I completely understood everything that went on in the novel when I read the last line.  I felt baffled despite having seen many of the breadcrumb details sprinkled throughout the story come together.  I will have to read it again.  On his official website in response to questions about the book Murakami himself recommends reading the book several times to fully comprehend it.

“I suggest reading the novel more than once. Things should be clearer the second time around. I’ve read it, of course, dozens of times as I rewrote it, and each time I did, slowly but surely the whole started to come into sharper focus. Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren’t any solutions provided. Instead several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It’s hard to explain, but that’s the kind of novel I set out to write.”

I enjoyed reading Kafka on the Shore and am looking forward to reading 1Q84 which is next according to Jessica’s Book Oblivion post on the best way to read Murakami which I am following.  Having read two of Murakami’s books so far I also recommend reading Hard Boiled Wonderland first before Kafka on the Shore.  Murakami has become a firm favourite of mine for his wonderful blend of the metaphysical and magical realism with ordinary life and people.

Have you read Kafka on the Shore? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

 

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Review: 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel G Marquez

Like so many people I read this book because it is hailed as a classic of South American literature and the master work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  The other draw for me was the magical realism element.  In short, this novel recounts the lives of generations of a founding family of the isolated town of Macondo as well as its weird and wonderful visitors and ongoings.100 years of solitude

While the writing was good enough to keep me going and the character details quite a work of art I can’t say I enjoyed this novel all that much.  I can appreciate the writing and the work that went into creating these living breathing characters but the story was a bit boring and the magical realism element really was not all that present except for the one flying carpet incident.

You feel you should like the book and so throughout my reading I felt like I was really missing something.  I kept thinking; “This is One Hundred Years of Solitude?”  A lot of people mention the repetitive use of slight variations of just three names over generations of the family as annoying and confusing.  I personally didn’t have trouble following the lineage and I came to think that the repetition of the names was a device to show the repeated nature of certain people within the family.  What really did get to me in the end was the rampant incest of the family.  I have no idea what that was supposed to mean.  The book is quite well crafted so you really do think you’ve missed some hidden insight which was the case with the incest element for me.

I didn’t really enjoy One Hundred Years of Solitude but I am certainly not done with Marquez.  He is without doubt a talented writer and I believe it is simply a matter of finding the right novel of his which I endeavour to do.  I’d love to hear what others thought of this book.

 

lilolia review rating 2 stars ok

 

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Review: Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

I’ve been meaning to get to Murakami for quite a while now.  I was going to start with 1Q84 but after reading Jessica from Book Oblivion’s post on the best way to read Murakami I took her advice and decided to start with Hard-Boiled Wonderland & the End of the World.  With a title like that you’re not sure what you’re going to get! I was completely absorbed by this book.  I loved every moment of it and it is thus far my favourite read for 2015.  Actually, I’ve added it to my favourite books (of all time) shelf on GoodReads.hard boiled wonderland and the end of the world by haruki murakami

Hard-Boiled Wonderland was published in 1985 but not for one minute did it feel like it could not have been written last year.  I would describe this book as part scifi and part fantasy but I don’t think putting a label on this book is going to do it any justice because it is many things all at once.  It is a highly enjoyable and clever book set in a time where some things resemble the world we live in and other things do not.   The book alternates between two narratives; one part End of the World and one part Hard-Boiled Wonderland.  There is so much going on in this book with so many wonderful and inventive details.  You’ll be entertained and you’ll be left thinking about it for a while after.

The blurb on GoodReads describes the novel:

‘A narrative particle accelerator that zooms between Wild Turkey Whiskey and Bob Dylan, unicorn skulls and voracious librarians, John Coltrane and Lord Jim. Science fiction, detective story and post-modern manifesto all rolled into one rip-roaring novel, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World is the tour de force that expanded Haruki Murakami’s international following. Tracking one man’s descent into the Kafkaesque underworld of contemporary Tokyo, Murakami unites East and West, tragedy and farce, compassion and detachment, slang and philosophy.’

None of the characters in the book are named.  A few readers talk about why on GoodReads.  In my opinion, they just don’t need them because they are all so distinct anyway.  That’s a good writer for you.  Also when I finished this book and began mulling it over I realised because of certain elements of this story they can’t have names…I wish I could talk about why I think that but I refuse to ruin this novel for any of you even in the smallest way.  A huge part of the enjoyment of this novel is the discovery of what is going on so if you enjoy detective elements to your reading you’ll enjoy this.

I highly recommend this book! I absolutely loved it! I’d love to hear what you thought of it if you’ve read it.  Next on my Murakami TBR is Kafka on the Shore.

 

lilolia review rating 5 stars excellent

Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni is Helene Wecker’s first novel which I found surprising because it is such a beautiful and well written book.  I was attracted to this book firstly because lots of people were raving about it on the web and secondly because of its lovely cover.  Sometimes you’ll read the blurb of a book and think what a great story this has to be…often you’ll be The Golem and the Jinnidisappointed but in this case you definitely won’t be.

“Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.  Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world.  The Golem and the Jinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.” (more on GoodReads)

I loved this book and I found the story so unique and interesting.  I really enjoyed following Chava the golem and Ahmad the jinni around 19th century New York, exploring it for the first time along with them.  This book is full of lovely little details about the destination of many; New York, and their homelands; Europe, Syria, about the people themselves and their cultures.  All these details about what led so many people to emigrate and how they survive in this new world.  These details form the colourful backstory and set the stage for a whole cast of great characters.

I really enjoyed all these historical details together with the fantastical elements of the golem, a jewish folkloric creature, the jinni, an arabic folkloric creature, and the wizard that brings them together in a twist of events I won’t reveal.  What made this story really special though is that none of this is overdone.  The historical element is just enough to set the scene and let you get a feel for the place without boring you to death, the fantastical element is only present in so much that you can experience what Chava and Ahmad feel as not only outsiders in a new world but as beings outside of the human experience.

There are also some wonderful passages that deal with Ahmad’s past in the Syrian desert which I enjoyed for this blend of historical and fantastical detail.  It’s this blend that Wecker does so well I think that made me connect with this book so much – every moment is believable and so great to read.  I highly recommend this book, I loved it.

 

lilolia review rating 5 stars excellent