February 2020 | Books & Links

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Sweet Bean Paste – Durian Sukegawa

Sweet Bean Paste is a lovely short story about a dorayaki shop, the way people of different generations communicate, and the impact of prejudice. The novel ebbs and flows with the seasons through one full year at the dorayaki shop but to say much more would be to spoil the story. I really enjoyed this one and have discovered it’s been made into a film as well. It left me yearning for cherry blossom season and craving pancakes.

The Man with the Compound Eyes – Wu Ming-Yi

I have mixed feelings about this one. The Man with the Compound Eyes is set in Taiwan and tells the parallel stories of Alice, an academic who lives directly on the coast and is grieving the deaths of her husband and son, and Atele’i, a teenager from an isolated island community who has left his home to set out on a coming-of-age quest. The two stories are connected by the presence of a large island of plastic and other waste materials – a trash vortex – which hits the coast of Taiwan.

I really enjoyed the two main storylines, but there are a lot of peripheral characters. At various stages of the book Wu Ming-Yi breaks from the main characters and spends pages at a time delving into the back stories of characters and storylines that have very little to do with the main plot. I don’t mind books that meander a little bit here and there, but I felt that the novel was quite disjointed with too much going on in too few pages. As with his other book, The Stolen Bicycle, this one also contains a section with graphic animal abuse which is something I really don’t like to read about.

I read quite a lot of books that have been translated to English from other languages, and I wonder how much has been lost in the translation of this work from Mandarin to English.

Graphic Novels

The Push Man & Other Stories – Yoshiro Tatsumi

I like the art style, and I like how dark most of these stories are, but I couldn’t stand the misogyny. Tatsumi has said not to judge his large body of work by these early stories, so perhaps I will see what else of his I can find. This collection has been compiled by Adrian Tomine whose ‘Shortcomings’ I read last year.

They Called Us Enemy – George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, Harmony Becker

George Takei’s graphic autobiography is a beautiful work of art and storytelling, told through the eyes of a young George as he and his family were forced to spend four years behind barbed wire as a result of policy drawn up in the wake of Pearl Harbour and WW2 which applied to Americans of Japanese ancestry. It’s a part of history I knew very little about. Though I knew that Japanese-Americans had been poorly treated after Pearl Harbour and forced to give up their businesses and homes, I didn’t know about their enforced mass relocation to internment camps or efforts to get them to give up their American citizenship. Harmony has drawn this graphic novel beautifully, I really love her art style and the way she has brought George, his family and their communities in the camps to life. I read the whole book in one go, as I tend to do with graphic novels and think it was brilliant. It’s well worth reading if you can get your hands on a copy.

Links & Articles

A documentary about booksellers I would love to see, so I hope it gets a UK release too.

With the cruise ship Diamond Princess on lock down amidst the coronavirus crisis I am reminded of my favourite David Foster Wallace essay, Shipping Out. I do hope that there is either a writer or a comic book artist on board the Diamond Princess at the moment and that they have been taking notes throughout their ordeal, because it would make great material!

The global climate crisis and political situation in many countries, including the UK, drives me to despair, but there are still good people looking out for animals. Koalas seem to be such calm, sweet animals and it breaks my heart to know they’ve suffered so much as a result of human greed and inaction.

On Brexit and the mind-clouding magic dust of “the people have spoken”.

Haruki Murakami on cats, familial estrangement and childhood memories.