Review: The Last Children of Tokyo by Yoko Tawada

The Last Children of Tokyo CoverThe Last Children of Tokyo [2014] – ★★★★

Yoko Tawada sets her book in near-future Japan where the elderly regain their powers and live beyond one hundred years old, while the young become weak and sickly. Everyone is concerned in the story because, due to some catastrophe, “the human race may be evolving in a direction no one ever imagined” [Tawada, 2014: 14]. The central characters are an old man called Yoshiro and an orphaned boy named Mumei. While Yoshiro is the very definition of health and vigour at his age of one hundred plus, his great-grandson Mumei is feverish, vitamin-deficient, and in the course to face a slow death. This short dystopian novella, translated from Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani, is both beautiful and unsettling, and is a fascinating read, even though most of the time it reads like an essay on some highly imaginative dystopian future, rather than like a story with a linear plot.  Continue reading “Review: The Last Children of Tokyo by Yoko Tawada”

Review: The Time of the Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa

The Time of the Hero [1963] – ★★★★The Time of the Hero

The Time of the Hero is a controversial novel written by the Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa. The fictional story takes place in Lima, Peru at the Leoncio Prado Military Academy, a military educational establishment once attended by the author. In the story, a group of cadets is trying to steal the questions to the forthcoming chemistry exam, while being involved in a number of other similar “illicit” activities, such as fighting among themselves, bullying younger year groups and drinking. Little everyone knows that one careless action while trying to copy the exam leads to one irreparable tragedy and the shocking cover-up. It is without any doubt that The Time of the Hero is a literary work of great importance. The novel may not be easy or enjoyable to read, but its message is powerful, its themes – timeless, and its simple story is all the more significant for portraying what it means to be human and good in a society where cunningness, forcefulness and competitiveness are encouraged and lauded.   Continue reading “Review: The Time of the Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa”

3 Quirky Museums of Paris

These three museums are small, but they have their own peculiar attraction, and, therefore, are worth visiting.  

Museum Paris CinemaI. Cinema Museum (Musée du Cinéma)  

This tiny museum is part of the Cinémathèque Française, and is a host to a variety of objects on the history of cinema, from cinema projectors and props used in old films, to film costumes, original sketches and old photographs. The general impression on the web is that this museum is exclusively for cinephiles. However, given the nature of the artefacts on display, more people may be interested in visiting it. For example, there is a Mrs. Bates’s skull from Alfred Hitchcock’s famous movie Psycho [1960] on display, and who has not yet seen this psychological thriller masterpiece? It will be interesting for anyone who is into unusual and macabre artefacts, as well as Hitchcockian films. There is also a robot on display from the iconic science-fiction movie by Fritz Lang – Metropolis [1927], and that fact alone can draw many people in, for example, those who are interested in history and science-fiction props. Address: 51 Rue de Bercy, Paris.  Continue reading “3 Quirky Museums of Paris”

Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

the miniaturist coverThe Miniaturist [2014] – ★★

The Miniaturist, “The Sunday Times Number One Bestseller”, has received much praise, but is all the hype justified? The original idea for the book came to the author in Amsterdam, where Burton first saw Petronella Oortman’s cabinet house at the the Rijksmuseum. In her fictional story set in the 1680s, eighteen-year old Nella comes to Amsterdam after her advantageous marriage to an older rich merchant Johannes Brandt. Nella finds out that Johannes lives in a house with his domineering sister Marin, and soon begins to question the security of her husband’s finances. When Johannes gifts Nella a miniature doll house, which is the exact replica of their own home, Nella does not hesitate to ask for services from an elusive miniaturist, leading to unpredictable turns of events. This atmospheric novel is perfectly readable, but it is also too simplistic and melodramatic. Even worse, despite some obvious hints, The Miniaturist does not put its main mystery about the miniaturist or the doll house (the cabinet) at the centre for the readers to uncover; the novel’s male characters are superficial; and its surprises – preposterous. The plot does not go anywhere or reveal anything of substance, and the actions of the characters are as nonsensical as the ending is unsatisfying.  Continue reading “Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton”

Review: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick

A Scanner Darkly Book ReviewA Scanner Darkly [1977] – ★★★★1/2

In this novel by the brilliant science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick the setting is dystopia some time in future and the location is Anaheim, California. Bob Arctor (also known as Fred) is an undercover narcotics agent working for authorities while pretending to be a drug addict. His task is to trace dealers, including his on-off girlfriend Donna, to a source of drug supply. Other major drugs aside, the one drug which really causes havoc in the dystopian future is Substance D, a highly addictive matter, which, in a long-run, causes a strange and irreversible brain damage. Arctor knows all the dangers, but the problem is that no one is immune, and, soon, the undercover agent senses that he has gone too far in his goal to make himself indistinguishable from his drug addict pals. Due to the subject matter, this atmospheric story is far from being a comfortable read, but it is also fair to say that A Scanner Darkly is a philosophically and psychologically insightful work of science fiction with the strong character study at its core, as well as witty dialogues and a powerful message.  Continue reading “Review: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick”

My 10 Favourite Science Fiction/Dystopian Books

1984 CoverI. 1984 [1949] by George Orwell 

Orwell’s 1984 will forever remain the dystopian novel to read. In the story, we meet Winston Smith who rewrites historical records for the Ministry of Truth in Airstrip One (formerly the UK), one of the future totalitarian states. The future world of surveillance, propaganda and brainwashing that the author imagines is a powerful reminder of the importance to stick to the truth and freedom of thought anywhere in the real world. Moreover, the novel has a particular relevance to modern times because there is a global concern now about data protection, fake news and privacy when browsing online.  

Brave New World CoverII. Brave New World [1932] by Aldous Huxley

Huxley presents an unforgettable world and vision in his novel. The year is circa 2540, and the humanity made unbelievable advances in genetics, sexual reproduction and sleep-learning. Presented as utopia, the world is actually a well-ordered totalitarian state where there are certain classes of people who should know their societal positions, and where happiness is achieved through a particular drug. The novel is as thought-provoking as it is enjoyable.  Continue reading “My 10 Favourite Science Fiction/Dystopian Books”

Six Degrees of Separation – from News of the World to The Woman in the Window

I saw this meme on the Books are My Favourite and Best blog, and decided to give it a go. The idea is that books are linked to one another in some way and there are “six degrees” to their separation. This is taken from the idea by Frigyes Karinthy that everyone is separated from everyone else in this world by six links. Since my previous book review was for News of the World, I am deciding to start there. 

Paulette Jiles’s News of the World is an understated adventure story of quiet power and beauty, involving the relationship between two people, and that brings to my mind the novel by Jack London – The Sea Wolf. I read this classic book translated to Russian when I was very young, but what I remember distinctly is the unparalleled sense of sea adventure. In this story, one young man is rescued by another ship captained by Wolf Larsen, a ruthless man, and our main character is forced to play by Captain’s rules if he wants to survive.  Continue reading “Six Degrees of Separation – from News of the World to The Woman in the Window”

Review: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

news of the world coverNews of the World [2016] – ★★★★★

He broke down the .38, cleaned it, reassembled it. He made a list: feed, flour, ammunition, soap, beef, candles, faith, hope, charity” [Jiles, 2016: 177].

The story begins at Wichita Falls, Texas during the winter of 1870 and centres on Captain Kidd, aged seventy-one, who “travel[s] from town to town in North Texas with his newspapers and read[s] aloud the news of the day to assemblies” [Jiles, 2016: 3]. When Captain Kidd comes across a little girl who has recently been an Indian native and is now abandoned to the newness and vulgarities of the civilised world, Captain promises to deliver the girl back to her German-American family in South Texas. The issue for Captain Kidd is that Johanna was taken captive at the age of six and now, at the age of ten, considers herself a Kiowa. What follows is the journey of two vulnerable people on the treacherous road to the area of San Antonio, where Johanna’s aunt and uncle allegedly await her return. This is not only a tale of an exciting journey through the American South, which delves into the culture of native tribes, but also an emotional journey of two people whose resilience to hardship and kindness to strangers are the only guarantors of their survival.  Continue reading “Review: News of the World by Paulette Jiles”

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

My dear fellow“, said Sherlock Holmes…”life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes (Adventures), A Case of Identity, 1924/2009 Ed.: 174).

Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial Rites Book Cover Burial Rites [2013] – ★★★

Burial Rites is a debut book by Hannah Kent, an Australian author. It tells a fictional account of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a real person who had the distinction of being the last person in Iceland to be executed through a death penalty after her conviction for the murder of two men. In the book, Agnes is one of the three murderers convicted, alongside Fridrik Sigurdsson and another servant Sigrídur Gudmundsdóttir. While Agnes awaits her execution, she is transported to an ordinary farm dwelling of Jón Jónsson, his wife Margrét and their daughters Steina and Lauga. While there, Agnes starts to forge human connections and even friendships, while also slowly starting to tell her story and her version of events. Burial Rites is slightly better than an average novel because it is well-written, takes a true story as its starting point, and also because it more or less conveys the fascinating peculiarities of that atmospheric place which was historic Iceland. However, on all other fronts, the book is a disappointment. It may be important to know the name of Agnes Magnúsdóttir and the Icelandic folklore, but there is not enough material here for an engaging book and, what is even worse, – the characters presented are unmemorable and one-dimensional, and the main character of Burial Rites is almost unsympathetic. The novel’s beginning may be strong, but the rest of the book is excruciatingly tedious and painfully predictable.  Continue reading “Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent”