BOOK REVIEW | Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the long-awaited new novel– a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan–from the award-winning, internationally best-selling author Haruki Murakami.

Here he gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages.

My thoughts:
I have no sense of self. I have no personality, no brilliant color. That’s always been my problem. I feel like an empty vessel. I have a shape, I guess, as a container, but there’s nothing inside. 

Haruki Murakami broke my heart with his gorgeous story of Tsukuru Tazaki and his search for what it all means. In his high school days, Tsukuru was a part of a special friendship; a group of five that were truly inseparable. Four of his friends share a unique bond – their last names all represent a color: Aka is red, Ao is blue, Shiro is white, and Kuro is black. Tsukuru, however, feels colorless as his name simply translates as “the builder”.

In his college years, without warning, his four friends reveal that they will no longer speak to him leaving Tsukuru ostracized and alone. Tsukuru has no idea why this occurred, but is convinced that his flaws are what led to this  abandonment. Though painfully suicidal, Tsukuru manages to graduate from college and build a successful career. Tsukuru eventually meets a woman named Sara, and with her encouragement realizes he must face his past and release his pain so that he can move into his future. On the cusp of a great romance, Tsukuru journeys to reconnect with his old friends and put to rest this difficult part of his life. His reunions open old wounds, but also pave the way for new discoveries.

I went into this book knowing little about the plot, and it turned out I was in the perfect mindset for something like this. Murakami examines many complexities of modern life with writing that is clean and straight forward; his insights aren’t muddied by overly colorful prose. The language is clear and direct, and it’s not nessecary to dig into the text for meaning: it’s all laid bare. Many Murakami fans suggest reading this work later, not as your introduction to his writing. I absolutely adored this book, though, and am now excited to dive into the magical realism that he is known for.

BOOK REVIEW | Zero K by Don DeLillo

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Jeffrey Lockhart’s father, Ross, is a billionaire in his sixties, with a younger wife, Artis Martineau, whose health is failing. Ross is the primary investor in a remote and secret compound where death is exquisitely controlled and bodies are preserved until a future time when biomedical advances and new technologies can return them to a life of transcendent promise. Jeff joins Ross and Artis at the compound to say “an uncertain farewell” to her as she surrenders her body.

“We are born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner? Isn’t it a human glory to refuse to accept a certain fate?”

These are the questions that haunt the novel and its memorable characters, and it is Ross Lockhart, most particularly, who feels a deep need to enter another dimension and awake to a new world. For his son, this is indefensible. Jeff, the book’s narrator, is committed to living, to experiencing “the mingled astonishments of our time, here, on earth.”

Don DeLillo’s seductive, spectacularly observed and brilliant new novel weighs the darkness of the world—terrorism, floods, fires, famine, plague—against the beauty and humanity of everyday life; love, awe, “the intimate touch of earth and sun.”

My thoughts:
After reading White Noise I knew I had to read more DeLillo as soon as possible. Zero K delivered with its profound philosophy on our inevitable mortality.

Isn’t death a blessing? Doesn’t it define the value of our lives, minute to minute, year to year?

In Zero K, death is avoidable. Through technological advances, human bodies can be cryogenically preserved post-mortem for an infinite amount of time, to one day be reborn into a new and better life. Jeffrey Lockhart is upset when he learns that his father, Ross, is looking to undergo the process voluntarily, rather than after his natural death. Ross, however, would like to go with Artis, his younger second wife who is terminally ill and beginning the preservation process. This inevitably brings heavy questions to the table, which DeLillo works through assertively.

DeLillo returns to a theme that resonated with me from White Noise: the significance that death has on living life purposefully. I’ve heard criticism that DeLillo brings nothing new to the table with this book, that he is re-hashing old ideas. For me, death is a constant that all living beings must face, so it makes sense to continue to explore what gives value to life.

We are born without choosing to be. Should we die in the same manner?

 

BOOK REVIEW | The Mothers by Brit Bennett

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3/5 stars

From the publisher:
It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.

My thoughts:
A girl who didn’t want a baby would find a way to not have one. The good thing to do – the Christian thing – would be to make it a little easier on her. 

In her debut, Brit Bennett brings flawed characters to the page with ease. Her writing is smooth and easy to take in, and I enjoyed so much about this story. Nadia is 17 years old and destined for greatness, but grieving the sudden loss of her mother. In her grief she falls into the arms of Luke, the local pastor’s son. Luke and Nadia engage in a typical teenage fling – it’s passionate yet fleeting, resulting in an unwanted pregnancy and a secret that binds them together. This is a coming of age story spanning about 10 years in which we see Nadia and Luke come together and separate many times over. Along the way, Nadia develops a friendship with a girl named Aubrey who untimely becomes deeply intertwined in both Nadia and Luke’s lives.

The narrative is uniquely divided between many of the central characters, as well as a group of older church ladies simply known as “the mothers”. I struggled a bit with the purpose of these women – they observe drama unfolding from the sidelines and gossip about it among themselves. I kept thinking they would inject some wisdom or greater meaning into the story, but this never really happened. There is tons of wisdom in the book, however, and Bennett delivers many profound moments in this work:

Black boys couldn’t afford to be reckless, she had tried to tell him. Reckless white boys became politicians and bankers, reckless black boys became dead.

In a way, subtle racism was worse because it made you feel crazy. You were always left wondering, was that actually racist? Had you just imagined it?

These are just a couple of the passages that I highlighted while reading, and I could easily share many more. My primary disconnect is that I can’t quite figure out this book’s intent – what is the mission here? The book discusses abortion openly and frequently, but doesn’t take a stance on it (though I would say it leans heavily towards pro-life). I realize this book isn’t meant to be a political statement, but I am trying to work out what is it meant to be. It certainly poses the question “what makes a mother?” – is it physically having a child, or does the longing for a child count too?

How small she’d looked next to the size of her wanting.

In the end, this may simply be a book about longing: longing for love (romantic and maternal), family, friendship, longing to find space in the world, and for the truth.

BOOK REVIEW | Hollow Heart by Viola Di Grado

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3.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
In this courageous, inventive, and intelligent novel, Viola di Grado tells the story of a suicide and what follows. She has given voice to an astonishing vision of life after life, portraying the awful longing and sense of loss that plague the dead, together with the solitude provoked by the impossibility of communicating. The afterlife itself is seen as a dark, seething place where one is preyed upon by the cruel and unrelenting elements. Hollow Heart will frighten as it provokes, enlighten as it causes concern. If ever there were a novel that follows Kafka’s prescription for a book to be a frozen axe for the sea within us, it is Hollow Heart.

My thoughts:
Di Grado’s imaginative second novel, Hollow Heart, opens with a punch to the gut:

In 2011 the world ended: I killed myself.

It’s immediately evident that this is not going to be your average ghost story. Our narrator, Dorotea, navigates the living world from the perspective of the afterworld. She visits people and places she knew while living, all the while returning daily to her corpse to fascinate in its decomposition. As a side note – this a book not for the faint of heart – graphic depictions of the decomposition of a human body are present throughout. I, of course, reveled in its casual discussion of gore.

For a book about death, this is surprisingly refreshing. It’s creative and introspective, and reads almost autobiographically. Dorotea has experiences and thoughts that will be relatable to many women in their 20’s (such as an obsession with skinny bodies). We learn that Dorotea’s mother suffered from depression, that her father was not present in her life, and that suicide is no stranger to her family; Dorotea works through her struggles from the other side, and does a bit of haunting while she’s at it.

Dorotea discusses the suicide attempt of Sinéad O’Connor, and untimely deaths of other celebrities such as Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse, with a fascination that was both fun to read but occasionally jarring. I’d be wrapped up in some lovely prose or dialogue, when suddenly there would be 2 pages or so on a celebrity’s death.

Sinéad had tried to kill herself but hadn’t succeeded. I had. Between her and me, who had won, and who had lost?

This book was not perfect for me – it felt repetitive at times (and this is a very short book), and dragged a little in the middle. The first and final seconds are beautifully written, however, and I was fascinated with Dorothea’s growth in the afterlife. A unique read that will resonate with those who are living with depression.