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  • Writer's pictureNigel

Three Real Books 3冊の本物 22nd Jan 2022


Once a month, I meet up with about seven other friends to talk about a book we've been reading. A Book Group in other words. We avoid the word "Club" for some reason. Everyone gets a turn to suggest a book, so you often find yourself reading a book which you would not have necessarily have heard about yourself. We have read many wonderful books.

Last year in autumn it was my turn, so I suggested we read "Milkman", by Anna Burns. Now there is a lot of strong, articulate commentary on this book which is tempting to just quote. But in my words :

Around the time I was a teenager the (British) news was full of words such as "Unionist - Troubles - Republican - Catholic - Protestant - Militant - Irish - Faction - Border - Stormont - etc. etc." The list went on and on, and soon you were confused about what was actually going on. Like so many dramas unfolding on the world stage, the media seemed to get a monopoly of the phrases and catch words, and you felt like standing up and saying "STOP! LISTEN!" Stop killing each other! Sadly this as true today as it was then.

In "MILKMAN " none of these catch phrase are present. Instead, here we delve into the Northern Ireland of the 1970s, seen through the eyes of a young girl growing up in what is obviously (but never mentioned by name) a Catholic ghetto in Belfast. It's original and thought provoking. The girl's experiences lay bare the hypocrisies and injustices of the sectarian society in which she lives. And the author manages it all with a sharp wit and compassion. Having many Irish relatives I was no stranger to this topic, but I had never read about it in this revealing way. An extraordinary book which shook all of us in the group.

It's the sort of book which needs a pick-me-up once in a while. And although I love my coffee, I find a good green tea has the same effect, just a bit more gradual in making itself felt........

Being interested in all things Japanese, I read the following book out of curiosity, but did not have the chance to put it forward to our group. No Samurai warriers or Sushi here. No glimpses of a snow-capped Mount Fuji or a Geisha singing a love song. No Ukiyo-e woodblock prints of waves off Kanagawa and no Karaoke whatsoever.

The narrator is Kazu (actually the ghost of Kazu, because he has already died in the circumstances which the book describes) a man, like so many others, who was tempted from the rural central north (Fukushima) by relatively well paid work in Tokyo in the run up to the Olympics in 1964. By coincidence he was born in the same year as the Emperor, and by fate he ends up living in Ueno Park, homeless and destitute (Ueno Park is in central Tokyo, and is home to many of the most important museums and cultural institutions) . A glaring opposite of destinies. The writing here is raw and disturbing, but in a very Japanese way, full of ambiguities. Much is not explained directly, but by inference. The trauma of the 2011 Tsunami in Fukushima, the rage against the anouncement of the 2020 Olympics. The book reveals a Tokyo we rarely see. "Yu Miri is one of Japan's most critically acclaimed and best-selling writers".....I can see why.

I'm afraid reading this book demanded a bit more than the normal "Sencha" green tea. No, here I had to turn to something more substantial. A good block of German carrot cake from my local backery (one of the reasons I came to Germany in the first place was on account of the cakes), accompanied by heaven on earth - matcha tea.

Now to my third book. A while back a Chinese friend of mine pushed the following book into my hand with an urgency which implied "please read this is important"..... "Tell me what you think about it" It was a challenge. 500 pages. An obscure title. An author whose name I could not pronounce. Soul Mountain, by Gao Xingjian.

Now it turns out that Gao Xingjian is many things - novelist, director, scriptwriter, painter.....the list goes on. His writing is original and is hard to categorize. No wonder then that he had to leave the Peoples Republic of China in 1983 on a one way ticket to Germany, bringing with him his prized possession - the manuscript of this book. After the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) the PRC had opened up to outside cultural influences, and Gao 's plays were extremely popular in Beijing (a good example is the Bus Stop 1983, which was a hit in the Beijing People's Art Theatre). But Gao was put under surveillance, and he escaped Beiijing in 1983 , absconding to the remote forests of Sichuan. He subsequently walked or somehow travelled along the Yangzte River (this was before the three Gorges Dam Project) from its source down to the coast. This book is a result of these wanderings. He talks to people along the way, discovering ancient customs and beliefs which somehow survived the Cultural Revolution.

But it is much more than that. The author uses different pronouns to reflect on his own experience, using "I" in one chapter, "he" in another, and even "she" in another.

It is quite unlike any other book I have read. It's the sort of book which you savour slowly, not a fast plot page - turner.

I've recommended we read this book to our Book Group, and have warned everybody to order it well in advance, as this is no last-minute-read before the next meeting!

Credit :Thank you, Yao Yao, for the two photos from Zhejiang, 2019

p.s. I have now worked out how you can subsribe to my blog. If you put your email into the box at the top of the opening page you should get news when a new post is published. Well, I think that's how it works.............we shall see.......🙄

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