Tag Archive | Japan

Salvation of a Saint-Keigo Higashino: 9/52 ( Finished in a day)

The whole state is abuzz with Papanasam this week. Papanasam is a remake of Drishyam which was allegedly an unofficial lift of a book by a Japanese author. So to keep up with the theme of the season, I thought I’d read the book. But then I got confused about which book it was lifted from and started reading the wrong one. But this is a book that once started, will not allow the reader to put it down. So I felt that Devotion of Suspect X can wait and it was Salvation of a Saint Sunday for me.

Warning: Possible spoilers

Coffee. The real protagonist of the story is coffee. How did the arsenous acid get into the coffee? You know who put it in, you even know why she put it in. The mystery is how she did it. And whether she will get away with it. A wronged wife, a pregnant lover, detectives with ego issues, an eccentric scientist a dead man and a coffee cup. The formula for a thriller. There are no twists and turns here, just gentle curves that take you till the last few chapters where everything slowly falls into place. It did get a bit tedious with all those trips to the kitchen and repetitive analysis of the coffee, the water and the filters. A few kitchen trips could have been cut out of the narration. But then as the mystery unfolds, you realise why there was emphasis on some really mundane stuff throughout the book. Like the wall of mineral water bottles in the fridge and the flowers in the balcony.

I would have liked a little back story about why Kusanagi and Utsumi have ego issues. Also, the physicist seemed a bit boring. Though he was the one who finally solved the mystery, he was not a likeable character at all. To be honest, I found it a bit difficult to accept the final explanation. It did seem farfetched. I also felt that the connection between the two deaths was a bit anticlimactic. I would have loved it if Ayane was the one responsible for the other death too. But then,yes, that would have been cliched.

Going by all the other reviews, it looks like this book hasn’t lived up to the expectations created by the previous one. So it is a good thing that I read this first.

I won’t be reading The Devotion of Suspect X next. The taste of the movies may need to fade away first before I can actually enjoy the book.

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The Rape of Nanking- Iris Chang: 57/52

The forgotten Holocaust. One of the forgotten Holocausts

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I swore off all real war book after This Divided Island. But then, the masochist-voyuer in me didn’t allow it. I wanted to read about more horrific horrors that happened  in other wars. So I Googled to find more such books. And I realised that there is no dearth of such books and such horrific horrors and such wars in this world.

This book happened in between my trips to China and Germany. It shook me up badly and I wanted my emotions to settle down a bit before I wrote about it. But then I went to Germany and visited Dachau Concentration camp. And suddenly I wasn’t too sure about which horror was more horrific. The relatively unknown WW2 horror of Japanese soldiers slaughtering Chinese civilians in killing competitions and bayonet practice or the well known WW2 horror of gas chambers and Hitler’s Hate. And again, I waited for my emotions to settle down. But now I’m actually too numb and that moment of horror has passed. One more war book and I think I’ll be vaccinated for life against Feeling. So what I write now is not what I initially felt.

When I think China, I think of only Tiananmen Square, Bamboo gulags, Inhuman Rights. The land without Twitter and Facebook and Google. Enemy country. I don’t know anything about Chinese history before 1989. And when I think of Japan, I think of hard work and perfection. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tsunamis. A country of phoenix birds rising from the ashes to greater heights each time. The victims. Our friends. But now, I can think of just one thing when I think China. Nanking. And when I think Japan, again, Nanking. (  A Tale for the Time Being had that chapter from the Kamikaze pilot’s life. I wasn’t that moved then. But now I should read it again to understand Japan’s cruelty. )

The most horrific part of the Rape of Nanking is not the cold blooded massacre of 50000…100000…300000…prisoners or war and civilians because the Japanese Imperial army didn’t know what to do next; not the rapes of women from 8 to 80; not the killing competitions or the mass burial grounds; not the mountains where the  soil turned into metallic red slush or the Yangzte river that turned red with the blood of the beheaded. The most horrific part of the Rape of Nanking to me, is the fact that most of the world is still unaware about it even now.

It is like a ten line article tucked into page 30 of the WW2 newspaper where the Jewish holocaust and Hiroshima and Nagasaki are on the headlines. More sad is that China itself has tried to forget and remove all traces of the horror and move on to other self inflicted horrors instead of throwing open their doors for the world to see. And saddest is that the USA, self appointed guardians of humankind,cared only when Pearl Harbour happened, and even afterwards only made amends for their own wrongs to Japan instead of telling the world what Japan had done to their neighbours. And Japan, Japan with its denial, false propaganda, school books with twisted history and a right wing that still intimidates anyone who wants to share the truth. Oh, Japan, you’ve fallen from that pedestal I had you on. And how.

On my next trip to China I wanted to plan a quick visit to Nanjing. But after Googling a bit, I decided against it. Even if I can make that overnight train or expensive flight for the weekend, I think I’ll be going into a city that has erased her scars and painted herself over with a new shiny gloss. A city that has buried its past and moved on to the future. But then, maybe that’s what China is all about. And to some of us here, Nanking will continue to be nothing more than that authentic Chinese restaurant.

Edit: On the anniversary of the Rape of Nanking, I got some uninvited attention on Twitter from some Japanese. Some keywords led them to my tweet about the book. I was open to discussion and they shared some photos showing the Japanese-Chinese ‘friendship’ in Nanking. Three happy propaganda photos do not erase the horror that it actually was. These were some of the links they shared to debunk the ‘myth’ of the Nanking Massacre.

This–> http://www.howitzer.jp/nanking/page01.html Seriously? If you say so.

This, obviously, is the Ginling College Safety Zone –> http://digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15799coll123/id/33881/rec/50

This, I don’t understand the language, but yes Chiang Kai Shek was to blame too. Although he was just a pawn in the bigger picture –>  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c66d9WKRwk

A Tale for the Time Being- Ruth Ozeki: 47/52

Zen philosophy meets Quantum Physics meets Reality.

A freezer bag washes up on a beach in a remote island somewhere in Canada. A hello kitty lunch box. A composition notebook written in French. A watch that doesn’t work. A diary with a Proust cover. And a tale for the time being written in purple ink. A tale written by a sixteen year old Japanese schoolgirl, sitting in a French Maid cafe. A tale she says is about her 104 year old great grandmother Jiko, but one that is more about herself. A tale she wants to tell someone before she commits suicide.

The Nao part of the book was gripping. A  teenager uprooted from the Great American dream and thrown into Japan again. She’s a misfit in school, tortured by her classmates in unbelievably shocking ways. A father on the verge of losing it, a mother struggling to keep the show running. And the comfort she finally finds in her 104 year old great grandmother and her dead grand uncle. I wonder which Haruki was sadder, the present day one with the deafening conscience  who reads philosophy books and makes origami insects out of the pages and joins suicide clubs or the young Haruki on the suicide mission during WW2. The theme of suicide looms large throughout Nao’s narration, disturbing and heavy.

The Ruth part was painfully boring. For starters, I hate the name Ruth. It only reminds me of a stiff old fashioned woman in black stockings and a high collared shirt. This Ruth wasn’t exactly that, but she was so boring. There was no emotion in her part of the story. Yes, she was consumed by Nao’s story and worried for the girl, but even that was so stiff and starched.The husband and wife relationship was so formal and awkward, they seemed more like a student and her HOD, discussing garbage gyres, native crows and Schrodinger’s cat. Not that intellectually stimulating conversation between a husband and wife is not allowed, but it was so bleh and academic. Also, there somewow seemed to be no love between them, with her complaining about everything from his illness to life on the island to his cat or getting possessive and confrontational when he understood Nao’s predicament more than she did. In managerese,I could say that Ruth doesn’t offer any value add to the story.

I have to skip analysing the Zen parts. I’m too simple minded to get Zen. That dream scenario went over my head. I have to skip analysing the Quantum physics parts. I’m too unintelligent to get Quantum Physics. I did understand Schrodinger’s cat though, thanks to Sheldon Cooper. There was a lot of Japanese peppered into Nao’s narration, too many footnotes to check. Otaku, Hentai, Ijime, Hikikomori : some of the words that continued to disturb me throughout the book. Japan, you twisted country, if what Nao writes about your people is true, you scare me.  I would have liked more closure, more answers. Less Ruth, more Nao. But overall I liked the book. I’d try another Ruth Ozeki sometime soon