The Companions by R.A. Salvatore

“How long lived our memory of you when you are gone? Because in the end, that is the only measure. In the end, when life’s last flickers fade, all that remains is memory. Richness, in the final measure, is not weighed in gold coins, but in the number of people you have touched, the tears of those who mourn your passing, and the fond remembrances of those who continue to celebrate your life.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 384 pages.
Read from July 6, 2019 to July 11, 2019.

I have been looking forward to this book for a long time. While I have enjoyed the new journey that Drizzt took with some new and old characters, I really missed the Companions of the Hall. This is book 24 (I think? According to Goodreads anyway) of The Legend of Drizzt series that is now 30+ books in length. I actually never imagined I get this far when I picked up the series more than ten years ago.

Cattibrie, Bruenor, Regis, and Wulfgar have been reunited in death and have been given a choice, a gift from the goddess Melikki, to help their friend Drizzt in his time of need. They are to be reincarnated and will meet on a set date and location in which their assistance to their friend will be needed and revealed. The story follows their rebirth from children, who still retain their previous memories and adult mind, through their growth and struggle in being reborn. Wulfgar is uncertain he wants to be reincarnated, even for the sake of Drizzt, while Bruenor gets to see the follow-through of some his most important decisions as King in his past life and struggles to come to terms with the person that he is now. Regis is determined to be more valuable to his friends in this life by becoming stronger and more courageous. Cattibrie knows her path and is determined to learn as much magic as she can in order to be reunited with her beloved Drizzt. There are, however, no guarantees in this rebirth. The Companions have one chance and if they die in this life there is no coming back.

What an adventure this book was! It is unlike any of the other books in the Legend of Drizzt series. For one, it’s one of the few books in the series that requires knowledge and context from other books in the existing series.  Most of the books in the series can be picked up without having read many of the books in the series but I feel like this one is an exception and without the background knowledge of the characters and their previous lives this plot would be very confusing. Secondly, Drizzt is barely heard from in this book as the narrative switches between his companions only.

Kudos to Salvatore for finding a clever and innovative way to bring back his much-loved characters. I’m not sure if this was his plan all along, regardless, it worked out well and this book is very well-executed. Looking forward to the remainder of the series now that Drizzt has his companions at his side again.

 

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

“Ever since I was little my mother had told me, if you don’t know something, go to the library and look it up.”

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 96 pages.
Read on July 4, 2019.

This is a perfect example of a book that you should not read on any sort of e-reader. The novella is its own form of art with its unique open-flap cover and varying font formats and sizes throughout its pages. It’s the kind of book that’s hard to say no to when you see on the shelf at a library or bookstore.

The plot of The Strange Library is strange indeed. I mean, most of Murakami’s works are strange but this short novel had a different feel to it. It’s the tamest Murakami book I’ve read so far as well as there are no sexual references within this book. Or of cats. Or of food, for that matter, which are normally typical themes within Murakami’s books.

A boy, whose mother is expecting him home for dinner, gets lured into a strange section of the library by an old man who wants to eat his brains. The man insists that knowledgeable brains taste better so he insists that the boy read tomes of books for a few months before he is going to be eaten. A sheep-man appears to be the old man’s slave as he unwillingly does his bidding out of fear. As time passes the boy, sheep-man, and a mysterious girl plot their escape from the maze of the strange library.

The plot is like a childish nightmare, hence the sheep-man (counting sheep), worrying about not being home in time for dinner, an extensive maze, and cannibalism as they seem like things a young boy would have nightmares about, which is something I didn’t come to see right away. After coming to this realization I came to appreciate the story much more. Having said that, the story is still very different from other things that Murakami has done and I didn’t care for it as much as some of his other books.  It was still a short and pleasurable read and well worth picking up if you’re looking to catch up on a reading goal.

 

Ghetto at the Center of the World by Gordon Mathews

Likely the most fascinating place in Hong Kong with some of the best South Asian food in the city. Chungking Mansions is a curiosity that is not to be missed.

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 256 pages.
Read from June 25, 2019 to July 3, 2019.

I’ve called Hong Kong home for a few years now and have come to love it for all of its unique flaws and qualities. Hong Kong is a busy city but outside of its city walls are beautiful running trails, beaches, and hikes. There is something for everyone in this diverse city no matter what kind of person you are. As an expat, Chungking Mansions is a fascinating place that needs to be visited at least once, but for locals, it is generally a place to be avoided. The stories of crime and gang activity, along with the lack of familiar local faces, usually are enough to keep many locals away. However, this impression of Chungking Mansion isn’t its whole story.

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Grey facade – Photo by Gerald Figal on Flickr

Gordon Mathews is a university professor in Hong Kong and spent years living in and studying the people and it’s unique economy and isolated globalization. Chungking Mansion is located in the bustling and wealthy Tsim Sha Tsui area of Hong Kong on the Kowloon side. It’s a popular district for shopping and has lots of tourists from mainland China and elsewhere from around the globe. Yet inside Chungking mansions is like entering a different world. Just outside of the building, you’ll find it brimming with South Asians, who, if you’re white, will try and sell you knock-off watches, handbags, or tailoring services. Inside the building is old and run down compared to the shiny shopping area it’s surrounded by. Inside you’ll find cheap rooms for rent, refugees, illegal workers, traders, sex workers, drug addicts, and small businesses from all around the globe. African traders come to find cheap cellphones to bring back to their countries. South Asians come, often illegally, to try and improve the quality of their lives as well as their families. Many refugees come and get trapped in the system of long waits within Hong Kong and are unable to work legally too. Despite the illegality of most of what goes on in the building, a blind eye is often turned by police. Without the illegality of workers and many other trades, Chungking Mansions would not exist. The diversity of the building makes for some of the most eclectic and delicious food in Hong Kong and for rock-bottom prices. It also makes for a unique area of globalization that isn’t really seen anywhere else in the world.

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Image from Asia Times

I’ve actually had the pleasure of dining in Chungking Mansions with a group of refugees and have nothing but great things to say about the place despite its seedy reputation. I would go back in there in heartbeat for the great food, company, and people watching. That isn’t to say that sketchy things don’t happen at Chungking but in general, it’s a decent place to grab a good bite to eat provided you don’t mind how run down some of the establishments are.

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Image from Wikimedia

This book is a perfect insight into Chungking Mansions as its clear that the professor himself has become an established name inside the building and is someone that everyone seems to be comfortable talking with. He seems to have a clear understanding of Chungking Mansions and the people that live there. The novel felt a bit like something I would read in a university class but that’s not surprising since I’m sure that was one of the reasons it was written. Mathew’s writing is as informative as it is fascinating and if you’re in Hong Kong and have ever wanted to visit or know more about Chungking Mansions I would highly recommend this book.