Longing and Other Stories by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

“When I go out into the world, will I have to endure the same suffering and distress as my parents?”

3/5 stars.
ebook, ARC.
Read from November 29, 2021 to December 6, 2021.

A big thanks to Netgalley for the ARC copy of this book and for continuing to expand my reading repertoire. Considering my love for Japanese writing, it’s weird that this was my first time reading something by this author. I intend to add a few more of his works to my TBR pile.

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki was one of Japan’s most prominent modern writers in the early 20th century. He passed away in 1965 and was known for writing honest accounts of family life that was not often depicted out in the open within Japanese society. This collection of short stories was written early in his career between 1916-1921.

This collection contains three short stories, ‘Longing‘, ‘Sorrows of a Heretic‘, and ‘The Story of an Unhappy Mother‘. Longing details the dreamlike sequence of a boy trying to find his way back home to his mother. What he encounters is eerie and complete with a sad revelation at the end. Sorrows of a Heretic is about a despicable young university student and his relations with his family and friends. He is a liar, a cheat, and relentlessly selfish, even in the face of the death of people he deems close to him. His narcissism is hard to stomach throughout this story. The Story of an Unhappy Mother is another one that will make you feel uncomfortable. By all appearances, the mother in this story seems to have the perfect family with her doting sons. However, she has expectations of them that they can’t seem to be able to meet. After her one son gets married she crashes their honeymoon of which an accident occurs that no one wants to speak of. The mother falls into a deep depression and is never the same afterwards. This results in tragedy in which the real outcome of the accident is finally revealed to the reader and remaining family members.

There is some arguably autobiographical content in this book as it relates to the stories. Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s mother passed away of a heart attack in 1917 and he was not able to make it to her death bed.

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki has a great way of setting a distinct tone for his stories that create the unnerving atmosphere he is trying to instil in his readers. These stories are meant to make you uncomfortable and the fact, that 100 years on, these stories can still evoke these feelings showcases the author’s talent. Jun’ichirō Tanizaki had a way of merging ideas and shifting perspectives that made his writing approachable while also making readers uncomfortable as he showed them stories and ideas that may have been taboo or in bad form to discuss. With this collection, he specifically discusses family and how society perceives what makes a good family and asks the question about how far our duties extend to our family and what exactly do we owe them? This also shows the clash of Confucian ideals with that of the West in early 20th Japan.

Overall an engaging read that made me want to explore what else this author has to offer.

Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

“Hold it gently, this hungry beast that is your heart. Feed it well.”

5/5 stars.
ebook, 441 pages.
Read from February 21, 2021 to February 24, 2021.

I’m finally starting to catch up on the Canada Reads selection for this year, hopefully just in time for the debates happening soon. This is book three of five of the Canada Reads 2021 contenders. Roger Mooking is championing Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi in the debates taking place on March 8-11.

Butter Honey Pig Bread begins in Lagos with a young Kambirinachi, an Ogbanje, who is a spirit that causes misfortune to a family by being born and then dying as a child, unwilling to commit to the world of the flesh and causing misery to the humans that she affects. This changes one day when she decides to stay and live as a human. This choice however, does not come without consequences. The book follows Kambirinachi through her youth, how she finds love, that then gives birth to her twin daughters, Kehinde and Taiye. The story progresses through her daughters stories and the traumas that tears them apart. Kehinde’s childhood trauma causes her distance herself and blames her sister resulting in her running off to Canada where she becomes an artist and meets her husband. Taiye also runs off but to England where she covers her guilt and loneliness in one-night stands and benders. Taiye finds some reprieve in cooking and eventually pursues a cooking certification in Halifax, Canada. Each member of the family is haunted by the past and they can’t avoid each other forever. After Taiye returns home to take care of her mother in Lagos, Kehinde returns for a visit so that her family can meet her new husband, each are eager but reluctant to reconcile.

This is one of the most beautiful and moving books I’ve read in the last few years and it reached me in ways I didn’t anticipate. It’s a story of forgiveness, friendship, love, and family that spans across three countries with a whimsical touch from the addition of Kambirinachi’s real self as an Ogbanje. I cried at the story’s climax and conclusion as the writing had me absolutely captivated and captured in this world and characters. I was more engaged with Taiye’s struggles that circle around her tumultuous and non-committal love life that allows her to neglect her own feeling of guilt. Taiye’s connections and struggles with others are immensely relatable and I found the tension between her and Kehinde familiar. There are also some amazing and intense sex scenes and scrumptious descriptions of traditional foods from Nigeria. This book really has something for everyone. I was absolutely transported with this book, in fact, I missed bus stops while reading this book I was so enthralled with it at times. The writing it concise and succinct and shows off the author’s talents as a storyteller, especially with a debut novel. I hope to see more from this author in the future.

Out of all the books I’ve read from the Canada Reads 2021 contenders this one is my favourite so far. It’s a gorgeous piece of literature with a phenomenal story and it best meets the theme of One Book To Transport Us out of the books that I’ve read. A strong contender for the winner likely to be one of my favourite reads of the year.

Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee

“The gaps that bind us span more than the distances between words.”

2/5 stars.
ebook, 271 pages.
Read from February 4, 2021 to February 9, 2021.

My second of five of the Canada Reads 2021 selection that will be championed by Canadian singer-songwriter Scott Helman in the debates that take place in March.

I know, I’m behind but I’ve been up to my ears in essays. I was really looking forward to reading this memoir and learning a bit more about Taiwan. I really wanted to love this book but it fell flat for me.

The author is a first-generation Canadian and after finding a partial memoir from her grandfather she decides to embark on a journey to Taiwan to explore her family connections and history. The story floats between gorgeous and descriptive nature scenes as the author hikes through different parts of Taiwan, all while intermingling the details of her family’s personal history throughout. Her grandparents were originally from China but when the cultural revolution happened they relocated to Taiwan where her grandfather took up work as a pilot. The family then moved to Canada where the author was born. After her grandfather left, in his old age and on his own, to return to Taiwan no one really knew what he did with his final years as his health failed him. The author makes efforts to reconnect with her language and Chinese heritage to get a full understanding and appreciation of her family’s past and to place her own identity.

While the writing of this book was descriptive and engaging at points, the story’s timeline was all over the place, jumping from the past to her current excursions in Taiwan. The descriptions of Taiwan were sometimes enthralling and made you feel like you were in Taiwan but I felt that they went on too long as I was more interested in the family history which, I didn’t feel had enough of a presence. The book left me feeling like I had an incomplete picture of her family and I wanted to know more. Ultimately, this story is about the author’s journey but it reads and feels more like a journal than a novel. I wanted to like this novel more but I found it a bit boring if I’m honest. It’s not a terrible read, it’s just not as engaging as I was hoping it would be.

In terms of the theme for Canada Reads this year, One Book To Transport Us, this book does seem an appropriate fit with the way it makes you feel like you’re on a hike in Taiwan as well as transporting back to a time in Chinese history. We will see what the other contenders bring to the table.

The debates will take place March 8-11, 2021, hosted by Ali Hassan and will be broadcast on CBC Radio OneCBC TVCBC Gem and on CBC Books

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