A Chorus of Mushrooms by Hiromi Goto

“I mutter and mutter and no one to listen. I speak my words in Japanese and my daughter will not hear them. The words that come from our ears, our mouths, they collide in the space between us.”

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 268 pages.
Read from December 9, 2019 to December 12, 2019.

A Chorus of Mushrooms is what I would describe as “my kind of book”. It’s the type of book that details lives and scenarios that I know nothing about, with poetic, imaginative, and dream-like writing, and with words that are in partial or full in translation. There must be something about this ‘poetical otherness’ that I’m completely obsessed with. Another draw for me in this book is that the town the majority of the book is set in, Nanton, is a town I visited as a kid over many summers. The book also spends time in Calgary, a city I lived in for many years.

A Chorus of Mushrooms details the lives of three different generations of Japanese-Canadians on the matriarchal side and was first published in 1993. The family lives on a mushroom farm in Nanton, Alberta, Canada. The grandmother, Naoe, is very old and requires the care of her daughter, Keiko, and granddaughter, Muriel or Murasaki, as Naoe calls her. The first person narrative switches between Naoe and Murasaki and drifts between different points of time. Naoe knows English but refuses to speak it as her Keiko has abandoned her heritage and culture in order to try and assimilate into their home in Canada. Naoe may no longer be close to Keiko but they still care for each other in their own way.  Naoe had a very different life in Japan and thing have not always been easy for her and she is frustrated because she feels she has no one to communicate with that deeply understands her. Despite her age, Naoe decides one day to leave her home in Nanton and in the middle of winter. From there, the story takes a different turn with Naoe making the reader wonder what’s real or the wishful imaginings of the author. Murasaki was always extremely fond of her grandmother and recounts her childhood and all the Japanese myths her grandmother used to tell her. After Naoe leaves, Murasaki attempts to fill the emptiness of her grandmother’s presence as well as a piece of her identity that has been kept from her by Keiko by attempting to reconnect with her heritage.

This beautiful book won numerous awards when it was first published and it’s easy to see why. The book will always continue to relevant as it speaks to anyone looking for their own identities or to anyone who has ever had to establish themselves in another country. Further, A Chorus of Mushrooms is partially autobiographical as Hiromi Goto moved to a mushroom farm in Nanton when she was a toddler and her grandmother used to tell her stories growing up too which I’m sure contributed to the intimate and personal feel of this story. The story itself is simple, elegant, and delicately told with sentences of untranslated Japanese, along with being fiercely feminine and sexually empowering.

I loved this book. Really loved it, as I read most of it in one sitting. It’s the kind of book that feels like a comfortable blanket that I’d want to crawl back into again. I would highly recommend this book to literary-fiction lovers, Murakami-lovers, or for those who are looking for something a little different but not too challenging that will still keep you engaged and captivated.

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

“The world is hard,” his mom had said. “You need to be harder.”

4/5 stars.
ebook,  249 pages.
Read from February 1, 2020 to February 11, 2020

This is book number two of the five for me  in the Canada Reads 2020 contenders.  I best get reading a bit faster if I want to have all five read before the debates in March! I have always wanted to read Eden Robinson, in fact, I’m pretty sure one of her books was part on my required reading list in one of my university classes back in the day and I still didn’t get around to reading her (oops)! At least I’m making up for it now. 

Kaniehtiio Horn will be defending Son of a Trickster in the debates this March. I adore Kaniehtiio Horn so it will be interesting to see how she does in the debates.

Kaniehtiio Horn

Son of a Trickster starts off in a seemingly normal, albeit tragic and raw, fashion as it details the coming of age of a young First Nation teen named Jared. Despite his fraught and complicated family life he does try his best to do the right thing and has a genuinely good heart and tends to get by with his sarcasm and fantastic pot cookies when shit hits the fan. This part of the story really depicts some of the First Nation’s experiences and traumas while also drawing you into a gripping story. There is also a whimsical and magical aspect to this book that is briefly mentioned in the first chapter that you almost forget about until the last quarter of the book.

When Jared was just a boy, his family move away from his one grandmother because she believes him to be the son of a trickster, a wee’git. Jared thinks little of the incident as he grows older and it’s never brought up again, even after his parent’s separation. However, as Jared’s family life starts to unravel he also begins to see things, things that presumably shouldn’t be there. At first, he starts to brush them off as bad trips and vows to come off hallucinogens but they continue to happen. His mom and nana finally reveal a secret to him that they’ve kept and despite their differences, they might be his only hope in protection as these ‘hallucinations’ become more physical and severe.

I loved the first 75% of this book. Jared’s character is immensely funny, gentle, and resilient, however, when the trickster aspects of the book started to take shape the story started to feel a bit disjointed to me. However, having said that, there are some beautiful and poetic sections of writing that Robinson includes in the opening of some the chapters and during some of Jared’s visions.

“Close your eyes. Concentrate on your breath. Remember that you were not always earthbound. Every living creature, every drop of water and every sombre mountain is the by-blow of some bloated, dying star. Deep down, we remember wriggling through the universe as beams of light.”

‘Son of Trickster’ – Eden Robinson

Apparently, this book was meant to be the first in series, which, I could see panning out quite nicely, especially since the magical sections of the book felt like they should have been expanded on more. What I loved about this book was the First Nations experience that it so gracefully touched upon. I felt for Jared and wanted better things for him and his family and was bothered and intrigued by the circumstances that he had to face. The character work on both Jared, his mom, as well as Sarah is amazing as Robinson managed to highlight their traumas without drowning you in it.

Is this the one book to bring Canada into focus? It definitely sheds light on the First Nations experience in the same way that We Have Always Been Here highlights the queer Muslim experience in Canada. Both prominent and important issues but which one will come out on top in the debates? Especially when there are three other books to contend with. Guess we’ll have to wait and see!

Favourite Reads of 2019

2019 proved to be a difficult year for me. Thank goodness for books!


2019 proved to be a difficult year for me. Thank goodness for books! I almost didn’t make my reading goal this year but a few long flights allowed me to power through and reach 50 for the year. So without further ado, here are the five fiction and the five non-fiction books that I read in 2019 that I left the lasting impression.

Fiction:

The Nightingale
Well, well, well, isn’ it wonderful when the hype about a book turns out to be true? This novel had the perfect combination of things that I love in a good book. A historical-fiction plot based in WWII (one of my favourite settings), strong and dynamic female characters, great writing, and a few surprises in store at the end. If this book has been on your TBR pile, it’s time to go and pick it up!

The Last Wish
I am ecstatic to have found another fantasy series that I’m in love with and I will definitely be devouring every book in this series. After playing some of the Witcher games it was a nice surprise to find out that there was also a book series. This novel really stuck with me and is a quality fantasy read. Needless to say, I don’t plan on leaving the Witcher world anytime soon.

Confederacy of Dunces
One of most hilarious and clever books I’ve ever read. The writing and character work in this novel is nothing short of brilliant and it pains me to think of the talent with lost with the author’s early passing. This book would appeal to anyway the read and loved Don Quixote or who is interested in misadventure stories with unique protagonists.

A Chorus of Mushrooms
I received this poetic and Murakami-esqe book as a gift this year and it was the most beautiful story I read this year. It details 3 generations of Japanese-Canadians and the importance of family and personal identity.

The Monsters We Deserve
If you have ever read Frankenstein, then you need to read this little known book. This short novel leaves the reader wondering what actually happens to the narrator and how much of this tense story is real or metaphorical. The writing is smart, highly creative and very well-paced making for an engaging read.

Non-Fiction:

Educated
There are many memoirs out there that are written by pretentious and self-important people that make for dull reads, which is generally why I don’t read too many. Then there are memoirs that detail the life of a seemingly ordinary person that has led the most remarkable life and has overcome challenges that many of us can’t even envision. This is one of those memoirs. Well-written and very engaging, this book is worth the hype.

Know My Name
I hope Chanel Miller makes millions with this book. Chanel is the young woman who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner. This is her story and what a story it is. It’s phenomenally written and ridiculously engaging. 

The Way Through The Woods
Since my family and I experienced our own intense personal grief this year, I picked up this in hopes it might be an interesting read and be able to recommend it. This book snuck up on me. It’s half about the author’s personal mourning with the other half detailing facts about mushrooms and how learning about them helped the author deal with her grief. It’s both interesting and educational and provided me with insights on grief that stuck with me long after finishing it.

Stiff
Keeping on the theme of grief and death this was another book that appealed to me in 2019. Mary Roach approaches cadavers in a very entertaining, informative and tactful manner. She observes and interviews the intricate lives of those doing the less-than-glamorous work with corpses while also exploring the strategies they use in order to cope and maintain their humanity with the surreal nature of their jobs.

Perfectly Hidden Depression
The author of this book is shedding light on an area of depression that requires some serious attention. Her writing is personable, concise, insightful, informative, resourceful and clinical.  Perfectly hidden depression presents differently than your standard depression and after years of experience with patients, this author felt the need to draw attention to the behaviour she was seeing. Read my review to see if you fit this subset of depression.