The Color of Water by James McBride

2/5 stars.
ebook, 256 pages.
Read from November 29 to December 28, 2015.

James McBride grew up as a young poor black boy, with 11 siblings and a white mother. To be honest, that sentence right there is probably enough to sum up with this book. I picked up this novel for a book club that I sadly never had the chance to attend due to moving out of the country. While the book discusses some interesting aspects of race and belonging, I found it to be an uninspiring memoir.

Jame’s mother was born and raised Jewish and moved to America in her youth. Her father is a rabbi but there is nothing holy about him. He is a savage who beats his crippled wife relentlessly and molests his daughter. Jame’s mother would go on to marry a black man, thus being disowned from her own family. These events also took place in a time where interracial marriage was extremely frowned upon. Jame’s mother loses her first husband, and ends up remarrying another black man and in the end has 12 children to raise. The family is outcast and frowned upon. Jame’s recounts his mother’s tale through short snippets that she provides and goes on to tell how he and his siblings managed to overcome the challenges of their upbringing and the circumstances surrounding it.

This book is apparently supposed to be a tribute to Jame’s mother but the information isn’t all that consistent as he had to string the story together over small pieces of information that she shared.  Additionally, she doesn’t appear to do anything inspirational for her children, in that all of the important questions that they had about who they are and where they fit in she refused to discuss or acknowledge. Not that it’s my place to judge that, it just didn’t make for that interesting of a memoir . She didn’t acknowledge to her own children that she was white, when her children clearly knew that their mother was different from the other black children’s mothers, just as they were different from the other kids.  James and his siblings had to speculate and be miserable about their own identities all on their own. Philosophically speaking, you could say that that it wasn’t important for Jame’s mother to discuss any of their differences, but as humans, we all want to fit in somewhere and so the children’s identity crisis’s were completely understandable.

I think that they way James and his siblings were raised is a reflection of the time period and the only option that their mother had in raising that many children, but again it’s not really up to me to judge that aspect, I just found that it didn’t make for a inspiring or riveting memoir. While many of Jame’s siblings ended up being successful, himself included, they initially struggled as adults. They got involved with drugs, had run-ins with the law, and had a lot of random children of their own. While I imagine the choices and life that Jame’s mother made were not easy and she is remarkable in that right it appeared that her children’s successes were due to their own resilience.

James also seems to spend a lot of time talking about his own achievements as a musician and a writer making some sections of the book sound like his personal resume. The writing style is clunky and unfeeling. The praise for this book, I believe comes more from the premise of the story and its content than the actual writing. The book discusses  and goes over what it was like for black and interracial families growing up but the way that James presents his story is not well executed. The man is a journalist by trade,  not a novel writer, and it’s apparent in the writing of his own story.

Overall, I didn’t understand that hype of this novel. It wasn’t bad but it definitely wasn’t great. I appreciate that Jame’s wrote the story of his difficult children and the struggles he and his mother went through but it just didn’t speak to me. Some memoirs are more for the person writing them then they are for audiences.

 

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

4/5 stars.
ebook, 1050 pages.
Read from November 06 to December 19, 2015.

There are certain books that haunt you long after you’ve read them. Books that have you so interwoven in the plot and story that you feel like you’ve been there. And characters that you feel like you’ve known for a lifetime. That was this book for me. Again, Murakami has managed to impress me. While his writing style isn’t for everyone, this monster of a novel is not as threatening as is looks.

This isn’t your typical fiction novel. It’s an all encompassing book that covers a few genres: dystopia, romance, mystery and fantasy. Set in the 1980’s in Japan, a young woman named Aomame discovers that she has crossed over into a parallel universe. She aptly names it 1Q84, the “Q” meaning question mark. Meanwhile math teacher and aspiring writer, Tengo, is agreeing to a sketchy ghostwriting assignment that introduces him to the strange and remarkable girl named Fukaeri. After some defining experiences  in a religious cult, Fukaeri has pressing need to tell her story. For Tengo, something about writing this young girl’s story and her beliefs start to awaken something in him and he knows that even if he is discovered as the ghost writer of her story, it is essential that he writes it. Tengo’s timid life begins to awaken. The plot lines between Aomame and Tengo begin to merge as you learn that they once knew each other as school children and shared a moment that has marked both of them. They don’t know it, but they have since yearned and thought of each other since that day. Connected to each other, both Aomame and Tengo have a major part to play in the unfolding of Fukaeri’s story and the world of 1Q84.

In looking at other reviews of this book and there are some clear haters of this novel! I suppose I can understand why: it’s long, it’s peculiar and if Murakami’s style and character’s don’t resonate with you, then you will likely also hate this book. Some of the reviews mention the the misogynist and male view in regards to anything sexual in the book and in a way, while I was reading the reviews, it dawned upon me that they’re not completely wrong. However, while I was reading the book itself I didn’t notice these points and it ultimately just didn’t read or feel that way to me. I also don’t believe it was the author’s intention either. Anything sexual in the book felt, to me, essential to the characters and the peculiar plot, especially once you learn about the love that Aomame and Tengo share. The sex that they were having previously and the lives that they were living prior to finding one another was a way to fill an emotional hole that only the two of them could fill. Additionally, if you read enough Murakami you will find that sex always seems to find its way into his novels and usually in a very strange way; try reading Kafka on the Shore if you want something really weird!

Based on the Murakami books I’ve read so far this is a pretty decent breakdown,the only thing it’s missing is sex:
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In this novel, classical music is focused on more than Jazz, specifically the work by Leoš Janáček. There is also a Town of Cats in which Tengo visits his father, ears are definitely mentioned, Tengo has repeated weird dream sequences/flashbacks of his mother, and there a lot of talk about food. Tengo and Aomame both cook a lot. I wonder if Murakami is constantly hungry while he writes? I just finished his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and he is a major runner and triathlete so my guess is that, yes, he is always hungry. I know the pain!

Anyways, I haven’t stopped thinking about this novel. I finished this book before I moved over to Hong Kong actually and while I haven’t been to Japan (yet), where this book was set, there was something about moving over to Hong Kong that felt like I was stepping into 1Q84. There is just something about this story that just hits me; it’s story of self-discovery and romance that is actually romantic  The character’s self-reflection is intriguing and philosophical, yet relatable. While the book was long, I found myself looking forward to reading it and I didn’t have to  trudge through it in the slightest.

In terms of recommendations, if you like Murakami then I would definitely read this book! If you’re considering reading Murakami for the first time, I think I would hold off on this one and try perhaps, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage first. Overall, this book is going on my life of favourites, something I haven’t done in almost 4 years!

 

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

3/5 stars.
ebook, 704 pages.
Read from October 15 to November 06, 2015.

I picked up this novel for a book club that I was sadly never able to attend due to my move out to Hong Kong. This is the second book that I’ve read by David Mitchell and I’ve been left with the same feelings on this book as I did with first book I read, which happened to be Cloud Atlas (I don’t have a review handy as I read that book before starting up this blog).

Holly is just a child when she starts hearing voices. She nicknames them the “radio people”. Though she doesn’t know it yet, she has an a strong psychic ability that has caught attention of two feuding groups of mystics. One of them with the evil and selfish desire to feed off people’s souls.  After a spat with her mother when she is just 15-years-old, the stubborn and head-strong Holly makes a break for the English country side. Days after she runs away, she learns that her youngest brother, Jack, goes missing and is never to be found, a tragedy that haunts Holly and her family for the rest of their lives. The main plot follows Holly and almost every person that she meets throughout her life have a role in her story with the two feuding mystic groups; the one wants to protect Holly and the other that want to destroy her.

True to Mitchell’s style, each chapter of the book is narrated by a new character, and they often only get just the one chapter to tell their part of the story, making for a very innovative way to piece and tell a story. What I really appreciate about Mitchell is how each of his books seem to emphasize a theme of connectedness; all of his characters play a part in a story that is all bigger than themselves, many of the characters unaware of the participation in the story until the very end. A very comforting and inspiring premise for any reader in that perhaps the people that we meet and the choices that we make are also a part of a larger story that we’re not yet aware of yet.

Another unique aspect that Mitchel embodies is the ability to write a novel with fantasy elements that does not read or is classified as a full blown fantasy novel. Mitchell feels like a mix between Neil Gaiman and Haruki Murakami, though not as expertly executed, in that all these authors are able to have fantasy elements mixed in with a real world setting yet not have it come across like fantasy writing.

Mitchell’s execution of his story, I feel, is not efficient as it could be. There are long portions of the book that are hard to follow or feel almost unnecessary. I understand that because each chapter is its own story that sometimes that specific character’s story may not make sense until it’s pieced in by another character’s story, but I felt that some of the transitions were not as smooth as they could be. There were also some chapters/character’s stories that I found to be dull while others I couldn’t get enough of, so it was irritating to have to end a really good chapter only to be left hanging with a really boring chapter to follow it. I had the same problem with Cloud Atlas. I suppose, in terms of life and the people we meet, excitement levels and personalities differ greatly but this is a fiction book that we’re reading so its entertainment value can’t be forgotten either. This is a beefy book too, so the reward and mystery of putting the main story all together is extremely drawn out. In fact, the story takes places over the entirety of Holly’s life.

While I did enjoy this novel a fair bit, I can’t give it more than 3 stars as it didn’t feel like an efficient read. I think people who are not familiar with Mitchell’s style or even those not ready to commit to a large book would struggle a bit with this novel. However, the majority of characters are unique and memorable and while the main story line is a bit confusing, it is definitely intriguing, imaginative, philosophical and mostly enjoyable.