Tag Archives: Harvill Secker

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami Title: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
Author: Haruki Murakami
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 9781846558337
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

There will always come a time in a reader’s time when his or her favourite author diverts a little bit from the writing style and the reader will not appreciate that move. There will also be a time when the reader will start reading the book, leave it, be riddled with preconceived notions and come back to it eventually. Reading is a love-affair, between the reader and the author at so many levels. The reader bickers. The author retorts. The reader loves. The author returns the favour. There is so much going on between the two and what conjoins them of course – the written word. I felt like a jilted lover mid-way of “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami. I had a love-hate relationship with it to suffice the least.

“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” sustain most elements of Murakami’s writing and yet seems to move away from them. While I appreciated that, there were times that nothing would make sense (not in terms of plot) and even that was alright, till it reached a stage when everything that I read felt like I had already read before. Maybe even that was alright, but somehow the pace could not keep me attached to the book after page seventy or so. I left it. I was angry. I had fought with the book.

After about a week or so, I went back to it. I pleaded with it. I wooed it. I wanted to love it. I wanted to be loved by the book. I took off from where I left and somewhere down the line; I began reading it with an open mind more than anything else. Some parts I had to underline – I loved them so much, while others, I could not care for much. And now to the plot.

Tsukuru Tazaki is not someone special. He is ordinary. He loves trains and train stations. He works with trains. He is away from home and does not miss them. This is typical of a Murakami novel. Well, at least so far it is. He had his friends once upon a time. The five of them were inseparable. Till they decided one fine day to cut all ties with him. Tsukuru did not know why and he never asked. He moved away from his hometown and began living life differently. Something changed within him and now after all these years, he wants to know the reason they drifted apart, and that stimulus has come in the form of someone who he is currently dating.

The title comes from all his friends’ last names representing colors, while Tsukuru’s last name is colorless. The years of pilgrimage represents something else, however I shall not reveal it for now. The book is linear (for some time) and then it goes into Murakami territory – where dreams mingle with reality and nothing is what it seems. The range of emotions is wide – from envy to love to lust to everything possible, Murakami looks at it all.

For me, the connect came with the friends leaving bit – it hit hard and I could not stop thinking about my friends. The parts I was disappointed in: Too many subplots, too many themes running wild in the book, with no closure at all. But of course that is what one expects from a typical Murakami novel, isn’t it? Perhaps. But for me the expectations from this one were very high and I am also glad to say that the last two chapters of the book make up for every disappointment. There are magnificently written. The words, the expressions and Tazaki’s thoughts and dreams are succinctly put for the reader to just soak himself or herself in them.

“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” is a book that maybe is not like other Murakami books; however he does manage to stir emotions. It was a mixed read for me, as I have said before. It is mostly confusing in parts, but if you let go of those notions and read it the way it is meant to be read, then you will get to see the other side of Murakami.

Here is the trailer of the book:

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Book Review: Ten by Andrej Longo

Ten by Andrej Longo Title: Ten
Author: Andrej Longo
Translator: Howard Curtis
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1846556173
Genre: Crime, Short Stories
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Now to talk about a very unusual book which I finished reading a couple of days ago. It was full of impact, full of horror, and anticipation and at the same time, struck the right chords. It is also quite hard hitting in most bits and pieces. After all, “Ten” by Andrej Longo is a mix of the Ten Commandments and the Mafia. The action takes place in Naples, where the ten stories are centered.

Each story is based on one commandment and of course the Mafia is a part of each of them, which is the basis of this book. The stories are interlinked which again is what happens in most books of this nature. Naples is central to every story, which only helps the reader in understanding the landscape of the place and its nuances and culture. The stories are about regular people who are just caught in their lives and want better – for which they will go to any lengths.

The stories are different and yet at the core of it – the savagery of humans and the humanity as well shines through. So on one hand, there is a son who has to make a tough choice when he comes to terms with his mother’s illness to a teenager who wants to grow to become an adult a little too soon and gets caught on the wrong side to an abused girl who finds comfort in a stuffed toy. Each story is different and linked and at the same time makes you wonder about the fragility of human life.

What I loved about the stories is that the stories do not lose their essence from translation. Howard Curtis has done it again with this one. I remember reading “Lovers” by Daniel Arsand and “The Threads of the Heart” by Carole Martinez with same enthusiasm as I lapped this one, and of course those two were also translated by him. Andrej Longo as it is clear from the translation writes brutally and almost makes you jump from your seat in anticipation of what is going to happen next. The element of thrill and literary fiction is difficult to find at times, but he does it effortlessly. At times all I wanted was the stories to be a little longer; however each story hit the right spot. I would definitely recommend this to readers who want to read a short and yet full-of-life collection of stories.

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Book Review: The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee

The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee Title: The Childhood of Jesus
Author: J.M. Coetzee
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846557262
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

J.M. Coetzee’s books are not easy to read. His writing is not easy to comprehend either at times. It takes a while for the reader to figure where he is going with the plot, but once the reader gets the hang of it, it is a cakewalk from thereon. Every time I pick up a Coetzee, I am a little apprehensive of how is it going to turn out. I know for a fact that the book will not be a happy one. His books generally are not. That is another supposition I kept in mind when I started reading his latest book, “The Childhood of Jesus”.

Do not go by the title of the book. While the book is allegorical in nature, it is quite different from the childhood of Jesus. I think most readers would be tempted to read this one because of the title, however it is very different. The novel is very elusive. It is mysterious in so many ways and that is why to me in most places, it was a complex read. The book takes place in an alternate reality (see what I mean about the complex nature of the book), following a man named Simon and a boy named David, who have come to a place called Novilla. They aren’t related. Simon has appointed himself as David’s guardian and he wants to search for David’s real mother, going only by his instincts and nothing else. They do not know how she looks or what her name is. This is how the book begins and this in short is the plot of the book.

The book is vast and sometimes as a reader I stopped looking for any similarities with the birth and the childhood of Jesus. The city or country that Simon and David are in is quite difficult to explain. There is almost no sense of time there or sometimes sense of place. There is a dock where Simon works and meets new people and in the course of the book meets some more new people, however the associations are kind of vague and on loop for some time.

The themes that emerge from the book are vague as well and yet so strong at times: the search for meaning in a person’s life, strife, disengagement, passion, the sense of the self and a whole lot of objectivity in a literary novel of this nature and scope. While the plot is ingenious and also intriguing to a great extent, my only fear was that of getting lost in this book of vast proportions (and this has got nothing to do with the number of pages). Overall: I really enjoyed this book. It was vague in parts, but the writing was first-class and just because of this I had to give it five stars.

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Book Review: How Should A Person Be? By Sheila Heti

How Should A Person Be By Sheila Heti Title: How Should A Person Be?
Author: Sheila Heti
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1-846-55754-5
Genre: Literary Fiction, Meta-Novel
Pages: 306
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

How should a person be? Maybe this is one of those questions that cannot be answered that easily. There is always contemplation and then there is giving up on the answer. There are perceptions and opinions and more speculations, but never an answer and maybe there shouldn’t be one. When I read Sheila Heti’s book, “How Should a Person Be?” I immediately knew one thing: She sure is not talking about how a person should be; she is maybe in fact talking about how a person should be given other people and situations that surround us. However, I also believe that each reader has his or her thoughts about the book, so maybe we can agree to disagree at some point.

“How Should A Person Be?” reads like a meta-novel and at the same time it reads like literary fiction. The book draws from life and also evokes life to draw from it in most places. The inlay says that it is a novel from life and yes it is exactly that, which is why I loved it so much. The book is a fictionalized memoir – Sheila is reeling from a divorce, she is a playwright and is unsure of how to live and create. Margaux, a talented painter and free spirit, and Israel, a sexy and depraved artist enter her life and life is never the same.

The book is written sometimes as a personal document and sometimes as a novel, which is what makes it so difficult to follow at times and at the same time it makes you ponder so much on the basic questions of love and life. Margaux and Israel are characters that exist so Sheila can make her decisions, so she can learn what she wants to do and unlearn at the same time.

The writing is like that of a painter painting his masterpiece in deft and swift strokes. The good thing according to me in the book is that there aren’t any conclusions and it shouldn’t be the case as well. Everything is not laid out for the reader to see meaning into or interpret. The book is like life – playing itself out without any meanings. There aren’t any answers, though the questions put are way too many – how does one love? Is there a way to live this life? Can one live in a manner better than this? The idea is to keep turning the pages – to read through the words, carefully, and then figuring it out for yourself. I will recommend this book to people who can stomach a story told differently. This book is not for people who are used to the traditional form of storytelling. You might want to give this a shot to read something different.

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Book Review: The Shadow Girls by Henning Mankell

Title: The Shadow Girls
Author: Henning Mankell
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1843430599
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It is very difficult to disassociate oneself from how one feels about a certain writer and his or her works and look at a new title, without any judgment. I was going through this predicament when I started reading Henning Mankell’s latest book, “The Shadow Girls”. This book by Mankell is unlike his crime novels featuring Wallander, which I have read in the past. This came as a surprise to me as it was a non-crime fiction novel. Having said that, I must also say that I did not expect anything out of it and was pleasantly surprised

“The Shadow Girls” as the title suggests is about girls and three girls at that who are at the center of the book. The book gives Sweden a new perspective, other than the crime angle that has been covered till now in literature. “The Shadow Girls” is about three girls from around the world and their encounter with a poet, each facing different challenges in their lives.

Tea-Bag, a young African girl, has come to Sweden fleeing a refugee camp in Spain, wanting a better life. Tania has escaped from the horrors of human trafficking. Leyla has come with her family from Iran. At the heart of them is a celebrated poet, Jesper Humlin, who is harrowed by his mother and girlfriend, whose publisher is not by his side and luck essentially is not in his favour. A chance meeting with Tea-Bag changes his life and perspective on the immigration experience in Sweden. He gets to know the girls and from there on, the book takes on a different turn.

The writing is essentially Mankell, albeit without the crime or thriller angle attached to it. There is wit in this book to Humlin’s parts which is refreshing. The book is different and therefore the quintessential Mankell fan may not be able to relate to it. However, if the reader carries on in the first couple of pages, then the read is definitely worth it. I liked the read. It was not a drag, and neither was it too fast. The pace was just right. The characters were well-etched and the immigration experience resonated with me, maybe because of my grandparents’ experience of moving home to a new nation. I liked the book to a great extent and it was a pleasant read. A very different read from the regular Mankells.

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Book Review: The Elephant Keepers Children by Peter HØeg

Title: The Elephant Keepers’ Children
Author: Peter HØeg
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1-846-55585-5
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translated Works
Pages: 392
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Danish writer, Peter HØeg is well known for his book, “Miss Smilla’s Sense of Snow” which has also been made to a critically acclaimed film. I have read the book twice and could not wait for his new book to release. “The Elephant Keeper’s Children” is nothing like Miss Smilla’s Sense of Snow and that is what I loved about the writer when it came to this book. The book has everything – drama, humour, mystery, faith, odd-ball characters and coming-of-age plot as well.

Peter and Tilte are two kids who are trying to track down their parents, who are going to be a part of a big criminal activity. The problem is that their parents are already two criminals. They are the pastor and the organist of the only church on the tiny island of FinØ (fictional but of course). Their parents are known to fabricate miracles through science and engineering (ironical, isn’t it?), however this time the mischief is of a far greater scale. Their parents are a part of a huge conference to be taking place in Copenhagen – of which scientists and religious leaders are both a part. This is where the kids will find their parents. I will not give away the rest of the plot, as the title also is quite misleading and wraps itself towards the end of the book.

Amidst all the action are the secondary characters – that make up for most of the book and its excitement. There is an angry bishop, a deranged headmaster, two love-struck police officers, a deluded aristocrat, and many more along the way.

The book is eccentric, and not only when it comes to naming characters such as Svend Sewerman to Alexander Flounderblood, but also where the plot is concerned. There are so many twists and turns in the book that keep you hanging and wanting more, and that is what worked with me the most about the book.

The voice of Peter on the other hand is the star of the book. It reminded me of, “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha”. Peter’s voice takes into account his perspective when he is growing up and adjusting to the world around him and at the same time trying to understand adults and their behaviour.

Peter HØeg’s writing has it all. This of course I say from experience, considering that I have read one book written by him. It is funny and dramatic in parts. The kids’ character sketches are drawn masterfully. The book is serene and moves at its own pace, evoking and pulling the reader inside. There is magical realism as well. So all in all, this book has everything in it. It is indeed magical to the core. I will recommend this book to one and all. A great place to start reading HØeg.

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Book Review – Philida by Andre Brink

Title: Philida
Author: Andre Brink
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House
ISBN: 978-1846557040
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Rating: 5/5

I am always a little wary when I pick up a long-listed or a short-listed Booker title to read. It somehow conjures the image of some heavy-duty reading and while that is true for most books, it also sometimes happens that I tend to enjoy the particular read a lot. The same happened with, “Philida” by Andre Brink that has been long-listed for this year’s Booker.

A lot has been written about the condition of slavery. From Toni Morrison to Flannery O’Connor to Eudora Welty, all have touched on the topic and eloquently so through their stories and novels. Philida also revolves around the same theme.

Philida is about Philida, a slave in South Africa in the 1830s, when slavery was about to be abolished. She is the mother of four children; fathered by Francois Brink, the son of her master (I was not even surprised when I read this). The year is 1832. The Cape is ridden with rumours of the liberation of slaves. Philida decides to file a complaint against Francois who had promised to free her, but has not. From there on her life changes beyond recognition.

The novel also is told in third person, but goes back and forth in first-person narratives as well – that of Philida’s, Frans (Francois), Cornelius (her master), and Petronella. It is a bit difficult to read the book initially, but once you get the drift of the narrative, it becomes relatively easy.

The reason the book seems so real is because it actually happened. Andre Brink is the descendant of said slave owners and while dramatic license has been taken in writing fiction, some of the characters in the novel actually existed at one point. For me, this information alone was enough to thoroughly enjoy the writing.

The writing takes its own sweet time for any reader to get his or her teeth into it, but once they do, there is no keeping it, till you finish it. The novel pitches different narratives and it is yet very-well written. A novel about slavery and a woman’s need to set herself free is quite predictable, but like I said, it is the writing which makes it what it is.

“Philida” is a read which is not easy and at the same time, the realities of slavery and the road to its abolishment are cleverly brought to front. The concept of master-slave and courage as opposed to cowardice is clearly seen in the book. I would recommend it for sure and hope it makes it to the short-list of the Booker this year.

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