Tag Archives: japanese

Barefoot Gen, Vol. 1: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima by Keiji Nakazawa, Translated by Project Gen

Barefoot Gen 1 Title:
Author: Keiji Nakazawa
Publisher: Last Gasp
ISBN: 978-0867196023
Genre: Graphic Novel, Manga
Pages: 288
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Never a good time to read about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and yet something draws me to picking up more books about that time and what happened to them during WWII. I don’t know what it is – maybe just some fascination or dread even (which I will never admit) – the fact that we know how it ended and yet we want to know more about it – the horror of it all, but more than that it is the human stories that come out of it, with every new read on the bombings. Yes, that’s why for sure. And this time in the form of a graphic novel.

“Barefoot Gen” is a series consisting of 10 books. The story begins in Hiroshima during the final months of the World War II. Six-year-old Gen Nakaoka and his family live in poverty and struggle to make ends meet. Gen’s father Daikichi is critical of the war. He hates the idea of it. And then in all of this, his brother Koji joins the Navy and on August 6th, the atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, killing Gen’s father and his siblings. His mother and he escape and “Barefoot Gen” is the story of that survival, as they witness the horror of war and the bombing.

The book is autobiographical in nature and though you think it is only but a comic, it manages to wrench your heart. The perspective of war from the eyes of a six-year-old and the maturity as well of it will leave you speechless.

Books such as “Barefoot Gen” will always be so relevant (sadly so) – given the atrocities of war and the common folk who are always in the eye of the storm. For most part of reading the book, I just didn’t know how to react. There was a lot of sadness and love and more than anything else, a lot of anger at a chosen few who decide to do what they do, when all that the majority wants is peace and the chance to be alive and thrive. A read not to be missed out on for sure. Can’t wait to read the other nine parts.

 

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Death Note – Volume 1 and 2: Story by Tsugumi Ohba and Art by Takeshi Obata

Death Note - Black Edition - Volume 1 - Story by Tsugumi Ohba and Art by Takeshi Ohbata Title: Death Note – Black Edition – Volume 1
Author: Story by Tsugumi Ohba and Art by Takeshi Ohbata
Publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421539645
Genre: Manga, Fantasy, Graphic Novel
Pages: 400
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I had heard a lot about “Death Note” from a lot of people and how utterly irresistible this graphic novel is. I waited for a while before picking it up. I also tried to not be too interested in it, given it is a series and once I am hooked, I am so hooked that I would not read anything else. Well I don’t know if I will read the rest of the series, but volume 1 and 2 sure did make an impact on me.

So “Death Note” is written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata. “Death Note” is unique. It has the edge of a comic series that makes you want to turn the pages, and before you know it, you are done with one book and another and the entire series.

“Death Note” is about a death notebook that accidentally (or not) falls from the hands of a rogue Shinigami death god, only to be picked up by someone on Earth. Light Yagami is an ace student with a lot of prospects. He chances upon the Death Note, picks it up and it now belongs to him. The thing with the Death Note is that it works like a charm – you write a name in it, along with the cause of death, and the exact time the person is supposed to die and he or she does die, at the very same appointed hour.

Light wants to change the world to make it a better place. The Death God is there with him constantly (as per the condition of who the Death Note belongs to), and he takes no sides. On the other hand, criminals are falling like dead flies. The National Police Agency of Japan and the FBI, including an unknown name L wants to know who is behind the murders. Light is known as Kira. The battle of wits between L and Kira has begun. There is of course a lot more to this book, which I cannot give away but this will suffice for now.

The book is racy for sure. I took some time with it because I loved the art and wanted to soak it all in. Manga has after all always been a weak spot of mine when it comes to graphic novels and comics. The art by Ohbata is stunning in most places. The story was sometimes a drag but when you see it in its entirety then maybe it is well worth the drag. “Death Note” is nothing like what you have read before, simply because of the way the author describes the world we live in. It is bleak and depressing and yet somehow quite hopeful in most parts. A good heady mix to keep the reader going and engaged, for both the literary and not-so literary readers. “Death Note” is sure worth spending your time and brains on. It is different and I know that I will continue with this series and see it through to the end.

Here’s the first episode of the Death Note Anime. I would any day prefer the books.

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Good-Bye by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Good-Bye by Yoshihiro Tatsumi Title: Good-Bye
Author: Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
ISBN: 978-1897299371
Genre: Graphic Novel, Manga
Pages: 208
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

Manga is an art that grows on you. It is also an art form that makes you appreciate the beauty of stillness and subtlety. So when there are graphic novels to be read, there is also Manga which I feel is quite different and a genre of its own than being classified under Graphic Novels. Tatsumi happened to me when I was browsing through Landmark, Bombay, about ten years ago with a very dear friend. That was another book. This time I spotted him at Blossom and could not have been more excited. I knew I had to buy it and I was not wrong about it at all.

“Good-Bye” is a collection of short stories told in Manga. Tatsumi is perhaps one writer that just brings out the best when it comes to Manga, or at least from all that I have read. Tatsumi in this collection portrays a Japanese society – during WWII, in the aftermath of the atomic bomb and post the war.

The stories are about trapped protagonists, who seem to have no choice at all. They are stuck in circumstances that are beyond their control and they have to make sense of the world around them. Right from “Hell” which is about post-Hiroshima attack to “Good-Bye” which is a story of a woman trying to survive after the war, by using her body – the stories are real and laced with pathos and sometimes tragic humour.

What struck me the most was how beautifully Tatsumi managed to bring out the emotions in the entire book. From anger to helplessness to pure love and longing, everything is meticulously laid out for the reader to savour and add in a bit of his or her angst as well. All in all, this book is meant to be relished, page by page, illustration by illustration.

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The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit

The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit Title: The Wives of Los Alamos
Author: TaraShea Nesbit
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1408845998
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I was way too kicked to read this book. May be this is what happens to me all the time. I get kicked about a book and then somehow it does not live up the way I thought it would, to my expectations. “The Wives of Los Alamos” though surprised me after the first hundred pages or so. I think sometimes, the beauty of reading a book is perhaps not to give up on it. There is this voice that keeps telling you to go with the book and you do, and sometimes you end up thanking that voice.

As the title suggests, this book has got to do with Los Alamos, the military town that laid the ground for the invention of the atomic bomb by the United States of America. The wives of the scientists and physicists also arrive with their husbands to the town of Los Alamos, New Mexico. They start lives afresh, not knowing what is in store, with WWII looming large. They wonder, they speculate, and they cannot figure anything. Their children are brought up just like that – randomly almost, their households just take care of themselves and nothing seems right, as they are away from home.

“The Wives of Los Alamos” starts off slow and ends up picking up pace, right at the end of the book. I somehow got bored mid-way but it was the last part that really got me hooked to the book. Nesbit’s writing is of collective people – the nouns are collective, the wives are together – thinking, feeling and experiencing the same events and agonies and joys.

The husbands, the director and the General are also very strong characters in the book. The Manhattan Project as it was then called is explained quite succinctly in the book. From Oppenheimer the director to the views of the wives and the household help, Nesbit covers every tract of information beautifully. I would most certainly recommend this book to you, if you like history and the events it unfolds.

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Book Review: Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa Title: Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales
Author: Yoko Ogawa
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-0312674465
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 164
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I love Japanese fiction. The plots are morbid and strange things happen to people. In all my experience of reading Japanese fiction, I have not been disappointed even once and thank God for that. Japanese fiction has a charm of its own which of course I have written about earlier, however just reiterating it because of a wondrous book that I just finished reading titled, “Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales” by Yoko Ogawa.

I had read three of Ogawa’s books before reading Revenge; however nothing prepared me about what was coming my way. Revenge in the most extraordinary form of the word, is indeed a “different” book. It is full of macabre and intensity of emotions (which again to some extent are subtle) and most of all it is also about the human condition. Each story deals with either anguish or loss or loneliness which leads the characters to do and behave the way they do. There are times when as a reader I could not understand the intent of the characters, but I liked that as well. I liked the not knowing why sometimes and yet I wished I would know more about them and the book would not end in one hundred and sixty four pages.

The stories are dark and twisted, and yet interconnected in the most subtle manner. The reader can of course identify the connections (which he or she is meant to) and that is what also keeps you turning the pages. From a woman who wants to buy strawberry short cake for her dead son (this is established on the second page of the book, so it is not a spoiler) to the existence of a Bengal Tiger in a house, the stories will fascinate you at every page. That is the power of short-story telling according to me. There is only this much space the author has and he or she has to say it all and Ogawa does a brilliant job of handling space. She is one of the writers that show you how space can be used – just like Japanese minimalism and the Zen theory that can be applied to her word usage and beauty of expressions remaining intact at the same time. The atmosphere in the book, in every story is remarkable. The sentences do not run in to themselves and the prose is clean, almost like a well-cut diamond.

The stories are of loneliness, despair and terror. The protagonists are real and at the same time seem fantastical. At one point the stories do seem to be more than just tales of horror, but that is when the translation takes over beautifully and lets you know what the author actually wants to communicate. In that respect all credit also should be given to Stephen Snyder for translation and getting to readers, the writer’s emotion and intent. Revenge to me is a read that will be picked up again later in the year. It is delicious and scary, if you like your fiction that way.

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