“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage” by Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel (Knopf, 2014)

Colorless Tsukuru
starstarstarstar

If you’re a Murakami fan, holding his latest book is always a cause for excitement, and whether you’re a fan or not, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is a work of art in design from Knopf to be admired by any reader and art lover for its design, color and execution. And the good news is the story from Murakami stands up greatly to this beautifully created book.

After the long-windedness and lengthiness of Murakami’s previous 1Q84, Colorless Tsukuru is short and to the point, featuring some great characters and the sort of story fans have come to love from Murakami. It is the story of five young high school friends who become as close as siblings and do everything together; after graduating four of them stay in town, while Tsukuru Tazaki goes away for college. And then something happens which breaks the group apart and all their lives are changed forever. Tazaki is told to leave the group and never return. He does not know what he has done and the four friends refuse to tell him.

Tazaki lives his life through his twenties and early thirties as a designer of railway stations, a passion he has harbored since he was a child. Upon meeting an interesting girl that he begins to care greatly for, she tells him he should visit each of these former friends and find out why they abandoned him so suddenly and for what reason. His pilgrimage will take him back home to familiar sights and sounds, as well as to Europe where everything is different. Along the way he will learn a lot, but because this is a Murakami book, Tazaki will not always know why. Nevertheless, like all good Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru sucks you in and doesn’t let you go until the last word is read.

Originally written on September 19, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimage from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Kafka on the Shore  Wind-up Bird Chronicle  Hard-Boiled Wonderland

“Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary” by J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)

Beowulf
starstarstarstar

In addition to creating the first fantasy epic, inventing a complete and insanely, thoroughly detailed world, and even making up its own language and alphabet, as well as teaching for decades, the great J. R. R. Tolkien also wrote a translation to the famous epic Old English poem “Beowulf.” Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary edited by his son, Christopher Tolkien, reveals this translation in its entirety for the first time, and so much more.

Tolkien completed his first translation of “Beowulf” in 1926, but he was by no means done with the poem. Over the ensuing years and decades he continued to make changes and updates and lectured greatly on the epic alliterative poem. Christopher Tolkien presents this ideal translation from Tolkien, and then includes his father’s vast commentary painstakingly collected and organized. The book features notes on how Tolkien translated specific words and stanzas with plenty of additional notes. Included are also lectures and lecture notes Tolkien gave on the epic poem. Finally, the great author even penned his own poem (in both modern and Old English) that acts as a precursor to “Beowulf” as a sort of fairytale written in the same style, but not within the history.

Compared to Seamus Heaney’s very well known and popular translation of the same poem, Tolkien goes for a much more literal adaptation, where some of the moving alliteration is perhaps lost, but the true sense of the poem and the meaning the author or authors were intending is possibly better comprehended. With the description and vocabulary, Tolkien does a great job of making the reader feel as if they are there at Heorot with Beowulf and Hrothgar and the comitatus. He uses an older language of “doths” and “thines” because of the time he is writing in, but also to give a sense of age to the poem, which can be a helping or a hindrance for the reader. Nevertheless, Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf is a very welcome one that will be enjoyed by many and likely taught and studied in future medieval and Old English classes to come.

Originally written on November 18, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Beowulf

“Spectrum” by Alan Jacobson (Open Road Media, 2014)

Spectrum
starstarstarstarstar

Karen Vail returns for the sixth installment, in Spectrum, and this time Alan Jacobson gives the readers a look at her past and how she went from being a NYPD rookie to one of the best FBI profiler’s. The book begins with an opening throwing the reader in the middle of a case where Vail has some big decisions to make, and then switching off in every other chapter about a Greek family beginning in the 1970s, and while it seems confusing at first, it all comes together at the end.

It’s 1995 and Vail is on her first day of the job as a rookie New York cop with a tough as nails veteran partner looking to please and do everything by the book, but also learn the way of the streets and do the hard work she needs to succeed. She is pulled into a murder case that, as the years pass, becomes a long drawn-out serial killer case. It remains unsolved for over two decades, and each time a new body is found – a woman with a slashed throat and jagged piece of glass protruding from her neck, cuts blinding her eyes, and a strange X and four letters carved into her – Vail is notified and brought in to investigate, to see if they can get any closer to finding out who the killer is.

The other part of the book focuses on a Greek family whose father is involved in a strange fight that turns bad and leads to them being ostracized from their culture. They have to leave their home and everything seems to be against them. Eventually they end up living on Ellis Island in an abandoned building, struggling to get by. The story seems out of place and not exactly clear to the reader, but halfway through the book the link becomes apparent as the reader is able to put the evidence together and understand what the author is doing.

Jacobson clearly had a lot of fun writing Spectrum and readers familiar with Karen Vail will really enjoy reading her history, not just in how she climbed the ranks of the NYPD, then joined the FBI and eventually became a profiler, but also in her personal life with her husband who became her ex-husband and how she raised a child on her own while advancing her career. Like a gripping case, Spectrum has all the pieces and evidence there, and if the reader does some good detective work, they will put it all together and know who the killer is by the end, or be pleasantly surprised. Spectrum is the best Karen Vail novel yet and whether you’re familiar with the series or this is the first one you’re reading, you’ll be hooked from cover to cover.

Originally written on October 5, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Spectrum from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

7th Victim Velocity Crush
Inmate 1577 No Way Out

“After the Quake” by Haurki Murakami (Knopf, 2000)

After the Quake
starstarstarstar

Murakami are, unsurprisingly with the title, set in February 1995 after the devastating Kobe earthquake.  The stories don’t deal completely with the after effects of the quake, but in the classic Murakami style, the characters have had their lives altered in various subtle ways by this natural disaster.

All six stories are told from the third person perspective, which is a change for Murakami and his usual first person point of view.  The stories each have their own unique feel, presenting an unusual situation that continues to get weirder until the end, when the reader is left deep in contemplation and wonder.  There is the story of the man who is an electronics salesman and finds one day that his wife has left him; when he agrees to deliver an enigmatic package, he finds out more about himself and who he really is than he ever thought he knew.  A religious man follows the pursuit of another elderly gentleman, believing he might be his long lost father.

The highpoint of the collection is with the wonderfully amusing “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo,” which is about exactly what the title says.  A man meets a giant frog who tells him a giant worm beneath the city will destroy everything if they don’t stop it.  Taking some time, the man eventually believes the super-frog, but just as they are to venture beneath the city, he has an accident and ends up in the hospital.  Thinking he can no longer help his new froggy friend, he later discovers he has helped in more ways than he knows.

With such a short collection, the stories have a way of growing on the reader, as opposed to other longer collections, where by the end readers can forget some of the earlier stories they’ve read.  For anyone looking to try the great Haruki Murakami for the first time, After the Quake is a great start.

Originally written on May 16, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of After the Quake from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Sputnik Sweetheart  The Windup Bird Chronicle  Hardboiled Wonderland
  Kafka on the ShoreNorwegian Wood  IQ84

“The 6th Extinction” by James Rollins (William Morrow, 2014)

Sixth Extinction
starstarstarHalf Star

There are two books that have been published in 2014 called The Sixth Extinction, interestingly and perhaps unsurprisingly on the same subject. One is a work of brilliant nonfiction about the sixth extinction taking place now as species continue to be killed by humanity and made extinct; the other is a thrilling adventure involving Sigma Force and one man’s maniacal crusade to give Planet Earth back to nature and its animals. I don’t think I need to tell you which one was written by bestselling author James Rollins.

After an act of sabotage, a deadly airborne virus is released into a remote part of California from a secret laboratory, but it soon begins wreaking havoc and devastation, wiping out all wildlife and causing horrible deaths. Soon people begin to get infected. Sigma Force is brought in to take over the situation and discover a cure, but it is soon discovered that this virus isn’t even DNA-based, but something completely new and exobiotic referred to as XNA.

To get to the origin of this devastating virus, the Sigma team is going to have to split up and travel the globe. One group goes deep into Antarctica to find a specific individual, but find themselves led to secret underground caverns that have been hidden from the world for a very long time and harbor new species and forms of life.  The other group travels to the deep jungles of Brazil in search of a man thought to be dead and there they find unique ecosystems and specifically-engineered species the world has never seen.

As Elizabeth Kolbert was revealing a startlingly changing reality in her book, Rollins is doing the same through the lens of fiction backed up with lots of research (including Kolbert’s book). The author has done his research in history and biology and ends the book with a full breakdown on what is based on reality and our changing world. The action is of course nonstop and over the top, as readers have come to expect and enjoy from Rollins, while the science is startling and fascinating.

Originally written on August 23, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Sixth Extinction from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Sixth Extinction  Innocent Blood
Eye of God  Blood Gospel

“S.” by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (Mulholland Books, 2013)

S.
starstarstarstarstar

Some books are just good stories written by an author and thoroughly enjoyed by the reader. And a select few are works of art created by multiple authors and an incredible development team behind a daring publisher; S. is one of those books, perhaps the only one of its kind. A project that has been years in the making, beginning as an idea between two creative guys that became something much bigger when Mulholland Books agreed to publish it and employed the abilities of a team of editors, copyeditors and book development people to create a book that is much more than just any old book.

S. works on many levels. If Inception could be a book, this would be it.

Look Inside

At the deepest level is an old forgotten book by a once well-known author whose life has been shrouded in mystery and whose identity still remains in question. It is called Ship of Theseus about a person known as “S” who awakes not knowing who he is and anything about his life, as he begins a very strange journey into finding answers to his many questions.

At the next level is the translator of the Ship of Theseus who was a huge fan of V. M. Straka’s work, so much so that they were in a relationship, though it is unknown whether the author and translator were ever able to confess their love for each other. However, the translator and author have left secreted messages and ciphers in the text as well as within the footnotes. So while the translator is educating the reader on the story and facts about the book and what she knew about the author, she is also secretly communicating with Straka.

S2

Up one level we have the completed old book which is what the reader holds in their hands when they take it out of the slipcase.  The level of detail that the publisher went to recreating this old book is nothing short of astounding, with stamped check out dates, stains and marks on some of the pages, and an aged feel and color to the pages; their even seems to be a musty smell about the volume. And within the margins and spaces around the text we have a former teacher and an undergrad student conversing back and forth about the text, the author, life, and eventually their own lives and feelings towards each other, even though they don’t physically meet for a long time.

There are a couple sub-levels within this particular level as the two “main” characters are not simply conversing back and forth but are doing so at different points in their lives. Eric has read the book a number of times, and has notations from the first time he read it when he was a teenager in pencil, and then further comments between Jennifer and he at different points in time, when they know different things about each other.

Then there are the number of pieces of media secreted within the pages: photos, letters between Eric and Jennifer, but also relating to Ship of Theseus; postcards and notes and an incredibly detailed map drawn upon a napkin. Again, the detail that went into creating these items is nothing short of astonishing, with the old photos with logo prints on the back, aged postcards, letters with ink smudges and coffee stains. As for the map, it is drawn in pen on a college napkin that still perfectly, delicately folds to show the school logo.

map

At the final level is the reader opening the pages of S. for the first time, taking in all these levels and each of the stories going on at each level. It can be read in certain ways and is the sort of book that can benefit from being read multiple times. Ultimately, it is a book unlike any other, likely unlike anything you have read before. But it will be a journey you won’t soon forget, and one you can return to whenever you want.

Originally written on August 14, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of S. from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Sputnik Sweetheart” by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, 2001)

Sputnik Sweetheart
starstarstarstar

Sputnik Sweetheart is another great example of the brilliance of Haruki Murakami: a short novel that sucks you in from the very beginning and doesn’t let you go until the last page.  It is one of those books where little seems to actually happen, but in the minds of the characters, lives are lived and worlds are changed.

K, a college student, has fallen in love with Sumire.  She is everything to him, and he cherishes every moment they share together.  They are both writers; she a complex messy one that engulfs her entire life.  In his heart, he knows they will never be together, but still he continues to hope, and any time spent together he enjoys to its fullest.  Then she tells him of someone she has met, Miu, a middle-aged woman who has captured her heart, much in the same way Sumire has captured K’s.  The she goes on a business trip with Miu that turns into a vacation in Greece on a small island.  K goes about his life until he receives the disturbing call from Miu still in Greece.  He flies to the island eventually finds Miu only to discover that Sumire has vanished into thin air.  All she has left behind are some very personal writing pieces.

Sputnik Sweetheart is the sort of book that continues to pull you down into deeper levels, as you contemplate what is happening and what it means; there is little use in searching for a “why” as Murakami’s journeys are not about that.  The human psyche is not logical and straightforward, but it is a voyage you will not soon forget.

Originally written on February 20, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Sputnik Sweetheart from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle  Hard-Boiled Wonderland  Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman1Q84  Kafka on the Shore  Norwegian Wood