One half of 2021 has been chalked up. I still can’t believe how time flew so fast. I totally can relate to the meme showing a character sleeping in January 2021 only to wake up in July 2021 the following day. You get what I mean. With the pandemic still prevalent as ever, time has become an afterthought. Nevertheless, I am hoping that we hurdle this challenge soon. Countries all over the world are stepping up their vaccination drives. I pray that we achieve the necessary immunization level before the year ends, or early 2022 at the latest. (I want to stay optimistic).
On the other hand, the extended quarantine restrictions (of varying degrees here in the Philippines) have allowed me to tick off several books from my infinitely growing reading list. In May, I indulged in the works of Latin American and Caribbean literature but since I felt that the journey was too short, I decided to extend this journey to June. In terms of volume, June was a 360-degree turn from May as I managed to complete nine books, compared to the six in the previous month. But this can be attributed to the length of the books I read rather than my own hard work (haha).
After seven weeks of travelling across South America and the Caribbean, I decided to travel to one of my comfort zones in the world of literature – Japanese literature. This is just as well for I planned July to be my Japanese Literature month. But before I can go on further, here is my reading list for June.
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones
Resuming my immersion into the heart of Latin American and Caribbean literature, my next stop brought me to Barbados through Cherie Jones’ debut novel, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House. At the start of the year, while researching for books to include in my 2021 Books To Look Forward to, this novel was one of several titles that kept on appearing in similar lists. It didn’t take me much convincing as the title alone was enough to pique my interest. My curiosity was further piqued when the book was shortlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long to have a copy of the book. Set in the 1980s, the novel paints a picture different from the popular paradise destination the Caribbean nation is advertised in the contemporary. The story of three marriages, it is a cautionary tale that explored a bevy of subjects such as domestic violence and abuse, and the stark dichotomy between the wealthy tourists and the destitute locals. Admittedly, I had a challenging time with the novel. It took time to warm up to it and make sense of the events going on. Maybe literary fiction is really not my thing.
A House in the Country by José Donoso
After Roberto Bolaño, José Donoso was the second Chilean writer whose work I delved into during my seven week excursion into Latin American literature. When I bought the book last year (randomly of course), I barely had any iota on what the book was about nor have I encountered Donoso before. The book title and the cover piqued my curiosity. My interest in the book doubled when I came across a reading list naming it as one of the best books about South America. Because of this, I made sure to add it to my adventure into Latin American literature. The titular House in the country is owned by the Ventura family, a kin that enriched itself from the gold trade it has established with the locals living in the area surrounding their labyrinthine manse. The novel zeroes in on the events that transpired during the Ventura’s latest trip to their summer abode. In true Latin American magical realism fashion, the novel riveted me with its subtle exploration of systematic oppression, foreign intervention, racism, and death. Yes, it has grisly details involving cannibalism, murder, and even incest but it easily is one of my best reads of the year.
Cathedral of the August Heat by Pierre Clitandre
From Chile, my literary journey next brought me to the other side of the Caribbean island of Hispanola. During my journey into Caribbean literature, I have already read two novels about Dominican Republic but not once did I encounter a book about its neighboring Haiti. Pierre Clitandre’s Cathedral of the August Heat is set to bridge this gap. I bought the book earlier this year, drawn in by its subtitle “a novel of Haiti”. The novel is rather a slender one, and the first novella that foreshadowed my reading journey in the preceding week(s). From the novel’s synopsis, the novel promises to be an exploration of the story of the common Haiti man. Through the story of a bus driver named John, Clitandre transported the readers to the slums of Port-au-Prince. As more characters are introduced, vivid details of the concerns of the common Haiti man was painted. Overall, it was a good and interesting novel. However, I feel like the book was too short to cover all important details.
Show Down by Jorge Amado
Brazilian writer Jorge Amado, I have learned, was a prolific writer with a career that spanned decades. It came as a surprise for I have encountered very little of his works although I did note later on that some of his works were listed as part of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. When the opportunity arose, I grabbed the first Amado novel I encountered, Show Down even though I barely had any iota on what it was about (nothing surprising there really). Show Down brought the readers into the hinterlands of the present-day state of Bahia where a motley group of individuals established Tocaia Grande. Because of its fertile agricultural land, several denizens of the big cities moved to build their own plantations. However, what makes Tocaia Grande is that it was beyond the reaches of law. Its residents are comprised of prostitutes, bandits, and even criminals. Nevertheless, they existed in harmony. Through the story of Tocaia Grande, Amado subtly explored the subject of community, and on a subtler level, colonialism. It was a good novel although it dragged at the start before the action picked up in the latter parts.
The Old Man Who Read Love Stories by Luis Sepulveda
My next stop brought me to the jungles of Ecuador through Chilean writer Luis Sepúlveda’s The Old Man Who Read Love Stories. The rather slender novel was another of my random purchases this year which I decided to read ahead of the other novels I have bought previously (HAHA). The book’s title was enough to convince me to buy it sans any inkling on what the story was about. When I read the synopsis, I was surprised that it was different from what I expected it to be (as they always do). The titular old man is Antonio José Bolívar, who lived for more than four decades in the small village of El Idilio. He was seeking refuge in the company of novels when news broke out that a man was killed by an ocelot who went amok after its mate was injured and its cubs were killed by the same man. Driven by rage and bloodlust, the ocelot vowed to kill every human it encounters. It was a classic man versus nature conflict but it had more to offer. There was a tender moment exchanged between the ocelot and Bolívar towards the end of the novel. It was a short but bittersweet novel with huge implications.
Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra
I guess I have unconsciously began a love affair with Chilean literature and writers for Alejandro Zambra is the fourth Chilean writer I read in my seven week stint in the depths of Latin American literature. I first encountered Multiple Choice in the very same list that lauded A House in the Country as a must-read book in the annals of Latin American literature. The moment I encountered a copy of the novel, I didn’t hesitate in buying it. What I wasn’t prepared for was the novel’s (really?) eccentric and out-of-the-box execution. As the English translated title suggests, the story was related through the form of a multiple choice examinations. I was thrown out of my feet when the first pages came into view. I felt like I was back to my years in school. Despite being taken aback, I pushed through with the novel and then it started making sense. There was no plot, in its strictest sense and it takes critical thinking to unravel the messages subtly woven into the tapestry of this innovative novel. Itse quirky execution belie the depth of the message it carried. One quote stood out that summarized one of the messages of the book: “The National Institute is rotten, but the world is rotten. They prepared you for this, for a world where everyone fucks everyone over. You’ll do well on the test, very well, don’t worry – you weren’t educated, you were trained.” And with this novel culminated my journey into Latin American and Caribbean literature.
Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami
So after seven weeks of immersing into works of Latin American and Caribbean literature, I decided to return to one of my favorite parts of the vast literary world- Japanese Literature. What better way to commence my Japanese Literature journey than with a work by one of its most popular names – Haruki Murakami. Murakami’s surrealistic works, complex as they are, played seminal roles in my growing interest in Japanese literature. However, I am yet to read his debut novel, Hear the Wind Sing; lately, my interest in the debut novels of popular writers have grown. A trademark of Murakami novels, the story was related by an anonymous male character who retold the story of his 1970 summer, when he was still a university student. For summer vacation, he went home to his seaside hometown in Kobe where he met and befriended “Rat” (this is also the first book of the Trilogy of the Rat). Unlike his succeeding works, Hear the Wind Sing is more realism rather than magical realism. Nevertheless, it was an interesting journey going through the starting point of Murakami’s fabled career.
Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami
Going back-to-back, my next read is another Haruki Murakami novel, my twelfth overall. Pinball, 1973, was Murakami’s second novel (and consequently, the second novel in The Trilogy of Rat). As it is also a rather novel, it is now often published together with Hear The Wind Sing which was how I came across these two novels. With Pinball, 1973, Murakami is the first novelist who I have read at least two works of this year. Pinball, 1973 can be seen as the shift of Murakami’s prose, from realism to surrealism. The novel zeroes in on the anonymous narrator’s (no surprise in the anonymous) obsession with pinball. Working as a freelance translator, he has an unusual living arrangement with a pair of identical and again, anonymous, female twins. Alternating with his story is the story of his friend, Rat. However, what was prominent in the novel is the presence of several elements that would be prevalent in Murakami’s succeeding works such as the love for music (Jazz, in particular), the presence of wells, and, of course, cats.
There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura
I culminated my June reading journey with another fairly recent purchase. Kikuko Tsumura’s There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job immediately captured my attention when I came across it in the bookstore. The book cover and the book title were enough to convince me to give the novel a chance. Being a member of the workforce made me think that this is a story I can relate to. Of course, to some extend it did. There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job is the story of an anonymous 36-year old female who has been hopping from one job to another after she left her first job. After burning out from her job of 14-years, she decided she wanted an easier job which does not require much thinking. As she worked across five different jobs in a span of a year, it has become clear what her main issue is. Whilst it was an easy and pleasurable read, the novel didn’t come out as one coherent literary piece, rather, it felt like a collection of five short stories filled with repetitions. I would have preferred if the story highlighted issues in the working place such as abuse, discrimination, and inequalities. This would have elevated the story.
Reading Challenge Recaps
- My 2021 Top 21 Reading List: 9/21
- 2021 Beat The Backlist: 4/12
- My 2021 Books I Look Forward To List: 1/11
- Goodreads 2021 Reading Challenge: 48/60
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 8/20
Book Reviews Published in June
- Book Review # 259: Celestial Bodies
- Book Review # 260: The Committed
- Book Review # 261: Women Without Men
- Book Review # 262: The Night Watchman
- Book Review # 263: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
- Book Review # 264: Almond
Truly, June was an interesting reading journey. Latin American and Caribbean literature made its mark and I am looking forward to reading more works from this section of the literary world. I also did make up for the reading momentum I lost back in May. As I transition to Japanese literature, I hope to sustain this momentum I regained in June. I have lined up some wonderful reads this July such as Kōbō Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes, Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s The Makioka Sisters (which I am currently reading), and Kenzaburō Ōe’s Nip The Buds, Shoot the Kids. My birth month is definitely going to be a busy one.
However, the momentum I regained did come at a price. I am still lagging behind in terms of writing book reviews. I again fell short of my monthly target of writing at least eight book reviews. Writing-wise, June was really a sluggish month. On a brighter note, I reduced my backlogs from 2020 while simultaneously reducing my 2021 backlogs. I still have seven pending book reviews from 2020 and I am hoping to complete them all this July (I am crossing my fingers). I really have to keep up as the list of my pending reviews continues to grow.
For now, keep safe, and happy reading everyone!