And we’ve now entered the so-called -ber months. In the Philippines, this means that Christmas songs will permeate every public space. The voice of the local icon of Christmas music, Jose Mari Chan, will be heard repeatedly on the radio and in the malls. As the year slowly approaches its close – I know four months is quite long and a lot can still happen – I hope that you achieve everything you have been working on and have been praying for in the first eight months of the year. More importantly, I hope that you will all be healthy, in body, mind, and spirit. Everything is resuming to pre-pandemic normal levels. We have managed to overcome a health crisis that has reset our lives in the past two years but the war is still far from over. While I understand that protocols are still in place, I hope everyone is still practicing the minimum health protocols. Let us all stay safe and healthy until the year ends.
After immersing myself in the works of Japanese literature in July, I decided to embark on a literary journey across the rest of the Asian continent. You see, recently I have realized how paltry my forays into the other parts of Asian literature are compared to Japanese literature which is one of my comfort zones in the vast world of literature. With this in mind, I immediately set out to tour the largest continent. This journey, while quite short, made me realize how vast and distinct the flavors that Asian literature can offer. I was invested and I wanted to extend my journey but I also realized how much I have been lagging behind in my reading challenges; the last four months of the year are dedicated to completing my ongoing reading challenges. While my July reading journey was a productive one, my August reading journey was quite slower. Nevertheless, here is a peek into how my journey across Asia shaped up. Happy reading!
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
Kicking off my August reading journey was a novel by a name that was unfamiliar to me. It was through a friend that I learned about Malaysian writer Tan Twan Eng. My friend recommended The Gift of Rain but the book I was able to obtain was The Garden of Evening Mists. Always up for a new voice, at least to me, I then included the book in my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. The novel charted the story of Teoh Yun Ling, who we meet in the contemporary as a recently retired Supreme Court Judge. A diagnosis of aphasia made her travel to the Cameron Highlands before the timeline shifted to the past, to the early 1950s when Malaysia was still referred to as Malaya. A victim of the Japanese atrocities during the Second World War, Yun Ling traveled to the Cameron Highlands to commission Nakamura Aritomo, once Emperor Hirohito’s imperial gardener, to build a Japanese garden as a memorial for her sister, Teoh Yun Hong. She loathed the Japanese because of what happened to her. Aritomo refused Yun Ling’s proposal but instead asked her to be his apprentice. The convergence of history, trauma, beauty, arts, and romance made this of my best reads for the year. Yun Ling was an unbearable character at first and the story took time to unveil the mysteries but, in the end, I was in awe.
Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree
From South East Asia, I next moved to the Indian subcontinent. I have always thought that my exploration of Indian literature was extensive but I was wrong. I then resolved to read more works from the subcontinent, starting with the 2022 International Booker Prize winner, Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand, making her the first Indian writer to win the prestigious award. The book really piqued my interest (its length was another factor). I thought it would take time for me to obtain a copy of the book. Imagine how ecstatic I was when I was able to obtain a copy of Shree’s fifth novel. Originally published in Hindi as Ret Samadhi (रेत समाधि) in 2018, the novel revolved around an octagenarian matriarch simply referred to as Ma. For sure, reading Tomb of Sand was no walk in the park. At the start, I struggled to find my footing. Ma was perplexing, especially at the start, as we only study her through the insights of the people around her. On the surface, there seemed a lot going on but this belied the thin plot. Rather, the story’s power relied on the chaos masterminded by Ma. Shree’s compunction for the descriptive made it a challenge to settle down on her prose. Once I was able to break through the barriers, the story started unraveling. It was an insightful and timely discourse about the plights of Indian women and, on a more universal level, the different borders that dictate our lives.
Silent House by Orhan Pamuk
From 1901 to 2021, 118 writers won the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature. Of this number, only eight writers are of Asian origin. One of them was Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk who earned the recognition in 2006. Unlike the first two writers on this list, I am already familiar or at least I have an iota of Pamuk’s prose. Silent House, like The Garden of Evening Mists, was part of my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. This is also the third novel by Pamuk I read. Silent House is Pamuk’s second novel and charted the story of a Turkish family, particularly a week’s visit by three siblings to their grandmother’s house in Cennethisar, a small town near Istanbul. Following the death of her husband Dr. Selahattin Bey, ninety-year-old Fatma Hanim (also referred to as Buyukhanim) lived alone and was depressed in the titular Silent House, with her sole company being Recep, a dwarf. She had three grandchildren, Faruk, Metin, and Nilgun. The novel had a polyphonic voice, with the perspective shifting across five different characters. Like Snow, the novel had political undertones but it grappled with the modernization that was seizing Turkey. While I wouldn’t call it spectacular or memorable, Silent House did have its merits.
Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian
From Nobel Laureate in Literature to another. In 2000, Gao Xingjian made a breakthrough when he became the first Chinese writer to win the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature. This was one of the reasons why his novel, Soul Mountain, piqued my interest when I first encountered it five years ago. After years of gathering dust on my bookshelf, the opportunity to read it finally presented itself. I was initially daunted by the book’s length, followed by my lack of forays into Gao’s oeuvre previously. The novel followed two storylines. One was narrated by a person referred to as “I” . After being diagnosed with lung cancer, decided to undertake a journey to the Chinese countryside with the goal of finding the meaning of life. He was a writer who spent most of his life in the city. The second strand charted another individual simply referred to as “You” who like I, ventured into the Chinese countryside to search for Ling Shan, which literally translates to Soul Mountain. The novel drew inspiration from Gao’s own journey across the Chinese countryside and while it was a challenging read, its merits flow from its ruminations on life. It was a meditative and vicarious reading experience.
The White Book by Han Kang
Speaking of meditative, it would be the first word that would describe my next read. Korean writer Han Kang has earned my interest with her two popular works: The Vegetarian and Human Acts. These books could not be any more different from each other. The former grappled with a modern societal concern while the former tackled humanity and history. Both were enthralling and were the reasons why I wanted to explore more of Han’s prose. When I learned about The White Book, I was up on my toes. Knowing Kang, I shouldn’t be overthinking the story. I should just be letting it sweep me. Indeed, she swept me in a manner that was different from how her other works did. Ditching a robust plot and an eclectic cast, the Korean writer instead focused on a simple plot and a limited cast to provide a meditative story about coping with grief and loss. It was a quick and idyllic read brimming with philosophical intersections. The center of the mediation was white objects, hence the book’s title. White, in Korean culture, implies devotion to all things natural, pure, and non-decorative. Not only did the book provide me a different dimension of Han’s prose but it also was a calming literary piece.
The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov
For the first time since I started reading, I have finally taken a trip to Central Asia. Before I read the book, I have never read any work of a Central Asian writer. I first came across Chingiz Aitmatov’s The Day Lasts More than A Hundred Years through an online bookseller. I had no inkling as to who he was but the book piqued the inner adventurer in me. Aitmatov, I have learned, is one of the most influential Kyrgyz writers. Among his works, The Day Lasts More than A Hundred Years was one of the most renowned. Set at a railway junction called Boranly-Burannyi in the Sarozek desert in Kazakhstan, the story opened with the death of Kazangap, a prominent figure in the junction. The junction was far from the clutches of modernization and was home to a couple of families working at the junction. Kazangap was the oldest and the wisest. Taking over the funeral arrangements was his friend, Burranyi Yedigei, the novel’s central character. Adding a certain level of complexity to the story was a subplot involving two cosmonauts, an American and a Russian, and their unexpected contact with an intelligent extraterrestrial life form. It was an insightful take, a unique reading experience that grappled with the clashes between modernization and traditions, with the oppressive presence of Stalinist propaganda lurking in the background.
Fury by Salman Rushdie
During the month, the world of literature was shocked by the news of Salman Rushdie’s stabbing. This incident reminded everyone of the looming presence of the fatwa issued against him by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini because of his controversial work, The Satanic Verses. I admit I wasn’t planning on reading Rushdie’s work during the month but the incident reminded me of one of my recent favorite writers. In the past seven years, he was my second most-read writer, after Haruki Murakami. Fury is my ninth novel by the highly-regarded writer. Fury was his first novel about the United States, as such, it was brimming with scathing commentaries on American culture in general. This theme would be prevalent in his succeeding works, such as The Golden House (2017) and Quichotte (2019). At the heart of the novel was Malik Solanka, a Cambridge-educated millionaire born in Bombay. He moved to New York to escape from the pandemonium of his life. He did have another form of escape and it was dolls, even creating a puppet he called Little Brain. Rushdie’s eighth novel, it had commentaries on the internet and New York City’s growing role as the nucleus of globalization. I heard Rushdie is about to release new work in early 2023. I wouldn’t be surprised if it grappled with the same subjects.
Reading Challenge Recaps
- My 2022 Top 22 Reading List: 12/22
- 2022 Beat The Backlist: 7/15; 68/50
- 2022 Books I Look Forward To List: 4/10
- Goodreads 2022 Reading Challenge: 74/90*
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 8/20
- New Books Challenge: 6/15
*I updated my reading target for the year because I am way too ahead.
Book Reviews Published in August
- Book Review # 375: A Christmas Carol
- Book Review # 376: The Children’s Book
- Book Review # 377: Tomb of Sand
- Book Review # 378: The Old Curiosity Shop
- Book Review # 379: Cosmopolis
- Book Review # 380: Sátántangó
- Book Review # 381: Secrets
Unfortunately, my streak ended. I was unable to complete at least ten book reviews this August, mainly because of my other responsibilities. Nevertheless, a run of six months is not bad. Seven book reviews this month are not also bad considering that it has been a really slow month. On a brighter note, I am glad I was finally able to complete all my pending book reviews from 2021. Yay to that! My effort has paid off. Yesterday, I published my last pending January 2022 book review. Now, I am focusing on the pending February 2022 book reviews, of which I have three; I think I can do all before September ends. I hope to regain the momentum I lost in August.
For the next four months, I will be focusing on my 2022 reading challenges. I have just realized how I am lagging behind on most of these reading challenges. I am starting it off by reading works of American literature; most books in these challenges are by American literature. I will be juggling books from my 2022 Top 22 Reading List, 2022 Beat the Backlist Challenge, 2022 Books I Look Forward to List, and books from the 2022 Booker Prize longlist. Yesterday, I finished reading Sequoia Nagamatsu’s How High We Go in the Dark, a timely read as it provided the portrait of a dystopian future marred by pandemics. This is the fifth book from my 2022 Books I Look Forward To List. My current read is Hernan Diaz’s Trust, my first book from the 2022 Booker Prize longlist. In a couple of days, the shortlist is going to be announced. Interestingly, both Nagamatsu and Diaz were born into immigrant families.
For September, I am also lining up Emma Straub’s This Time Tomorrow, Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend, Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, Paul Auster’s Moon Palace, James Fennimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned, and Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs. It certainly is going to be a packed month. And that was how my August reading journey concluded. How about you fellow reader? How was your own journey? I hope you enjoyed the books you have read. For now, have a great day and weekend. As always, do keep safe, and happy reading everyone!