Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan, Translated by Howard Goldblatt

Source: Goodreads
The Garlic Ballads
Mo Yan
Translated by Howard Goldblatt (from Chinese)
Originally 1988, I read Arcade 2012
286 pages, satire, romance, prison story

The farmers in Paradise County are normal, law-abiding citizens under the Chinese communist regime. They follow the government's orders to plant a bumper crop of garlic, only to end up with piles of unsellable rotting crops as warehouses fill up and prices drop precipitously. When the government does nothing to help the crowds of farmers struggling to move their goods anywhere but back home, the ordinary citizens are forced to take extreme measures to see that something will get done.

Among the farmers watching their carefully-tended crops rot in their fields are a collection of very human characters: parents trying to arrange marriages for their children; their daughter who is in love with another man; and a neighbor whose landowning family history makes him an immediate suspect for any crime.

Mo Yan's novel, which was banned in China after the 1989 Tiananmen square protests, paints a vivid portrait of the common man's daily struggle for survival under an uncaring, corrupt, and draconian regime.

Buy from Amazon:

The Garlic Ballads: A Novel

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, translated by Edith Grossman

Source: Goodreads
Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014)
Translated by Edith Grossman (from Spanish)
Originally 1985, I read Vintage International 2003
348 pages, historical fiction, romance

In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fell in love through letters and glances. After they meet and Fermina Daza decides that she doesn't love him after all, Florentino Ariza is devastated. He decides to preserve himself and wait for the time when Fermina Daza is available again - when her husband dies.

Florentino Ariza spends decades having affairs, moving upwards in the hierarchy of his uncle's company, and brooding over his continuing love for his childhood sweetheart. Fermina Daza spends decades traveling, raising children, and caring for her husband, a renowned doctor and center of attention in the local high-class society.

When Fermina Daza's husband dies, Florentino Ariza takes advantage of the opportunity that is finally available to him. But how will Fermina Daza, ever the strong and emotional character, react to his reassertion of his love in the wake of her tragedy?

Read a sample or buy from Amazon: 

Love in the Time of Cholera (Oprah's Book Club)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book Shopping in Turkey: Istanbul

Tintin and I recently took a trip to Turkey, with 10 days of backpacking along the Lycian Way bookended by a few days in Istanbul. As you probably have guessed by reading my blog, one of my goals on any trip is to explore the local options for bookstores and book-buying.

This is part 2 of my book-buying tales. In Part 1, I described the difficulties we encountered in finding bookstores along the Lycian Way during the off season. In this one, I describe my attempt to find English translations of Turkish novels during our few days in Istanbul.

Taksim Square Area

After reading a large number of guides (here here here and here) to finding English-language books in Istanbul, I decided to look for Homer and Pandora bookstores near Taksim square. This area was everything I don't like about the big city - terribly crowded (even in the off-season!) and confusing to navigate. Even though I went armed with the names of the bookstores I wanted to check out, it was difficult to get directions from the locals; most people didn't know what I was talking about. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Lives of Others directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)
Germany (German), 2006
137 min, thriller, drama, spy, historical
Directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

In 1980s East Germany, a hardened member of the secret police (Stasi) is assigned to spy upon a playwright and his actress girlfriend. As he listens in on the intimacies of their lives, he begins to have doubts about the actions of his government. Is he on the verge of become a traitor, or worse - a good man? 

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata, translated by Edward G. Seidensticker

Source: Goodreads
Snow Country
Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972)
Translated by Edward G. Seidensticker (from Japanese)
Originally 1956, I read Vintage International 1996
175 pages, romance, meditation, character study

A wealthy man with too much time on his hands comes to a hot spring resort in Western Japan - known as the Snow Country because of its long, frozen winters - to enjoy the natural beauty of the area and relax in the company of the rural geishas.

He meets a young woman with some geisha training; she speaks so plainly that at first he just wants to be friends. Later they enter into a relationship of sorts, sustained over the years as he occasionally returns to the village.

But their relationship is always unstable, and he is always leaving. During their visits, he sees her station and condition change as she futilely tries to make sense out of her life and gradually becomes more and more insane.

Read a sample or buy from Amazon: 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, translated by Carol Brown Janeway

The Reader
Bernhard Schlink
Translated by Carol Brown Janeway (from German)
Originally 1995, I read 2008 Vintage Movie Tie-in
218 pages, historical fiction, romance, moral conundrum

When Michael Berg is 15 years old, he falls in love with a mysterious woman in her mid-30s named Hanna. While they become lovers and she finds out about his life and school, she is hesitant to say anything about herself or her background. Besides sex, what brings them together is her desire to listen as he reads books to her.

She disappears without warning, leaving him bereft and lonely. The next time he sees her is a shock: she is on trial for war crimes committed while she was an SS officer at Auschwitz. He follows the trial closely, but he cannot reconcile his memories of her with the evidence presented. Is she hiding an even bigger secret than those she is accused of? And what does it mean that he had loved someone who could do such terrible things?

Read on Kindle or buy from Amazon:

1947 Santoshabad Passenger and Other Stories, edited by Dasu Krishnamoorty and Tamraparni Dasu

Source: Amazon
1947 Santoshabad Passenger and Other Stories
Translations of Telugu Short Stories
Edited and translated by Dasu Krishnamoorty and Tamraparni Dasu
2010 by Rupa Publications
265 pages, short story anthology

This collection features never-before translated Telugu short stories by a wide range of authors, including what is considered to be the first Telugu short story published in 1902.

The stories address the struggles and travails - as well as the beauty - of life at all its stages, from the birth of a child to friendship and romance at old age. At the same time, they paint vivid pictures of social problems and changes to society during the course of the 20th century.

Since the Internet is lacking in a description of the stories contained in this book and their authors, I have provided a list with short descriptions of each work. After that, I analyze a few of my favorite stories from this collection.

Buy from Amazon here: 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Book shopping in Turkey: Lycian Way in the off-season

Tintin and I recently took a trip to Turkey, with 10 days of backpacking along the Lycian Way bookended by a few days in Istanbul. As you probably have guessed by reading my blog, one of my goals on any trip is to explore the local options for bookstores and book-buying. 

It was lucky that I brought Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie's 647-page behemoth, with me, because there are very few bookstores along the Lycian Way during the off season. Since I like making lists, here is an account of the bookstores we discovered during our trek. 


The tourist town of Fethiye usually has at least one bookstore that sells English-language books, including translations of Turkish novels. We discovered it while we were looking for food in the cheap, touristy area by the quay. Unfortunately, we didn't write down the name or get the GPS points for you, but if you ask "English kitabevi nerede" you should find it easily. 

It is a small shop with carts of discount books directly in front of the store and on the opposite side of the street. We arrived in the last week of the tourist season, and the English-language pickings were slim. The carts on the other side of the street were full of used English bestsellers (most likely bought from tourists), and the ones in front of the store had all Turkish-language works. When we asked the shopkeeper for Turkish authors translated into English, all he could show us was a lone copy of Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak and a few books by the Nobel-prize winner Orhan Pamuk, all priced at British prices. We got the impression that the store's selection was a lot bigger during tourist season, but they had sold all the English-language books for the year. 

The Master Key by Masako Togawa, translated by Simon Grove

Source: Goodreads
The Master Key
Masako Togawa
Translated by Simon Grove (from Japanese)
Originally 1962, I read 1986
160 pages, thiller, mystery

In postwar Japan, a never-before-seen engineering feat will move a ladies' dormitory to make way for a new road - so smoothly, the head of the project assures the elderly inhabitants, that they won't even spill a drop of water from a glass.

As the women, retired spinsters and widows who have shared the same living spaces for decades, stare at the full glasses poised on their tables, a tangle of mysteries and secrets will be revealed. Seven years ago there was a secret burial underneath the building, of a suitcase that was just child-sized.

But that is not the only secret that has haunted the residents of the dormitory in recent months. The master key, the only key that will open every door in the building, has gone missing. And someone seems to be discovering secrets that have been hidden for a long time....

Buy from Amazon: 

The Master Key (King Penguin)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

English Vinglish directed by Gauri Shinde

Source: Wikipedia
English Vinglish
India (Hindi), 2012
134 min, drama, comedy, family issues
Directed by Gauri Shinde

English Vinglish (2012) on IMDb

Shashi, a typical Indian housewife who runs a small sweet business out of her kitchen, finds herself belittled and ignored by her husband and daughter for her lack of English ability. When her Indian-American niece announces her plan to get married, Shashi is sent to New York City to help with the preparations. She is frightened because she has never travelled abroad, and she has no confidence in her ability to communicate in an English-speaking world.

After humiliation in a New York cafe, she decides to enroll in an English class with the money she had saved from her business. Part fish-out-of-water comedy, and part critique of women's place in society and the family, this movie demonstrates how people have the ability to learn and be more than they seem to be.

Watch the trailer: 

Buy on Amazon: 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Diving Pool: Three Novellas by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder

Source: Goodreads
The Diving Pool: Three Novellas
Yoko Ogawa
Translated by Stephen Snyder (from Japanese)
Originally 1990, I read 2008
164 pages, suspense, horror

This collection of three novellas by Yoko Ogawa touch on different emotions.

"The Diving Pool" tells the story of the frustrated protagonist, the only non-orphan living in her parents' orphanage. She has fallen in love with one of the foster children, a boy who has been in the orphanage for about a decade, and especially with his athletic body when he practices diving. But she feels unable to tell him about her infatuation, and her repressed feelings lead her to be cruel to one of the other orphans.

"Pregnancy Diary" describes the evolution of the narrator's sister's pregnancy. The narrator is confused - her sister does not seem to be very interested in her child, she does not seem to be getting much bigger, and she refuses to talk about it. The narrator tries to help as much as possible, but what exactly is going on?

"Dormitory" recounts the story of a young married woman returning to her college dormitory with her cousin. She reignites her acquaintance with the one-limbed manager of the building, whose health has deteriorated since her time there. But then she hears about the disappearance of a student from the building a few months ago, and she hasn't seen her cousin recently, and what is that buzzing sound?

Read a sample or buy on Amazon:
The Diving Pool: Three Novellas

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugresic, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac, Celia Hawkesworth, and Mark Thompson

Source: Goodreads
Baba Yaga Laid an Egg
Dubravka Ugresic
Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać, Celia Hawkesworth, and Mark Thompson (from Croatian)
Originally 2007, I read 2009
327 pages, folklore, post-modern

This post-modern take on the folklore character of Baba Yaga contains three sections that may or may not be connected to each other:

A tale of an author's* relationship with her cleanliness-obsessed, dementia afflicted mother. At her mother's urging, the author undertakes a trip to their hometown with a recent-Ph.D. in folklore.

The author's* novella about three elderly female friends who travel abroad to a health spa.

A folklore scholar's description of the Baba Yaga stories and remarks about how the first two sections (presented as a book manuscript from an editor) relate to those folktales.

*"The author" here refers to the character in the novel. I will specify Ugresic by name to avoid confusion. 

Read a sample or buy from Amazon:
Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

Friday, January 2, 2015

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, translated by Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen

Source: Goodreads
Like Water for Chocolate
A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies
Laura Esquivel
Translated by Carol Christensen and Thomas Christensen (from Spanish)
Originally 1989, I read 1994
241 pages, magical realism, romance

Tita enters the world on a wave of tears, prophetic of the difficult life ahead of her. Tita's mother, the narcissistic, overbearing matriarch of the family, bans her from marrying; as the youngest daughter, she is required to take care of her mother until death. When her eldest sister marries Tita's beloved, Tita retires to the kitchen, using food to express her barely-restrained emotions.

A beautiful example of magical realism, Like Water for Chocolate combines the real magic of good food and romance with the tall tales of family legends.

Read a sample or buy from Amazon:
Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies