Saturday, January 31, 2009

Celebrating 3 years

It's hard to believe this blog is now 3 years old! I started it on January 31st, 2006 and I've never really looked back. The blog has seen some changes, in content, and especially in appearance, and I hope it will get even better in the future. And more than just being a place to record my thoughts on the books I read, being a part of the larger book blogging community has become an important part of my life. I feel like I've made some wonderful friends thanks to this blog. It is still a relatively small blog in terms of readership, compared with others, but I treasure all of my regular visitors (Thank you!! You know who you are!) and I am always thrilled when someone new stops by. So to celebrate my 3rd blog anniversary, and in keeping with the Japanese inspiration behind the blog, I'm having a Japanese-themed giveaway.

Here is what's up for grabs:

Hear the Wind Sing by Haruki Murakami - One of Murakami's early books, a novella really, that he's never authorised to be officially published in English. This edition is only available in Japan (and sometimes on ebay and the like) as part of Kodansha English Library. It has a glossary in the back with key English words translated to Japanese and is used by Japanese students for studying English.

Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse
A fictional account of the days, months and years after the bomb fell on Hiroshima and the long-lasting effect it had. Perhaps not a cheerful topic but a moving story. You can read my review, or Nymeth's wonderful review for more about it.

Japan 2009 calendar
A calendar of photos taken by me last year around Japan. I realise January is already over but there are still 11 more months to enjoy.

You may enter to win one, two or all three. Please indicate which one(s) you are interested in.
Also, I'm always happy to get more recommendations of what to read for my personal Reading Japan Project so I'd like to know your favourite Japanese literature titles.

So to enter, your comment must include:
*which prize(s) you'd like to win
*at least one Japanese literature title that you would recommend in any genre (or if you don't have any to recommend, one Japanese title or author that you'd like to try and why).

Don't forget to leave your email address if it's not clearly stated on your blog or profile, so I can get in touch with you if you win. Giveaway is open to anyone worldwide with access to regular mail delivery.

You have until Saturday, February 7th to enter, and I'll announce the winners on Sunday the 8th. Good luck!

Thank you to everyone who commented! This giveaway is now closed.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday Fill-ins, Friday Finds

1. I'd really like to be curled up in bed with a book right now (and I'll be headed there shortly).
2. F**k is the word you'd most often hear me say if I stubbed my toe.
3. Possession is a book I've had on my wish list for some time, but I still haven't read anything by A. S. Byatt.
4. Johnny makes an excellent Captain Jack Sparrow.
5. Marshmallows and fire go together like bad weather and a good book.
6. The news just goes on and on about the same depressing stories every day.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to hopefully getting a good night's sleep, tomorrow my plans include staying home, avoiding the rain and Sunday, I want to relax, read, blog!

I haven't posted any Friday Finds for a few weeks, so here are some of the books that have been added to my wish list over the last while.

Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love by Lara Vapnyar
(short stories, review by 3M at 1morechapter)

The Arsenic Labyrinth by Martin Edwards
(mystery, review by BooksPlease)

Sun and Shadow by Åke Edwardson
(mystery, review by Wendy at Musings of a Bookish Kitty)

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
(literary fiction, review by 3M at 1morechapter)

The Disappeared by Kim Echlin
(multicultural fiction, mentioned by Sandra at Fresh Ink Books)

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel
(Unbridled Books spring 2009 catalog)

A Week in October by Elizabeth Subercaseaux
(fiction in translation, mentioned by Iliana at Bookgirl's Nightstand)

*Thanks to 3M for the great button.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reading Japan: 2008

I've really been enjoying discovering, through books, a little bit more about this place I temporarily call home. I love reading Japanese authors and getting a feel for that unmistakeable, subtle style that so represents the Japanese mind. But I also enjoy viewing Japan through the eyes of other gaijin (foreigners) like myself. So as part of my personal Reading Japan Project, I make a note of not only the Japanese books I read in translation, but also those by non-Japanese authors that focus on, or are set in Japan.
Here are the books that I read in 2008*:

Japanese authors (or those with Japanese ancestry):
(Unless otherwise noted, these books were originally published in Japanese).
Click on the titles to read my reviews, click on the book covers to read more at Amazon.
The Elephant Vanishes - Haruki Murakami
Tales of Moonlight and Rain - Akinari Ueda
Kira-Kira - Cynthia Kadohata (American, written in English)
Black Rain - Masuji Ibuse
Kafka on the Shore - Haruki Murakami
Farewell to Manzanar - Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James D. Houston (American, written in English)
A Geisha's Journey - Komomo & Naoyuki Ogino
Grotesque - Natsuo Kirino

Books about or set in Japan:
(Originally published in English)
The Ash Garden - Dennis Bock
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes - Eleanor Coerr
Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation - Michael Zielenziger
Clouds Over Mountains - Matt Joseph

It was a fairly nice variety of books last year with a bit of a WWII theme. From ancient folk tales, to bizarrely surreal modern stories. A mystery, a non-fiction discussion of the disconnectedness affecting young Japanese today, and the story of a new geisha. Plus several perspectives of Japan during WWII and its aftermath, both in Japan and the US, through the lens of fiction.

Of all of these, Kafka on the Shore stands out as my favourite. It's pure Murakami story-telling at its best! But I thoroughly enjoyed many others as well. The old tales in Tales of Moonlight and Rain were fascinating. Reading Black Rain around the time that we visited Hiroshima and the Atomic Bomb museum was very moving. And the amateur photographer in me simply loved the beautiful photos in A Geisha's Journey. So I'm pleased with what I read last year. If anything I'm now even more interested in reading about Japan so I hope to follow up this selection with more wonderful reads in 2009. These books are some of the ones I have on hand to choose from but I'm sure more will find their way in the door as well, and I'm looking forward to reading each and every one of them!

Oh and please start thinking about your favourite Japanese literature reads. I'll be having a giveaway soon to celebrate my 3rd blogiversary, and asking you to share your favourites, so make sure to come back on Saturday!

*All of these titles have been added to my Reading Japan Book List, which is a list of all the Japan-related books that I've read since starting this blog in January 2006. A link to that list is available via the Reading Japan tab in the link bar at the top of the page, and I will continue to add titles to the list as I read and review them.

Monday, January 26, 2009

'Kissing Games of the World'

by Sandi Kahn Shelton
Fiction, 2008
Shaye Areheart (Random House), hardback, 376 p.
If there’s one point that Jaime McClintock and Nate Goddard can agree upon, it’s that love is overrated. Jamie doesn’t have time for it. Nate doesn’t need it. And they certainly don’t want it from each other.

Jamie, a struggling free-spirited artist, is a devoted single mother who hasn’t been in a serious relationship since her boyfriend abandoned her after their son was born. Nate, a charismatic jet-setting salesman, is widowed and estranged from his father and five-year-old son, Christopher. Jamie would rather glue glitter to pinecones than go out on a date. Nate spends most of his nights wooing his clients.
Then one afternoon Nate’s father drops dead of a heart attack. In that moment, their highly guarded worlds collide.
I have to start off by saying that although I do love a good love story, I don’t read a lot of romance books. (I’m not sure exactly what this book would be classified as, women's fiction perhaps, but a romance is the key element of the story). Instead I usually satisfy my craving for a love story by watching a Jane Austen adaptation, a couple of the soapy type tv dramas I follow, and only the very occasional romantic comedy movie. I had a short stint where I read chicklit books but they started to feel the same. Plus I have a low tolerance for anything overly sappy. So I was originally a little hesitant about accepting this book to review, but I gave in partly because of the gorgeous cover. Isn’t it pretty?

Well, with that out of the way, I can honestly say that this was a very enjoyable, modern love story. Sure we know how it’s going to end but the journey to get there was a lot of fun to read and it kept drawing me back to the story every time I had to set it down. I even shunned the computer when I was nearing the end so I could finish it. And the characters were quirky and amusing, especially the antics of the little boys. I’d love to know if the author, who is a mother herself and has written some non-fiction parenting books, has personally experienced the incident where the cell phone gets dropped down the airplane toilet! I don’t have kids but it all seemed very realistic and added some moments of humour to the story as well. I still can’t decide if I like the ending the way it is or if I would’ve preferred something a little more dramatic, but all in all this was a pleasure to read.
You know what freedom is? It’s something people say they want when they’re afraid they can’t have what we all really crave: somebody to love. You have no idea what you’re in for. To hear you tell it, you had a horrible father and an unhappy mother and then a bad marriage to the wrong woman, and so you ran off and found something you’re calling freedom. Right now – no, hear me out – I can see this in your face. You think love is just these little, these little kissing games of the world you play - ”
Author's website

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#4 for 2008)

Thank you to the author, Sandi Shelton, and Jaime of Pump Up Your Book Promotion for the opportunity to read this book.

Some previous stops on the tour:
The Plot (the author interviews Nate, the leading man)
Scribe Vibe (guest post)
Fiction Scribe (guest post: Finding Time to Write)
Fiction Scribe (interview with the author)
The Book Connection (guest post)
Blogcritics (interview with the author)
Boomer Chick (10 Things You Didn't Know About Sandi Kahn Shelton)
Popin's Lair (review)
You can follow the rest of the tour here.

Mailbox Monday

Nothing the previous week but 4 new books this last week. It's ridiculous how happy I am when I get books in the mail!

The Triumph of Deborah by Eva Etzioni-Halevy - Biblical fiction based on the book of Judges, received from the author for review.

Then I had to order a textbook for one of my students from Amazon Japan. And it would've been lonely not to order something else with it! And a waste of packaging, right? (No need to remind me that I was trying not to buy any books this month after all the books I got at the end of the year).
So I also got:

Rashomon and 17 Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa - After mentioning it in my review the other day, I went ahead and got this, the Penguin Classics Deluxe edition. Doesn't it have a great cover?

And two manga for Rhinoa's Manga Challenge that I've heard good things about. I look forward to trying them out.

Monster, volume 1 by Naoki Urasawa (a serial killer thriller)
xxxHolic, volume 1 by CLAMP (despite the title it's apparently not x-rated)

So what books have you received lately?

For more Mailbox Monday visit The Printed Page.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Salon: Weird Economics

I haven't had a whole lot of time to read this past week so I'm still reading Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg. It's a little slow going but only because the prose is a little dense in places, in a well-written, thoughtful, good kind of way. It's very readable though and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. However I did make some progress on it today as we went into Tokyo this afternoon and I had some time to read it on the train. I don't have to commute too much for work anymore, which is great, but I admit that when I did, the extra reading time was nice.

Anyway, one of our stops today was checking out a used bookstore that we'd heard had a fair selection of English books. They did indeed have a reasonable selection but they were quite expensive. Most of the trade paperbacks were 1000 yen (with the current exchange rate it works out to approx. US$11.25 or GBP 8.25!!). They did have a clearance area of books for 200 yen which is of course where I mostly browsed. I only found one book though, and it's actually one I've already read and have my own copy of, but it was a nice clean copy and I plan to give it away. So a little disappointing. Not that I need any more books but you know what I mean. It seems quite bizarre and wrong somehow that especially given the current exchange rate (strong yen, weak pound) and the fact that The Book Depository has free worldwide shipping, that I can order completely new books, shipped to me from halfway around the world for cheaper than I can buy the same here used! Ah well, thank goodness for the internet!

On that note, I think it's time to curl up with a kitty and get back to my book. I keep thinking about it when I'm not reading it and can't wait to find out how it all turns out. Always a good sign.
Have a great week and happy reading!

Week in Review:
Sunday Salon: Reading Retrospective
Weekend Snapshot: The cat who lost his meow
It's Tuesday... and I've been lazy (memes)
Review: Rashomon and other stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Japanese Literature Challenge 2 completed

Friday, January 23, 2009

Japanese Literature Challenge 2 completed

I don't think I'll be reading any other Japanese literature before the end of the month so I might as well wrap up this challenge now. The goal was to read 3 books by Japanese authors between July 30, 2008 and January 30, 2009. I ended up reading 4 books, most of which came from my list of possibilities.

Books completed:
(Click on the titles to read my reviews, click on the book covers below to read more at Amazon).
A Geisha's Journey: My Life as a Kyoto Apprentice - Komomo (with photography by Naoyuki Ogino)
Grotesque - Natsuo Kirino
After Dark - Haruki Murakami
Rashomon and other stories - Ryunosuke Akutagawa

My favourite of these is Rashomon and other stories. Akutagawa and his stories are so famous and I'm glad to have finally read a few of them. Also, the beautiful glossy photos in A Geisha's Journey have made it a book to keep and admire from time to time.
I didn't like After Dark as much as I have some of Murakami's other books but it was still interesting to read. Grotesque though was quite disappointing. So a mixed result this time around but I do plan to read more by Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Haruki Murakami and Natsuo Kirino.

Thank you for being such a wonderful host again, Bellezza, and I'm looking forward to the Japanese Literature Challenge 3!
In the meantime, I'll still be reading Japanese authors as part of my perpetual Reading Japan Project, which I'll post about again next week, recapping what I read in 2008.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

'Rashomon and other stories'

Rashomonby Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Fiction/short stories, stories originally published independently in Japan from 1914 - 1922, this collection in English translation, 1952
Liveright, trade pb, 102 p.
Translated from the Japanese by Takashi Kojima
Illustrated by M. Kuwata
Ryunosuke Akutagawa wrote at the beginning of the twentieth century when Western industrialism and culture mounted an assault against the pride of traditional, insulated Japan. Whether he set his fictions in centuries past or close to the present, Akutagawa was a modernist, writing in polished, superbly nuanced prose, subtly exposing human needs and flaws. “In a Grove,” which was the basis for Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Rashomon, tells the chilling story of the killing of a samurai through the conflicting testimony of witnesses**, including the spirit of the murdered man. The fable-like “Yam Gruel” is an account of desire and humiliation, but one in which the reader’s sympathy is thoroughly unsettled. And in “The Martyr,” a beloved orphan raised by Jesuit priests is exiled when he refuses to admit that he made a local girl pregnant, regaining their love and respect only at the price of his life. All six tales in the collection show Akutagawa as a master storyteller and an enduring voice of modern Japanese literature.
This book had been languishing in my TBR stacks for quite some time and I’m so glad I finally read it. This slim edition contains six stories, including the title story “Rashomon”, and the story “In a Grove”, which the movie Rashomon is based on. (Confused?) These two stories are the ones that have stuck in my mind the most vividly although I really did enjoy all of them. Akutagawa is renowned for his precision with words and this did come across in what seemed to be a good translation however I’m sure much of the subtlety of the original was lost. (Let me lament again the fact that I can't read Japanese). Now that I’ve read these, I’d love to read more of Akutagawa’s stories. I’m quite tempted to get the Penguin Deluxe edition, not only for the fantastic cover, and the introduction by Haruki Murakami, but especially since it contains several more stories. I’d also like to finally watch Akira Kurosawa’s film.
Final verdict: Well worth reading this modern Japanese classic!

**A little trivia: The title of the story "In a Grove" (藪の中, yabu no naka) has even become an idiom in Japan, “used to signify a situation where no conclusion can be drawn, because evidence is insufficient or contradictory.” (from Wikipedia)

Read "In a Grove" online

My Rating: 4/5
(#3 for 2008, Japanese Literature Challenge 2, Reading Japan, 1% Well-Read Challenge, Lost in Translation Challenge)

Reminder: If you have reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's Tuesday... and I've been lazy

This week I'm in Copenhagen, Denmark, and it's winter. A young boy who lived in the same apartment building as me recently fell off the roof and died (not a spoiler). The police have deemed it an accident and closed the case, but I'm not so sure. I've been trying to find out information about the boy's and his mother's past for clues as to what might have really happened.
(Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg
[US title: Smilla's Sense of Snow])

"We ought to take a shower and rinse off the dust and the blood and the cod liver. But we are bound together by what has happened."
(p. 79 Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg)

Popin tagged me for gautami's I have been lazy, hence I make excuses meme, which asks us to share our excuses, serious or otherwise, for not reading. For the official rules, click on either link above. Here are mine, to be taken with a liberal grain of salt! ;)

*The books are packed into the shelves so tightly I risk breaking a fingernail trying to get one out!
*I can read later, right now I must blog!
*I forgot my book in the other room but it's too cold to get out of bed to go get it.
*Bailey wants me to (a)feed him, (b)pet him, (c)play with him, (d)all of the above.
*I'm allergic to paper. (Wouldn't that be sad if it were true?)
*My book doesn't match my outfit.
*I'll just rest my eyes for a minute ... zzz...

I'm not going to tag anyone but if you'd like an excuse to make some excuses, please feel free to grab it!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The cat who lost his meow

This photo was actually taken a couple of months ago but it was a pretty uneventful weekend. However, yesterday we took Bailey to the vet to find out why he suddenly lost his voice a few days ago. Poor thing would try to meow but no sound would come out. Well, the vet thinks it's probably just a throat infection and gave us some antiobiotics to give him over the next 10 days. After a day and a half of the pills, he can now manage a croaky bit of a meow, so we expect he'll be back to his usual noisy self before too long.

Sunday Salon: Reading Retrospective

I've really enjoyed reading the posts by 3M ( and Wendy (Musings of a Bookish Kitty) where they look back on what they were reading a few years earlier. (If you missed them, click on their names for a sample). So you can call me a shameless copycat, but hopefully no one minds that I've decided to start doing this monthly as well. My Books Read spreadsheet goes back to January 2002 so this seemed like a good time to start. I didn't start doing reviews of the books I read until 2006 when I started blogging but I do have brief notes on what I thought of the books. So here goes...

January 2002 was actually the ending of one chapter of my and my husband's life. After 4 years in Japan, which included meeting and marrying H, he got word that he was being transferred to the London branch of his company in February. The first part of January was work as usual, but then later in the month and until moving day in February, it was a time of sorting, packing and farewells as we planned our first international move together. I suppose it's not too surprising then that I only read 3 books that month.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith which I rated 6/10 (I was using a 10 point rating then, as opposed to the 5 point one I use now) and called it "a good coming-of-age story but not polished". Hmmm. I've since seen the movie, which I quite enjoyed, and I think I would rate this higher if I were to read it again now.

The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama, rated 8/10. "Great atmosphere. In-depth character. Would've been 9/10 if not for the mistakenly spelled word 'genken' throughout". LOL. I still remember being annoyed at that word. It was a minor error really, as it should've been 'genkan' but it kept knocking me out of the story every time I read it. I even asked my husband if it could be pronounced that way in a regional dialect but he had never heard it said that way. Anyway, call me picky but it's the little things sometimes. It was a lovely story though.

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella, rated 8/10 and all I've noted down for this one is "FUN!!!!" I can't believe it's been 7 years and now there's even a movie coming out. I still haven't read any of the other books in the shopaholic series although I do think I have one or two of them around here somewhere.

So there you have it, what I was reading 7 years ago. Hopefully you enjoyed my little trip down memory lane. How about you? What were you reading 7 years ago?

Now back to 2009...this past week I finished reading Kissing Games of the World by Sandi Kahn Shelton. My review for it will be up next Tuesday, the 27th, as part of a Pump Up Your Book Promotion blog tour, but in the meantime I'll just say that it was a very enjoyable read. Next I was in the mood for something wintery so I'm now reading Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow (US title: Smilla's Sense of Snow). I read a little more this afternoon and it has me intrigued. There's a certain mood to it that I can't really describe, but I'm curious to read on.
BTW, I didn't buy or receive a single book last week so there will be no Mailbox Monday post tomorrow.

Week in Review:
Mailbox Monday: Bargain Books
It's Tuesday... (Where are You? and Teaser Tuesday)
Review: After Dark by Haruki Murakami
Friday Fill-ins (and blog awards)
Review: Written in Blood by Sheila Lowe

Have a good week, and happy reading!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

'Written in Blood'

by Sheila Lowe
Fiction/Mystery, 2008
Obsidian (Penguin US), mm pb, 306 p.
Claudia Rose Forensic Handwriting Mystery series, Book 2
Claudia Rose’s latest client is a dime-a-dozen type. The widow of a rich older man, Paige Sorensen is younger than – and hated by – her stepchildren. And they’re dead set on proving that Paige forged their father’s signature on his will, which left his entire estate, including the Sorensen Academy, to her.

Intrigued by this real-life soap opera, Claudia soon breaks one of the cardinal rules of business: Never get personally involved. But Claudia has grown attached to a troubled Sorensen student, and when disaster strikes, she’ll realize that reading between the lines can mean the difference between life and death.
This was a fun mystery that kept me turning the pages and I raced through it in just a couple of days. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a handwriting expert as the main character before but I really enjoyed the brief explanations of handwriting analysis woven into the story, and getting to know the analyst and heroine, Claudia Rose. (I wonder what she or the author, who herself is a handwriting expert, would say about my scrawl?) I did want to shake her for her naivety at one point but I suppose the story wouldn’t have been quite as exciting or suspenseful if she hadn’t walked right into that situation so I forgive it as a plot device.

Written in Blood is actually the second book in the series but since it was sent to me for review, I decided to read this one first and go from there, even though I usually prefer to read series books from the beginning. Well, after thoroughly enjoying this one, the first book in the series, Poison Pen, is now on my wishlist, as is the third book in the series, Dead Write, which is to be published in August 2009. I look forward to reading more of Claudia's handwriting adventures.

Thank you to the author, Sheila Lowe, and Bostick Communications for the opportunity to read this book.

Author's website
Interview with the author

My Rating: 4/5
(#2 for 2008, ARC Reading Challenge)

Reminder: If you have reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday Fill-ins, and a thank you to all my fans!

1. Enough with the negative news. H watches the news every night but I just watch the main stories on BBC and otherwise I avoid it - it's just so negative all the time.
2. Trying to balance blogging with reading and everything else I want or need to do causes me to be conflicted.
3. I've been craving chocolate (nothing new there!).
4. Jiro makes me laugh. Every single day. He's such a goofy cat!
5. I wish I could go to Paris next week. As long as I'm dreaming I might as well dream big!
6. All the books in TBR purgatory has have been on my mind lately. Brought on my the fact that I have no more shelf space and will probably have to go through them soon and see which ones I'm willing to part with. :(
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to a mug of hot chocolate, tomorrow my plans include hanging out at home (H has to work!), relaxing and reading (and probably blogging, see #2 above) and Sunday, I want to make sure Bailey's ok (see below)!

I have a question for you cat owners. Bailey, our white cat, has lost his voice! For a couple of days now when he opens his mouth up to meow, no sound comes out. He seems completely fine otherwise though. He's eating and running around with Jiro as usual but he's suddenly become mute. He normally has a very loud, demanding meow so I admit I'm enjoying the peace and quiet but we're a bit concerned and will take him to the vet this weekend. So I was just wondering, have you ever had a cat that lost its meow?

Recently I've been the recipient of some blog awards so I want to say a big thank you to Kailana of The Written World and Anna of Diary of an Eccentric for giving me the Butterfly Award. Here's what Kailana had to say about me - "A fellow Canadian (although she has left the country), I really enjoy both her reviews and her pictures!"

And a big thank you also to Maria of A Passion for Books, Lena of Save Ophelia and Harry of Temple Library Reviews for giving me the Premio Dardos Award.
This is what Lena had to say - "She writes about her travels, takes a bunch of gorgeous photos and reads a whole ton of books! I love reading her reviews and even her non-reviews."
(I haven't been taking or posting many photos lately but I guess I better!)

Instead of singling anyone out to pass these on to, I want to thank everyone who reads my blog and comments. I love having you stop by to spend some time in my little corner of blogland, and I hope you will continue to do so! Thank you! :)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

'After Dark'

by Haruki Murakami
Translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin
Fiction, 2004 (Japan), 2007 (English translation)
Vintage International, mm pb, 243 p.
The midnight hour approaches in an almost empty all-night diner. Mari sips her coffee and glances up from a book as a young man, a musician, intrudes on her solitude. Both have missed the last train home. The musician has plans to rehearse with his jazz band all night, Mari is equally unconcerned and content to read, smoke and drink coffee until dawn. They realise they’ve been acquainted through Eri, Mari’s beautiful sister. The musician soon leaves with a promise to return. Shortly afterwards Mari will be interrupted a second time by a girl from the Alphaville Hotel; a Chinese prostitute has been hurt by a client, the girl has heard Mari speaks fluent Chinese and requests her help.

Meanwhile Eri is at home and sleeps a deep, heavy sleep that is 'too perfect, too pure' to be normal; pulse and respiration at the lowest required level. She has been in this soporific state for two months; Eri has become the classic myth – a sleeping beauty. But tonight as the digital clock displays 00:00 a faint electrical crackle is perceptible, a hint of life flickers across the TV screen, though the television’s plug has been pulled.
I took this with me on our trip to Canada over the holidays. It’s a slim book but it took me much longer to read than I originally thought it would. This was largely due to jet lag, but I do think my enjoyment of the book suffered a little because of it. It’s the kind of book that you should get lost in for a few hours, not read in short snippets over several days. But I also didn’t really care for the “imaginary camera”, the “pure point of view”, that essentially narrates Eri’s sections of the story and that we are reminded of repeatedly.
Eri goes on sleeping in the single bed in the center of the room. We recognize the bed and bedclothes. We approach her and study her face as she sleeps, taking time to observe the details with great care. As mentioned before, all that we, as pure point of view, can accomplish is to observe - observe, gather data, and, if possible, judge. We are not allowed to touch her. Neither can we speak to her. Nor can we indicate our presence to her indirectly.
I like the idea behind the story, of how ordinary things become something quite different in the night, and other typical Murakami themes like loneliness, isolation, and in this case it seemed he was maybe making some comment about the impersonal nature of technology, but in the end I think I like the concept more than the story itself. I still enjoyed several portions of the book, especially Mari and Takahashi’s interaction, but for me it wasn’t nearly as memorable as some of his other books that I’ve read like Kafka on the Shore (one of my highest-rated reads last year), Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (another favourite), or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, parts of which are still rattling around in my head over 4 years later.

I’d eventually like to read everything he’s written, or at least what’s been translated into English, so it was worth reading but it just didn’t make as much of an impression on me. See below, though, for some other bloggers' rave reviews, which range from love to dislike.

Review in The New York Times
Review in The Guardian

My Rating: 3/5
(#1 for 2008, Japanese Literature Challenge 2, Dewey's Books Reading Challenge, Reading Japan, Lost in Translation Challenge, What's in a Name Challenge -'Time of Day')

Also reviewed at:
Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
Stainless Steel Droppings
Save Ophelia
an adventure in reading
Tip of the Iceberg
Book Bird Dog
Life and Times of a "New" New Yorker
The Hidden Side of a Leaf (Even though her site is down, I'd saved the link and following Nymeth's idea, wanted to include it here. Dewey wasn't crazy about the writing style of Eri's sections either although she was intrigued by some of the aspects of Japanese culture that the story referred to. She also said, "[I]t’s true that this book doesn’t really leave me wanting to read any more Murakami, though I’m sure I’ll end up trying The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle." :(
If you subscribed to her blog, you can still read her review of After Dark in your feed reader).
Reminder: If you have read and reviewed this title, let me know and I'll link to it here.