If I am not off to the mountains, one of things I enjoy most is hanging around somewhere peaceful with a glass of good wine or a mug of coffee and enjoying a good book.

Here you can find the list of books I am currently reading, sourced from GoodReads, and reviews of the books I have read.

Cornelia Travnicek – Junge Hunde

A novel on late adolescence and self-finding, set on a mixture of stages ranging from Vienna, its Hinterland, to China. The recent book of the Viennese young writer Cornelia Travnicek (official page, WikiPedia) tells a complicated story about finding and loosing your parents.

The main actors, Johanna, always helpful and supportive of those around here, and Ernst, a Chinese adoptive son in Austria, are good friends since early childhood. He sets out to find his parents in China, while she has to deal with profound change in her own world while worrying about his travel and distance.

Although in principle a nice and interesting story, I felt that the book is at times weighting too much on sentiments, second hand sentiments, and trying to extend the story. By itself this wouldn’t be a problem if the language would be of a great story teller, but in this case it just extends and gave me hard time continue reading. The surprising ending isn’t that surprising, a single line 2/3 through the book just let it slip so that it is clear who is the father.

All in all not a bad book, but I wouldn’t recommend it from the depth of my heart. Still, as Viennese I felt a bit nostalgic with parts of dialect appearing in the book.

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I. J. Parker – The Dragon Scroll

Very enthralling and entertaining criminal story set in the 11th century Japan, the starting point of a series of novels around Sugawara Akitada (菅原 顕忠), a fictional official/scholar in the Heian period who solves several difficult cases using his great balance of knowledge and common sense.

Akitada is sent to the far north (nowadays around Chiba) to check what has happened to the last three tax convoys that never appeared in the capital. He pokes around and unravels a involved plot to overthrow law and order. A few love stories, dead ends, and lots over wandering around brings the story to a wild finish.

The first book in the Akitada series reads very smoothly and quickly, never boring. It gives nice fews onto the society as imagined by the (scholarly) author, and somehow manages to transfer the feeling of living in this area to the reader.

For those with interest in criminal stories and Japan, it is a very recommendable book.

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Yukio Mishima: Patriotism (憂国)

A masterpiece by Yukio Mishima – Patriotism – the story of love and dead. A short story about the double suicide of a Lieutenant and his wife following the Ni Ni Roku Incident where some parts of the military tried to overthrow government and military leaders. Although Lieutenant Takeyama wasn’t involved into the coup, because his friends wanted to safeguard him and his new wife, he found himself facing a fight and execution of his friends. Not being able to cope with this situation he commits suicide, followed by his wife.
mishima-patriotism

Written in 1960 by one of the most interesting writers of Japanese modern history, Yukio Mishima, this book and the movie made by Mishima himself, are very disturbing images of the relation between human and state. Continue reading

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吉本ばなな:デッドエンドの思い出

吉本ばななの短編集「デッドエンドの思い出」は人間のつらさの話する。吉本氏は後書きに下記のとおりかいた:

私はばかみたいで、この小説集に関しては泣かずにゲラをみることができなかったですが、その涙は心の奥底のつらさをちょっと消してくれた気がします。

なるほどと思った。一人旅間にこの本を読んで、何回も悲しく寂しい夜を過ごした。人間のつらさ、とこのつらさを超える話を読んで喜んだ。素敵な本だと思う。
Deadend Omoide - Banana Yoshimoto

いずれにしても神様は何もしてくれやしない。

この短編集に5つの短編が含まれてる:「幽霊の家」、「おかあさーん!」、「あったかくなんかない」、「ともちゃんの幸せ」、と短編集の名前に与える「デッドエンドの思い出」。1つつ静かな話だ。話は早くないし、人間関係と人間感覚に集中してるし、とっても好きな本だった。昨日の晩友人と深夜まで話す時、パウロ・コエーリョの「アルケミスト」という本が出ていたけど、比べたら吉本の本は測れないほどの方がいいと思う。その考えの理由は吉本は教えたくない、教えていない。そのかわりにコエーリョの本は宗教的な教科書みたいだ。でも、「De gustibus non disputandum est!」

吉本の短編の中に一番好きなのは、「ともちゃんの幸せ」と「デッドエンドの思い出」かもしれないけど、本当に決めること難しい。この二つの短編のなか、人間関係のつらさとその解決・回復方法をすごく上手に書いてあると思う。男性の僕なのに、たまに涙でるほど感動した。

遠くに光る夕焼けみたいにきれいな、私の、一回しかないこの体に宿っている命のことを。

とってもおすすめの本だ。大好きなスタイル、大好きな話題(友川のつらさの歌!)、そのうえ、日本語の学生の僕のためちょうどいいレベルだった。

最後に吉本氏の後書きの言葉:

さらにばかみたいだけど、私はこの中の「デッドエンドの思い出」という小説が、これまで書いた自分の作品の中で、いちばん好きです。これが書けたので、小説家になってよかったと思いました。

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Suki Kim – Without You, There Is No Us

A book that goes further behind the walls that surround North Korea than anything else I have seen. Suki Kim managed to squeeze herself, American-Korean, into a English teaching job at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, and reports her experiences during two visits there.

suki-kim_without-you

Most of us in the connected world are well aware about the incredibly backwardness of North Korea, and the harsh living conditions despite the praise that is bombarded onto us through the official channels. But reading about the incredibly underdeveloped students at PUST, Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, the elite of the country, who never heard about the most basic techniques, is still surprising.

Time there seemed to pass differently. When you are shut off from the world, every day is exactly the same as the one before. This sameness has a way of wearing down your soul until you become nothing but a breathing, toiling, consuming thing that awakes to the sun and sleeps at the dawning of the dark.

Another very disturbing part of this book are the short but intensive looks into the country side, when excursions or shopping trips were scheduled. They lay open a barren land, with Gulag like working conditions and permanent shortage of proper food.

I have been aware about the situation in North Korea, but reading about it from a very special perspective gave me the shivers.

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Osamu Dazai – No Longer Human

Japanese authors have a tendency to commit suicide, it seems. I have read Ryunosuke Akutagawa (芥川 龍之介, at 35), Yukio Mishima (三島 由紀夫, at 45), and also Osamu Dazai (太宰 治, at 39). Their end often reflects in their writings, and one of these examples is the book I just finished, No Longer Human.

Dazai_Osamu-No_Longer_Human

Considered as Dazai’s master piece, and with Soseki’s Kokoro the best selling novels in Japan. The book recounts the life of Oba Yozo, from childhood to the end in a mental hospital. The early years, described in the first chapter (“Memorandum”), are filled with the feeling of differentness, alienation from the rest, and Oba starts his way of living by playing the clown, permanently making jokes. The Second Memorandom spans the time to university, where he drops out, tries to become a painter, indulges in alcohol, smoking and prostitutes, leading to a suicide attempt together with a married woman, but he survived. The first part of the Third Memorandom sees a short recovering due to his relationship with a woman. He stops drinking and works as cartoonist, but in the last part his drinking pal from university times shows up again and they return into an ever increasing vicious drinking. Eventually he is separated from his wife, and confined to a mental hospital.

Very depressing to read, but written in a way that one cannot stop reading. The disturbing thing about this book is that, although the main actor conceives many bad actions, we feel somehow attached to him and feel pity for him. It is somehow a exercise how circumstances and small predispositions can make a huge change in our lives. And it warns us that each one of us can easily come to this brink.

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Jonas Jonasson – The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

Just finished my first book of Jonas Jonasson, a Swedish journalist and author. Most famous for his book The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, but author of two others. The one I read was The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, which strange enough became in German Die Analphabetin die rechnen konnte (The analphabet who could compute).

Jonas Jonasson - Die Analphabetin, die rechnen konnte

The story recounts the countless turns the life of Nombeko Mayeki, a black girl born in Soweto as latrine cleaner, who manages to save the Swedish king as well as most of the world from an atomic desaster by first getting driven over by a drunkard of South African nuclear bomb engineer, then meeting a clique of three Chinese sisters excelling in faking antiquities, and two Mossad agents. With the (unwilling) help of those agents she escapes to Sweden (including the atomic bomb) where she meets twins of a psychotic father who brought them up as one child so that the spare one can eradicate the Swedish monarchy. After many twists and setbacks, including several meetings with the Chinese premier Hu Jintao, she finally manages to get rid of the atomic bomb, get her “undercover” twin a real identity, and set up a proper life – ah, and not to forget, save the King of Sweden!

A fast paced, surprisingly funny and lovely story about how little things can change our lives completely.

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Michael Köhlmeier: Zwei Herren am Strand

This recent book of the Austrian author Michael Köhlmeier, Zwei Herren am Strand (Hanser Verlag), spins a story about an imaginative friendship between Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill. While there might not as be more different people than these two, in the book they are connected by a common fight – the fight against their own depression, explicitly as well as implicitly by fighting Nazi Germany.

Zwei Herren am Strand_ Roman - Michael Koehlmeier

Michael Köhlmeier’s recently released book Zwei Herren am Strand tells the fictive story of Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill meeting and becoming friends, helping each other fighting depression and suicide thoughts. Based on a bunch of (fictive) letters of a (fictive) private secretary of Churchill, as well as (fictive) book on Chaplin, the first person narrator dives into the interesting time of the mid-20ies to about the Second World War.

churchill-chaplinChaplin is having a hard time after the divorce from his wife Rita, paired with the difficulties at the production of The Circus, and is contemplating suicide. He is conveying this fact to Churchill during a walk on the beach. Churchill is reminded of his own depressions he suffers from early age on. The two of them agree to make a pact fighting the “Black Dog” inside.

Later Churchill asks Chaplin about his method to overcome the phases of depression, and Chaplin explains him the “Method of the Clown”: Put a huge page of paper on the floor, lie yourself facing down onto the paper and start writing a letter to yourself while rotating clockwise and creating a spiral inward.

According to Chaplin, he took this method from Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd (hard to verify), and it works by making oneself ridiculous, so that one part of oneself can laugh about the other part.

The story continues into the early stages of the world war, with both sides fighting Hitler, one politically, one by comedy. The story finishes somewhere in the middle when the two meet while Chaplin is in a deep depression during cutting his movie
The great dictator, and together to manage once more to overcome the “black dog”.


The book is pure fiction, and Köhlmeier dives into a debaucherous story telling, jumping back and forth between several strands of narration lines. An entertaining and very enjoyable book if you are the type of reader that enjoys story telling. For me this book is in best tradition of Michael Köhlmeier, whom I consider an excellent story teller. I loved his (unfinished trilogy of) books on Greek mythology (Telemach and Calypso), but found that after these books he got lost too much in radio programs of story telling. While in itself good, I preferred his novels. Thus, I have to admit that I have forgotten about Köhlmeier for some years, until recently I found this little book, which reminded me of him and his excellent stories.

A book that is – if you are versed in German – well worth enjoying, especially if one likes funny and a bit queer stories.

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ハリー・ポッターとアズカバンの囚人 (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

Yeah, another book finished in Japanese, the third Harry Potter book, Prisoner of Azkaban. Took me quite some time, but thanks to a good Kobo ebook reader and my own enriched dictionary reading is getting more and more fun, even if the book is in Japanese.
Harry_Potter_Prisoner_Azkaban

I guess I don’t have to tell the story of the book, as it is sufficiently well known. Just a good recommendation to students k of Japanese (at a bit higher level) – get some books you like and start reading, the sooner the better. And read on an ebook reader with a good dictionary. This way your Japanese will improve quickly.

My next book will be よしもとばなな、デッドエンドの思い出, as I think I actually prefer the original (English) Harry Potter, and want to read Japanese authors in Japanese. Now if Murakami would only allow to have Japanese ebooks of his works …

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