Notes of a Crocodile, by Qiu Miaojin

Two stars, read in December 2017 Bewildering, to be honest. Interpersonal relationships are difficult to package in words, especially when nothing much happens, it’s all just conversations and body language and internal struggles. But this seemed deliberately opaque and kept me on the outside, unable to get a connection with any of the characters. Words…

Harmless Like You, by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Four stars, read in May 2018. Good book, well-written, poignant, frustrating, a little heartbreaking, with a pretty satisfying conclusion. Emily Woo Zeller is an excellent narrator, but I didn’t care for P.J. Ochlan, who does irritating pseudo-falsetto for female characters’ voices. (Given that I already didn’t like Jay, the character he was narrating, I think…

ME, by Tomoyuki Hoshino

Five stars, read in January 2018. I’ve had this post in my drafts for a few months now, because there was so much for me to work through. I did not expect the direction this book ended up taking, on more than one level. It was brilliant, disturbing, astonishingly incisive commentary on human nature and identity—and…

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

Two and a half stars, read in March 2018. I found this book very stressful. Given how long and sprawling it is, following so many characters throughout four generations, it often seemed strange how long we lingered on specific, not particularly meaningful conversations before jumping through time and space to continue the story. It just…

The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Four stars, read in June/July 2017. I loved the premise and the atmosphere of the post-Arthurian setting, and found the first half of this book very engaging. It follows characters who live in sort of medieval villages of Britons and Saxons, and although no one seems to remember any specifics, we know it’s been a…

Snow Country, by Yasunari Kawabata

Three stars, read in January 2018. Widely considered to be his masterpiece, the Goodreads description says, but . . . Hmm. I was decidedly underwhelmed by this book. There is absolutely beautiful imagery in his descriptions of snow country (I gave it an extra star for that reason). It was a stern night landscape. The…

My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth, by Wendy Simmons

Four stars, read in January 2018. I almost didn’t take this home, irritated with it for seeming flippant about a subject that is not in any way amusing (particularly after I’d just finished accounts by Jang Jin-sung and Suki Kim that were emotional and difficult to read). I flipped through to see the photos, of which there are many,…

The Bonesetter’s Daughter, by Amy Tan

Five stars, read in October/November 2017. It’s been several years since I last read Amy Tan and I was starting to wonder whether her books were a phase I’d grown out of. They are not. I deeply loved everything about this book, including (especially) the fact that in the audiobook, LuLing’s sections are beautifully narrated…

The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Four stars, read in October 2017. The Remains of the Day is absolutely masterful. I was constantly impressed by the subtlety, the way the protagonist’s voice is so careful and forthcoming that it didn’t occur to me to question his accuracy, until suddenly the perspective would widen and I’d realize what he’d been leaving out. Mr….

Autofiction, by Hitomi Kanehara

Four stars, read in July 2017. I’ve spent a good twenty minutes now trying to track down the article that made me first want to read Hitomi Kanehara, and I’m frustrated that I can’t find it. All I remember is that the writer was (I think) a Japanese American woman, possibly an author herself? And…

Japanese Haiku from Peter Pauper Press

Four stars, read in July 2017. I couldn’t believe my luck to find these three small, beautiful old volumes at my local used bookstore last night—particularly because under their faded, torn jackets the same lovely pattern has been preserved on the hardcover. Rather than reviews, my posts about haiku are always just a collection of…

Human Acts, by Han Kang

Five stars, read in April 2017. I kept not returning this book to the library because I wanted to go back through and get quotes for this post, but when I tried to do it, I felt like it was too late. This book is much too intense an experience to just dip back in…

Who would we complain to, anyway?

“I gazed at Kobe harbour, sparkling leadenly far below, and listened carefully, hoping to pick up some echoes from the past, but nothing came to me. Just the sounds of silence. That’s all. But what are you going to do? We’re talking about things that happened over thirty years ago. “Over thirty years ago. There is…

The Boat Rocker, by Ha Jin

One star, read in February 2017. I hated every page of this book. I started hopefully, because I was intrigued by Waiting and have been wanting to read Ha Jin’s other books for a long time. But my hackles went up on the first page—in the second paragraph—and I only got more and more suspicious until…

In the Miso Soup, by Ryu Murakami

Five stars, read on the last day of September 2016. I should have written about this back then, because now I won’t be able to remember details. But this book was so notable that I still feel I need to post something about it. For several years Ryu has just been the other Murakami, the one who gets in…

Waiting, by Ha Jin

Three and a half stars, read in February 2017. The best word I can choose for this book is bittersweet. I’ve had a difficult time figuring out how I feel about it. For some reason it took me a very long time to pick it up, but when I did, it was a sick day…

Empress, by Shan Sa

Two and a half stars, read in December 2016. Translated from French. This was a little dry; at times it felt like reading a catalog. A thousand horses in the parade, a thousand ministers, a thousand concubines, a thousand drums, and so on, sometimes for two or three pages. It made for easy skimming, though, which…

Manazuru, by Hiromi Kawakami

Four stars, read in January 2017. There is sort of a dreamlike quality to this whole book, even the scenes you know are taking place in real life. It’s a little vague at times, but coalesces in the end into something like relief. Maybe contentment. Kawakami has a beautiful way with words, describing feelings I’ve…

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami

Three and a half stars, read in September 2016. Do you sometimes have books that get stuck to whatever the circumstances were when you read them? Like, if you were in a particular place, then every time you go to that place you think of that book, and you almost feel as though you’re reading…

Shelter, by Jung Yun

Five stars, read in November 2016. This book was my choice for fiction in the first two rounds of the Goodreads Choice Awards, but it was eliminated from the final round.  I read for two hours past my bedtime because that’s how long it took to find a place I could bear to put this…

Kokoro, by Natsume Soseki

Four stars, read in August 2016. I found this just lovely in a very quiet, no-frills way (which is the usual, I suppose, for the Japanese writers I’ve been reading). It’s the story of a young man’s relationship with his mentor, and I particularly appreciated the exploration of Sensei’s inability to trust people, including himself. Somehow…

Kojiki, by Keith Yatsuhashi

Three and a half stars, read in August 2016. The cover on the left is the one I read, but I think if you look for it now, the cover on the right is the one you’ll find. I actually really like them both. This was very enjoyable with mostly-small problems here and there. I…

Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories, by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Four stars, read in July 2016. This was gorgeous. Each story is full of imagery, fascinating characters, and an examination of the time period (early 1900s). I can’t believe how closely I relate with the autobiographical stories. “Spinning Gears,” especially the ending, was amazing—sort of hauntingly visual—it almost felt like a movie. I’m not sure…

The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Five stars, read in July 2016. This is a book about a Communist spy during the Vietnam War. That premise was intriguing enough for me to pick it up, but while it continued to be an engaging plot throughout the book, for me the plot became secondary to the smart, insightful narrative voice. We never learn the narrator’s…

Out / Real World, by Natsuo Kirino

Out: Five stars, read in June 2016. Real World: Three stars, read in June 2016. I read Out first, and it was really fantastic. It’s cataloged as a mystery, which I suppose it is, but it isn’t the usual format: In this case you’re following along with the people who committed the crimes, and they’re certainly not…

This One Summer, by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Four stars, read in May 2015. This reminded me of The Way, Way Back—obviously because of the setting, but also the age of the main character, that time in adolescence that’s so rough because you’re trying to figure out what’s going on around you and how you’re supposed to relate to it. It was so…

The Color of Earth, by Kim Dong Hwa

Three stars for the series, but five stars for the first book alone. Read in September 2013. There was quite a bit of buildup for this book before I was finally able to read it. I lived in Utah at the time, and I’d been hearing a lot about it in connection with Banned Books…

Othello, by Satomi Ikezawa

Four stars for the whole series, read in January/February 2016. I decided to start trying manga, and after one disappointment and one with pretty good potential, I was surprised to fall instantly in love with this series. The cover of the first book was not at all promising for me, but luckily (for some reason),…

The Lake, by Banana Yoshimoto

Four stars, read in January 2016. Chihiro is a young artist dealing with the recent death of her mother and the change in her relationship with her father, now that she no longer lives in the small town where she was raised. She meets Nakajima, who I can’t help thinking of as the Yoshimoto version of…

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

Three stars, read in January 2016. Almost every time I was skeptical about something in this book, Marie Kondo persuaded me to give it a try. (I haven’t tried yet, but I now want to.)  This is significant to me because I am stubborn about many things, lazy about others, and picky about the way I organize. I don’t…