Monthly Summary, January 2021

Reading

I have decided to no longer review every book I read this year, since I simply cannot keep up. This month, I’ve read 13 books, including finishing off the chunkster that was The Brothers Karamazov (which was left over from my December Russian reading). 12 of these were translated books, greatly helped by the fact that it was January in Japan and I really enjoyed spending time in one of my favourite countries in the world (9 of the 12 were Japanese). The only one in English in the original was for the Virtual Crime Book Club – and you can catch our discussion of The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett here.

Of the 13 you can see in the picture below, you might notice two are different translations of the same book by Dazai Osamu, so let me reassure you that I am not counting that twice, but am including instead an academic work about Suicidal Narrative in Modern Japan: The Case of Dazai Osamu by Alan Stephen Wolfe (but it does not have a pretty cover). To go through my Japanese reading chronologically:

  • I found out about the fascinating life and work of Higuchi Ichiyo, the first modern Japanese professional woman writer.
  • I reconnected with my favourite Dazai Osamu, reading his No Longer Human in a new translation and his shorter, often quite funny more purely autobiographical stories. This is where I also fell down the rabbit hole of reading more of him and about him in a more academic context.
  • I moved on to another modern classic and old favourite, Yukio Mishima.
  • I read a short story collection by Yuko Tsushima, Dazai’s daughter, and learnt more about the impact of her father’s death via an example of autofiction.
  • I read an enjoyable romp of a crime novel with a deliberately American noir feel, despite its Japanese setting and preoccupation with the consequences of the Vietnam war: The Wrong Goodbye by Toshihiko Yahagi (not reviewed)
  • Last but not least, it was intriguing and timely to read about the often ignored homeless people of Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri

Aside from Japan, I also spent some time with Portuguese writer Afonso Cruz and his experimentally structured novel Kokoschka’s Doll, as well as with the fast-paced, jazzy improv beat of talented German writer Simone Buchholz: Hotel Cartagena (not reviewed).

For February, I will spend time in Canada, but inevitably some other writing will creep in, especially if it’s winter themed. However, our host Meredith is continuing with the Japanese Lit Challenge until March, and I certainly intend to continue following the reviews that people are posting there.

Films

Elsa the Rose – beautiful love story (although also ever so slightly obsessive) told through interviews with Elsa Triolet and Louis Aragon, in conversation with Agnès Varda.

Ikiru – absolutely adored this film, more reminiscent of Ozu than Kurosawa. It tell the story of a faceless (not very likeable) bureaucrat who, when faced with a death sentence through a cancer diagnosis – becomes concerned about making up for lost time (and looking for fun in all the wrong places initially) and leaving behind a legacy. Particularly poignant and realistic in the post-funeral scene, when you see how others talk about the dead and misunderstand them.

The Godfather and The Sopranos – rewatched the first with my older son, who really likes it. Then, by way of counterpoint and an update into the Mafia families, started watching Season 1 of The Sopranos.

The Long Goodbye – was not entirely convinced by the portrayal of women as either manipulative bitches or decorative hippies high on drugs. However, I really liked Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe: with his dark suit, lanky figure, fluffy hair and constant smoking, it’s clear he must have been the inspiration for the Spike Spiegel in the anime series Cowboy Bebop.

Lovers Rock – described by many as their favourite of the Small Axe films by Steve McQueen. I loved the recreation of the period, the setting, the community and also the charming touches of youthful love (as well as more disturbing aspects of the party culture), but I did feel some of the music passages were too long.

Phoenix – a pared-down approach to acting by Nina Hoss to what could have been quite a melodramatic story of losing one’s identity, betrayal, forgiveness (or not) and moving on (both as an individual and as a country). The final ten minutes or so, when she gets off the train and is reunited with her husband and ‘friends’, are perfectly and heartbreakingly done.

Other News

Despite a busy working month, I’ve made a little bit of progress on my novel (I’m nearly two thirds of the way through, but I think it will need at least another edit before I’m happy with it).

However, I’m happy to say that I’ve very nearly finished the edits to my second translated novel: Resilience by Bogdan Hrib. ‘Resilience’ in the context of this novel does not focus on psychological resilience in the face of the unknown (although it does deal with this tangentially), but on geopolitics. It is defined as “the ability of states and societies to adapt and reform, thus withstanding and recovering from internal and external crisis, particularly in a period of unpredictability and volatility”. Of course, that is too academic to be of much interest in a crime novel, so let’s just say that this will be all about social media, fake news and dubious agents (who knows from where?) trying to influence international politics. This should come out end of March with Corylus Books.

17 thoughts on “Monthly Summary, January 2021”

  1. I’m slowly working my way through Small Axe and would agree with you about Lovers Rock. I’m delighted that the BBC invested in this ambitious series of dramas, hard to watch sometimes but essential viewing.

  2. I wish I could say I’ve read 13 books last month. Lockdown has definitely affected my ability to concentrate, and if anything, I have fewer titles under my belt than pre-lockdown, despite having, in theory anyway, more time.

  3. The Brothers Karamazov books is on my bucket list! My brother read it few years ago and he enjoyed it so much that he made me add it on my reading list 🙂

    What books / writers from Canada are you planning to read?

    1. A fost de-abia la a cincea incercare ca am izbutit sa termin Fratii Karamazov! Dar a meritat.
      Canada – only what I have on my shelves, trying not to buy anything new: Carol Shields, Marian Engel, Anne Carson, Mathieu Boutin.

  4. A great month, Marina, and these bookish rabbitholes can be distracting, but fun! I can understand a busy lifestyle getting in the way of reviewing everything – I don’t think people always realise how long these posts take! 😀

  5. I’m glad you had an enjoyable reading month, Marina Sofia. Reading rabbit holes can be so much fun, even if they do change a person’s plans! I’m excited you’re virtually heading to Canada next; I like the Canadian fiction I’ve read, and I’m looking forward to your thoughts on it.

    1. For Canada, I’m once again using a mix of writers I know and others that I haven’t read yet, and I’m trying to stick to what is already on my bookshelves.

    1. Don’t know how sustainable this pace is, as I work 5 days a week in two shifts and then at the weekend just the normal 1 shift working day that I should be doing Mon-Fri (from 9:30 to about 6). But hopefully things will calm down once the translation edits are done.

  6. Yes, I’m with you The Long-Goodbye. Elliot Gould makes a fine Marlow, perfectly capturing that world-weary demeanour and look. Bogart remains my favourite PM – I still see him in my head whenever I read the books — but Gould comes a very close second.

    You’ve also reminded me that I must watch Ikiru at some point. It’s been recommended to me a couple of times, possibly because of its closeness to Ozu (whose films I adore). Maybe it will crop up on Mubi at some point? I can but hope…

  7. Marina Sofia, I know I’ve said I would review a Corylus book in the past and then failed horribly, which is embarrassing, but! As I am trying to do better with translated lit this year, do you have any copies of Resilience (e- or physical)? I’d like to read and review!

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