Book Review: Light and Dark by Natsume Sōseki

Light and Dark by Natsume SosekiLight and Dark: What it is about

Columbia University Press (publisher) says: “Light and Dark, Natsume Soseki’s longest novel and masterpiece, although unfinished, is a minutely observed study of haute-bourgeois manners on the eve of World War I. It is also a psychological portrait of a new marriage that achieves a depth and exactitude of character revelation that had no precedent in Japan at the time of its publication and has not been equaled since. With Light and Dark, Soseki invented the modern Japanese novel.

Recovering in a clinic following surgery, thirty-year-old Tsuda Yoshio receives visits from a procession of intimates: his coquettish young wife, O-Nobu; his unsparing younger sister, O-Hide, who blames O-Nobu’s extravagance for her brother’s financial difficulties; his self-deprecating friend, Kobayashi, a ne’er-do-well and troublemaker who might have stepped from the pages of a Dostoevsky novel; and his employer’s wife, Madam Yoshikawa, a conniving meddler with a connection to Tsuda that is unknown to the others. Divergent interests create friction among this closely interrelated cast of characters that explodes into scenes of jealousy, rancor, and recrimination that will astonish Western readers conditioned to expect Japanese reticence.

Released from the clinic, Tsuda leaves Tokyo to continue his convalescence at a hot-springs resort. For reasons of her own, Madam Yoshikawa informs him that a woman who inhabits his dreams, Kiyoko, is staying alone at the same inn, recovering from a miscarriage. Dissuading O-Nobu from accompanying him, Tsuda travels to the spa, a lengthy journey fraught with real and symbolic obstacles that feels like a passage from one world to another. He encounters Kiyoko, who attempts to avoid him, but finally manages a meeting alone with her in her room. Soseki’s final scene is a sublime exercise in indirection that leaves Tsuda to “explain the meaning of her smile.”

Light and Dark: What I thought

First of all, this is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever owned. A hardback, with a pressed-in print of the title and author, a beautiful loose cover. The paper has serrated edges and each chapter starts with a small picture. The paper is slightly shiny and very pleasant to read from. I love this physical book!

soseki1 soseki2

The story of the newlywed couple is fun to read but rather slow. Although the story was written in 1916, it felt quite modern, with O-Nobu, the wife, going her own way as much as she could. She seems quite the feminist. Of course, she hadn’t known her husband for very long (I think the marriage was arranged) so she was more likely to spend time in the theater with her friends than visiting her husband Tsuda in the hospital.

Also the wife of Tsuda’s employer plays a mysterious role in this story. She is an independent woman, too, who hides certain things from her husband and has a connection with Tsuda of some kind. In addition, Tsuda’s friend Kobayashi, who is so poor he has to beg a coat off Tsuda, is a fun character.

The combination of the beautiful book, the interesting characters and the exotic setting in time and place, made this a magical read. However, the story itself never grabbed me enough to keep me reading. I read several pages a day for the month of April and part of May (because of East-Asia Month) but almost halfway, I felt it was enough. I may get back to this book at some point, but for now, I’m just very pleased that I own this beautiful book and that I read some of the story. In fact, since the author died before he could finish the manuscript, I would not be able to read the full story anyway. :-)

Rating: DNF (Did Not Finish – but: very beautiful!)

Number of pages: 422 (I read until page 188)

First published: 1916 (Japanese edition, Meian; this edition 2014, translated by John Nathan)

I got this book: I won a giveaway by Tony of Tony’s Reading List

Genre: classic (Japanese)


Book review: The Jesus Cow by Michael Perry

The Jesus Cow by Michael PerryThe Jesus Cow: What it is about

From Harper Publishers: “Life is suddenly full of drama for low-key Harley Jackson: A woman in a big red pickup has stolen his bachelor’s heart, a Hummer-driving predatory developer is threatening to pave the last vestiges of his family farm, and inside his barn is a calf bearing the image of Jesus Christ. His best friend, Billy, a giant of a man who shares his trailer house with a herd of cats and tries to pass off country music lyrics as philosophy, urges him to avoid the woman, fight the developer, and get rich off the calf. But Harley takes the opposite tack, hoping to avoid what his devout, dearly departed mother would have called ‘a scene.’

Then the secret gets out—right through the barn door, and Harley’s “miracle” goes viral. Within hours pilgrims, grifters, and the media have descended on his quiet patch of Swivel, Wisconsin, looking for a glimpse (and a percentage) of the calf. Does Harley hide the famous, possibly holy calf and risk a riot, or give the people what they want—and raise enough money to keep his land—and, just possibly, win the woman and her big red pickup truck?

Harley goes all in, cutting a deal with a major Hollywood agent that transforms his little farm into an international spiritual theme park—think Lourdes, only with cheese curds and t-shirts. Soon, Harley has lots of money . . . and more trouble than he ever dreamed.”

The Jesus Cow: What I thought

This was a humorous story about a man who only wanted peace and quiet. What he got was a veritable theme park in his back garden. He was trying to hide the calf with the Jesus image on its side, but didn’t manage. There come the crowds!

A fun read about a small town with its awkward relationships, secrets, and envy. Although only a few people are highlighted, it feels like a (small) town full of individuals. They all have their own interests at heart, and they clash. When the cow is discovered, for a while it seems the winners and losers have exchanged places. But are there really any winners now?

No one really knows what to do with all the crowds, until the men from Hollywood come in and sort it all out (including the money!). Poor Harley is more interested in his new girlfriend. Will she stay with him?

The ending is a little abrupt but is also the only way it could really have ended.

A real adventure involving a small town and its townspeople. And a cow.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (good to very good)

Number of pages: 288

First published: 2015

I got this book: for review from the publishers, Harper

Genre: contemporary fiction


Book Review: Aquarium by David Vann

Aquarium by David VannAquarium: What it is about

From the publishers: “Twelve-year-old Caitlin lives alone with her mother -a docker at the local container port – in subsidized housing next to an airport in Seattle. Each day, while she waits to be picked up after school, Caitlin visits the local aquarium to study the fish. Gazing at the creatures within the watery depths, Caitlin accesses a shimmering universe beyond her own. When she befriends an old man at the tanks one day, who seems as enamoured of the fish as she, Caitlin cracks open a dark family secret and propels her once-blissful relationship with her mother toward a precipice of terrifying consequence.

In crystalline, chiselled yet graceful prose, Aquarium takes us into the heart of a brave young girl whose longing for love and capacity for forgiveness transforms the damaged people around her. Relentless and heart-breaking, primal and redemptive, Aquarium is a transporting story from one of the best American writers of our time.”

Aquarium: What I thought

Wow, I liked this a lot! I started out being a fan of David Vann with his first few books. With Dirt I had a few issues, and Goat Mountain, his last book before Aquarium, I didn’t finish. But with Aquarium, Vann is back high on my list of favorite authors!

Caitlin has a difficult life living in poor housing with her mother, who has a job that is barely enough to keep them housed, clothed, and fed properly. She spends a lot of her time waiting. She arrives very early at school because her mother drops her off 90 minutes before school starts (so she can go to work), and she picks her up from the aquarium, where Caitlin spends time after school, until her mother is finished with her job.

In the aquarium she befriends a man, but when her mother finds out, she is furious. Caitlin’s mother finally starts talking about her past. A family drama ensues. There are some unpleasant scenes (of the blood and gore type), as we can expect from this author, but close your eyes and they’ll pass soon.

Eventually, this story starts to feel like a fairy tale (which is actually acknowledged by some of the characters!). Some of it is highly unlikely, but it makes a very good story. One point of complaint: Caitlin seemed a lot younger than twelve to me.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (very good)

Number of pages: 272

First published: 2015

I got this book: for review from the publishers, Random House, via Netgalley (eBook)

Genre: contemporary fiction

Also read by this author: Sukkwan Island, Caribou Island, Dirt, Goat Mountain


ArmchairBEA: Winner of the Giveaway

ArmchairBEA Logo

 Armchair BEA is for those people who cannot visit Book Expo America but still want to join in the fun. This week, May 27th to 31st, there are celebrations for those who stay at home rather than make it to New York. 

Armchair BEA is over! I still owe you the winner of the giveaway, though!

The winner, who couldn’t yet choose between win Mind of Winter and Arms Wide Open is…

Ashfa !

She was recovering from eye surgery this weekend. I hope you’re OK, Ashfa, and that by the time your book arrives, you can read again! I’ll contact you for your address.

Thanks to all who joined in and let me know what you did this weekend. It was fun to read!

Did you win anything during Armchair BEA?

I’m curious!  :-)


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