Monday, September 09, 2013

Recommendation - Haruki Murakami - Norwegian Wood

Posted by Roxy at 7:56 AM 0 comments

The Japanese author is one of the favorites for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013.Have you read any of his books? I am reading Dance, Dance, Dance at the moment. 

In this propulsive novel by the author of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and The Elephant Vanishes, one of the most idiosyncratically brilliant writers at work in any language fuses science fiction, the hard-boiled thriller, and white-hot satire into a new element of the literary periodic table.

As he searches for a mysteriously vanished girlfriend, Haruki Murakami's protagonist plunges into a wind tunnel of sexual violence and metaphysical dread in which he collides with call girls; plays chaperone to a lovely teenaged psychic; and receives cryptic instructions from a shabby but oracular Sheep Man. Dance Dance Dance is a tense, poignant, and often hilarious ride through the cultural Cuisinart that is contemporary Japan, a place where everything that is not up for sale is up for grabs.

The book that I would like to recommend today is a different one though. Norwegian Wood was first published in 1987 and it sold  more than 4 million copies.

Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before.  Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable.  As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.

A poignant story of one college student's romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man's first, hopeless, and heroic love.

The book has 173 5-star reviews on Amazon. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Book 1) - Alexander McCall Smith

Posted by Roxy at 12:15 PM 0 comments

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Book 1) is the first book in the series of novels The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, written by Alexander McCall Smith. The author was born in what is now Zimbabwe in 1948. He earned his PhD in law at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He returned to southern Africa in 1981 to help co-found and teach law at the University of Botswana. While there, he cowrote what remains the only book on the country's legal system, The Criminal Law of Botswana (1992). 3 years later, in 1984, he returned back to Scotland and 15 years later, the first book in the series was born - The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Alexander McCall Smith speaks about the inspiration behind this books series:

"The idea of writing about a Botswana lady came to me many years ago. I was living that year in Swaziland, but I spent some time over in Botswana. On a walk through Mochudi, north of Gaborone, I met a woman who gave a chicken to the people with whom I was staying. I remember thinking at the time: This is a remarkable woman – I wonder what her life story is. I never found out, but this meeting made me think that one day I would like to write about such a woman – resourceful, amusing, and intelligent. Then, out of my subconscious, knocking on the door so to speak, came Precious Ramotswe. I wrote a short story about her, and then discovered that I liked her and wanted to continue to record her life."

The action of the books takes place in Gaborone, Botswana and the main character is Precious Ramotswe, called Mma Ramotswe throughout the book (Mma and Rra are the formal terms of greeting and respect in Botswana). She is a single woman and the first woman to be a private detective in the whole Botswana. She is described as a "traditionally built" woman and she also has very traditional views. Throughout the books we learn about the Old Africa and its values: people help each other, they take care of the elders, they talk and greet respectfully. She is a good woman and a patriot. She loves her country and all the Botswana people, whom she considers her brothers and sisters. But above all, she has a great deal of love and respect for her late father, Obed Ramotswe. She often talks about him and his love for cattle and she often wonders what her father would say if he saw some of the things happening in the modern world. He loved his country too and was very proud to be a Motswana: "There's no other country in Africa that can hold its head up as we can. We have no political prisoners, and never have had any. We have democracy. We have been careful. The Bank of Botswana is full of money, from our diamonds. We owe nothing."

We also learn about other African cultures and the Motswana perception of them: "We were all afraid of the Zulus..." "The Zulus thought they were better than any of us and sometimes called us women." There are several political characters mentioned in the books: Seretse Kharma, "who was a good man, who invented Botswana and made it a good place." Mama Ramotswe always talks with a lot of respect and admiration about him and about the Queen.

We learn about African superstitions (crocodiles are bad luck) and about rituals. One of the stories in the book is inspired by a real case of a 14 year old girl, found murdered, supposedly for ritualistic purposes. The case was considered to be "medicine murder" (dipheko). Medicine murder is often termed ritual murder or muthi / muti murder.

The other main characters of the book are:

- Mma Grace Makutsi - the agency's secretary, who received ninety-seven percent in the final examinations at the Botswana Secretarial College - very important fact, mentioned in every book

- Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni - mechanic, owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors and close friend of Mma Ramotswe

Other characters:

- Note Mokoti - Mma Ramotswe's first husband

- Mr. Patel - one of the wealthiest men in the country who needs Mma Ramotswe's help

- Dr Maketsi - old friend of Mma Ramotswe, from Mochudi (her birth place)

Alexander McCall Smith's style is truly fascinating. I feel like I am a child again, reading captivating stories. I didn't have all the books when I started reading, so I started somewhere in the middle. I do not recommend it, as it got me a bit confused. Although there are different stories in every book, there are important things going on in the lives of the main characters and they are connected to the next book.

I love that the writer tends to repeat certain details, making it easier for the reader to remember them. We read in every book about Mma Makutsi's 97 percent, about the bush tea, about the values of the old Botswana, about the wisdom of Obed Ramotswe and the omnipresent cattle. Even if some of the cases Mma Ramotswe has to investigate involve adultery, murder, theft, the stories never resemble the typical mystery or detective ones. There is always an air of optimism and peace floating over the action. No matter what happens, you know that it will end well and that your favorite characters will be fine. There are few books that managed to make me feel so relaxed and peaceful. Mma Ramotswe, although a fictional character, feels very real. It is as if she is trying to teach you how to be a better person, how to respect the elders, how to be an honest person. It makes me have faith that there are still such good people in the world, in Botswana and maybe in every country. I didn't know anything about Botswana before reading this book, but it aroused my interest. I started reading more about this wonderful country and who knows, maybe I will even get to travel there someday. I believe there is a bit of Botswana in every country, maybe small villages where people know each other, where they still say hello to each other and invite you in if you are thirsty. The detective stories are always different, no two cases are alike. There is always a certain naiveté about the way the cases are solved. It is almost hard to believe people will confess and confide so easy, that they are so naive and never suspicious. But I believe it is true because that is the old Botswana that Mma Ramotswe talks about. It is the old world, where people trusted each other and believed you should be good and honest. 

And a few other covers for this book.

I recently discovered that The Republic of Tea has a limited edition collection called The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Teas 

There is also a TV series consisting of six episodes, created by the famous Anthony Minghella. Unfortunately, due to poor ratings, the show was canceled. I think it would have been very successful, if it had been given a second chance. 

You can watch the pilot episode here


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