Tag Archives: japan

ARC Review – A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith

27414389Title: A Darkly Beating Heart

Author: Lindsay Smith

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: No one knows what to do with Reiko. She is full of hatred. All she can think about is how to best hurt herself and the people closest to her. After a failed suicide attempt, Reiko’s parents send her from their Seattle home to spend the summer with family in Japan to learn to control her emotions. But while visiting Kuramagi, a historic village preserved to reflect the nineteenth-century Edo period, Reiko finds herself slipping back in time into the life of Miyu, a young woman even more bent on revenge than Reiko herself. Reiko loves being Miyu, until she discovers the secret of Kuramagi village, and must face down Miyu’s demons as well as her own.

Huge thank you to Macmillan for sending me an ARC of this book for review!

Molly’s Review:

Okay, so I know that this book doesn’t come out until October, but I HAD to read it as soon as I got it. For those of you who DON’T know, I lived in Japan for seven years and I generally find a lot of issues with YA books set in Japan. I’ve kinda taken it upon myself to read them and pick them apart. So I went into this book both excited and leary because I don’t believe that the author has actually lived or even spent a significant amount of time LIVING in Japan (I did read her author’s note and she went there for a vacation, I know).

That said I REALLY enjoyed this book. This is the story of a troubled Japanese-American girl who goes to Japan to stay with her Uncle and cousin while she tries to work out her issues. She’s waiting to hear back from colleges and planning her own perfect revenge against… well you find out later on who and why, but for most of the book you just get glimpses at those who wronged her.

Reiko is an angry girl. She’s a cutter (trigger warning) and she spends A LOT of time thinking about how she’s going to kill herself and get revenge on her ex-girlfriend, brother, parents, and later this extends to her cousin and friends. We find out that Reiko had a passionate relationship with a girl named Chloe who unleashed Reiko’s dark artistic side. Reiko is swept up in Chloe’s orbit and does thing that she normally wouldn’t, which later gets her into a lot of trouble.

While in Japan Reiko works for her Uncle’s web design company and spends time with her cousin and the other employees who are also employed by the cousin, Akiko, who is trying to become a J-Pop idol. Akiko has her own lifestyle brand that she’s trying to sell via her youtube channel, blog, cell phone novel and website. The other employees are basically her entourage as she tries to find ways to get her name out there. And Akiko’s boyfriend, who is a washed up idol himself, gets Akiko a gig at a culture festival in a remote Japanese village.

So the group travels to Kuramagi village where Reiko is swept away to another time, the Edo period, where she inhabits the body of a young woman who is filled with her own rage and revenge plots. Reiko loves being in Miyu’s body and feeling all of Miyu’s hate. At first, when Reiko time travels, she thinks that her antidepressants are making her crazy and she gets rid off them. But we later find out that something much more sinister is happening, something that happens every year at the festival, something that the village is desperately trying to stop.

So the story was good, I really enjoyed it. As for the writing I thought that the whole”I walk the path of vengeance, I must get my revenge” parts were a LITTLE heavy handed. Like, we got it, Reiko is angry. And while I liked the glimpses of what had happened, and we do get the full story by the end, I was sometimes frustrated that I didn’t have a full picture and was just filling in gaps and wasn’t quite sure if I was even right.

As for the Japanese aspects a lot of them were pitch perfect. My only two nitpicks are:

1. Why in the world did Smith keep using the world “pallet” for a futon!? This boggled my mind to no end. She uses TONS of Japanese words (well) in the text with either direct translation or translation that follows not too long after. But the entire time they were sleeping on “pallets”. And I really don’t see why the word futon wasn’t just used, defined, and then used for the rest of the book.

2. Names. In Japan it’s Surname followed by Given name. There are many different honorifics that are used much like Mr/Mrs, Sir/Ma’am etc. Usually these name conventions fall away around foreigners. In the group and at work they should have ALL been referring to each other by Last name + san. Instead they all use first names. I chalked this up to them being around Reiko and falling out of the convention because of her, but from my own experiences even around myself the Japanese people (especially while speaking Japanese) would not have used first names. So while Reiko was being called Reiko and using everyone’s first names, Akiko would NOT have been calling Kenji by his first name unless they were VERY good friends and even then she probably should have added “kun”.

And then in the Edo period it was very odd that everyone was again using first names. Especially for Miyu who was so hated. And she would not have called Jiro by his first name from the very start. I’m not even sure if she would have used it after they got closer.

So yeah, those were my only two real issues. The rest of the Japan stuff felt very authentic and true to my experiences as well as those around myself. I enjoyed that Smith didn’t get too heavy with the “weird” Japan and that she really seemed to have a grasp on the lifestyle brand culture that Akiko was going for. Major props.

Sam’s Review:

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

I love books set in Japan despite having never visited. There’s always something very atmospheric and lore driven, which A Darkly Beating Heart follows to a tee. I loved how well put together the story was, I thought the characters were very interesting, and the use of time travel was something quite special given our heroine goes backwards in time.

I loved Reiko and I thought she was a great character. I feel like we get such a huge sense of her emotions, her desire for revenge, and how she is struggling to define her anger given her circumstances. I also loved the Miyu half, because I think it perfectly manifests angry and aggression in a way that feels almost symbolic given Miyu’s story. They were a neat fusion of characters, and I liked how Smith blended them together.

I also thought the way idol culture was presented was really interesting here. Aki comes across like quite the nutjob at times, but it’s because you spend a lot of the story seeing her as her brand rather than a person. She’s malicious and calculating at times, but it’s interesting because you see it more from her being a businesswoman than just that type of person outright. It also doesn’t help that certain characters really pander to her branding, which made for some great moments in the story. Personally, I liked Kazuo. He likes the PlayStation Vita, which makes me happy given that no one seems to love the Vita.

While I think the ending wraps up a bit too neatly, I do love this story and I think Smith has a knack for doing balanced research and transforming it into an interesting narrative. I loved reading her Author’s Note where she explains where her inspiration came from, as well as the extent of her research went. There’s a great sense of tension and emotion in A Darkly Beating Heart and if you love books that feel dark and mysterious, check this one out.

Well done books set in Japan

 

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For the past month all I’ve done is cook Japanese food, read books set in Japan, and miss things like Japanese convenience stores, dependable trains, and being able to walk around a night feeling safe. Then a facebook memory popped up and reminded me that I moved back to the USA two years ago. Huh. No wonder I’ve been devouring Japanese stuff left and right.

It’s weird. After moving back both my husband and I were almost rejecting everything Japanese that we could. We didn’t eat Japanese food, listen to Japanese music, or watch anything Japan related. Then we slowly started to get home sick and binged on everything Japan. I think we’ve found a nice balance now. We love our home in Boston, we love MIT, but we also really love to shop at the Asian supermarket and order sushi to eat while watching anime.

As many of you know I love to read books set in Japan, but I have a lot of trouble with what’s out there. A lot of popular things are written by white authors that only experienced Japan for a short time in a very limited perspective. There is a huge difference between living in Japan for many years vs. visiting vs. studying abroad vs. teaching English for a year. I’m not going to belittle anyone’s experiences, but you CANNOT claim authority on something that you haven’t fully experienced. And this is where I have a lot of issue with some of the books I read. Whenever I find out a book is set in Japan (at least in the YA scope) I HAVE to find out what the author’s experience is. While I do think that it’s okay for author’s to write outside of their experiences, I also think that if they chose to do so, they need to get their work vetted by those who HAVE lived those experiences.

So I want to talk about some of the books that I’ve read recently that I’ve found to be spot on with accuracy.

25898828The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw — Five stars

I just finished this book and I ADORED it. The Last Cherry Blossom is a middle grade book set in Japan during WWII around the time of the atomic bomb. This book is based on the author’s mother’s experiences in WWII Japan and during the dropping of the atom bomb. It’s well written and based on true events!

27414389A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith — Four stars

I did go into this book with a little hesitance. The author visited Japan but (as far as I know) has never lived there for any period of time. I was a little worried but she did a lot of research and seems to have gotten her work vetted by those with experience in Japan. I did have a few Japanese word usage issues and a couple of authenticity qualms, but overall it was well done and didn’t get anything glaringly WRONG. This is a story that takes place in modern Japan and historical Japan. It’s also a ghost story. I really loved how the author did use her experiences from her visit to Japan to really get a lot of the details right.

25688977The Monster on the Road is Me by J.P. Romney — Five stars

I LOVED this book. The author taught English with the JET program and lived in a small village in the Japanese countryside. I love that he had such a different experience than most English teachers who work in or near larger cities. This book is 100% Japanese in the fact that there are no non-Japanese characters. It’s based on Japanese folklore and has a lot of Japanese words used in the text (a little too much at times I thought). The parts that take place in the classroom and school are something only those who have actually worked in Japanese high schools would be able to really tell us about. I had no issues with any of the accuracy in this book and LOVED that there wasn’t any “white savior” nonsense going on.

26138370Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse — Five Stars

When I first heard about this book I was worried that it was going to be written by another white girl who studied abroad for a little or taught English in Tokyo for a year. But after connecting with the author we got super nostalgic about our lives in Japan and I got REALLY excited to see what this book was about. It’s a love letter to Tokyo, to Japan, and to her life there. I’ve seen a few reviews saying how they wished there was more Japanese culture in this book and that Japan was only used as a backdrop and that a lot more could have been done. I disagree. This book isn’t about a girl going and exploring and learning about Japan. This is the story of a girl who’s lived there for a long time. She’s already integrated. She also very much lives the life of an expat; she goes to an English speaking school, she has a lot of English speaking friends, and she lives in Tokyo… where you don’t have to speak Japanese to survive. She’s also a teen who has a mother that takes care of the more critical aspects of living in Japan. This is instead the story of a girl who lives in that circle (I knew A LOT of people who lived in expat circles) who has to say goodbye to a country and culture that she loves. There is a TON of Japan and Japanese culture in this book and I loved how none of it was really forced or taught or explained from a superior stance. I hate it when I read books about a character moving to Japan and then the author goes on and on about the culture in a totally unnatural way that is basically showing off how much they know. This book doesn’t do that, and I loved it.

30521682Year of the Talking Dog by Patrick Sherriff — Five Stars

This book is the second book in the Hana Walker series. I LOVED the first book and was so excited that I got to beta read the second book. I have since re-read the published version and damn, it was so good. The Hana Walker Mysteries series is about a half Japanese half British girl who gets sucked into solving mysteries that deal with the yakuza and in this one, a North Korean spy. I know the author personally and he’s lived in Japan for quite some time. He also has children who are half Japanese half British and I love that he’s representing his daughters in his work. Someday they’ll read his novels and see themselves in them and that’s just amazing to me. These books make me miss Japan SO much.

So there we go. Do you  know of any books that are set in Japan that you think I should check out? I have a list on my goodreads account and I am ALWAYS looking for books to add to it!

 

ARC Review – The Monster on the Road Is Me by J.P. Romney

25688977Title: The Monster on the Road Is Me

Author: J.P. Romney

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: It starts with the crows. When you see them, you know he s found you.

Koda Okita is a high school student in modern-day Japan who isn’t very popular. He suffers from narcolepsy and has to wear a watermelon-sized helmet to protect his head in case he falls. But Koda couldn’t care less about his low social standing. He is content with taking long bike rides and hanging out in the convenience store parking lot with his school-dropout friend, Haru.

But when a rash of puzzling deaths sweeps his school, Koda discovers that his narcoleptic naps allow him to steal the thoughts of nearby supernatural beings. He learns that his small town is under threat from a ruthless mountain demon that is hell-bent on vengeance. With the help of a mysterious – and not to mention very cute classmate – Koda must find a way to take down this demon. But his unstable and overwhelming new abilities seem to have a mind of their own.

Huge thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy of this for review!

Molly’s Review:

Guys this book was FANTASTIC. It’s on my list of “authentic books set in Japan”. (For those of you just tuning in, I lived in Japan for seven years.) The author DID live in Japan, so I went into this with high hopes. At first I thought it was going to fall prey to the “I know a lot about Japan let me show off my superior knowledge and Japanese skills” but that soon fell to the wayside. There IS a lot of Japanese in this that doesn’t have direct translation nor does this book have a glossary, and technically all of the characters are speaking Japanese so the random Japanese words really didn’t need to be there IMO, but generally you could get a sense of what the word meant from the way it was used and usually a few paragraph’s later the Japanese word was subbed out for it’s English translation. That was really my only issue with this book and the Japan aspect of it.

The rest is awesome. It’s set in a small village in the Japanese countryside. Our main character is a dorky teen boy who is narcoleptic and falls asleep when he gets stressed out. He has to wear a dorky looking helmet (not all of the time, but often enough) and he’s just kinda socially awkward. His parents are really old and they live on a shitake mushroom farm. Koda, while not being super popular, is hilarious. I loved his voice SO MUCH. This book cracked me up with Koda’s sarcasm and wit.

In this book Koda’s classmates start to kill themselves and they leave behind very weird things in the wake of their suicides. Koda discovers that when he touches something related to the student that died he can actually see what they went through in their last moments… and soon after discovering this a foxy older girl shows up and starts to boss Koda around. He dorkily falls for her and the banter between the two of them is so cute and humorous. The girl, Moya, explains to Koda that there’s something sinister happening in the village and that there are forces out there willing to kill him.

This book takes Japanese culture, folklore, and modernity for a spin and meshes them together in such a fun way. I really enjoyed Romney’s writing and was very happy to see such a well done Japan book in YA. I REALLY hope this book gets a lot more attention.

Molly & her Raven Boys

kingおう + 王 + ou + KING
Make way for the Raven King!

In the summer for 2013 I read The Raven Boys. I’d been told over and over again by a very good friend that I HAD to read it. I… put it off. I was told to read The Scorpio Races (also by Maggie Stiefvater) and I put it off. Then I ended up getting an eARC of The Dream Thieves and a copy of The Raven Boys for .99 on my kindle so… I read it.

And hated myself for not having read it sooner.

trcThree years later and I have read ALL of Maggie’s books. And I love them all, but The Raven Cycle is just something more for me. It’s something special. I religiously re-read The Raven Boys on January first EVERY year. I have never re-read an entire series of books the way I have with these books. I have never COLLECTED books like this before. I mean, I thought I was a pretty big Harry Potter fan… but The Raven Cycle is my lifesblood.

I was thinking about it the other day, trying to figure out WHY I love this series so much, why I love these characters so much. And I think it’s because it feels like home to me. There are bits and pieces of these stories and characters and settings that speak to me because they were parts of my life. And each one of the boys, Gansey, Ronan, Adam and Noah, have parts of people that I have known and loved in them. I’ve had a grand total of ONE friendship like Blue has with these boys. And I can see my mother and my mother’s friends in Blue’s mother and extended family. I grew up around boys who loved fast cars with big engines and boys who swore too much and boys who were assholes and boys who grew up in the dirt and boys who were princes among men. I grew up with a magical forest (okay, not ~magical~ magical) in my back yard and cows across the street. I grew up with mythology and history and free thinking.

I also love these books because Maggie’s way with words is fucking witchcraft and I love it. I will read ANYTHING she writes and I’m 98% guaranteed to love it by default because of her writing alone.

I finished The Raven King last weekend (I was lucky to get an early copy thanks to my bookstore selling it early, shame on them!). I cried, I laughed, I handed the book to my husband at the end of it all and he tried to put it in the trash because I looked so. damn. lost. I sat on my bed and just SAT there and he came in and asked if I was okay and I just looked at him and said “It’s over. It’s really over.”

Guys, I don’t even know if I was THIS far gone when I finished the last Harry Potter book. The feelings I had after finishing The Raven King… I’m not even sure what to compare them to.

I just fucking love these books. And now I can’t believe that it’s over. But I still have work to do. I love to underline my favorite bits in the paperbacks (I don’t mark up my hard covers or ARCs) so now I have to wait until the paperback comes out so I can re-read and underline EVERY SINGLE RONAN LINE ugh he was perfection in this book.

ANNNND I get to see Maggie in May. I am kinda in shock over this. I thought that I’d never get to meet her and forever be vicariously living through my friends as they meet her and I force them to tell her that I’m their friend! She’s gonna meet me and be like “what a weird-o!” but AH! I can’t wait. I’ll blog about that FOR SURE!

***

HI GUYS! If you have made it this far into the post then I will now transition into a less Raven Boys post and into a more personal post. As you all saw, my coblogger, my love, Sammy, recently lost her mother. She just wrote a pot about it (points to post below) and I’d appreciate it if you could all leave her some love and support in the comments!

I do not have much to report on the personal front. I’ve been reading a lot, working at my job, and just hanging out. Husband is busy, as always, being a crazy mad scientist, so that leaves me with a lot of free time to READ. I’ve recently been cooking a lot of Japanese food (you can see it on my instagram @safeaslife) and watching a few anime here and there.

Actually here’s a thing that I’ve been dealing with lately. I’ve really been missing Japan. For those of you that are new, I used to live in Japan, and moved to Boston in 2014 with my husband so he could go to MIT. I lived in Japan for roughly 7 years and I LOVED it. The last year I was there I tried REALLY hard to convince myself that I was ready to leave Japan and part of me was. There WAS a part of me that wasn’t (and probably never will be) ready to leave and I just kinda… shoved that part down really deep. And then I proceeded to ignore that part for the past year and a half. My husband and I were DETERMINED to enjoy our US life and not miss Japan. We were going to eat American food and watch American TV and NEVER touch Japanese anything.

Well, unfortunately for him there’s a thing called culture shock and homesickness. And he did succumb to them. I… did as well. Yes, I am homesick for my second home. And I am FINALLY accepting this. He is too. He used to be so anit-Japanese stuff (minus food) and now we watch a lot of anime and he watched a lot of Japanese TV shows that he misses and we listen to Japanese music and I cook Japanese food and even have started to buy his favorite food (natto) on a weekly basis. I’ve been telling myself that it’s okay to miss Japan and to enjoy the stuff that I loved about Japan. We might move back in the future, we might not. But I need to be okay with this. I mean, I DO love being back in the USA, there’s a ton of stuff that I love/appreciate that I couldn’t get in Japan. But damn, there are times when I am just bowled over with nostalgia and homesickness.

So yeah. There’s that. Oh and I’m thinking about going by my real name on the blog again. I don’t really need to hide behind a pseudonym anymore (and I’ve been using my real name on twitter for awhile now).

ARC Review – The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

25821928Title: The Night Parade

Author: Kathryn Tanquary

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: The last thing Saki Yamamoto wants to do for her summer vacation is trade in exciting Tokyo for the antiquated rituals and bad cell reception of her grandmother’s village. Preparing for the Obon ceremony is boring. Then the local kids take an interest in Saki and she sees an opportunity for some fun, even if it means disrespecting her family’s ancestral shrine on a malicious dare.

But as Saki rings the sacred bell, the darkness shifts. A death curse has been invoked… and Saki has three nights to undo it. With the help of three spirit guides and some unexpected friends, Saki must prove her worth – or say good-bye to the world of the living forever.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

The Night Parade is one of those middle grade novels where the cover doesn’t tell you much. It’s beautiful, there’s creatures, darkness, but that’s only the tip of what this story is about. This is a book that explores Japanese culture and folklore, and it’s one of those stories that does a fantastic job of immersing the reader from beginning to end.

This novel focuses on a young girl named Saki who is forced to go on vacation to her grandmother’s remote village for the Obon ceremony. Leaving the glitz of Tokyo behind, Saki is forced to accept that she has no escape and no cellphone reception. She is told she had to make friends for the summer and suck it up. I have to say, I loved Saki. She’s a bit bratty at times, but her plight of a potentially boring vacation is completely understandable. While she seems like a bit of a snot at the beginning of the novel, Tanquary does this amazing job of showing Saki’s gradual growth and transformation in the story. She goes from being completely unappreciative of the world around her, to someone who begins to value it. Essentially this novel is about Saki proving her worth to both the human and spirit worlds.

When Saki defaces the her family’s ancestral shrine (shame on her!) that is when the fun of the novel really begins. A fox, tengu, and tanuki, creatures of folklore begin to appear, and they plan to make Saki’s life a bit more difficult. This novel is rich with beautiful descriptions and poses as a cautionary tale in a lot of ways. There are moments that feel dark and tense, and you get this huge sense that Saki has done so much wrong in defacing her ancestors, and yet you also see how remorseful she is as well. Her guides were cute, funny, and full of sass. I loved how they helped Saki in her journey and I thought how they were used in the story in terms of Japanese mythology was spot on.

This is one of those novels where I read it and adored it all the way through. The Night Parade is full of life and it’s engaging not only for middle grade readers, but adults as well. While the writing is a tad simplistic, I appreciate a lot of the messages shared throughout the story. There is so much fun and adventure to be had reading The Night Parade and I definitely encourage lovers of middle grade to check it out.

ARC Review – Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban

25667444Title:  Paper Wishes

Author: Lois Sepahban

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: A moving debut novel about a girl whose family is relocated to a Japanese internment camp during World War II–and the dog she has to leave behind.

Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family’s life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed. It’s 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Manami and her family are Japanese American, which means that the government says they must leave their home by the sea and join other Japanese Americans at a prison camp in the desert. Manami is sad to go, but even worse is that they are going to have to give her dog, Yujiin, to a neighbor to take care of. Manami decides to sneak Yujiin under her coat, but she is caught and forced to abandon him. She is devastated but clings to the hope that somehow Yujiin will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again. It isn’t until she finds a way to let go of her guilt that Manami can accept all that has happened to her family.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I seem to be a magnet for books about young girls and their dogs. Authors who write these kinds of books and I always seem to connect instantly, and Lois Sepahban’s book is not exception. Mind you, this book also focuses on the Japanese internment camps, something I admit, I knew about, but didn’t entirely understand the lengths of.

This book is simple, if beautiful written. It looks at the story of a girl who is whisked away from her normal life and thrown into an internment camp due to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Many Japanese families are forced into these camps under levels of suspicion, but when our heroine Manami is torn away from Yujiin her dog, let’s just say I bawled.

Then when other dogs started to hang about the camp, yet Manami was still dreaming of Yujiin, I bawled again.

Manami’s simple narrative carries the reader through this rough historical period in a way that is very honest and quite blunt. You get a sense that her innocence has been completely lost, and all she has now to gain is experience. She’s so young to have her innocence taken from her due to the threats of war, but you understand (as she does) that there is more than meets the eye in her current situation.

This book beautifully illustrates family, companionship between a girl and her dog, friendship, and it does it all in a way that is both easy, yet powerful to read. This book is so short, yet it packs such a large, hard hitting punch. It makes you come to terms with how history has a way of displacing people and making them feel like even if they are innocent of a crime, the world doesn’t necessarily see it that way. I felt for Manami and her family, but mostly I spent a lot of the book just wishing and hoping that Manami and Yujiin would be reunited.

Paper Wishes is a beautiful and melancholy novel. It doesn’t ask a lot of the reader, but it wants to paint the picture of displacement in a way that many can understand. I highly recommend this book if you love learning about Japanese history or you want a touching middle grade tale.

ARC Review – Wind/Pinball: Two Early Novels by Haruki Murakami

24013720Title:  Wind/Pinball: Two Early Novels

Author: Haruki Murakami

Rating:  ★★★★

Synopsis: The debut short novels–nearly thirty years out of print– by the internationally acclaimed writer, newly retranslated and in one English-language volume for the first time, with a new introduction by the author.

These first major works of fiction by Haruki Murakami center on two young men–an unnamed narrator and his friend and former roommate, the Rat. Powerful, at times surreal, stories of loneliness, obsession, and eroticism, these novellas bear all the hallmarks of Murakami’s later books, giving us a fascinating insight into a great writer’s beginnings, and are remarkable works of fiction in their own right. Here too is an exclusive essay by Murakami in which he explores and explains his decision to become a writer. Prequels to the much-beloved classics A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance, these early works are essential reading for Murakami completists and contemporary fiction lovers alike.

Huge thank you to Random House Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

So I spent many, many years looking to find a translation for both of these novels. Believe it or not a translation did exist forHear the Wind Sing, but the price to get a physical copy of it was beyond absurd. So colour me thrilled when this collection was announced (and once again translated by an old professor of mine). Wind/Pinball is a bind up of Hear the Wind Sing andPinbal 1973, and are Murakami’s first two “novels” if you wish to call them that.

What I loved about this collection was that we get to see the beginnings of a young Haruki Murakami. We see the themes that are now considered staples in his works showing early life. Isolation, love, jazz, it’s all here in it’s rawest forms. Personally, I really enjoyed the visit in both these stories, especially because it gave me a lot of insight into Murakami as an early writer, and it shows the rougher areas in his writing where you can tell he was still new to the craft. It felt like such an enriching experience. The downside, however, to this is that while these were his first novels, they don’t actual feel like anything new. I could sense that some of his later works were influenced by these first two stories, particularly South of the Border, West of the Sun, which I’d argue is still a better novel than both of these.

However, I enjoyed and read both novels in one sitting. Murakami’s writing is still captivating, and it was interesting to see the origins of The Rat, who is a popular character in A Wild Sheep Chase. You get to see two very distinctive and different sides to this character when reading Wind/Pinball, and yet you know it’s the same person from all three stories. I adored both novels but for different reasons: in Hear the Wind Sing, I loved how the hero was a disc-jockey, yet he didn’t have the greatest social skills. Reading that particular story gave me a huge appreciation for why jazz and its culture is so prevalent in Murakami’s works.

Pinball 1973 was the more quirky of the two stories, as once again we have a jazz loving protagonist, with an interest in pinball, but can’t seem to get the ladies to like him. Again, we have all of Murakami’s signature themes, but in this story we start to see more of the quirky sense of humour that Murakami has. My favourite part was these two twins and the protagonist could never figure out how to identify them separately, and they play being identical twins up so hard on him. It’s gets so bad that they get sweat-shirts with different numbers on them, and when he asks if he can call them by number, they take off their shirts and switch them. I thought that was hilarious.

I think for hardcore Murakami fans, this is a must read in the sense that it’ll provide you with some historical insight into his early works, as well as his writing process. The introduction in this collection alone is worth reading for those curious about his habits, where he came from, and why he reuses the same themes throughout his stories. Both stories offer a lot of interesting moments, though similarly they don’t offer anything that feels new or that you haven’t seen from Murakami before. They’re worth the read, and then while your at it, go read A Wild Sheep Chase to simply see how the Rat’s story comes to end.