Missing Person, by Patrick Modiano

Missing Person, by Patrick Modiano
Ten years ago, amnesiac Guy Rowland hired a private investigator to figure out who he was and where he came from. Soon afterwards, the PI gave Guy a new identity and a job as the PI’s assistant, saying that sometimes it’s best not to remember who you are. But now that his good friend and employer has retired, Guy again begins his search for identity. 

Reading this book made me understand why Modiano won the Nobel Prize in literature. The prose was almost poetic, and the imagery was gripping. For instance, he found a drained, emotionally dying clue to his past in a run-down bar. The whole chapter was filled with coffin and morgue imagery, complete with an “embalmed man” who observed everything, no matter how stimulating, without blinking an eye. All of Modiano’s chapters were set up in this way – with vivid imagery fitting the clue that he had found – though the imagery was always dark and mysterious. 

Unsurprising for a book about amnesia, the over-arching theme of the story was identity. Who am I? Does my past change who I am? These questions are explored as Guy’s own vision of who he is transforms as he gets more clues. We can only wonder at the end if he’s really found his real self, or if he’s just adopted the identity of a man who fits the person Guy wants to be. 

I definitely urge you to read Missing Person. I hope I find the time to read more Modiano in the future. 


The Rape of Nanking, by Iris Chang

2012 Book 165: The Rape of Nanking

Written by Iris Chang, Narrated by Anna Fields

Reason for Reading: Reading Globally group on LibraryThing’s China and surrounding countries theme read. 




Review

In the early 1930’s the Chinese city of Nanking was occupied by Japanese soldiers. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed by Japanese soldiers to save money for supplies. Women were brutally raped and mutilated. But the stories of these victims and the foreigners who risked their lives to help them are not often told. Iris Chang wanted the world to know about these atrocities. Her brutal history was very difficult for me to read because the atrocities were described in such detail that I felt sick. I had to take frequent breaks. But it was a very engaging narrative, so I always wanted to pick it back up again. Chang certainly knew how to write an interesting story! Several times while reading the book, though, I felt as though Chang was too emotionally involved to write a completely reliable narrative. I’m not denying the massacres at Nanking, mind, but I think Chang had a very anti-Japanese view which would have made her prefer the larger estimates for death numbers, made especially-brutal rapes sound more common than they may have been, and made the Japanese sound purely evil as a whole group without exception. Nevertheless, this book taught me a lot about the relationship between the Chinese and the Japanese. As long as the readers keep in mind Chang’s emotions, they can learn a lot from this engaging history.

I now have a hankering for a nice book about friendly, likable Japanese people. If you have any suggestions, let me know! 🙂

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

2012 Book 163: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

Reason for Reading: I was originally going to give it to my dad for Christmas, but it wasn’t as amazing as I thought it would be

Review

Jacob has grown up believing that his grandfather’s tales of adventure and magical children were a fantasy. However, when Jacob’s life is suddenly turned upside down, he must go on a quest to a tiny island off Wales to see the orphanage his grandfather grew up in. There, he discovers that there was some element of truth in his grandfather’s stories…and he finds out that his life is in danger. This book was a fantastic idea. Riggs used some unique vintage photographs that he’d borrowed from a few collectors and built a story around the weird images. The photos were fascinating…I really loved looking at them. And I was excited to see what sort of story was built around them. However, the story was a bit contrived. I suppose that it would have to be, given that it’s built around some randomly rescued photos…So Riggs deserves some credit for a good eye and a creative idea. His writing was a bit lack-luster…as I said, it was a bit contrived, and it leaned too heavily on formulaic fantasy. Shades of X-men, Groundhog Day, etc. abound. Nothing wrong with using old formulas, of course – no concept is every fully new – but overall the writing just didn’t hold its own. I might or might not pick up the next book in the series…we’ll see. 🙂 I’ll probably read it eventually because I imagine Riggs’ writing might improve on the second book, and it will seem less contrived if it’s based on plot development instead of photographs. 🙂

The Garden of the Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng

2012 Book 159: The Garden of the Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng

Reason for Reading: Short-listed for the 2012 Booker Prize

Review

Having suffered through a Japanese slave-camp during WWII, Yun Ling Teoh, a young Chinese-descent lawyer in Malaysia, carries around a lot of anger against the Japanese. However, she’d made a promise to her deceased sister that she would build a Japanese garden, so she reluctantly visits Aritomo – the only Japanese gardener in Malaysia. Aritomo refuses to design a garden for Yun Ling, but he offers to take her on as his apprentice so that she may design one herself. Yun Ling learns to let go of her anger as her friendship with Aritomo grows. But Aritomo has his own secrets. 

How can I express what an amazing book this was? Sure, it had a couple of slowish spots (it WAS, after all, a book about gardening) but the story is magical. The historical and cultural backdrop is intriguing (I learned a lot while reading, but didn’t feel like I was being “taught”). Because the book takes place in two different times (current day and shortly after WWII), the story unfolds gracefully – allowing the reader to learn the story of Aritomo and Yun Ling at just the right rate…but yet somehow the time also blends together giving an impression of continuity that is particular to Eastern philosophy. On top of that, the more I learned about the story, the more fascinated I was by the two characters. This book is definitely worth your time. 

Interpretive note with possible spoilers
One thing that struck me while I was reading this book is that I noticed an inconsistency in what the narrator (Yun Ling) was saying. At first, I wasn’t sure whether the author had made a mistake or if he had purposely introduced inconsistencies to show that Yun Ling had either an unreliable memory or was hiding something. I finally came to the later conclusion (though the unreliable memory was possible too). I think it’s fascinating that such inconsistencies added to the overall effect rather than subtracting from it. I applaud Tan Twan Eng for his careful writing of this book. 🙂

The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink

2012 Book 29: The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink (2/14/2012)

Reason for Reading: Filled in a 1001 Books and an International Fiction slot in my 12 in 12 challenge (and it was nice and short)

My Review 3.5/5 stars
15-year old Michael has a love affair with an older woman, who then disappears leaving him with uneasy feelings of guilt and abandonment. Years later, he discovers that she was a guard at Nazi concentration camps. While he attends her trial, and in the years following, Michael explores what it means to love someone who has done terrible things. For me, this was a new way to view the Holocaust, and so the story was very interesting. However, it’s not the type of book I generally enjoy, so this is the only reason I gave it a lower rating. I think it’s a very well written and thought-provoking book.

The Great Fortune, by Olivia Manning


2012 Book 10: The Great Fortune, by Olivia Manning (1/19/2012)

The Great Fortune is the story of Harriet, a young British woman who must learn to know her new husband while thrown into the strange setting of WWII Romania. The characterization on this novel was fantastic—I really felt like I knew all of the characters intimately. However, I can’t really say what the plot was about. It was a very character/setting-centric novel. The writing is superb, but I tend to prefer a little more plot development; therefore, this book gets only 3/5 stars.