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Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011: Reviews from the week December 11-17

December 18, 2011
Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 Badge

Image created by Matt Todd of A Novel Approach

Week 5 of our Shadow Man Asian Literary Prize 2011 longlist reviewing project and we’re moving along with quite a bumper crop of reviews this week  …

  • Haruki Murakami‘s IQ84 (Japan) by Matt of A Novel Approach. Matt, a student of Japanese literature, has mixed feelings. He calls it unwieldy, though he also admits that he’s not a Murakami fan.
  • Anuradha Roy’s The folded earth (India) by Fay of Read, Ramble. Fay, like Matt and me, admired the writing but had reservations about the whole.
  • Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please look after mother (or Mom, depending on your version) (Korea) by Lisa of ANZLitLovers. Lisa didn’t like it as much as Stu and Matt did from our team. I guess that’s one that she won’t have to worry about choosing from!
  • Banana Yoshimoto‘s The lake (Japan) by Lisa of ANZLitLovers. She’s not overly impressed by it, stating that this “tale of adolescent introspection dressed up as a surreal mystery looks very slight indeed”. I liked Kitchen, the first (and only) Yoshimoto book I’ve read, but that was a long time ago now. I look forward to seeing what I think about The lake which will be my next read for the project.

And, of course, if you missed it, I did finally manage my first review for the project this week: Anuradha Roy’s The folded earth.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2011 14:40

    Okay, I’m definitely going to wait for a review of IQ84 from someone who is a Murakami fan then! Or at least, someone who isn’t not a fan, if that makes sense. Like…. you?

    • December 18, 2011 19:19

      Maybe me … Particularly if it gets short listed. Otherwise you might want to look out for others!

  2. December 19, 2011 12:25

    Well, I have read 1Q84 and being a Murakami fan can say that I loved all the mass of it. It requires patience I will admit, but I found the dream-like rhythm of the book soothing. There’s a quiet menace hovering in the background throughout, which keeps one’s interest to the last page.

    • December 19, 2011 19:06

      Oh great to hear Anne … I do like Murakami but probably won’t get to this unless it is shortlisted. I know some members of an online reading group I keep an eye on are liking it.

  3. December 19, 2011 12:29

    Oh, a writer friend of mine Jeff Vandermeer recently interviewed Murakami and it’s on Amazon Omnivoracious here

    It’s a great interview by the way.

  4. December 19, 2011 17:24

    I’m a fan, and I’ve reviewed the book in three parts on my blog:

    If you understand what I’ve written though, I’ll be surprised 😉

    • December 19, 2011 19:08

      LOL Tony, thanks. I’ll check them out, though will probably not read them in detail until I read it myself as I like to come to books as fresh as possible though it’s hard with books like this that have a buzz around them.

  5. David Watson permalink
    December 22, 2011 10:09

    I finished The Colonel yesterday. I loved it, a superb book, but definitely one for people who know something about Iran. Its a harrowing story primarily set during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, but cuts over several time periods prior. I love the structure and the way it switches not only between third person and first person, but also between different first person narrators.
    Whilst on one level the book deals with the impact on Iranians, both individually and on families, of the revolution, it also poignantly captures the bitter arc of Iranian history from the brief flowering of democracy under Mossadeq, cruelly crushed by the CIA in collaboration with the British in 1953, through the installation of a Western friendly dictator, the Shah, through to the revolution and the implementation of a theocracy.
    In the survival of the secret police character (Khezr Javid) from the era of SAVAK into the post revolution era, we are reminded that oppressive regimes need a secret security apparatus to ensure survival.
    For me, the major theme of the book is a lament, often expressed by Iranians, for freedom and democracy. For 18 months or so (1952-3), it looked as if it would be realised under the leadership of Prime Minister Mossadeq (the Shah had left Iran at this time). However, since the CIA’s intervention, all Iran has known is the opposite.
    The revolution of 1979 that swept away the dictatorship of the Shah inspired hope in Iranians that they could once more move down the path of freedom and democracy. Sadly, the clerics, and in particular, Khomeini, had other ideas. The clerics had for many decades believed in the centrality of religion in the affairs of State. This belief was compounded by the desire for revenge long harboured since the 1920s when clerics were humiliated by the Shah’s father. The various groups in the revolution believed that Khomeini would only be a figurehead and that once the Shah was gone, a democratic state could be established. But, a brutal period of blood letting saw the eventual near eradication of all the other revolutionary groups with the eventual result being a theocracy with the clergy firmly in control of all the institutions of the state.
    All of this background is captured in the book together with references to other icons of Iranian history and culture. Iranians believe that had the West not thrown out their elected government in 1953, Iran would today be a fully functioning democracy and they would be a free people. By installing and supporting a vile dictator, the West sowed the seeds for rise of theocracy.
    At 220 pages, The Colonel, is not a long book, but it does require constant attention. Narrators change, time periods change and ghosts appear. Persian literature has a tradition of a kind of magic realism, so it comes as no surprise that Dowlatabadi blends reality and fantasy at certain points. This also heightens the need for careful reading, but if the time is invested, the rewards of this outstanding book will be fully appreciated.

    • December 22, 2011 10:45

      First, welcome David and thanks muchly for commenting. I hoped you would. It sounds a fascinating book. I’m impressed that it can contain so much – not just the content but the varied narrative voice and structure in so few pages. It sounds like one I’d love to give a go. I will try to.

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