{Book Review} Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

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Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship.*

(Yes, it’s been a while since I posted! Life, especially medical school, has proven itself to be a black hole for most of my time and energy, and I haven’t been able to read for pleasure as much as I would have liked. I still get to read books for fun, but only this one has compelled me to write a review this year so far. That, and it’s ASEAN week for us here in the Philippines, so I have no classes this week! We still have schoolwork to do, but yay, conditional freedom. Anyway, on to the review!)

Let it be known that I had no idea what this book was about when I started reading it, even though I’ve heard about it for a while now. I think that’s probably an amazing feat, actually, granting that I follow a lot of book bloggers in various social media sites, but med school blinders are pretty powerful. I’m glad I read this book, though. I thought I had John Green all figured out, and therefore could brace myself from emotional onslaught, but then Turtles All The Way Down prances into the picture and I end up getting all sorts of unwarranted feelings from a book again. 

I just read the book’s final page around 40 minutes ago, and the time it took reaching to typing this sentence was mostly spent trying to figure out how I really feel about this book. I had such a hard time reading this because of Aza’s obsessive-compulsiveness (she has OCD, even though it was never explicitly mentioned), or what she calls her “invasives”, but I flew by the pages anyway because I wanted to know what would happen to her. I didn’t find Aza likable at the beginning, but accompanying her in her journey to become a better version of herself has made me quite attached to her by the end. I suppose in a way, her psychiatrist Dr. Singh was correct in saying that your thoughts are not you. The book was narrated by Aza, yes, but beyond her warring thoughts, her personality just shines through.

It’s become so typical to read about teenagers who have meaningful conversations about science, philosophy, and life in a John Green novel, but I loved this nevertheless! Some people have mentioned how unrealistic the conversations portrayed teenagers, but I will argue that as a teenager not too long ago, I loved thinking about this sort of thing. I just never had the eloquence nor the courage to express those thoughts out loud. To be quite honest, between the conversations, the main character, and other aspects of the plot, I found the missing billionaire part the most forgettable. It wasn’t as fleshed out as I expected, but eventually, even as its loose ends were tied up, it wasn’t the reason I continued reading until the end.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The most fascinating part for me was Aza, her relationship with herself, and how she got along with the people around her. It felt really vulnerable and personal, and learning that this is but a foggy reflection of the John Green’s own struggles with OCD made more of an impact for me, because it helped me understand mental illness a bit better. That definitely makes this book important.

My favorite quotes (the whole thing is pretty quotable, really): 

Whether it hurts is kind of irrelevant.”

“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.”

And the thing is, when you lose someone, you realize you’ll eventually lose everyone.”

One of the challenges with pain—physical or psychic—is that we can really only approach it through metaphor. It can’t be represented the way a table or a body can. In some ways, pain is the opposite of language.”

And we’re such language-based creatures that to some extent we cannot know what we cannot name. And so we assume it isn’t real. We refer to it with catch-all terms, like crazy or chronic pain, terms that both ostracize and minimize. The term chronic pain captures nothing of the grinding, constant, ceaseless, inescapable hurt. And the term crazy arrives at us with none of the terror and worry you live with. Nor do either of those terms connote the courage people in such pains exemplify, which is why I’d ask you to frame your mental health around a word other than crazy.”

Your now is not your forever.”

Everyone always celebrates the easy attractiveness of green or blue eyes, but there was a depth to Davis’s brown eyes that you just don’t get from lighter colors, and the way he looked at me made me feel like there was something worthwhile in the brown of my eyes, too.”

It’s a weird phrase in English, in love, like it’s a sea you drown in or a town you live in. You don’t get to be in anything else—in friendship or in anger or in hope. All you can be in is love.”

Thoughts are only thoughts. They are not you. You do belong to yourself, even when your thoughts don’t.”

Every loss is unprecedented. You can’t ever know someone else’s hurt, not really—just like touching someone else’s body isn’t the same as having someone else’s body.”

Life is a series of choices between wonders.”

In the best conversations, you don’t even remember what you talked about, only how it felt.”

“…the world is also the stories we tell about it.”

People always talk like there’s a bright line between imagination and memory, but there isn’t, at least not for me. I remember what I’ve imagined and imagine what I remember.”

I missed everybody. To be alive is to be missing.”

You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.”

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4.5/5

286 pages
Author: John Green
Original Language: English
Published: 2017
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Fiction

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{Book Review} The Martian by Andy Weir

 

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?*

I never realized how much of a nerd I really am until this book. You see, I’m not a very good student. I do better at standardized tests than my grades would suggest, but when you put me in a classroom for prolonged periods of time, the grades I churn out give a convincing argument that I’m a pretty average student (I was better in high school, but everyone knows that college is a different ball game altogether), so it came as a bit of a surprise that I really liked this book. It’s like a novel-length solution with pretty solid mathematical proof (I wouldn’t know, I just took Watney’s word for it that his calculations were right, haha) for the problem of how anyone can survive on Mars. Okay, Mark Watney’s obviously not anyone, as he’s a botanist and mechanical engineer on top of being a trained astronaut. He’s way ahead of majority of Earth’s population in terms of chances of survival, but you know what I mean. There is a lot of technical stuff thrown around, from the way the NASA machines work to how they get messed up (which happens several times in the book – who knew life on Mars was hard?!?). It sounds boring and cerebral, but somehow I, the person who never waxed poetic about technical subjects in college, enjoyed it. I think it really says something about a character’s likability if you’re willing to read through how oxygenators and water reclaimers work just to see if he survives at the end. It really helped that Watney is a very good-natured, funny, optimistic kind of guy, because I really wasn’t under the impression that I’d laugh at all while reading this. I totally get how his journal style sometimes can make people feel like he isn’t taking anything seriously, but I liked how it wasn’t all bleak and serious like most sci-fi books are. Maybe it’s because Watney’s log entries exhibit my type of humor, but it definitely made reading the technical parts easier.

TL;DR lots of technobabble but hero’s pretty cool so I really liked it.

I have no idea how this will be translated to the big screen, but I’m ready to see it!

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5
Hardcover, 369 pages
Author: Andy Weir
Publisher: Crown
Published: September 23, 2012
Language: English
Genre: Science Fiction

{Book Review} The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.

Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. ‘I nearly missed you, Doctor August,’ she says. ‘I need to send a message.’

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.*

It wasn’t easy for me to read this. Harry, the protagonist, would often tell tales of his travels in his various lives, and insert historical happenings here and there that I found tedious to read. Just when something exciting was happening, the next chapter would be a flashback to something he experienced while in Argentina or wherever, and this happened often enough that I had to pretty much force myself to just continue reading. To put matters in perspective, I took almost three and a half weeks to read the first half, and just a little under three days to finish the rest. I figured that perhaps it was hard for me to read about the 20th century because I wasn’t used to it, seeing as the historical fiction I usually read was around 18th-19th, and the 20th felt too recent and depressing with all its wars. Nevertheless, I think I would have appreciated that historical aspect more if the pacing wasn’t too slow for my liking. I’m really glad I stuck with the story though, because in retrospect, the idea of the kalachakra/ouroboran, people that ‘resurrect’ after death in the same time and place they were born, and the various implications of what their actions can do in the ripples of time and how they get killed turned out to be very interesting. Without revealing things too much, both hero and villain were kalachakra, so you can just imagine them battling with all their wits throughout whole lifetimes, only to resume it when they are born again and start over from wherever and whenever they came from. A kalachakra’s date and place of birth, along with his/her parents, are vital information because this is the only way they can be completely killed, so you can just imagine the lengths each side will go through to find out each other’s origins first. I wasn’t a big fan of all the flashbacks, but as you can see, I found the main story line exciting, and by the time it was clear who the villain was (you’ll only find out around the second half of the book – told ya it took too long to get things going here), I couldn’t get myself to stop reading anymore. In the end, I decided that the entertainment I got from the main story outweighed my dissatisfaction with how my relationship with this book began, hence the stars.

This book is part historical, part sci-fi, part travelogue/biography, so if you have an interest in these things, read this by all means! It’ll be worth it in the end.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3.5/5
Hardcover, 432 pages
Author: Claire North
Publisher: Redhook
Published: January 1, 2014
Language: English
Genre: Science Fiction, Historical

{Book Review} Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hairactually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?*

This is another episode of me putting aside all other reading commitments in answer to a challenge to read and review another highly recommended book (*shakes fist at Maria* honestly, woman, the things you make us do). I wanted so badly to go write a review for another book but unfortunately this has to take precedence, because I don’t often get competitive and it’s a moment to be treasured. Anyway.

The world Laini Taylor created was beautiful, and my imagination ran wild with envisioning the creatures and the characters, as well as the places described. One of my bookish friends said I would want to go to Prague after reading this, and she was right. One of the reasons I couldn’t finish reading this book in one sitting as I planned was because I constantly had to stop and look pictures of Prague. Sometimes I would stop and bring out my sketchbook (number two, if you must know, and unfortunately still not art student material) and try drawing Madrigal or Akiva or some other chimaera, because all of the scenes with Karou drawing in it made me want to try it too. I loved imagining everything in my head, and certain aspects of the book brought out that childlike wonder.

The writing was also exquisite. I loved all the cosmic adjectives and the author’s pretty ways of describing things, and while some were pretty wordy (or was I the only one constantly checking the dictionary just to see if I deducted the meaning right?), it didn’t feel contrived or affected at all. The flow of words was natural, and reading it was like a dream, so there’s definitely no problem on that front…

…but. See, this is why I am always weary of paying attention to hyped anythings – it’s hard not to have expectations. While said expectations have been met in the aforementioned aspects, I thought there was something missing that prevented me from really enjoying this book. I suppose it’s just a matter of taste, because a lot of people like this book, and I could see why, and it’s just that it’s not for me. There were some parts that reminded me too much of other books I didn’t enjoy, books that also had hints of too beautiful men and instant attraction that didn’t make me as invested in the relationship. Something felt a little off. Then there was this bunch of chapters in the second half that detailed a flashback that at that moment I didn’t really want to read about – I just wanted to get to the main storyline to see what would happen, so I found myself getting more and more impatient with each flashback chapter. It was at this point that I gradually lost interest, which was a shame, because the last few chapters were great, and if only that flashback was a little shorter, I would have enjoyed the book as a whole more.

Still, I’m burning to know what happens in the next book. I could finally see characters that I liked, and wanted to know more, before that pretty abrupt ending. This one felt too much like an exposition for its sequel, so maayybbeeee I’ll like the second more than this. Not sure if I’ll get to read it though, with all the other books from my to-read pile calling out my name, but that’s a door I won’t close.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3/5
Hardcover, 418 pages
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Published: September 27, 2011
Language: English
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Reviews elsewhere

{Book Review} A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London – but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped. *

I started reading this with just a fair amount of interest, and I wasn’t as invested at the beginning because I found it quite slow, so it was always in the back burner for a while until I finished the other books I was reading at the time, but as I journeyed with Kell and Lila throughout the book, my imagination pretty much exploded trying to imagine all the other Londons, and I had so much fun trying to see everything in my head. I reasoned that I didn’t want to rush it, because I wanted to absorb as much of the worlds as I could, and I figured reading by parts would be the best course of action I could take (yes, I like planning things way too much). That plan turned out pretty well until more than halfway through the book, when I was just, sod it, I’m going to finish the entire thing. Goodbye, schedule for the rest of the day.

The worldbuilding was fantastic. It was like I could imagine what all the Londons looked like, but I still wanted so much to have been there myself, journeying with the characters even though I would have been as much of a liability as a sack of bones. All of the Londons, even White London, were vivid and real to me, and imagining worlds as different as they are but with the same geography made is somehow both easier and more confusing, but that’s okay, because it made me think about the book even while I was doing other things (maybe not such a good thing if you’re busy, but it’s my summer vacation, so it is for me). It came to the point where I wished so much that I am a really good artist so I can put onto paper the Londons as I imagine them to look like.

I also found the characters great. It wasn’t love at first sight for me, because I only started actively rooting for them when the masquerade started and things finally started getting exciting, but I liked them just the same. I wish I got to see Rhy more, because Kell’s really biased and I wanted to form my own opinion of him. The interactions with Lila was a promising start, and perhaps there will be more ways I could get to know him in the sequel, so yay! Also, *spoiler alert* some of the supporting characters die, so best not get too attached. I was so upset about a couple of the deaths, even though I don’t even know them that well, but I guess it just has to be done. This is a war, after all, albeit a really small-scale one that the masses of Grey, Red, and White London know nothing about, but it’s the beginning of one, so I’m sure the dying won’t stop anytime soon.*end of spoiler alert*

This is the kind of book that made me so eager to see what’s next that I was already reading the next page before I realized that I haven’t even finished reading this description paragraph thing a page before, so then I have to read everything again, and then I get ahead of myself. I blame that as the main reason why I couldn’t finish the book sooner, but really, it’s just an excuse to keep reading before it actually ends. I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves fantasy, adventure, and a dash of steampunk. 

Favorite quotes

Purity without balance is its own corruption.

‘I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.’

‘Love doesn’t keep us from freezing to death, Kell,’ she continued, ‘or starving, or being knifed for the coins in our pocket. Love doesn’t buy us anything, so be glad for what you have and who you have because you may want for things but you need for nothing.’

Delilah Bard looked like a king. No, she thought, straightening. She looked like a conqueror.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4.5/5

400 pages
Author: V.E. Schwab
Original Language: English
Published: February 24, 2015
Genre: Fantasy

{Book Review} Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi

Life of Pi is a masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe.

Growing up in Pondicherry, India, Piscine Molitor Patel — known as Pi — has a rich life. Bookish by nature, young Pi acquires a broad knowledge of not only the great religious texts but of all literature, and has a great curiosity about how the world works. His family runs the local zoo, and he spends many of his days among goats, hippos, swans, and bears, developing his own theories about the nature of animals and how human nature conforms to it. Pi’s family life is quite happy, even though his brother picks on him and his parents aren’t quite sure how to accept his decision to simultaneously embrace and practise three religions — Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.

But despite the lush and nurturing variety of Pi’s world, there are broad political changes afoot in India, and when Pi is sixteen his parents decide that the family needs to escape to a better life. Choosing to move to Canada, they close the zoo, pack their belongings, and board a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum. Travelling with them are many of their animals, bound for zoos in North America. However, they have only just begun their journey when the ship sinks, taking the dreams of the Patel family down with it. Only Pi survives, cast adrift in a lifeboat with the unlikeliest of travelling companions: a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Thus begins Pi Patel’s epic, 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of Life of Pi. Worn and scared, oscillating between hope and despair, Pi is witness to the playing out of the food chain, quite aware of his new position within it. When only the tiger is left of the seafaring menagerie, Pi realizes that his survival depends on his ability to assert his own will, and sets upon a grand and ordered scheme to keep from being Richard Parker’s next meal.

As the days pass, Pi fights both boredom and terror by throwing himself into the practical details of surviving on the open sea — catching fish, collecting rain water, protecting himself from the sun — all the while ensuring that the tiger is also kept alive, and knows that Pi is the key to his survival. The castaways face gruelling pain in their brushes with starvation, illness, and the storms that lash the small boat, but there is also the solace of beauty: the rainbow hues of a dorado’s death-throes, the peaceful eye of a looming whale, the shimmering blues of the ocean’s swells. Hope is fleeting, however, and despite adapting his religious practices to his daily routine, Pi feels the constant, pressing weight of despair. It is during the most hopeless and gruelling days of his voyage that Pi whittles to the core of his beliefs, casts off his own assumptions, and faces his underlying terrors head-on.

As Yann Martel has said in one interview, “The theme of this novel can be summarized in three lines. Life is a story. You can choose your story. And a story with an imaginative overlay is the better story.” And for Martel, the greatest imaginative overlay is religion. “God is a shorthand for anything that is beyond the material — any greater pattern of meaning.” In Life of Pi, the question of stories, and of what stories to believe, is front and centre from the beginning, when the author tells us how he was led to Pi Patel and to this novel: in an Indian coffee house, a gentleman told him, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” And as this novel comes to its brilliant conclusion, Pi shows us that the story with the imaginative overlay is also the story that contains the most truth.

From the Trade Paperback edition.*

Let it be known that I love tigers. In fact, tigers are my favorite animals. I have stuffed toy collections of them, and up until high school, I slept with them all around me in the belief that they will scare away whatever evil being that plans to visit me in the night. To be honest, that was the thing that drew me to this book, above all. It all began when I was 11, and my class had a field trip to Subic. My friends and I dared to take a picture with a tiger cub named Eo (the size of which was too big for a cub, in my opinion), and I was the one who fed it. Its paws were heavy and resting on my arms, and I fell in love. Lookie, a picture!

I'm in love with the tiger, but I think the tiger's in love with my hand.
I’m in love with the tiger, but I think the tiger’s in love with my hand. On another note… well, this is embarrassing. (By “this,” I meant my face, haha!)

This book, however, is not just about tigers. Tigers are only part of the equation, and trust me, this book is beyond the sum of its parts. Pi, contrary to what I originally thought as the tiger’s name, was actually the interesting nickname of an Indian boy who happened to be shipwrecked with a tiger and some other animals to begin with. It was a ridiculous and at the same time incredible situation. The book is separated into three parts, and the tell-tale tiger on several book covers does not get much exposure (literally and figuratively) until the second part. You would have to endure Pi’s musings on his name, religion, and zookeeping, among others. Thankfully, they weren’t too dragging for me so it was okay, but then I was also reading Les Miserables alongside it, whose meanderings are even longer than those of this book (but that is for another entry). Try to bear with it if you aren’t fond of draggy bits, because after that, things get more interesting.

The whole reading experience could be likened to a sojourn into the ocean. A fun thing to do, theoretically, but no matter how much you prepare for it, you’re not really ready. You get used to it, and you calm down. Life goes on, but then you catch sight of land, and you try to go there, and you feel safe. A few feet from shore, however, a huge wave comes up from behind you and lashes down. Couple that with the vertigo of walking on a steady surface, and you get the unpredictable nature of this book. I mean, I was calmly reading it and feeling enlightened and pretty much basking in the glory of so much wisdom when suddenly, something happens and you see the book in a whole new light. Everything changes. Drastically. You are then left to choose what to believe. You can choose to read it like the atheists. Pi believed that “like [him], they go as far as the legs of reason will carry them – and then they leap.” Or you can read it like the agnostics, who will find the logical explanation and miss the better story. After all this, in the end, you will realize that Life of Pi’s not just about a journey with a tiger. It says as much about you as it does with Pi Patel, and possibly even more, if you think about it. It is a very unique experience, and more than you can possibly expect for less than 400 pages.

The thing is, better story or not, you cannot deny each version’s individual beauty and wisdom, parallels though they may be. That is what I love about this book. On the one hand, you have a story that is fantastical and memorable, heartwarming and brought on by faith. On the other, you have a story rife with symbolism and the brutal honesty of reality. You don’t lose anything whether you believe in one story or the other. It’s a win-win situation.

This is the first book I finished and my first 5-star rating for this year. I’m very excited to see the movie version. Before I do so, I have to say this: Read this book. Deciding whether to let go and believe, or listening to what makes actual sense, will probably prove to be a challenge (like it was for me), but it will be worth it. You will know how you see the world and you will understand why people need faith. And that, in itself, is a beautiful and rewarding experience.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 5/5

356 pages
Author: Yann Martel
Original Language: English
Published: 2001
Genre: Literary, Philosophy, Cultural

{Book Review} After Dark by Haruki Murakami

After DarkA short, sleek novel of encounters set in Tokyo during the witching hours between midnight and dawn, and every bit as gripping as Haruki Murakami’s masterworks The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore.

At its center are two sisters—Eri, a fashion model slumbering her way into oblivion, and Mari, a young student soon led from solitary reading at an anonymous Denny’s toward people whose lives are radically alien to her own: a jazz trombonist who claims they’ve met before, a burly female “love hotel” manager and her maid staff, and a Chinese prostitute savagely brutalized by a businessman. These “night people” are haunted by secrets and needs that draw them together more powerfully than the differing circumstances that might keep them apart, and it soon becomes clear that Eri’s slumber—mysteriously tied to the businessman plagued by the mark of his crime—will either restore or annihilate her.

After Dark moves from mesmerizing drama to metaphysical speculation, interweaving time and space as well as memory and perspective into a seamless exploration of human agency—the interplay between self-expression and empathy, between the power of observation and the scope of compassion and love. Murakami’s trademark humor, psychological insight, and grasp of spirit and morality are here distilled with an extraordinary, harmonious mastery.*

It was the last week of 2012 before I realized that I had blog challenges for myself. While I have given up the 2012 Debut Author Challenge for naught, I remembered that my personal challenge to finally read a Haruki Murakami book once and for all still has hope. I happened to have a copy of After Dark ready, and because I was sick for a couple of days, I had all the time in the world to devour all 191 pages of it.

Managed to cram a review in before 2012 ends! Which is in, like, 9 hours. (Philippine time, GMT +8)

 

So how was my Murakami experience? The first and only word that brands itself in my mind at the moment is surreal. This is a story set after hours – after the sun has set and dissolving as the sun’s rays penetrate the horizon. Unlike what you would expect for a book set in this time frame, though, the pace is rather slow. Murakami has a way of weaving strange curiosities into his writing, making you feel like an entity that is invisible, and everywhere all at the same time. I don’t know if this was brought on by being in my sickbed, but reading the whole thing felt like a dream. Details and such just floated beyond me, and what remained was an odd mixture of desolation and a burning desire to understand what was going on. I felt like I belonged to the world of Mari and Takahashi and the other characters, people who seemed so mysterious and fascinating in the veil of night, wandering as everything is cloaked in impenetrable darkness dusted with the light of the moon.*

One of my favorite quotes from this book was by Mari Asai:

“You know what I think?” she says. “That people’s memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn’t matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They’re all just fuel. Advertising fillers in the newspaper, philosophy books, dirty pictures in a magazine, a bundle of ten-thousand-yen bills: when you feed ’em to the fire, they’re all just paper.”

There’s a darkly whimsical element in the book that kept me curious all throughout. This wasn’t even a plot-driven kind of book, but because of Murakami’s skill, I enjoyed it in all its passiveness and floaty quality. Honestly, I still don’t know what to make of it. I still couldn’t understand the deal with Mari’s sister, Eri, and her peculiar sojourn into the television set, among other things. However, I’m choosing to just go with the flow and accept my inability to understand, so that I can appreciate the way it was written, and because it is beautiful.

*Aaaand here was my attempt to sound poetic. Forgive me. I had Moonlight Sonata playing in the background and I somehow got into the zone.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5

191 pages
Author: Haruki Murakami
Original Language: Japanese
Published: 2000
Genre: Fantasy, Magic Realism