Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Never Let Me Go
We took away your art because we thought it would reveal your souls. Or to put it more finely, we did it to prove you had souls at all.

Growing up, Kathy lived at a private boarding school in Hailsham, along with several other students - all secluded from the outside world and made to believe that they were special. Often though, they came across hints that there was more to the picture than met the eye - for instance, when a certain teacher always asserted vehemently that the kids need to know what was coming. Right from the beginning of the book, Kathy, now in her thirties, talked about Donations and recovery centers as if they are the norm, so as the reader, we know there's something not quite right with this world. Kathy is now a "Carer", someone who looks after "Donors", and during her stint as a Carer, she comes across two of her closest friends from school - Ruth and Tommy - from whom she didn't exactly depart on the nicest of terms. But now, she gets an opportunity to fix things while they are dying and during the process, she relives her school days and the things they learned.

Kazuo Ishiguro can certainly write a beautiful hand. Even though I didn't love this book or connect with it, I loved losing myself in the pages and just reading them, no matter what. I have read a short story by Ishiguro a few years back and there is a very detached and dystopian quality to his writing. He revels in the strange world and I have since heard that most of his books are similar so it can get a little tiring reading his books after a few of them. His writing also has a sense of nostalgia, almost as if I, not Kathy, was reliving my memories.

Never Let Me Go is narrated as a series of memories and anecdotes, through a long continuous prose. This style bothered me quite a bit because I couldn't quite understand where the story was going. Besides, I am not a fan of books that have a higher proportion of past experiences versus what is happening in the present. The present is necessary to show how the character has evolved since the events of the past. Kathy spends the first three-quarters of the book sharing her childhood experiences and for the most part, they weren't directed towards understanding their dystopian world. This is where this book differs from most other dystopian novels, in which someone is always trying to beat the system and win their freedom. There is no rebellion here or any major uprising intended to overthrow a corrupt practice. Instead, the characters easily settle into their way of life (they do have some minor quibbles) but a chunk of the story is dedicated to Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy - their dystopian world just happens to be incidental.

When you look at Kathy's world from that perspective, the story feels more purposeful. Kathy and her friends appear as just any other bunch of youngsters. But they have their misunderstandings, and it is at the end of one that Kathy leaves to start her training as a Carer. While at the school, they have frequent exhibitions, where every student puts up something he or she created for sale. Some of these items are taken away by a mysterious Madame and the students all assume that she has a secret Gallery where all those exhibits are stored. It isn't until later in the book that the significance of the Gallery is revisited. But throughout their days at the school, there is no parent or sibling who comes to visit them, they are never taken outside on a field trip, and the school feels as isolated as can be.

There isn't any major moment of revelation when they learn about their place in the world. I did expect a little more fanfare because I am sure if I were one of them, I would be immensely depressed with the news. The characters in Never Let Me Go easily accepted their fate and went about their responsibilities with very little opposition. For this reason, I couldn't care too much about the characters. I spent most of the last quarter of the book questioning the morals of the situation and feeling offended on part of the characters, but Ishiguro stressed more on the triangle relationship of Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, which I could care very less about.

Ultimately, I was disappointed with this book. The writing made it worth it but the book had a depressing feel around it, even though I couldn't connect with any of the characters. I was honestly fed up of Ruth, and I could never understand why Kathy wanted to stick with her. And while I appreciated that Ishiguro chose to show a world where the victims go with the flow, almost as if they were trained not to oppose, we all know that isn't the way with the real world.

I borrowed this book from the good old library.

On my Nightstand #2

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Right now, I am sort of in the middle of some good books - one audiobook in the car, one print at the gym, another print for evening reading. It's nice to be on a reading roll and have multiple distinct books going at the same time.

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki: Lately, I have been seeing this book on many blogs. It has been on my TBR since I first heard about it last year, but I picked it up at the library this weekend after reading so many good reviews about it. I have been saving graphic novels for weekday evenings, so I'm hoping to get this one started today and maybe even finished tonight. Another of Mariko Tamaki's books is also on my wishlist - Skim - so I'm hoping to get hold of that one next.

Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It's their getaway, their refuge. Rose's friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose's mom and dad won't stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It's a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it's a good thing Rose and Windy have each other. -- Goodreads

The Gift of Rain by Twan Eng Tan: When I saw this book and The Garden of Evening Mists on the Kindle Daily Deal list, I read a couple of passages from both books and thought that the writing was splendid and the premise intriguing. I started this one at the gym and while it is a fascinating read so far, it is also a really huge book. I think I do better with chunksters in ebook format than with print format, so maybe this is a way to read the chunksters I have been avoiding (I'm looking at you The Goldfinch, War and Peace, and Les Misérables).

In 1939, sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton - the half-Chinese, half-English youngest child of the head of one of Penang's great trading families - feels alienated from both the Chinese and British communities. He at last discovers a sense of belonging in his unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat. Philip proudly shows his new friend around his adored island, and in return Endo teaches him about Japanese language and culture and trains him in the art and discipline of aikido. But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. When the Japanese savagely invade Malaya, Philip realizes that his mentor and sensei - to whom he owes absolute loyalty - is a Japanese spy. Young Philip has been an unwitting traitor, and must now work in secret to save as many lives as possible, even as his own family is brought to its knees. -- Goodreads

Expecting Better by Emily Oster: I just finished listening to Stuff this morning, so I will be starting with Expecting Better this evening. I have been excited about this book since I heard about it a year ago, but I wasn't keen on reading it before I got pregnant. Now that I am pregnant, and inundated with tons of do's and don'ts, some of which have made me extremely over-cautious about everything (I went through a phase when I refused to eat sandwiches or salads at any restaurant), I would like to hear someone else's (hopefully well-researched) perspective on all these many customs and hopefully, find out what I don't need to worry about much. And while I am not worried about alcohol (i don't drink) or sushi (I don't eat it) or caffeine (I stopped tea/coffee months ago and haven't gone back to it), I would like to see what she has to say about sleeping positions (my sides hurt every night) and anything else.

Pregnancy is full of rules. Pregnant women are often treated as if they were children, given long lists of items to avoid — alcohol, caffeine, sushi — without any real explanation from their doctors about why. They hear frightening and contradictory myths about everything from weight gain to sleeping on your back to bed rest from friends and pregnancy books. In Expecting Better, Oster shows that the information given to pregnant women is sometimes wrong and almost always oversimplified, and she debunks a host of standard recommendations on everything from drinking to fetal testing. Expecting Better overturns standard recommendations for alcohol, caffeine, sushi, bed rest, and induction while putting in context the blanket guidelines for fetal testing, weight gain, risks of pregnancy over the age of thirty-five, and nausea, among others. -- Goodreads

A Happy Marriage by Rafael Yglesias: I don't remember where I first heard about this book, but somehow it found its way to my TBR. Goodreads tells me that I TBR'd this book on July 2009, which already feels like eons ago. I do know that I was blogging then, so I may have come across it on a blog somewhere. I have been better lately about adding notes to books I TBR but sometimes I just miss a book or two. I was looking for something different and unhyped to read from my TBR, when I came across this title and was intrigued. I just hope it doesn't get me over-emotional.

Told from the husband’s point of view, A Happy Marriage is the story of Enrique Sabas and his wife Margaret, alternating between the first three weeks of their acquaintance (a comic and romantic misadventure) and the bittersweet final weeks of Margaret’s life as she says goodbye to her family, friends, and children. Laced throughout with intimate recollections of moments of crises and joy from the middle years of their relationship, the novel charts the ebb and flow of marriage, illuminating the mysteries and magic of marital love. -- Goodreads

Have you read any of these books?

The Sunday Salon: A hopefully good reading year

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Sunday

I've had a great reading week. I finished Calling Dr. Laura early in the week and Anatomy of a Disappearance mid-week. I'm also almost done with Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, which is turning out to be one of the best research-oriented nonfiction books I've read lately. Yesterday, I figured I could start another book, Family by J. California Cooper, and before I knew it, I was done with that book as well.

From my excitement, you can probably guess that this doesn't happen often. I think this past week being a snow week helped - we had to skip the gym (not cool), our dinners have been mostly soup (yum), there was nothing of importance trying to get my attention (yay), and so books got read. And they have all been good books. Family was beautiful to read, though not as striking as several other books I've read on slavery by African American authors. Anatomy of a Disappearance was mostly poetic to read, but the plot wasn't too impressive - that was okay, the writing made up for the plot. I have read much better graphic memoirs than Calling Dr. Laura, but it was still refreshing to see a different take on this medium. And Stuff has made me realize that I am not a hoarder, no matter how many magazines I tend to pile in my house or how disarrayed my desk can be.

By this time last year, I had finished only 5 books. The year before (one of my better reading years in quality and quantity), it was 8 books. Two years prior, it was again 5. Both the years when I had read only 5 by February, I didn't read more than 45 books overall. Not a bad count, but I do miss the years when I read so much that I didn't miss reading. I always had something that occupied my attention on the poor reading years - family troubles, wedding year, other stuff. This year is going to be the biggest game-changer of all for sure (arrival of a baby) but starting the year off with a lot of reading may help me bounce back sooner and easier? I don't know. I would love to be able to read even fluff books after July. And maybe I just need to make an easy-reads TBR list for the second half of the year.

I'm not sure what to read next. Maybe The Cellist of Sarajevo or This One Summer. Or maybe I'll spend the day cataloging my ebooks - I have no idea what all I own in ebook format and it would be nice to get them listed somewhere, and then use IFTTT to automatically add newly purchased books to the same list. Or maybe I should clear my desk. (I always wait for a weekend to do this, but once the weekend rolls around, it feels almost silly to do any chore.)

Can I say how thrilled I am to see a 48 degree high predicted for today? After ridiculously freezing temperatures this past week - our town broke all its previous records for low temperatures with a -11 degrees on Friday (That's Fahrenheit) -  I would like not to have to squish my face into my jacket to cower from the cold winds whenever I had to step outside. After living in a winter wonderland for a week - it was too cold for any of the snow to melt - some of the snow has started saying goodbye today. Now that I got my snow fix for the year, I am more than ready to welcome Spring.

Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lost in Shangri-la
In every immediate way, the natives had the upper hand. They outnumbered the survivors by more than ten to one. They were healthy and well fed. None suffered burns, head injuries, or gangrene.

Towards the end of World War 2, a transport plane takes off from a base in Hollandia, New Guinea, with 24 passengers, on a sightseeing trip to the Shangri-La valley, where an isolated and primitive tribe was said to live. Unfortunately for them, the plane crashed, killing 19 instantly. Of the remaining 5, 2 succumbed to their injuries almost soon. The last remaining survivors, suffering  from rib fractures and gangrenes, trek through the treacherous mountains, hoping to find some sanctuary but soon come across the natives, who are as fascinated at these strangely attired white people as they are at the near-naked natives.

Once the news of the missing plane reaches their base, a search plane and later a rescue party is dispatched. But rescuing three wounded people from the thick unmapped jungle territory was not a trivial task, nor was it something that could be easily planned for. Not helping rescue efforts is their limited knowledge (or lack thereof) of the natives and the valley. They had heard of cannibalism among the tribes and the frequent warfare that broke out between different clans.

Lost in Shangri-La has been on my wishlist ever since it was released four years ago. But I must not have remembered the details correctly because I walked into this book with very wrong expectations. I had a picture of a very dark book, where three survivors had to battle cannibalism, treacherous forests, dangerous natives, and several other dangers before escaping or being rescued. Unfortunately (fortunately for the survivors), reality was a lot more predictable than that. For much of the book, I was waiting for those shocking elements to happen, but really, nothing did. Yes, some bad stuff happened, but on the whole it was a happy ending. I really hate being bummed that this true rescue story wasn't as tragic or dangerous as I thought it would be. But that expectation honestly ruined much of the narration for me.

But, this book was otherwise a treasure trove of information about the tribes, the valley, all the people who had previously come in contact with the tribe or the valley in the past, and also the members of the rescue party. I admit to drifting off occasionally because it was a lot of information and I was still waiting for the tragic stuff to happen, but otherwise there was a lot of good stuff in here. It was truly satisfying to learn that the natives were not savages, as assumed by many people. There were some really good people there and they held strongly to their customs, practices and way of life.

Of everything that was narrated in this book, the saddest detail was about the encroachment of the modern world into the lives of these natives. Gone is the sacred isolation that kept them native and mostly self-sufficient. With the arrival of more explorers and adventurers, the natives have lost much of their land and their old way of life.

This audiobook is from my personal library.

The Sunday Salon: Ugh, these hormones!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Sunday

Good morning fellow readers! I hope the weather is pleasant wherever you are because we have another week of sub-zero temperatures and nasty winds beleaguering us this week. I am so ready for the winter to be over. Being pregnant during winter is so not fun - my jackets don't button anymore, and wearing layers isn't easy.

The famous hormones finally claimed me about two weeks ago. I now get teary at the smallest matters, and annoyed at anything not going my way or anyone annoying me. It's funny when I think about it in retrospect. Last week, it was because my French Toast got ruined. It wasn't even that big a deal. We have plenty of food accidents around here and they rarely ever bother us, but this time, I just wanted to cry. The husband, quite diplomatically, managed to keep a straight face and even offered to buy it for me from a restaurant. But the instant I began to feel better, he promptly burst out laughing. I had quite a laugh out of it later, but I promise, it felt like the most drastic problem in the world at the time.

I can be very academic about my experiences, meaning I tend to over-analyze everything, google a lot, do plenty of research on why I feel something. (My husband likes to say that all that research invents my symptoms, and not the other way round. I just give him the look.) But all these excess emotions is truly weird for me, and has sent my brain wires trying to understand why I have to cry or complain.

Hope you all had a good Valentine's Day (if you celebrate it). We don't really do anything special for the day, but we do use the day as an excuse to eat some cake.

This week, I didn't read quite as much as I wanted to. I'm usually beat most evenings and can barely lift a book, much less read one. I'm hoping to invest in some short or fast reads, like comics, short stories, essays, or even middle-grade books (which are my secret guilt pleasures). Maybe those will see me through the week.

Today, the husband and I are driving to Raleigh to visit our friends and their adorable little almost-one year old - man, time sure flies so fast! I'm planning to read Anatomy of a Disappearance during the drive and hopefully finish it as well.

How is your Sunday going?