Month: July 2016

Another Murakami Masterpiece

This is my review of Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami.

I’m a big fan of Murakami’s. I’ve read a few of his books, and irrespective of whether or not I find the story itself appealing (I’m looking at you, Kafka on the Shore), his prose never fails to carry me to a peaceful place. His books ought to be read on a Sunday afternoon on the balcony, as opposed to a rush hour commute. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, his non-fiction book (with a self-explanatory title), reads as though a particularly down-to-earth middle-aged man is sitting next to you on the bus and sharing a story.

The translation of this particular book was released fairly recently- August 2014- but I only got my hands on a copy this month. And I’m glad, it was definitely worth a read.

Tsukuru Tazaki is a man in his early thirties who works in railway construction. He is ridiculously happy with his career, but there’s a hole in his life. He’s a loner, and not by choice. When he was in high school, he had a group of four close friends. Each one of them has a colour in their name, except Tsukuru- hence the ‘colourless’ label. They did everything together… until he moved out of his hometown for university. He visited often, but he was suddenly shunned by the entire group for no apparent reason. This caused him to spiral into a depression (Murakami’s now-familiar lonely college man stereotype now fits) that changed him permanently.

Now he’s dating a sophisticated, beautiful woman, but she finds the whole backstory of his high school friends very strange. She believes that the abandonment he experienced in his youth is affecting all his relationships even a decade later. Some Google-fu, and she has tracked down the four of them. Tsukuru sets off on a trip to visit all of them and find out what went wrong.

The story takes a few turns at this point, which is why I liked it so much. Murakami’s books are generally not burdened with much of a plot, and having an actual storyline really made this book shine. The ending is satisfyingly vague- he drops just enough hints for you to figure out what’s up, without making anything explicit.

4.5/5 from me. Read this if you’re a fan of laid back writing styles and psychological thrillers.

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The resurrection of the writer, Perumal Murugan

On 5 July, 2016, the Madras High Court (HC) upheld the right of Tamil author perumalmuruganPerumal Murugan to publish his novel, ‘Mathorubagan’, and its English translation, ‘One Part Woman’.

Last year, in an infamous episode of exercising one’s right to be offended, a bunch of people from Perumal Murugan’s village took offense to his story (which described the village and its cultural practices) and forced it out of the stands. They made him apologise for his writing (the nerve!), and forced him to retrieve unsold copies of the books. The State stood as a spectator to this, like a mannequin does when a store is being vandalized.

After this sordid affair, Perumal Murugan had had enough. He declared the writer in him to be dead. Here‘s a post on that shameful episode.

On 5 July 2016, the HC, after upholding Perumal Murugan’s right to publish, also dismissed petitions that sought to ban the books (this time, the “vigilantes” were trying to twist his arm through legal routes, as opposed to plain bullying). The HC said, quite plainly, that no one is forced to read. ‘If you don’t like a book, simply keep it aside.’ Well said your Honour!

Will he come back and write more books, though?

After being harassed by the thin-skinned, easily offended lovers of all-that-is-imagined, we can’t say. But we would love to see him back. As does the HC, which said “Let the author be resurrected to what he is best at. Write.

Do gamers dream of virtual reality?

This is my review of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

This is an acclaimed (by the Internet, but that counts, doesn’t it?) YA sci-fi dystopian novel. Possibly the only novel fitting these criteria that I hadn’t read yet. And it didn’t let me down!

Wade Owen Watts is a child of the future, who was (almost literally) raised by the Internet. In this new world, house rents are dependent on Wi-Fi availability, and free education is available for all children via virtual reality. Meanwhile, a wealthy, eccentric, videogame maker has left a challenge to children everywhere. I don’t recall what the reward was, but this is basically Charlie and the Chocolate Factory‘s ‘golden ticket’.

Our hero’s only way out of his gloomy urban slum is winning this challenge, and he has dedicated years of his life to studying 80s geek culture in search of clues- much like thousands of other teens all over the globe. The plot is cliched, but definitely not boring. You can see the ending from hundreds of pages away, but that doesn’t make the story any less enjoyable.

Master list of cliches and/or stereotypes in this book:

  1. Hero gets the girl in the end
  2. Japanese kids are hardworking and intense
  3. Token racial minority in America
  4. Reference to white trash culture because hero has to be white
  5. Reminder that people fake their identities on the Internet
  6. Geeks are unattractive, but can undergo quick transformation to get aforementioned girl
  7. One or more of the token racial minorities will die
  8. Technology giant built from humble beginnings by pair of hardworking youngsters in their garage
  9. Eccentric millionaire
  10. Friendship ends because of a fight over a girl

This list is not exhaustive (or well-formatted), but this site, TV Tropes does a good job of describing common tropes in TV and movies.

The writing style of this book is slightly confusing. It reads like a YA action novel but is littered with 80’s geek culture references. I’m a bit too old for YA myself, but wasn’t even around in the 80s, let alone playing videogames. 99% of the pop culture references went over my head, but luckily they did not have much relevance to the plot.

4/5 from me. Recommended for anyone who enjoys fast paced stories without too many subtleties.