1960s Books in Translation

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima

The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea (Vintage Classics) Translated from the Japanese by John Nathan

Five words from the blurb: savage, boys, mother, affair, sailor

Yukio Mishima is an important Japanese author; infamous for committing seppuku (ritual suicide) at the age of forty-five. He was born into a samurai family and is renowned for having complete control over both his mind and body. I was keen to see this power and try one of his books for the first time.

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea was first published in 1963 and concentrates on a group of thirteen-year-old boys who commit a range of savage acts. Noboru is one of this gang. He lives with his widowed mother, but everything changes when she begins to have an affair with a ship’s officer and he observes their sexual relationship through a hole in his bedroom wall.

I was gripped throughout and completed this short book in a single day. The writing was excellent and the descriptions were particularly evocative:

He never cried, not even in his dreams, for hard-heartedness was a point of pride. A large iron anchor withstanding the corrosion of the sea and scornful of the barnacles and oysters that harass the hulls of ships, sinking polished and indifferent through heaps of broken glass, toothless combs, bottle caps, and prophylactics into the mud at habor bottom – that was how he liked to imagine his heart.

Readers of a sensitive nature should be warned that some of the scenes in this book, especially one involving the murder of a kitten, were graphic and disturbing. These scenes had more impact because they were sandwiched between gentle ones observing nature and the sea.

My only problem with this book was that I didn’t see the point of it. The reader wasn’t given enough background information to understand why this group of boys became so violent. Without knowing (and so being able to sympathise with) their motivations the book lacked that extra power. This was compounded by the faceless nature of the gang – it was impossible to bond with characters known only as “Boy 2” and “Boy 3”.

This was a compelling read, but overall I wouldn’t recommend it. Perhaps those who enjoy short stories would have more luck with it?


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…a genuinely perverse book, and worth reading because of the insight it gives into a mindset that is alien to most of us. Asylum

I didn’t really enjoy this book. WinstonsDad’s Blog

…it has a really powerful ending and it’s one I would definitely recommend. Dead Saukko



Three Abandoned Books

Amity & Sorrow

Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley

Five words from the blurb: daughters, born, cult, rural, help

Amity and Sorrow has been receiving almost universal praise from the blogging world. I was impressed by the writing quality, but unfortunately the subject matter wasn’t for me.

Amity and Sorrow are two teenage girls who escape from a fundamentalist cult with their mother, Amaranth. Amity loves her new freedom, but Sorrow longs to be back with her tyrannical father.

The writing in this book was fantastic. The characters were beautifully drawn and the descriptions were atmospheric and absorbing. I should have loved this book, but unfortunately there were two problems.

The first was that the plot was very basic. It meandered from one scene to the next with no forward momentum. As the book was quite short I could probably have coped with this, but unfortunately I have a very low tolerance for religion in books and as this content increased I became more frustrated. I wanted to slap all the characters (a good sign I was engaged with them!) but I couldn’t bear to read page after page of information about life in a cult.

I abandoned it, but if you have a higher tolerance for reading about fundamentalist religions then you’ll probably love it.




Ferney by James Long

Five words from the blurb: Somerset, house, past, strange, connection

Ferney is one of those sleeper hits that occasionally crops up in conversation. It isn’t well known, but everyone who’s read it seems to love it. I bought a copy, keen to see why this was the case.

The book is set in Somerset and centres on Mike and Gally, a couple who fall in love with a dilapidated cottage that they come across by chance. They manage to persuade the owner to sell it to them and start restoring it straight away. Whilst working on their new cottage they meet Ferney, a strange old man who seems to know everything about the local area.

The book immediately reminded me of Outlander (Cross Stitch in the UK). Unfortunately I wasn’t a fan of Gabaldon’s book, but many of you are so I thought you’d like to know about this one. Ferney uses reincarnation to catch glimpses of the past, instead of the time travel present in Outlander, but the two books share the same corny romance, poor writing and unrealistic plot. If you’re looking for a light, escapist read then you’ll love this book, but I’m afraid it wasn’t for me.



Intrusion by Ken Macleod

Shortlisted for the 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award

Five words from the blurb: future, pill, eradicate, genetic, defects

Intrusion is set in the near future at a time when women can take a pill during pregnancy to eradicate abnormalities in the fetus. The book follows Hope, a woman who decides not to take the pill, as her pregnancy progresses and friends, relatives and the authorities try to persuade her to change her mind.

I first heard about this book when I read an intriguing review on David’s blog. I’m drawn towards books that investigate the issues surrounding the eradication of disability and so picked up a copy from my library. Unfortunately this book failed to grip me and I abandoned it after about 100 pages.

The writing was very light and so fast paced that I felt the real issues were ignored. The book seemed to concentrate on whether it was legally possible to force women to take the pill and these discussions lacked any real weight:

‘Much as it pains me as a not very good Catholic,’ Fiona said, with a wry look, ‘I have to tell you that there are non-religious faith objections, if you see what I mean. Off the top of my head, uh, Green Humanism for one…’
Hope burst out laughing.
‘Green humanism? What’s that? Humanism for little green men?’
‘It’s about leaving nature alone, as I understand it,’ said Fiona a little stiffly.

I skim read a bit further and discovered the genetic difference present in Hope’s baby. This lost the book any credibility it might have had and rolling my eyes I put the book down for good.

Recommended to those who enjoy light science fiction.


Have you read any of these books?

Did you enjoy them more than I did?


A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Five words from the blurb: Chechnya, soldiers, doctor, friend, responsibilities

I first heard of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena when an unsolicited review copy dropped through my letterbox. I was instantly drawn to the title and looked forward to reading it nearer its publication date. Since then this book has been getting rave reviews, especially from the US where it was published slightly earlier.

The book is set in war-torn Chechnya and takes place in the five days after 8-year-old Havaa’s father is abducted by Russian soldiers. Havaa’s neighbour, Akhmed, watches in horror as her house is burnt to the ground, but once the soldiers have left he rescues the young girl, taking her to the safety of the local hospital.

The book began really well. I loved the atmospheric descriptions of the snow-covered village and the uncertainty around Havaa’s future, but as the book progressed I became increasingly bored. The pace of the book slowed and I found myself with no real compulsion to read on. The characters lacked depth and I realised I didn’t care about them.

It was a simple gesture, no more than a flick of her fingers, performed without malice or contempt, but with complete disinterest, and it cut through Akhmed like a fin through water. In her indifference he saw the truth of a world he didn’t want to believe in, one in which a human being could be discarded as easily as pocket lint.

The plot improved in places and the last 50 pages were especially good, but overall I was disappointed. I can’t fault the vivid writing, but something about the story didn’t quite feel right. It lacked the realism produced when written by someone present during events. It’s hard to pinpoint, but I found it lacking passion and that special spark. It also seemed to be missing the Russian mindset, reading like a group of Americans placed in Chechnya.

I seem to be one of the only ones not to fall in love with this book so it is probably still worth checking it out, especially if you like slower paced literary fiction.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

This is a beautifully wrought novel that brought tears to my eyes. CaribousMom

This book is so emotionally stunning, so beautifully written, and so elegantly painful that I could just sing its’ praises for hours on this blog. Sassy Peach

It’s not a fast-paced book, but the writing is so amazing and the story so intriguing that I couldn’t put it down. Book Hooked Blog


2013 Books in Translation Other Prizes

The Son by Michel Rostain

The SonTranslated from the French by Adriana Hunter

Winner of the Prix Goncourt 2011, Selected for Waterstones 11 2013

Five words from the blurb: meningitis, death, son, grief, life

Michel Rostain’s teenage son died suddenly from a virulent strain of meningitis. The Son is the fictionalised story of a family who lose their son to the same disease. It is written from the perspective of the teenage boy, Lion, and this omniscient narrator gives the book a special inquisitive perspective. The realistic nature of the text leads me to believe that much (all?) of this book is based on real events and this insight makes other books about grief seem insignificant.

This is one of the most emotionally powerful books I’ve ever read. It is one of the only books that has enabled me to completely understand what it is like to go through a devastating sequence of events. I hope I never have to experience anything like this, but if the worst happens this book has given me the comfort of knowing that life can go on afterwards.

The depth and range of emotion present in this book is breathtaking. It never becomes overly sentimental or shys away from showing the darker side of humanity. Shortcomings are open for all to see and this vulnerability only adds to emotional impact of this book.

I’ll be dead four hours later and Dad’s spending money in a supermarket. As of now, he will forever loathe the inevitable stop-off for the weekly shop. He’d always been disparaging about those nowhere-land places – shitty music, mediocre products, insidious layout, stooped ghost figures trundling from one shelf to another. But he still went every week, one of many contradictions. To think he lost some of the last few moments he could have spent with me alive – the memory of it destroys him.

The deep sadness is layered with hope; showing how friends and family can help each other through grief. It is a roller-coaster of emotion, and does have more downs than ups, but I think it is worth the emotional investment. The ending is beautiful and I only hope that Michel Rostain and his family had a similar outcome to their own tragedy.

Highly recommended.


A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale for the Time Being
Five words from the blurb: diary, girl, tsunami, change, life

A Tale for the Time Being is an unusual mixture of Japanese and Western literature. The book begins with Ruth, a woman living on a remote Canadian island, discovering a lunchbox on the beach. The lunchbox is one of many items to be washed across the ocean by the tsunami and on opening it she discovers the diary of Nao, a teenage girl who is being bullied at school. Through reading the diary Ruth learns about Nao’s family: her suicidal father, her great-grandmother’s life as a Buddhist nun, and her great-uncle’s experience as a kamikaze pilot during WWII. Ruth develops a bond with this family and begins a quest to find them; longing to know whether or not they survived the tsunami. 

The book begins really well. I loved Nao’s modern, chatty style and quickly warmed to her; feeling as though I understood her thoughts and motivations.

I don’t mind thinking of the world without me because I’m unexceptional, but I hate the idea of the world without old Jiko. She’s totally unique and special, like the last Galapagos tortoise or some other ancient animal hobbling around on the scorched earth, who is the only one left of its kind. But please don’t get me going on the topic of species extinction because it’s totally depressing and I’ll have to commit suicide right this second.

The diary format worked well and this the first book I’ve read that successfully manages to include you tube, mobiles and the Internet without feeling forced or experimental. 

Ruth’s character was also well developed and I particularly enjoyed her vivid descriptions of life by the sea. The entire book was packed with atmosphere and, although this made the book slow to read, it was well worth the time. 

I enjoyed reading the entire book, but it didn’t impress me as much as I thought it might. The main reason for this is because the majority of the philosophical elements were familiar to me. The ideas were beautifully presented, but Schrödinger’s cat and multiple universes have been done many times before. I also found that the Japanese elements, for example the ghosts of the dead and the crow symbolism, didn’t feel as fresh and alive as they do in the hands of Murakami. It feels wrong to criticise this novel when there is technically nothing wrong with it, but the scientist in me didn’t quite accept some of the theories.

Despite my minor quibbles, the positives far outweigh the negatives. It perfectly captures life at the present time and I recommend you read it soon, before it inevitably becomes dated.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…the line between fiction and reality is not clear-cut in this novel, which makes it all the more enthralling and appealing. Bookmagnet’s Blog

 A Tale for the Time Being isn’t a bad novel, but it doesn’t need all the padding that the meditations on time and quantum physics require; I think it could be shorter and better. Necromancy Never Pays

The humanity of the novel is enormous and takes your breath away in most places. Of Books and Reading



A Busy Few Weeks

Barcelona Post Card
Postcard image from Zazzle

May is turning out to be a busy month for me. I went to Barcelona for the first bank holiday weekend and had a fantastic time. We all enjoyed the beautiful buildings, the amazing food and the break from normal life.


At the moment I’m rushed off my feet organising a second-hand toy/clothing sale and a summer fair for my boys’ school. Hopefully both will raise lots of money so we can buy laptops for the children.

Things are also busy on the family front. This weekend we’re celebrating my Granny’s 90th birthday and the weekend after that my in-law’s Ruby wedding anniversary. It is great to see so many big milestones in the family. 

All this helps to explain why I haven’t got any books to tell you about today and why I probably won’t have many more for the rest of the month. The problem is compounded by the fact I’m craving long books at the moment. I’m currently immersed in the wonderful A Tale for the Time Being and want to complete A Suitable Boy soon. I may want to read a shorter book after that, but for the next week or two I predict a review shortage around here.

Have a wonderful weekend!