Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto

Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto, translated from the Japanese by Asa Yoneda

Yoshie lives on her own in the Shimokitazawa neighbourhood. She works at a local bistro called Les Liens. She moved there a year after the death of her father. He died in a “love murder suicide in a forest in Ibaraki with a woman who’d apparently been a distant relative”.

Her mother soon moves in with her, saying that she can’t live in their family home. Yoshie is at first hesitant, wanting her independence and own space. But as she watches her mother, looking like a young girl, staring out the window at the street below, a thought comes to her mind: 

“What must it be like for your life to suddenly be a blank page, at her age? I wondered. No young children who needed her energy, no need to scramble to make ends meet. Only the dark, heavy shadow of regret that clung constantly to us both.”

The neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa is actually more important than I expected. The Japanese title of the book is “Moshi Moshi Shimokitazawa”. And the story opens with Yoshie talking about a movie called “Zawa Zawa Shimokitazawa” which moved her to tears the first time she watched it. She felt that it managed to put into words something she had been on the verge of grasping. 

“I longed to have the same kind of effect, in my own way – to cast such a wonderful spell over people.”

I was struck by how there’s a lightness in this book, despite it being one dealing with grief and death. A very unusual death at that. But Yoshimoto has this way of talking about small everyday details, like the neighbourhood and Yoshie’s work at the bistro. Life goes on even after the death of a loved one. 

“Our bodies forgot, left things behind, without our hearts meaning to.”

Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang

An unflinching story about a young girl kidnapped from China and smuggled to America in the late 1800s. Her journey takes her to a brothel in San Francisco to a mining town in Idaho, where she poses as Jacob.

“Daiyu to Feng to Peony to Jacob Li. When will I be me again? And if I become me again, will I know who she is?”

Not an easy read, as I kept wondering if life would get easier for Daiyu/Jacob. But this is the 1880s and the Chinese Exclusion Act is in play. While I had heard about the Act, I wasn’t aware of the many acts of anti-Chinese violence throughout the country at that time.

Four Treasures of the Sky was thoroughly researched and beautifully written. But I found it difficult to read the parts where the tragic heroine from Dream of the Red Chambers Lin Daiyu manifests herself. Not quite a ghost but perhaps an alter ego of the main character? It’s a way for teenaged Daiyu to emotionally extract herself from the trauma she faces. And she has a lot of traumatic experiences.

Beautiful but brutal.

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel

I guess 5-hour airplane rides are good for reading books. I finished Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel and was rather impressed by it, although her previous book The Glass Hotel didn’t quite do it for me. 

But this time travel pandemic novel really just held on to me and wouldn’t let go. Maybe it was me sitting in an airplane wearing a mask and on the other side of the aisle, the man and his teenaged son were maskless, like maybe about half of the other passengers. 

We had traveled to Hawaii when masks were required on airplanes. And flew out of Big Island with most people not wearing masks. We’re still in the midst of this thing, are we not? 

This passage in the book especially made me sit up and reread it: 

“Pandemics don’t approach like wars, with the distant thud of artillery growing louder every day and flashes of bombs on the horizon. They arrive in retrospect, essentially. It’s disorientating. The pandemic is far away and then it’s all around you, with seemingly no intermediate step.”

I don’t want to give you a synopsis of the story. I went into it not really knowing much about it. And I think that’s the best way of reading this book. Pull on your mask and plunge in. 

Read in March 2022

The Final Revival of Opal & New – Dawnie Walton

Ghost Forest – Pik-Shuen Fung

Almond – Sohn Won-pyung

A Stitch in Time – Kelley Armstrong

The Turning Pointe – Vanessa L. Torres

Dept H Omnibus vol 1 – Matt Kindt

Dept H omnibus 2 – Matt Kindt

Grass – Keum Suk Gendry-Kim

The Waiting – Keum Suk Gendry-Kim

The Orphanage – Serhiy Zhadan

The Old Woman with the Knife – Gu Byeong-mo

The Inheritance Games – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Donut Fall in Love – Jackie Lau

Ocean Light – Nalini Singh

The Turning Pointe by Vanessa L. Torres

I really needed a book like The Turning Pointe at this moment. Dance! 1980s! Prince! 

Rosa is a student at a ballet academy, where her father is ballet master. She’s also obsessed with Prince, who happens to be training upstairs for a performance. And the ballet students get a chance to audition for this very concert that the Purple One will be headlining.

I loved Rosa and following along with her struggles as she tries to figure out her own path. Her family is all ballet. And while she’s a star ballet student, there’s a part of her that wants to try something different. 

This was an incredible debut. Loved all the 80s vibes and all the wonderful diverse characters. 

Almond by Sohn Won-pyung

I woke up super early Thursday morning to catch the BTS Seoul concert livestream at 2am PST and it was so worth it. I couldn’t really sleep after it ended at 445am. Yes, I really am a big fan of the group! Because it’s the second book I read that is linked to BTS’ series In The Soop and it’s the second one that I’ve been disappointed by (the first was Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I really did not like that book.). But BTS, especially Namjoon aka RM, have previously mentioned several other books that are good reads, like Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, and Kitchen

“This story is, in short, about a monster meeting another monster. One of the monsters is me.”

Ah, I probably had too high expectations of this one as it sounded a bit quirky, since it’s about a boy who doesn’t feel emotions. He has a disorder called alexithymia because of underdeveloped amygdalae, two almond-shaped neurons in the brain. 

Also, his mother runs a secondhand bookstore and uh yeah, that’s definitely a draw for many readers. I love a book that’s set in bookstores or libraries! 

But while I enjoyed the first part of the book, the ending seemed too…easy. Also, the main character just never quite drew me into his story. 

Overall, it was an interesting read but I just wanted more. More depth into the friendship between the boy who can’t feel and the boy who feels too much.

The Shimmering State – Meredith Westgate

I constantly thought of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as I read this book. But instead of a procedure to remove your specific memories, there is a drug that stores these memories. This drug, Memoroxin or Mem, is one that holds not just the memories but all your feelings and emotions that you had about those moments. 

It’s initially used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s, to allow patients to relive some of their memories. But it soon becomes a party drug, a different way to get high, an escape perhaps into the life of someone else for a few hours, drifting through their emotions. 

The story opens at a rehab center for those who hooked on Mem. There’s Lucien, a photographer who stole his grandmother’s pills to try and find his deceased mother in her memories. Sophie is a ballerina and waitress who is also hooked on Mem. The narrative flits between their time at the center and their past. 

This book makes me wonder what it would be like to dive into someone else’s memories. Would it feel like a dream? What memories would I want to see? And what would your life be without your memories? 

A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson

I borrowed this audiobook because of Richard Armitage but was instead wowed more by the other narrators Georgia Maguire, who narrated the daughter’s chapters, and Emily Watson, who narrated the wife’s chapters. 

The story opens with a court room scene and we learn that 18-year-old Stella is on trial for murder. 

The first third of the story is told from the father’s POV. Adam is a pastor and is determined to prove his daughter’s innocence, overstepping some boundaries while doing so. He’s rather overbearing. And I guess that’s why Armitage reads in a bit of an overbearing way (if that’s possible). 

But we move onto Stella, who is in prison. She’s quite an unreliable narrator. A rebellious teen who’s also got a vulnerable side; and the narrator conveys that well. 

The final third is told from the mother’s perspective. Ulrika is tough, a lawyer. Much of her section is told in the courtroom, as the story comes to a close. She also reflects on motherhood and her family and their relationships with each other. 

This worked well for me as an audiobook. It might have been a bit repetitive as a print read since it’s told from three perspectives, but as I can be a bit distracted when it comes to fictional audiobooks, it didn’t come off that way to me. I loved the very distinct voices by the three narrators. The audiobook was very compelling and kept me hanging on. I tend not to do well with fiction audiobooks but I enjoyed this one greatly. 

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous by Suzanne Park

Pictured: SUNNY SONG WILL NEVER BE FAMOUS by SUZANNE PARK, alongside various Asian snacks like White Rabbit candy, haw flakes, rice crackers, and Choco Pie. 

It feels weird posting on Instagram about this book that’s about a teen YouTuber sent to digital detox camp. Sun-Hee “Sunny” Song is sent to Sunshine Heritage Farms in Iowa. Campers aren’t allowed phones or devices and the cellular service /Wi-Fi is horrendous anyway. She meets other campers like a mukbang live-streamer, online gamblers, and influencers. Sunny manages to sneak a phone into camp and connects with her friend Maya, who’s helping her with an influencer contest. But as weeks go by, Sunny’s relationship with Theo, whose family runs the farm, makes her reconsider her social media life.

A quick fun read. I don’t think the rivalry between Sunny and the other influencer was really fleshed out well, and maybe some more background about the other girl would have made her less one-sided. I liked how the author brought in Sunny’s Korean-American identity and how she doesn’t feel Korean enough. 

“Any time a situation required me to speak it, I prickled with embarrassment and anger as toddler-level Korean words stumbled out of my mouth.”

Also, snacks are an important part of the campers’ lives, although Sunny says she’s not a huge fan of Choco Pie. I’m not really a fan either but my kids love all of these Asian snacks. And I’m glad they can easily be found here in the Bay Area. 

Read in January 2022

Diagnosis – Lisa Sanders

Are You Listening? – Tillie Walden

Himawari House – Harmony Becker

Infinite Country – Patricia Engel

XOXO – Axie Oh

The Storyteller – Dave Grohl

The Backups – Alex De Campi

The Emissary – Yoko Tawada

The Woman in the Purple Skirt – Natsuko Imamura

Weather – Jenny Offill

Best Wishes – Mike Richardson

Pros and (Comic) Cons – Hope Nicholson (ed)

Suburban Glamour Vol 1 – Jamie McKelvie

If Beale Street Could Talk – James Baldwin

Maid – Stephanie Land

Huda F Are You? – Huda Fahmy

Heart and Seoul – Jen Frederick

84, Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff

Afterparties – Anthony Veasna So

Silk Vol 1: Threats and Menaces – Maurene Goo

Sea of Stars vol 1 – Jason Aaron, Dennis Hopeless

Three Bedrooms in Manhattan – Georges Simenon

This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Sea of Stars vol 2 – Jason Aaron, Dennis Hopeless

If Cats Disappeared From the World – Genki Kawamura

Fireheart Tiger – Aliette de Bodard

Thud! – Terry Pratchett