#AsianLitBingo : After Dark by Haruki Murakami

It feels like ages since I’ve read a Haruki Murakami book. It is especially with Murakami that I need to take long breathing spaces. To pause and have a breath of fresh air from all that strangeness.

And After Dark is definitely a strange one.

I love how it brings in all that happens in the wee hours of the night.

Just before midnight at a Denny’s somewhere in Tokyo, a young woman named Mari sits reading a book.

Before dawn breaks she will have met a young man who plays a trombone, a Chinese prostitute who has been beaten by her client, and a former wrestler turned love hotel manager.

Then there’s Eri, Mari’s sister, who has been asleep for some months. They’ve not seen her awake but she seems to be getting up and doing the bare minimum to be alive. Their doctor can’t do anything to help her.

What a fun and very weird read. I read this while in a beachside vacation rental in coastal Oregon with the sounds of waves crashing and lulling me to sleep.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Translated Work by an Asian Author

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#AsianLitBingo – Orange by Ichigo Takano

To be honest if I had read a synopsis of this manga I would not have picked it up.

Here’s the overview:

On the day that Naho begins 11th grade, she receives a letter from herself ten years in the future. At first, she writes it off as a prank, but as the letter’s predictions come true one by one Naho realizes that the letter might be the real deal. Her future self tells Naho that a new transfer student, a boy named Kakeru, will soon join her class. The letter begs Naho to watch over him, saying that only Naho can save Kakeru from a terrible future. Who is this mystery boy, and can Naho save him from his destiny? The heart-wrenching sci-fi romance that has over million copies in print in Japan!

I don’t know, that just sounds, well, not very original to be honest. Luckily I didn’t have a clue about the synopsis and just headed straight on into the book.

And I’m really glad I read this. It was sad and silly in parts. Lots of teenaged angst and unrequited love and crushes and whatnot. But it is a solid story and one that discusses what I’m guessing may be a taboo subject in Japanese culture – suicide and mental health. Kakeru’s mother has killed herself and he blames himself for not being there for her on the day – he constantly doubts himself and feels like he doesn’t deserve to continue living.

And it probably is the only manga that has ever made me cry!

Of course when there’s an element of time travel (here it is a letter that’s travelled through time somehow), it requires some suspension of disbelief. But as manga go, Orange is a sweet, simple one, a “slice of life” manga.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Graphic Novel with Asian MC

It’s Monday

My in-laws arrived from Singapore on Saturday evening and the kids were just so excited to have their grandparents visiting. And of course receive all those books and treats they brought with them!

Also last week, the kids at tennis class

And the elementary school open house. My 7yo thinks he’s tall and has a medium voice, hmmm

Currently…

Reading:

Watching:

With the kids, Masterchef Junior. I love how the young contestants are inspiring my kids to want to learn how to cook!

Listening:
Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve – Leonora Chu

Eating:

A ham and cheese sandwich

Drinking:

Water

Cooking:

Tonight, chicken rice

Fried noodles

Last week:

I read:


The Land of Forgotten Girls – Erin Entrada Kelly
Unicorn of Many Hats – Dana Simpson
Giant Days vol 3
Tell me again how a crush should feel – Sara Farizan

I posted:

#AsianLitBingo – The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly

#AsianLitBingo – Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

#AsianLitBingo – Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

#AsianLitBingo – The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by FC Yee

#AsianLitBingo Kinder than Solitude by Yiyun Li

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date

#AsianLitBingo – The Land of Forgotten Girls

Ever since Erin Entrada Kelly’s third book, Hello, Universe, won the 2018 Newbery award, I’ve been curious about her books. And now that I’ve read one, how I wish I could have read it when I was a kid!

It’s a bit of a sad story really, two young girls move to the US from the Philippines not long after their sister and mother die and their father remarries this woman Vea, who really falls into the “evil stepmother” category. Life isn’t easy but then three years ago, their father returns to the Philippines for a funeral and never returns to America.

“Unfortunately, we still have Vea.”

Vea, who complains a lot, smokes a lot, and locks Sol in the closet when she misbehaves.

12-year-old Sol is defiant but her younger sister Ming is young and doesn’t know any better.

“I’m not a disobedient girl, even though Papa and Vea say I am. Vea thinks it’s because I’m being raised in America, but that’s not it. I just don’t think it’s right to obey orders that you know are wrong – and calling Vea “Mother” was as bad as cursing God.”

They live in lower-income housing. Thin walls, the kind you can hear all kinds of sounds through, and rats. It’s a bleak and depressing place, but Sol tries to make it a better one for her sister by telling her fairytales and stories she makes up or remembers from what their mother told her, including stories about their made-up Auntie Jove, a beautiful adventurer who travels the world and was blessed by fairies.  Ming holds on to the hope of being found by Auntie Jove.

Sol wants to make Ming a treehouse, a place for her to escape, and she breaks into a junkyard to get materials but gets caught by the junkyard owner, who has a change of heart and showcases his artistic side. Similarly, she finds a friend in neighbour Mrs Yeung, a silent Chinese woman. Perhaps there is hope after all for the two girls.

Sol is a great character – spunky, driven, and independent. She’s also a fierce defender of her younger sister. And while she does some silly things like stealing popsicles from the store and breaking into the junkyard, she knows right from wrong, and knows that their living situation isn’t ideal but that as a child, she can hardly do anything about it.

I really liked this story about a young, lower-income, immigrant girl struggling to fit in. As an adult reader, I think I wanted the book to touch more on race and class issues. But if I had been reading this as a 10-year-old I would have enjoyed this a lot, the way it brings in a bit of fantasy into reality.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Asian Immigrant MC.

See the rest of my TBR list here

Find out more details about the challenge here.

#AsianLitBingo – Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

“I also began to notice how white everything was. The students, the students’ teeth, and the fences surrounding the outdoor swimming pools we never used. We all seemed to categorize ourselves without ever explicitly saying anything. Where does that leave students who don’t have a clear category?”

It’s not easy being different in school. Leila already stands out because of her Iranian background, but she also holds close to her a secret – she likes girls.

“I’m not ready to announce my lady-loving inclinations as yet. I can hear the whispering, knowing that what they are snickering about could easily be me. I’m already different enough at this school. I don’t need to add anything else to that.”

A new girl joins Armstead Academy and Leila is immediately drawn to her. Saskia stands out – she’s just moved from Switzerland and is Dutch-Brazilian and is the rare person to ask about Leila’s heritage.

“It’s nice to be able to talk to someone about this stuff. Tess and Greg don’t get it, because people see basic white or black when they look at them. It’s the ambiguity that throws people; they want to know which box to put you in.”

Leila is drawn to Saskia – she’s confident, clever, poised, she stands out yet is comfortable with that. She’s not quite so sure why Saskia wants to befriend her though.

Leila constantly worries about coming out to her family. A family they know have shunned their son who was seen kissing another man. How would her own conservative Iranian parents react?

“You know where they’re from, being gay is illegal? They imprison people over there for feeling like I do! Sentence them to death sometimes.”

When I reflect back on Lucy and Linh, the other book I recently read that focuses on teenagers in school, Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel is less complex, more simply told. There’s nothing wrong with that though. Sometimes a lighter read is what’s needed. It’s a lighter read yet it discusses some complicated issues that face many teens out there – discovering their own identity, standing up for themselves and what they believe in, relationships with family and friends, and learning that it’s ok to be different.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo -LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC

See the rest of my TBR list here

Find out more details about the challenge here.

#AsianLitBingo – Girls Burn Brighter

 

Goodness this was an intense read.

Poornima is the daughter of a weaver, who makes cotton saris that their region is known for. After her mother dies of cancer, her father is unable to produce enough saris. Poornima is in charge of the household chores and takes care of her younger siblings. At first he is unable to find anyone willing to work the looms. It is 2001 and weaving doesn’t bring in much money anymore, so he has no choice but to hire Savitha, who also is from the weaver caste.

While Poornima feels like her family is poor, she realizes they are well-off compared to Savitha. Before this new job, Savitha earned a little bit of money by scrounging for discarded paper and plastic in the garbage dumps. It took  her three days of rubbish collecting just to make twenty rupees. Her mother cleans houses, her younger sisters help dig through garbage and her father begs.

She remembered her mother saying once, as they passed them, “Don’t look,” and Poornima had not known whether she meant at the cemetery or at the children scrambling up the heaps. But now, standing in Savitha’s impoverished hut, and with her mother long dead, she thought she understood. Her mother had said don’t look and she’d meant don’t look at either the cemetery or the garbage heaps. She’d meant, don’t look at death, don’t look at poverty, don’t look at how they crawl through life, how they wait for you, stalk you, before they end you.

They become good friends. They eat their meals together and Poornima even visits Savitha’s home.

Obviously their futures aren’t exactly bright. Poornima, with her darker skin, is considered unattractive and there is barely hope for a decent arranged marriage. She gets an offer from a family but the signs aren’t good – she doesn’t get to meet her groom until the wedding itself and the family demands even more money – money that they don’t have.

For Savitha, an act of violence destroys her and she runs away from the village. And it seems like the two friends will now be separated forever.

Poornima’s married life is well, horrifying really. And she decides to go in search of Savitha.

What a brilliant debut novel. It’s full of emotion and vivid depictions of poverty in India. It is not an easy read – there is abuse, both mental and physical and sexual. There is so much pain and poverty. But Rao brings in some small moments of joy, such as Savitha’s delight in eating yogurt rice with a banana.

I read for Asian Lit Bingo – Poor or Working Class Asian MC

Find out more details about the challenge here.

#AsianLitBingo – The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by FC Yee

 

The Journey to the West made-in-China TV series was quite a big part of my childhood in 1980s Singapore.

The acting was very overly dramatic as Chinese TV series in that period (maybe it still is today – I haven’t watched any new ones), the make-up and special effects horrendous (although probably quite good for its time), and probably just really cheesy. But as a kid, I lapped it all up. I can’t be entirely sure but this may have been a Sunday showing. And on Sunday evenings we could be found at my paternal grandparents’ house, where the cousins and aunts and uncles all gathered. The adults would eat at the big dinner table, the kids would grab our dishes and eat on the front patio. Then we would all watch TV. My grandparents didn’t speak much English, in fact my grandmother didn’t really speak Mandarin and instead spoke a Chinese dialect called Hokkien, which I didn’t really speak. But I think we all would sit down together to watch Journey to the West and all the other Chinese TV shows that would be screened on Sunday evenings.

And that’s where I learnt about Sun Wukong (the monkey king), Zhu Bajie (part-human part-pig), Tang Sanzang (the monk), and Sha Wujing (an exiled Imperial Guard) as they traveled to obtain… ok I have no idea what the journey is about, I just remember that they always got into some trouble with yaoguai (demons) and there would be fighting and whatnot.

So it was an absolute delight for me when I learnt that this legend was incorporated into this YA book.

Eugenia “Genie” Lo is just one hell of a feisty character:

“What you get from me is jack and squat, regardless of whether or not you understand. Ming bai le ma, dickhead?”

She’s a 16-year-old Chinese-American who learns that she’s the reincarnation of the Ruyi Jingu Bang, the magical staff wielded by Sun Wukong, the Monkey King.

Yes somehow a staff has become a human. Crazy, fun, but so is this book.

And it turns out that Quentin, the new kid in school, is Sun Wukong, the Monkey King.

That however means nothing to Genie.

“You’re Chinese and you don’t know me?” he sputtered. “That’s like an American child not knowing Batman!”

“You’re Chinese Batman?”

“No! I’m stronger than Batman, and more important, like — like. Tian na, how do you not know who I am?”

I love how Yee has blended this Chinese legend with American high school life. It’s charming, just hilarious, and such a rolling good time of a read. Also there are demons.

 

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – SFF with Asian MC.

See the rest of my TBR list here