RIP XIII

As we near the end of August, it’s time to start thinking about autumn leaves and spooky reads!

The Readers Imbibing in Peril Challenge is in its 13th year!

If you’re new to RIP, this is what it’s all about:

The purpose of the R.I.P. Challenge is to enjoy books that could be classified as:

Mystery.

Suspense.

Thriller.

Dark Fantasy.

Gothic.

Horror.

Supernatural.

The emphasis is never on the word challenge, instead it is about coming together as a community and embracing the autumnal mood, whether the weather is cooperative where you live or not.

The goals are simple. 

1. Have fun reading.

2. Share that fun with others.

You can find more details here

I’m joining in for

Peril the First:

Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (our very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature.

And here are some books I hope to read!

I always try to go for a pool centered around POC writers and female writers.

Death Notice – Zhou Haohui, translated from the Chinese by Zac Haluza

A police thriller set in Chengdu, China. A new-to-me writer

Last Winter We Parted – Fuminori Nakamura

I’ve read a couple of Nakamura’s books, The Boy in the Earth, and The Thief, and they’re always kinda weird and dark.

In the miso soup – Ryu Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Ralph McCarthy

Something about a possible serial killer in Tokyo and sleazy nightlife. I figure I might just give it a try.

The Graveyard Apartment – Mariko Koike, translated from the Japanese by Deborah Boliver Boehm

This was on some list of horror books online. It was originally published in 1984 and sure sounds creepy.

The Between– Tananarive Due

I loved Due’s The Good House and always say I should read more of her books.

The City of Brass – S A Chakraborty

I like the idea of fantasy set in the Middle East and don’t read enough of it. This goes for the next book too.

Throne of the Crescent Moon – Saladin Ahmed

Want more suggestions?

Here’s my RIP XII pool (lots of women writers)

Here’s my list of POC authors that I posted for RIP XI

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#RIPXII The Bear and the Nightingale

 

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From the very start of the book, I am hooked.

And that is not a usual thing. I am a reader of many books. By that I mean that I tend to read several things at once. So it can sometimes take me several tries to get into a book.

(You might just wonder then, why not just concentrate and read that one book, finish it, and then move on to another? Well, that’s just not the way I work. I just like multiple books going on!)

First of all, I love that it’s a fairytale. And more than that, that it’s a snowy, wintry kind of read. I have lived most of my life near the equator – where the only seasons are hot and dry or hot and rainy. And I now live in Northern California where winters are, at the most, rainy, although we could easily drive a few hours to find snow. So I’ve never really been in that kind of dense and intense winters that  the north of Russia must have.

Vasilisa is the youngest child of a wealthy lord of a northern Russian village. She can see  the spirits of the house, forest, river, the spirits that protect them from evil, like the domovoi, which lives in the oven. Her new stepmother can see these spirits too, but she calls them demons and seeks refuge in the church. She soon forbids the household from honoring these spirits with offerings. But Vasya tries to continue this ritual when she can, fearing that something bad is about to happen.

“The domovoi was small and squat and brown. He had a long beard and brilliant eyes. At night he crept out of the oven to wipe the plates and scour away the soot. He used to do mending, too, when people left it out, but Anna would shriek if she saw a stray shirt, and few of the servants would risk her anger. Before Vasya’s stepmother arrived, they had left offerings for him: a bowl of milk or a bit of bread. But Anna shrieked then, too. Dunya and the serving-maids had begun hiding their offerings in odd corners where Anna rarely came.”

Things get even more interesting when Father Konstantin is sent to their village and the villagers grow more fearful, and so is bold and brave Vasya.

“No, Vasya was frightened of her own people. They did not joke on the way to church anymore; they listened to Father Konstantin in heavy, hungry silence. And even when they were not in church, the people made excuses to visit his room.”

Something is waking, something evil. And without these spirits’ protection, crops start failing, the creatures of the forest roam closer, danger lurks.

The Bear and the Nightingale was an absolute charmer of a book. I loved all the Russian folklore throughout and the rural setting. Perhaps the only part that didn’t sit too well with me was the last act, which seemed a bit rushed.

 

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This is my fourth read for RIP XII

#ripxii Fox Woman

I have a bit of a fascination with the Japanese folklore of fox spirits. We don’t have foxes in Singapore but I’ve seen foxes in the wild in other countries. Once when I lived in Brighton, England, and it was nighttime and I was walking back to the student apartments after a pub crawl with some friends. At first I thought I was seeing things but no, it really was a fox, nonchalantly loping down the pavement with the rest of us. It was smaller than I expected.

Sometime earlier this year, in Livermore, a fox dashing along the sidewalk as we drove by. As I looked in the side mirror, it jumped into the street and ran across the road. Luckily the car behind us stopped for it and it got to live another day.

“Humanness is more than robes. Or tiled roofs, or poetry.”

“Then what?”

“Expectations. Separation from things. Lonelinesss. Sadness. Truthfully, I was glad to give it up, to run again. Not even love can make it worthwhile.”

Kij Johnson, whose short story collection In The Mouth of the River of Bees is one of my favourites (I especially loved The Man Who Bridged the Mist), writes an intriguing story told from three perspectives. Kaya no Yoshifuji has failed at the emperor’s court and has brought his wife and young son to his estate in the countryside. Kitsune is a young fox and she falls in love with Yoshifuji. Yoshifuji becomes obsessed with the foxes living in his garden. And this obsession frightens his wife Shikujo and she returns to the city with her son. Meanwhile, Kitsune and her fox family attempt a strange kind of magic that creates a whole illusion – Kitsune and her family seem like humans who live in a large wealthy house nearby, complete with manservants and handmaidens. Yoshifuji falls head over heels for the magic and for Kitsune and her family and this world they have created, and he married Kitsune and they have a child. But soon the magic unravels – can Kitsune keep her hold on her love?

I loved how the stories are told from Shikujo’s pillow book, Yoshifuji’s notebook and a fox diary. How strange it is that I easily accept the idea of a fox diary while it felt so strange reading of the life of Shikujo – often she would hide behind screens, surrounded by her women servants. Social norms of 11th century Japan make me feel so grateful I live in modern times.

“Like her poems, her life has always been elegant but lacking spark. Still, she has a beauty I will never attain, bareheaded in the rain like a peasant.”

Sometimes a quiet, subtle story like this is exactly what I need. The writing is beautiful and has a great dark feel to it. It does require a bit of time to sink into it, to be able to take on this tale of a fox falling in love with a human.

Kij Johnson has also written a second book in this series, Fudoki, which tells of a cat turned woman warrior and sounds just wonderful.

 

This is my second read for RIP XII

Joining #RIPXII

Happy RIP season! I’ve been taking part since RIP IV – it was the very first challenge I took part in, so it will always be special! Every September 1 through October 31 for the last 11 years Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings has hosted the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, affectionately known as the R.I.P. Challenge. And now it’s being run by Andi of Estelle’s Revenge and Heather of My Capricious Life.

But it remains the same, it’s always about books of:

Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural.
And I always go for
Peril the First:
“Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (our very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Shirley Jackson or Tananarive Due…or anyone in between.”

I’ve decided this year to focus on women writers!

Here’s my pool:

The Vicious Deep – Zoraida Cordova

Ink and Ashes – Valence E. Maetani

Waiting on a Bright Moon – JY Yang

The Reader – Traci Chee

The Chaos – Nalo Hopkinson

Lagoon – Nnedi Okorafor

City of the Lost – Kelley Armstrong

The Witches of New York – Ami McKay

The Unquiet Dead – Ausma Zehanat Khan

#Diversiverse and #RIPX : Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan

 

 

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(translated by Anne Tucker)

Dewi Ayu was buried in a far corner of the cemetery among the graves of other ill-fated people, because that was what Kyai Jahro and the gravedigger had agreed upon. Buried there was an evil thief from the colonial era, and a crazy killer, and a number of communists, and now a prostitute. It was believed that those unfortunate souls would be disturbed by ongoing tests and trials in the grave, and so it was wise to distance them from the graves of pious people who wanted to rest in peace, be invaded by worms and rot in peace, and make love to heavenly nymphs without any commotion.

What is this book that I’ve just read? It is hard to really put a finger on what genre it would fall into.

Is it a ghost story?
Is it historical fiction?
Is it a romance?
Is it a sweeping family saga that spans several generations and many decades?
Is it a story about Indonesia, its history and its people and culture?

It is all that and more.

It is ambitious. It is immense. It is startling and odd and also fresh and exciting.

It is the story of Dewi Ayu, born into a Dutch family, captured by the Japanese when they occupied Indonesia, forced into prostitution. And it is also the story of her four daughters and their own families.

Lots of people get married in the months of the rainy season. Crowds of villagers attend ceremony after ceremony for weeks on end and the golden janur kuning poles marking the houses holding wedding parties stick out of fences at almost every single intersection, arching over the street to dangle their festive decorations. Meanwhile, those men who aren’t married yet go off to the whorehouse, lovers meet more often to get it on in secret, long-married couples seem to relive their honeymoons in the months of the rainy season, and God creates many tiny little embryos

It is also the story of Indonesia – from its occupation by the Japanese during the Second World War, to its struggles with the Dutch (it was part of the Dutch East Indies) and then with the communists and the anti-communist purge in 1965.

So it is political, it is violent – in terms of physical violence and sexual violence. Yet Eka Kurniawan somehow manages to bring some humour, albeit an odd sense of it, into his tale.

They often teased people forced to walk past the cemetery, making spooky noises or appearing as headless sweet potato sellers. Everyone avoided the place at night but Kamino and Farida were quite used to the ghosts, and simply chased them away like other people shoo out a chicken that has wandered into the kitchen. Every once in a while the couple even teased the ghosts right back.

I rushed through a good part of this book, which I had borrowed as an e-book from the library. That wasn’t the way Beauty is a Wound should be read though. I had started it but then the whole woman climbing out of a grave thing wasn’t really jiving with me at the time – I had just emerged from reading a book that had creeped me out, and I wasn’t ready for more ghostly matters!. So I mentally filed it away to read later. Of course, it was only way later that I remembered it, with just a few days left before it would expire. With some other eager readers on hold for the e-book, there wasn’t a chance to renew it, and so the intense reading began.

But with its large ensemble cast and its meander through history, this is an intense read.

For instance, when Kurniawan introduces a new character, he tosses us deep into this character’s history, yes, breaking the original narrative and chronological order of the story, pulling the reader back in time, tracing this new character’s relationship with the previously mentioned characters and sometimes introducing other characters, a seemingly different story arc. Then he brings it all back together again to continue the main story. It is originally a bit disconcerting but the lives of these different characters, their own stories is so fascinating that I just read and read wherever Kurniawan takes me.

There is so much that seems to be taken from legend and folklore here. I am not familiar with Indonesian culture (although I am from Southeast Asia), so I don’t know if all these myths and stories Kurniawan tells are influenced by something that is old and legendary, but it often feels like it. I’m probably missing out a bit by not knowing all this background, but like any good book, it makes me want to find out more, to read more about Indonesia and learn. (And also wonder why the Singapore education system never made us learn more about our neighbours).

The supernatural is a big part of Indonesian culture. Prominent Indonesians are known to consult dukun or shamans. It is even said that former presidents Suharto and Sukarno employed dukun, who are seen as gatekeepers to the supernatural world, and can heal ailments, and some more famous ones even claim to help politicians get elected.

As they descended from the station platform, they jerked back at the soupy air, thick with a rancid stench and full of shadows that flickered with a reddish glow.
“It’s like entering a haunted house,” the wife commented, shaking her head. “No,” said her husband, “it’s like there was a massacre in this city.”

I wouldn’t say this book is for everyone. It is not a quick breezy read. Its layers and depths and even humour take some time to wander through. It is wordy, it meanders. But it offers insight into a country that not many books are set in, it also gives the reader plenty of food for thought. If you’re looking for something a little different, and are willing to devote some time to reading it, consider Beauty is a Wound.

Interestingly, Beauty is a Wound or Cantik itu Luka was originally published in 2002. Lelaki Harimau or Man Tiger (recently published by Verso Books) was originally published in 2004.

 

Here are others’ thoughts on the book:

The Complete Review

ANZ LitLovers

The Saturday Paper

Salty Popcorn

One NYT review: “If Pippi Longstocking were an Indonesian prostitute instead of a Swedish tomboy, she would be something like Dewi Ayu”.
(really??)

Also, an interesting interview with Kurniawan in the Sydney Morning Herald

Have you read this book or Eka Kurniawan’s other works?

diversiverse2015

 

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I read this book for Diversiverse and RIP X 

#Diversiverse and #RIPX : Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

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“I’m surprised at you, Lorrie,” said Rollo. “It stands to reason no one can have a picnic if it is raining cockatrices and dragons. A hugeness mermaid don’t improve the view, either.”

It is always refreshing to read a fantasy/magical story that isn’t all about people fair of skin and golden-locked. And it is always wonderful to read of a strong feisty main female character who doesn’t bow down to tradition, even if it is a Regency setting, where women are not supposed to practise magic.

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Sorcerer to the Crown is all about breaking with tradition.

In truth magic had always had a slightly un-English character, being unpredictable, heedless of tradition and profligate with its gifts to high and low.

Sure, there are elements of popular fantasy reads here. A school for magic (or rather anti-magic) for girls. Squabbling magicians (males of course). The land of faery. A Regency England setting. Very proper and what not.

Magic was too strong a force for women’s frail bodies – too potent a brew for their weak minds – and so, especially at a time when everyone must be anxious to preserve what magical resource England still possessed, magic must be forbidden to women.

But at its heart is the Sorcerer Royal Zacharias, a black man in a sea of white. He was a freed slave who was adopted by the Sir Stephen Wythe, then the Sorcerer Royal. He inherited the title from Sir Stephen. Well sort of. The thing with the title is that it comes with a staff and like Thor’s hammer, it is only wielded by the rightful owner. But mutter mutter there rumour rumour here, everyone is convinced that Zacharias had something to do with Sir Stephen’s death. After all, where is Leofric, Sir Wythe’s familiar? Doesn’t the Sorcerer Royal need a familiar? And also, they blame him for the mere trickling of magic that England now has.

So besides all this politicking (and assassination attempts and constant worrying about lack of magical resources) that Zacharias has to fend off, he has to make a speech at Mrs Daubeney’s School for Gentlewitches, a school in which girls learn to suppress their natural magical abilities. Because women aren’t supposed to be magical. Of course they aren’t! There he meets Prunella, a sort of ward/teacher/servant of the school, a very magical young woman, who seeks his help in leaving the school and, well, she’s not the kind of person who takes no for an answer. And also, she’s a mixed race, half-Indian orphan.

Then there’s Mak Genggang, a witch from Janda Baik, and she’s stirring up trouble for everyone, especially Zacharias, who pretty much has his hands full by now.

Mak Genggang was a puzzle. In manner and appearance she struck Prunella as being little different from an English village witch, of the sort who plied villagers with love philtres and finding charms, far away from the disapproving eye of the Society. Yet she had walked through Fairyland to England; the Sorcerer Royal treated her as an equal; and she was possessed of such a serene and persuasive conviction of her own power that neither fact seemed remarkable.

 

So Zacharias’ life is changed forever, and so is Prunella’s. And they set out to put England right too. Things aren’t ever as simple as that, especially since this is only the first book in the series, but just take it from me, this is a delightful delightful book. It is a book that made me laugh and smile and just be so glad for someone like Zen Cho to have written this magical book of magic. A book full of life and colour and vivacity. A book that simple soars.

(I do have the tiniest twinge of disappointment that this book was not set in Malaysia, or even somewhere in Asia – Cho was born and raised in Malaysia but currently lives in England. But I have hope that she will write one novel set in Asia sometime soon.)

Zen Cho’s Bibliography (her website)
Spirits Abroad (short stories)
Cyberpunk: Malaysia (editor)

 

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I read this book for Diversiverse and RIP X 

RIP X and Diversiverse: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami



I knew I would be reading a book by a Japanese author for RIP X. I just didn’t expect it to be Haruki Murakami. He does write slightly odd books but I guess I never thought any of them really fit into the RIP mood. I can think of plenty of other Japanese writers that would easily do that like Natsuo Kirino, Keigo Higashino, Koji Suzuki.

So it was interesting to read this little volume from Murakami. The American version of it has a flap-over cover. Or whatever the professional term for that is. See the photo in the middle. Essentially the red cover flips open as does the bit at the bottom. And each page has an image on one side and text on the other. The text is alarmingly large but you’ll get used to it. I suppose that is how the publisher managed to turn what is essentially a short story into a book-length publication.

I’m not complaining though. I like the use of the images through the book. It made for a different read.

Opening the book up, top flap then bottom is a little like opening a box. A boxful of secrets, a hidden room, a library of deep dark weirdness, a prison of sorts.

Our nameless young boy goes to the library to return books and read up on Ottoman Empire taxation. And he is led to a room downstairs, a room he never knew existed. There he is told that he will be imprisoned in a room in the library and he has to memorise three books on the Ottoman Empire tax system. If not, his brains will be feasted on.

(Way to encourage kids to spend time at the library, Mr Murakami!)

Anyway, a strange little read from the master of Japanese fiction. Suitable indeed for RIP and whatever odd reading mood you are in.

What I found fascinating also is that the British version of the book has different illustrations, as this article from The Guardian shows. 

The Millions examines this a bit more, and shows us the cover of the original Japanese book, and further ignites my curiosity about the British version: “Open up that edition to any page and the word “vintage” will spring to mind, from the lovely marbled endpapers to the reproduced antique plates of dogs and birds.”

Apparently, Chip Kidd’s American design had some familiar with Japanese publishing shaking their heads in dismay!

 

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I read this book for Diversiverse and RIP X