Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin #RIP

It actually felt like autumn this morning. The air was fresh and cool. The fog lingered over the school field. There was a smell of Autumn as I took a walk around the neighbourhood.

Of course it’s all temporary. It’s going to hit 31C later today and it’s already warming up.

But ah, I am glad to be done with summer. Aside from summer produce, it’s not my favourite season.

That’s why I always dive into the spooky reads once September hits. And there have been quite a few so far. Today, I’ve got this book on my mind, although I finished it a few weeks ago.

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Little Eyes – Samanta Schweblin

This defies genre. A story about little toys called kentuki. It comes as a crow, dragon, mole, or bunny. It has cameras for eyes, a motor for rolling around. But the weird part is that a stranger controls it. This person is known as the “dweller”. They use their computers to control the kentuki that’s assigned to them. They get to watch and listen to everything that goes on. The kentuki however can’t speak. But some dwellers and keepers manage to communicate eventually.

The “keeper” is the person who buys the kentuki and brings it home. Or maybe someone gave it to them. I mean, I guess it’s meant to be a cute toy. But really it’s all kind of sinister, the thought of someone watching you and your home through the eyes of this toy.

Schweblin is quite good at convincing the reader about the benefits of being a “dweller”. To see the world in a different way. An escape from your life. Like Marvin, a boy in Guatemala, who’s dwelling in a dragon kentuki in Norway. He’s unhappy, his father is always nagging him, and his mother died recently.

Another is a man who buys the kentuki for his son, as his ex-wife wants it for him. But he develops a strange affection for it. His son, meanwhile, hates it.

I’m not sure why anyone would want to buy a kentuki, knowing that someone is there watching. Maybe it’s because it’s a trendy thing at first? Like, everyone has one so I need to have one too. Or it’s out of curiosity? Or they just like being watched?

Little Eyes is written as a series of vignettes. Sometimes a chapter about one dweller. Another chapter is about a keeper. There are many of them around the world. This style of writing might not suit everyone but I enjoyed having a peek into the various lives of characters. But it felt like it lacked something at the end. It has stayed in my mind ever since reading it though, and unsettled me.

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

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I don’t know where to begin with this book. Perhaps I should start with, it’s not for the faint of heart. It is intense. It is full of taboos. There is abuse. And so very much more. And there is the way the mind works to handle all this trauma. It is, in its strange way, about survival. Don’t be fooled by that kawaii cover.

The story opens with a young Natsuki, age 11, who is convinced that her stuffed hedgehog is an alien from Popinpobopia. She shares this with her cousin Yuu, who is also her boyfriend, when they meet in the mountains at a family gathering.

(Something happens at this gathering but I don’t want to unleash any spoilers). But after the first two chapters, we fast-forward to Natsuki at age 34. She’s married, but to someone who has a similar mindset, both of them feeling alienated from society, preferring to believe that they themselves are aliens.

“Everyone believed in the Factory. Everyone was brainwashed by the Factory and did as they were told. They all used their reproductive organs for the Factory and did their jobs for the sake of the Factory. My husband and I were people they’d failed to brainwash, and anyone who remained unbrainwashed had to keep up an act in order to avoid being eliminated by the Factory.”

Natsuki and her husband return to the mountains where Yuu is staying and the three of them decide to train to avoid becoming Earthlings, to come up with their own ideas for living on a planet that isn’t their own. And it descends into something shocking and bizarre, that, as I said, isn’t for the faint of heart.

“I want to use the form of the novel to conduct experiments,” Murata once said in an interview. And this is one extremely outrageous experimental story. Yet to be honest, is it really all that outlandish? The trauma that a young girl experiences from the various abuses she suffers, from people who ought to be her defenders, has led her to believe that she’s not of this earth. For who would want to be, if you were in her shoes? And that feeling of being alienated, not fitting into the norms of society, is something many of us can relate to, I reckon, although the three characters take it to such an extreme level.

Earthlings is an uncomfortable read, it’s dark and twisted. It’s not for everyone. I hesitate to say “read this” because I know some are likely to be put off by, well, many parts. But for me, it was something I couldn’t stop reading. It’s way out of the box and unconventional but well, this past year has been anything but ordinary. Maybe I just needed something extremely bizarre to kick off my 2021 reading. Whatever the reason, Earthlings is a book I’m definitely not going to forget.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

Rain in August and a lightning storm to boot. Also we are in the middle of a heatwave. Isn’t 2020 crazy enough already?

But this strange weather on Sunday gave me the chance to sit down and think more about this interesting book by South Korean author Cho Nam-Joo, translated by Jamie Chang, and originally published in 2016

A story that begins with a 30-something-year-old “everywoman” who’s pressured to leave her job to care for her newborn. She begins to impersonate other women, both alive and dead. And her husband sends her to a psychiatrist.


The book focuses on the gender inequality experienced by Korean women – in their families, in schools, in the workplace, in society.


It’s told in a rather cold third-person voice and this may be a little difficult to get into, but it is a fascinating portrait of the life of this Korean everywoman, following all the sexism she faces, right from a very young age – when Kim Jiyoung is born, her mother even apologizes to her mother-in-law for not having had a boy instead!

It’s a short book but the 176 pages sure pack a punch.

The Girl Who Reads on the Métro

Which booklover can resist a book about books? A book about readers? And also ticking some boxes for me, a book written by a woman, and translated into English from French.

And then it begins with one of my favourite quotes, “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library” by Jorge Luis Borges. 

We begin on the metro where Juliette spends her commute watching people who are reading. There’s the man in the green hat reading a history of insects. The young woman reading romance novels whose eyes begin to tear around page 247. Juliette prefers watching readers to reading her own book. 

One day, Juliette steps off the train at a different stop, takes a walk around the strange neighborhood, and finds herself at a house with the front door wedged open with a book. 

There she meets Soliman whose house is full of books. And book passeurs come by, they deliver books to people. Not just randomly, but people they have watched, followed, until they can sense the book that person needs. 

And it all sounds kind of lovely, the way I’m describing it, but while I expected to be enchanted by this book, I just wasn’t. Although I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe because she doesn’t seem to really do much as a book passeur. And maybe because I didn’t really feel much of a connection to any of the characters. Maybe I was looking for something more whimsical. 

This book wasn’t quite for me but maybe it will be for you.