Tag: Magical Realism

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Posted April 6, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Magical Realism / 0 Comments

Exit West by Mohsin HamidTitle: Exit West (Goodreads)
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Published: Hamish Hamilton, 2017
Pages: 240
Genres: Magical Realism
My Copy: Hardcover

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Every so often a book comes along that gets you thinking about an important social issue in a whole new light. These are the books I actively seek out, I am always looking for literature that is going to challenge my thinking or even teach me something new. Mohsin Hamid’s latest novel Exit West was a recent example of a book doing this with the topic of refugees. This is such an important issue and Hamid got me thinking about it in a different way with the simple introduction of magical doors.

The premise of Exit West is straightforward following the budding relationship between Saeed and Nadia in an unnamed country. As the novel tracks their developing relationship, it soon becomes apparent that they will need to escape. As the city they grew up in becomes increasingly unsafe, they are soon planning to leave everything behind. Through a door and into another country.

While the concept of these doors might be inspired by Nanina, Mohsin Hamid has stated he used this idea as a way to not get bogged down with the refugee journey. He wanted to explore the story as the events that lead these characters to flee and how it felt to be a refugee in Western culture. While I understand his reasoning, the idea seemed to work differently for me as the reader. The magical journey to another country gave off this idea that Western media do not care about the journey they only care about asylum seekers in their country. It worked to symbolise that missing piece that is often left out of the news when reporting on the refugee crisis.

In an interview with the author, he said the doors also where a symbol of globalisation. In today’s world we are able to talk to someone on the other side of the world face to face with video calling programs like Skype. The world seems smaller thanks to the advances of technology and while the idea of walking through a door into another country sound wonderful, it works as a motif for the complex issue of border control. Some doors are heavily guarded and other doors, like the one to their home country, are left accessible as if to invite them to ‘go back to where they came from’.

What I think Mohsin Hamid did really well in this novel was use the character focus to challenge the perceptions people might have of the refugee stereotype. Nadia wore an all concealing black robe in public not for religious reasons but to make her feel safe. Nadia is not religious and lives alone, she had to lie and said she was a widow to get her apartment. Nadia’s story is one of protecting herself from judgement while trying to explore her own sexuality. She longs for the freedom and individuality of the Western world. While Saeed is not overly religious he is the one that wants to wait to they are married. When fleeing the country he wishes to be part of the community of fellow countrymen, he does not want to give up on his traditions.

The two different points of view allows the reader to explore the idea of refugees from their perspective. Rather than focusing on the journey and the conflict with the Western world. Exit West focuses on their personal identity, as the characters try to understand their place in the world. For Nadia this is a chance for a new beginning, to reinvent herself but for Saeed this is the story of missing what he left, the nostalgic idea he had of his homeland.

Mohsin Hamid intentionally left the country and city unnamed because this could be the story of anyone. He did model it after a city in Pakistan but worried that mentioning any names might have been viewed as a political statement rather than the story he wanted to tell. I am so glad that I picked up Exit West and I know I will be dipping into more of Hamid’s works. This novel was so accessible, I feel like everyone should pick it up, in the hopes that it will get more people thinking about refugees.


The Librarian by Mikhail Elizarov

Posted February 17, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Magical Realism / 1 Comment

The Librarian by Mikhail ElizarovTitle: The Librarian (Goodreads)
Author: Mikhail Elizarov
Translator: Andrew Bromfield
Published: Pushkin Press, 2007
Pages: 410
Genres: Magical Realism
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

The books by Gromov, obscure and forgotten propaganda author from the Soviet era, have gained a bit of cult following. However this is not your normal fandom and his book are unlike anything you will ever read. These books have the ability to magically transform anyone; make the weak strong, the cowardly brave. Small groups have formed to protect these supernatural book with their leader given the title The Librarian. War breaks out between these libraries in desperate attempts to seize any copies of Gromov’s books they may have. The Librarian tells the story of Alexei, a loser who unexpectedly stumbles across one of Gromov’s books that changes his life forever.

This dystopian world created by Mikhail Elizarov is an obvious allegory for the Soviet Union, however it is something to be expected in post-Soviet literature. However Elizarov explores some interesting themes as well, in particular an idea of ‘blind faith’ in politics. The Librarian looks at the way people will thoughtlessly adopt a political system in which they are forced to inhabit. The author has a lot to say on the Soviet system and, like other Russian authors (in Soviet and post-Soviet literature), he adopts a satirical method to explore these ideas.

Alternatively, you could look at The Librarian from the perspective of the power of books. The entire novel is about people reading these books and gaining power, knowledge, and so on. This is the true power of books; as readers, we educate ourselves and learn empathy, and also get different political, historical or cultural points of view. While we might not gain the same amount of power as the people in this novel, we do gain power.

I found this book extremely interesting and I was engrossed the entire way through it. It is violent and could be a little too hard for some to handle but there is something worth exploring here. The Librarian won the Russian Booker Prize in 2008; this is very similar to the Man Booker Prize but for Russian novels. I had not heard too much about the Russian Booker Prize previously but I am now very interested. As a fan of Russian lit, I will keep an eye out for books translated into English so I can continue to explore more post-Soviet literature.


Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Posted April 29, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Magical Realism / 0 Comments

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki MurakamiTitle: Kafka on the Shore (Goodreads)
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Philip Gabriel
Published: Vintage, 2002
Pages: 480
Genres: Magical Realism
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Kafka on the Shore tells the story of a fifteen year old book named Kafka who runs away from home to find his mother and sister. Although the alternate chapters tell the story of Nakata; a strange old man who has the ability to talk to cats. Like many of Haruki Murakami’s books, Kafka on the Shore blends pop culture with magical realism in order to explore the psyche of the characters involved.

It is often hard to try and give an overview of a Murakami book because they tend to come out weird and I do not want to give the impression that his novels are not worth attempting. For Kafka on the Shore, the magical realism allows the reader to explore the psychological mind of fifteen year old Kafka Tamune. Not only is Kakfa a young man discovering his sexuality, Sigmund Freud would probably suggest that he also has an Oedipus complex and has developed an unhealthy obsession with his mother and sister.

According to Freud, an Oedipus complex stems from the unconscious mind and normally caused by the repression of a mother (or father) figure. Freudian psychoanalysis theory suggests that this is a key psychological experience needed for normal sexual development. However if it is unsuccessful at resolving it may lead to neurosis, paedophilia, or homosexuality. Without going into the problematic thinking of Sigmund Freud, this does make for an interesting analysis of Kafka’s journey throughout the book, especially with his interactions between Sakura and Miss Saeki.

If we continue looking at this novel through the lens of psychoanalysis theory, we might even get some interesting insights into Nakata. I always thought the loss of mental faculties was due to the psychological trauma, he experienced as a young boy. He was one of sixteen schoolchildren picking mushrooms in a field trip towards the end of World War II, when they were all rendered unconscious from a mysterious light in the sky. However it has also been suggested that maybe Kafka and Nakata are two different parts of the same person.

Every time I read a Haruki Murakami, I am reminded of his brilliance (with the exception of 1Q84), and I want to explore more of his works. I am also reminded that I need to learn a whole lot more about psychoanalytical theories, and how much it would help with books like Kafka on the Shore. For me this was a bildungsroman book about sexual development and memories. However, I found myself more interested in the chapters centred on Kafka over those about Nakata but maybe that was because I understood them a little better.

Yet again Haruki Murakami has impressed me with Kafka on the Shore and I am eager to pick up more of his books. I know magical realism can be scary for some people but I love the way Murakami uses it to explore the mind. My only real criticism of this book is that it was a little bloated and could have been trimmed down a little and still achieve the same. This might be due to an aversion to big books that I really need to overcome and not a true reflection on Murakami. I highly recommend giving this author a go if you have never tried him but Kafka on the Shore is not a good starting point; may I suggest trying Norwegian Wood first.


The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Posted March 10, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Magical Realism / 2 Comments

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail BulgakovTitle: The Master and Margarita (Goodreads)
, 1967
Pages: 403
Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When I first read The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov back in 2012 I had no idea how to review it. Now that I have re-read the book, I am still at a loss. The Master and Margarita is often considered as one of the best novels of the 20th century by critics and cited as the top example of Soviet satire. Like most of Mikhail Bulgakov’s bibliography, this author never saw the effect that this novel had on the world; it was written between 1928 and 1940 but was first published in 1967, long after his death.

One of the things I love about Russian literature is the social commentary and satirical nature found in a lot of their books. During the Soviet era there was a lot written about the political state of the country but these were often heavily censored before publication. There was a distribution practise happening at the time call called samizdat, which is when individuals reproduced censored publications and passed them out to readers. The term samizdat comes from the Russian words, sam which roughly means “self” and izdat “publishing house”, so possibly the first use of self-publishing. If it wasn’t for this underground practice we may never have the uncensored editions of Russian classics like Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, the majority of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn books and of course The Master and Margarita.

The novel starts out with Berlioz and Bezdomny talking at the Patriarch ponds when a mysterious professor appears and strikes up a conversation. This professor is actually Satan and he was talking to them about the existence of God, the idea being if God doesn’t exist, can Satan?. Russia at the time was an atheist state, in fact communism and religion often do not go hand in hand. During the Stalinist era the Soviet government tried to suppress all forms of religious expression. Bulgakov’s commentary on religion and the government is an interesting one and while there are other interpretations of the novel this was what I took away from the novel this time round.

The ideas of censorship of religion continues with the Master’s book about Pontius Pilate, which was rejected and he was accused of pilatism. Though pilatism is found throughout the book The Master and Margarita as well, Pilate is not only in the Master’s novel but appears in Satan’s stories as well as dreams. The Master has poured his heart and soul into it his novel and having rejected sent him into a tailspin. This satirisation of censorship and religion plays though out the entire novel.

The idea of pilatism is an interesting one since in Christianity Pontius Pilate is the seen as the one that sentenced Jesus (referred to by his Hebrew name Yeshua Ha-Nozri in this novel) to die on the cross. Pilate becomes a symbol of humanity’s evil within religion and The Master and Margarita but you can argue that it is possible that he was a victim of society. Pilate’s ruling on Yeshua Ha-Nozri was due to pressure from the people and the high priests, he literally (and symbolically) washed his hands of the situation. I got the impression that Mikhail Bulgakov was comparing this idea of pilatism with the soviet government at the time. Human nature is apparently evil but it is also very influential of society, and what does that say about the atheist state?

There is so much going on within this novel and I would love to talk about the influences of Goethe’s tragic play Faust on the book. However I think I would need to re-read Faust to be able to compare it with The Master and Margarita. I would have also liked to explore the constant changes on narration, from an omniscient observer to the characters within the book but not sure what else to say about that. I re-read this book as part of a buddy read, my first buddy read in fact and I had a lot of fun doing this but I think I wasn’t a good reading partner. This time I read the Hugh Aplin translation of The Master and Margarita and I think I enjoyed it more than the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation I read last time. This may have been because I got more out of the book or maybe there is something about Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translations I didn’t like, I tend to avoid their translations.

I hope I have made a coherent review, I focused mainly on censorship and religion because this book is weird and all over the place so I needed to stick to one topic to make sense of what I have read. I do plan to re-read The Master and Margarita sometime in my life, I might even try a different translation again (any suggestions?). I got so much out of this book this time around and has really made me appreciate the value of re-reading. I ended my last review of this book telling people to ‘just read it’ and I think that sentiment still stands.


Among Others by Jo Walton

Posted February 3, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Fantasy / 4 Comments

Among Others by Jo WaltonTitle: Among Others (Goodreads)
Author: Jo Walton
Published: Tor, 2011
Pages: 304
Genres: Fantasy
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

After tragically losing her sister, Mori has to learn to deal with this great loss. She fled to her estranged father who then put her into a well-respected all-girls boarding school. Mori is left alone trying to deal with grief, a new school and her own teenage angst. Among Others is written in a series of diary entries exploring Mori’s coming of age.

While I found it extremely difficult to give a plot overview of this book, it might be easier to just say this is a book about book with a fantasy element to it. The tragic loss of a twin sister would be a difficult subject to write about and Jo Walton has combined some auto-biographical elements within the novel. Mori feels lost and she turns to books to bring her comfort and escapism, she is a fan of science fiction novels and slowly she begins to find the therapeutic value to reading.

Being set in 1979 allows the book to explore the older science fiction novels that I love without going into some of the modern stuff. What I loved about sci-fi novels of the 60s and 70s is there were strong psychological and sociological themes throughout the narratives. I found great joy when books like The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, The Man in the High Castle and Slaughterhouse-Five were mentioned. There was something about reading a fantasy novel about reading science fiction that really tickled my fancy.

The fantasy elements were only a very small fragment of the book and I began to question if this really was a fantasy novel. I would call this book magical realism but the mention of fairies, elves, etc. probably does make it a fantasy novel. These fantastical elements played an interesting part in the book, and I began to question that this world actually existed. However for Mori, it existed and it was her way to hold onto her sister and deal with her death. She treated this world almost like a secret that was for her only and it allowed her to deal with her loss. When she held on to this world too tightly she feels whole again but she also can see how damaging it will become.

This was a fascinating look at grief and since it was a book about the joys of books and reading, I was hooked. It was a bit of a slow burn but I enjoyed the slow pacing and journey. About half way through, I felt myself losing a little interest but then Mori joined a book club and I was right back in. Among Others is a quiet and tender book about life, loss and most importantly books which makes it well worth reading.


Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Posted September 11, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Chick Lit / 0 Comments

Landline by Rainbow RowellTitle: Landline (Goodreads)
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Narrator: Rebecca Lowman
Published: St. Martin's Griffin, 2014
Pages: 320
Genres: Chick Lit
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Georgie McCool is on the verge of getting her big break in TV. She and her writing partner, Seth have received the opportunity to pitch their show to a TV station, but this means there is a lot of writing to do in preparation for the meeting. Only problem is, she was about to fly to Omaha to spend Christmas with her husband, Neal’s parents. Their marriage is in trouble, not from the lack of love but from continuous tension and distance. Now her family is in a different state and things take a weird turn when Georgie picks up the landline and is able to talk to Neal, from before they were married.

First of all I must admit that I’m never going to be the target audience for a book like Landline and I don’t think I can ever enjoy a book like this. It just feels predictable and I know that Georgie and Neal will work things out before even starting the book. Being a literary explorer, I still feel the need to read book in the chick-lit genre and sometimes they surprise me. However for something like Landline, I felt the urge to yell at the characters to “use your words!” during the entire novel.

This is my first Rainbow Rowell book but I think I should have started with something nerdy like Eleanor & Park or Fangirl. I like the idea of nostalgic and nerdy references throughout a novel and while Landline did offer this, I was just too annoyed with the characters. The whole subject of relationships falling apart due to lack of communication doesn’t interest me too much; I just find myself getting frustrated with the characters and expect the plot to do something new and interesting. Landline didn’t give me anything I wanted.

This isn’t to say Landline was a bad novel; in fact it was entertaining, I just prefer some complexity. However this does bring up an interesting moral issue; there is a scene within the book where Georgie and past Neal are talking about her writing partner Seth. Georgie asks Neal not to make her choose between him and Seth, which brings up a fundamental problem in the relationship, she acknowledges that he is causing unease in the relationship but she is not willing to make an effort to solve the problem.

The idea of talking to Neal from fifteen years ago is an interesting plot device, it adds a little magical realism or science fiction into the novel but it does something more. This concept of holding onto the past seems to be a major problem, they don’t seem to understand people change over fifteen years and you have to evolve with them. It is also a really creepy plot device. Also the fact that Georgie has to try calling the landline because Neal is ignoring every call to his mobile from her is a whole other issue.

One last moral issue I found in the novel involved the relationship between Georgie and Seth. There was a point in Landline where I thought they should get together, they seem to be an easier more logical fit but then I realised what I was thinking. I would never want something like this to happen in real life; why would I want to characters in a novel to make this choice. This got me thinking about morality. As humans we expect people to do the right thing but in books, movies and TV we don’t have the same reaction when a character makes the wrong choice. We do react but I think we prefer to explore infidelity, murder and immorality via a work of fiction than in real life, but does this say something about humanity?

As soon as I finished the book I was angry and wanted to give the book a low rating but then I began thinking more about Landline. I don’t think it is a bad book, it has a nice and happy ending but I don’t think the underlining problems in Georgie and Neal’s marriage was actually solved. My initial impression to rate the novel with 2 stars ended up being the correct choice. Now I need to find a book in the chick-lit genre that I like; any suggestions?


The Literary Exploration Reading Challenge Returns for 2014

Posted December 12, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 9 Comments

The Literary Exploration reading challenge is back, by popular demand. As most people know, Literary Exploration tries to explore all different genres in the hope to become a well-rounded reader and even discover something new. So we are challenging everyone to dedicate either 12, 24 or 36 books that you would normally read during the year to different genres. We have compiled a list which hopefully will give you a chance to explore literature a little deeper.

It’s real simple; below you will see an easy (12 books), hard (24 books) or insane (36 books) challenge. Each genre links to the Goodreads genre page if you need some suggestions on what to read. We want you to have some fun and explore; hopefully you might find a new genre that peaks your interest. To sign up either join the Literary Exploration book club on Goodreads and talk about your progress with others involved or for the bloggers out there, if you want to add it as part of your blogging experience simply let us know with a link (to your Literary Exploration Challenge page) in the comments below so our readers can see how you are going.

This year we have adjusted the insane challenge slightly to make it a little more rounded. The popularity of the reading challenge with overwhelming and we are pleased to see how many people wanted to do it again next year. We have even offered some bonus for those who want to take it to the next level. The idea of this challenge is to have a well-balanced list of genres and not focusing on one genre more than any others.

Good luck all who decide to join in. I personally am going to go for the 36 book, insane challenge and I’m really looking forward to it. While there are some genres I’m not looking forward to reading, it’s all part of being a literary explorer. What could be wrong with that?

Read More


A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Posted November 10, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary, Magical Realism / 7 Comments

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth OzekiTitle: A Tale for the Time Being (Goodreads)
Author: Ruth Ozeki
Published: Text, 2013
Pages: 422
Genres: Contemporary, Magical Realism
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Sixteen year old Nao lives in Tokyo and has decided to take her own life. Her life isn’t great, being bullied in school, her parents are depressed but before she ends her misery she has one task to complete. She wants to document the life of her great-grandmother Jiko. She writes a diary to tell the story of her life. On the Pacific coast of Canada, a few months after the tsunami that hits Japan, Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox on the beach, inside there was a diary.

Starting with the story of Nao, A Tale for the Time Being was a fascinating look at the Japanese modern culture with references to pop-culture. It made me want to read more books like this; the Japanese culture, while similar is very different and unusual. The only problem with Nao was the fact I didn’t believe she was a struggling teenage girl, all references to being bullied or having a hard life seem to come across as non-issues. I think if someone is struggling to the point of suicide then these issues would be a major focus and never downplayed. This really became the underlining issue with this novel.

I expected this to be brutal and dark but it felt like it wasn’t taken seriously in the effort to make the book light hearted and humorous. The writing was beautiful but I felt it was too flowery and at times preachy. Ruth Ozeki is not just a novelist; she is also a Zen Buddhist priest. Now I have nothing against Buddhism and I think we need religious equality for all people but for some reason this felt heavy. I like books that teach me something I don’t know and A Tale for the Time Being does just that but I felt like it overdid this. I get that Ozeki is passionate about Zen Buddhism, it really showed, there is nothing wrong with that, just a little priggish.

As for the other major character (Ruth), which I couldn’t see as anything else but the author was rather dull in caparison. Nao’s story was fascinating, learning about Jiko was interesting but Ruth felt full of self-pity and two dimensional. I found myself wanting to skip over her story and return to Nao. Personally I think the Ruth character played no real part in the novel and cutting her chapters out completely would have worked just as well.

While the Zen Buddhist element did feel preachy the major downfalls were the believability of Nao’s struggle and Ruth. This is just too light and whimsical for me this really became a distraction from the themes and ideas the novel was trying to achieve. There was so much going for this but the negatives started to outweigh the positives. I must be one of the few that thought this novel wasn’t amazing.


If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino

Posted October 27, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 4 Comments

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo CalvinoTitle: If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (Goodreads)
Author: Italo Calvino
Translator: William Weaver
Published: Everyman's Library, 1979
Pages: 254
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is an experimental classic that follows two protagonists, the Reader and the Other Reader. The Reader buys a fashionable new book that opens with those famous lines “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought.” Thirty pages or so into the book he realises his copy is corrupt and consists of the same thing over and over again. Returning to the book store he discovers that what he thought was Calvino was a book by a Polish writer Bazakbal. Given the choice between the two he goes for the Polish book, as does the Other Reader, but his book turns out to be yet another novel by a different writer, as does the next, and the next.

Trying to write a synopsis for this book is tricky, there is no way I can do the novel justice in a paragraph.  This Italian surrealist novel (1979) was translated in 1981 to critical acclaim. The novel is best known for its structure. The odd number chapters are written in second person, but you have to ask yourself is it possible to have a novel in second person. As you read along eventually the narrator “you” does something that will take the reader out of the equation and turning them into a character called You. For instance, in this novel You is male, this will rule out about 50% of the readers in one hit.  This doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of this novel but is something I was deeply aware of throughout this book. There were times where I felt like the novel was in first and third person as well, so you end up with characters called You, I and He/She.

This whole book is subjective, I’m sure some people get different things out of If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler than I did but that is just what makes for a great novel. I want to talk a little about post-structuralism as I believe this novel is a great example of this literary theory. Firstly you need to understand structuralism, which is a theory that states that in order to understand a piece of literature you need to understand its relationship with the bigger picture, the overarching system or structure. You need to look into its influences, the genre, narrative and any other elements that might be relevant. The problem with this is you going further and further back eventually you might lose sight of the original text. Basically this is a set of specific rules that govern literature. Post-structuralism is basically taking those rules (they often study and analyse the rules) then setting out to critique the premises. It isn’t really throwing out the rules, more demonstrating how the rules don’t always apply.

Italo Calvino doesn’t stop at narrative modes and post-structuralism, the novel explores many more literary themes; the most obvious is the use of metafiction; a book within a book. You won’t find Outside the Town of Malbork by Tazio Bazakbal on Goodreads, I’ve checked. Then you have intertextuality, pastiche, post-modernism and so on. If you are interested in exploring literary theories this novel might be a good way to experience a whole range of different concepts in one hit. I don’t know much about literary theory so I hope my understanding on these concepts have come across as accurate and I haven’t missed it completely. I would love to attend a series of lectures where this book is deconstructed and looked at in real detail; I think that would be incredibly interesting.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a dense or hard-to-read book and I’m aware that talking about literary theory might turn people off this novel but please reconsider. This book is not only devilishly clever but it is beautifully executed. I took my time with this novel because I wanted to re-read sections, write done quotes and just talk about the book to anyone that would listen. If I didn’t borrow this from the library I would have highlighted the entire books (seriously, every line is just that great). I have brought my own copy now (yes, I broke my book buying ban) and I hope to be able to re-read this again. I’m not sure if reading this with others will help but the whole experience of reading this novel is worth sharing.

I’ve heard Italo Calvino is heavily influenced by Vladimir Nabokov which makes a lot of sense to me, the writing style does feel similar, even the humour and wit. A literary labyrinth that is so masterfully executed that the novel needs to be read again and again. I won’t go into any more details as there are a few things you just need to experience. I’m jealous of anyone that gets to read this novel for the first time as that is an experience I will never have again.

 I have to wonder why the Vintage classics cover of the word “Traveller” written correctly but throughout the book it is written in the American (wrong) spelling. I have to wonder if there is anything in that. I wonder if there is a reading companion to If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler that you can read alongside this book (similar to Infinite Jest) to discover the brilliance of this novel. I really enjoy Post-Modern literature but there is so much that I’m probably missing.

All book lovers should experience If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, there is nothing like that feeling of pure joy when you read a beautifully clever novel. You never want it to end, that ecstasy is like a drug and you immediately want to read it again only to find that feeling is just not the same. This is a masterpiece, I know I didn’t talk much about the plot but this was so I don’t give anything away. Go read it.


Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Posted April 29, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Literary Fiction, Magical Realism / 0 Comments

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki MurakamiTitle: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Goodreads)
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Alfred Birnbaum
Published: Vintage, 1985
Pages: 400
Genres: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In the future, Tokyo remains the technology powerhouse it is today. With the major advances in technology, data security has become more valuable; problem is all codes can be broken if you know how. The Calcutec is a human data processor/encryption system who has been trained to use his bio-algorithms implant and subconscious for encryption. A new comer to a strange, isolated walled town known as “The End of the World” is assigned a job as a dream reader. As he finds acceptance within the town, his mind begins to fade; or has it only been suppressed?

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World tells the story of a split between two parallel narratives from different worlds. The consciousness and the unconscious mind; “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” refers to The Calcutec’s life as an encryption machine while “The End of the World” is his subconscious world. The two stories are told in alternating chapters as the reader slowly discovers the mysteries connecting these two worlds together. Hard-Boiled Wonderland is a homage to Raymond Chandler and hard-boiled fiction, as well as to science fiction and cyberpunk and “The End of the World” has similarities to Franz Kafka’s The Castle.

The major theme within this book is the nature of consciousness; both narratives are constructed around this general idea. While the odd numbered chapters refer to the conscious mind and the even-numbered chapters the subconscious, it is interesting to note they link together with similar themes; for example the song Danny Boy appeared in consecutive chapters. Even characters are shared between consciousnesses; the object of the narrator’s desire, the librarian is a perfect example of this.

Beyond that, the concept of subconscious being able to be controlled or shaped plays out in the entire book. This brings me to another major theme within this novel; the morality of science. The scientific experiments been done on the narrators mind in the attempt to separate the conscious and the subconscious in an attempt create more secure encryptions is an interesting topic. It reminds me a little of Frankenstein when it looks at the dangers of science and its moral implications. The Professor’s experiment killed about twenty people and while he feels remorse for the tragedy he also feels like it was the right choice in the name of progress.

While there are many more themes that would be interesting to explore I wanted to look at character. In both narratives there are no names for any of the characters, each is referred to by their occupation or a general description; from the Narrator, known as The Calcutec, the Librarian, the Old Man, the Professor, the Big Guy and the Chubby Girl. I never really payed too much attention to this while reading the book but referring to a girl as “the Chubby Girl” did bother me; it wasn’t till the very end that I was bothered by the lot. I couldn’t understand why this book was so frustratingly vague and incomplete with character and setting descriptions, I don’t know what the reason behind it would be, except for maybe removing any obstructions that might hinder the understanding of the novel.

Even the narrative is offering a very limited view of what is actually happening but slowly most of the mysteries do become clearer but the entire focus was on the subtext of this book. This wasn’t meant to be about great characters or scenes; this was all about exploring the themes as a way to get Haruki Murakami’s thoughts on the subject across. In a sense, this is what Murakami excels at; if it wasn’t for these well thought out ideas his books would just be odd and weird. This is my second Murakami novel and the first one I’ve actually enjoyed.

I’ve finally discovered what makes Haruki Murakami an author to take notice of; I didn’t find the same thing with 1Q84, I thought it was long winded and repetitive but Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World really worked for me. I have some issues with the novel, obviously the vagueness was one of the major ones, but overall this was a really interesting journey for me.