Tag: MBI2018

The White Book by Han Kang

Posted April 15, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Poetry / 6 Comments

The White Book by Han KangTitle: The White Book (Goodreads)
Author: Han Kang
Translator: Deborah Smith
Published: Portobello Books, 2017
Pages: 161
Genres: Poetry
My Copy: eBook

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Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018
Longlisted for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2018

Han Kang’s The White Book comes across as something different from this author’s Man Booker International Prize winner (The Vegetarian) but still feels very much the same. The White Book is a reflection of the colour White; part meditation, part poetry, Han Kang explores a range of connections with the colour. Weaving an autobiographical narrative, Kang is able to explore her feelings in this emotional book.

“At times my body feels like a prison, a solid, shifting island threading through the crowd. A sealed chamber carrying all the memories of the life I have lived, and the mother tongue from which they are inseparable. The more stubborn the isolation, the more vivid these unlooked-for fragments, the more oppressive their weight. So that it seems the place I flee to is not so much a city on the other side of the world as further into my own interior.”

When I think about these emotions, like grief and despair, I often then of the colour black. For Han Kang it is more “black waters shifting beneath the thick sea fog”. This fog is such an amazing metaphor, it is that looming cloud that shadows over our dark feelings. It is cold, if not chilling. The White Book, really challenged my thoughts on the colour white being warm and happy.

I like the way Han Kang was able to combine all her thoughts and emotions and associate it with the one colour. She led me on an emotional journey that was different to anything I have ever read. Yet, at the same time, it felt like her style and I cannot help but compare it to The Vegetarian. I would be interested to see if she is able to pull off something similar in the future, maybe with a different colour.

Despite the fact that I enjoyed the journey The White Book took me on, I do not think it is deserving of a place on the Man Booker International Prize shortlist. My main concern is that this blurs the line of fiction too much, this is an autobiographical meditation. While I appreciate everything it does, I wonder how it managed to meet the criteria for this prize. It is not just this book that blur the line between fiction and non-fiction, I just think this is one that is the furthest away from fiction. Having said that, this is a book that needs to be experienced rather than analysed; there is some literary merit here, but this is more an emotional journey.


The World Goes On by László Krasznahorkai

Posted April 12, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Short Stories / 0 Comments

The World Goes On by László KrasznahorkaiTitle: The World Goes On (Goodreads)
Author: László Krasznahorkai
Translator: Ottilie Mulzet, George Szirtes, John Batki
Published: Tuskar Rock, 2017
Pages: 320
Genres: Short Stories
My Copy: Library Book

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Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

I normally struggle to review short story collections, do I go through every story and share my opinions? Reading The World Goes On, all I could think is ‘I have no clue how to analyse and review this’. Rather than a review, I am going to just share my thoughts on this book, and hopefully it will eventually resemble a review.

The World Goes On is actually my second László Krasznahorkai, having read The Last Wolf / Herman earlier this year. I was struck with the thought that this might be the first Krasznahorkai that people might read. László Krasznahorkai won the Man Booker International Prize in 2015, before it was repackaged and combined with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (IFFP). However the publicsity around that award is nothing like it is today. This could be a combination of the older prize awarding an author for their contribution to fiction rather than a specific book and the rise of social media. Which brings me back to my original point, The World Goes On has been longlisted for the prize but it is not a good place to start for this Hungarian author. This feels like fragments of stories and ideas rather than an actual piece of fiction.

I think the judges for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize has gone out of their way to pick a longlist that showcases interesting narrative structures. While I appreciate the surprising entries on the list, it does make it less accessible. Having said that, I would be so mad if the Man Booker International Prize followed the trend of the Man Booker Prize and Women’s Prize for Fiction and just picked the most popular books. I want to see a balance between discovery and introducing new people to books in translation. I would hate to think how many people will not read more László Krasznahorkai because of The World Goes On.

László Krasznahorkai is a very talented writer; he has a post-modernist style, and it feels like he gets so bored, he has to set limitations on his own writing. In The World Goes On, you will find plenty of examples of him writing a one sentence story. I have to admit after reading this book and The Last Wolf, I wonder what Krasznahorkai has against the full stop. Like I said before, this feels more like a collection of ideas rather than short stories.

While I enjoy László Krasznahorkai as a writer, even I think I was not ready for The World Goes On. I am not giving up on this author, this is a book for the fans. Read The Last Wolf / Herman first, discover some of his novels and if you like his style and his view on the world, then read The World Goes On. I do not think this should have been on the longlist, and I hope it does not stop many people from enjoying László Krasznahorkai in the future.


The Stolen Bicycle by Wu Ming-Yi

Posted April 4, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 6 Comments

The Stolen Bicycle by Wu Ming-YiTitle: The Stolen Bicycle (Goodreads)
Author: Wu Ming-Yi
Translator: Darryl Sterk
Published: Text, 2015
Pages: 416
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

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Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

According to the main character Ch’eng, the word someone uses for ‘bicycle’ can tell you a lot about a person. The term ‘jitensha’ (self-turn vehicle) might indicate a Japanese education, while ‘tanche’ (solo vehicle), ‘chaiotache’ (foot-pedalled vehicle) and ‘zixingche’ (self-propelled vehicle) indicate different parts of China. For Ch’eng, he prefers to use the Taiwanese word ‘thihbe’ (iron horse). The Stolen Bicycle is a novel about family history, and the history of the Japanese military in World War II, which was waging the same times.  However the book is centred of the iron horses in their lives, especially trying to uncover the mystery of a stolen bicycle.

Wu Ming-Yi is obsessed with bicycles, this whole book is full of the history of the bicycle industry. When he is not talking about the history of bicycles, Taiwan or the Japanese in World War II, he manages to weave in a compelling narrative that explores the bonds of family. The story turns into a meditation of memory, loss and life living in war times. Then it all comes back to bicycles, and that often feels tedious.

Throughout the narrative there are these ‘bicycle notes’ which are used to provide detailed history in regards to bicycles and the war. While I enjoyed the way Wu Ming-Yi used these sections to give the reader context, it was the way the information bleed into to other text that became a problem. Rather than being a meditation of life and family it felt more like an obsession with bicycles. Personally I think if this information remained in the ‘bicycle notes’, it would have been a stronger book.

Wu Ming-Yi is a literary professor and nature writer. He has written two books on butterflies in the past; The Book of Lost Butterflies (2000) and The Way of Butterflies (2003). To me, this feels like he is passionate about topics and it spills into his writing. I think Ming-Yi is a very strong writer and there is a lot to like about this, it just got harder and harder to motivate myself to finish the book. I had to petal through and now I never want to talk about bicycle ever again.

I am of two minds with this book, there is a lot to like about the novel; the writing, the narrative and the style were all great. It was just the constant talking about bicycles that made me want to run over cyclists in my car. If this was half the size, this would have been almost perfect. However, I am stuck in a place of love and hate when thinking about The Stolen Bicycle. I do suspect others will have a better reaction but I never want to see another bicycle in my lifetime.