The Brothers by Asko Salhberg
I am embarrassingly late with this review…
Finland, 1809. Henrik and Erik are brothers who fought on opposite sides in the war between Sweden and Russia. With peace declared, they both return to their snowed-in farm. But who is the master?
First Impressions: Wow. I was immediately drawn into the landscape, characters and story. Is the landscape and setting the most important part of this story.
Highlights: I think the isolation and bitingly chilly environment is the star of this novel as it shapes the characters and the action. Even though there are mentions of the nearby village or regional towns they seem incredibly distant even when the characters visit them. I found the rural-town divide very interesting along with the historical context.
This is a novel of two brothers and their cousin but it is no way a purely masculine story. I particularly enjoyed the stories of the women and finding out how they found themselves in their current situations. Despite the brevity, everyone’s story is told which makes it very clever storytelling.
Also – it is a beautiful edition.
If I was an editor: I did think the Farmhand’s story was one revelation too many – the others were more interesting – but it was necessary to the whole story. I think I’m being a little fussy when making this observation!
Overall: A fantastic epic saga that the author has successfully restricted to 112 pages. Now that’s restraint! For lovers of Burial Rites and Wolf Winter.
This month I’d like to get back to my Finnish heritage and read some novels from Finland that have been languishing on my TBR pile for too long. There are four novels I plan to start with:
Two Crime Novels
The Hummingbird by Kati Heikkapelto
The Healer by Antti Tuomainen (I have already read his fabulous second novel Dark as My Heart)
Two Literary Novellas from the Peirene Press
White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen
The Brothers by Asko Sahlberg
I have about 5 other books on my shelf but I will start with these.
Finnish novels are usually overshadowed by the Scandi neighbours but it seems there is a small but steady stream now being translated into English.
If you happen to read a Finnish book this month or have done in the past, please leave your link or any comment below. English and Suomi welcome 🙂
After finishing Book 6 in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department Q series I’ve been at a loss as to what to read next. The series has consumed me for the past couple of months.
I need some short reads that leap off the page so I’ve decided to work my way through a pile of Japanese novels that have been sitting on my shelf for a while.
(Ozeki isn’t really short…)
I’m far from disappointed with this decision. I’m having an enjoyable time reading these stories as I love the unexpected and surprising things that Japanese authors throw at their (Western) readers. Much to my amusement I’ve been exclaiming out loud when reading.
I anticipate a big contribution this month to my Japanese Literature Challenge!
Now You’re One of Us by Asa Nonami
Here’s a story about a bride who’s no longer sure what to think. All families have their own rituals, secrets, and credos, like a miniature religious cult; these quirks may elicit the mirth or mild alarm of guests, but the matter is rather more serious if you’re marrying into a household. If its’s a Japanese one with a history, the brace yourself: some surprising truths lurk around the corner.
First Impressions: It read like a lot of contemporary Japanese novels. Perhaps not *quite* as engaging but there was more than enough to keep going.
Highlights: Even though this is a rather bizarre story in the end (of course it is!) I think the author really captured the difficulties of marriage for women in modern Japan. The family situation felt stifling and Noriko’s grappling with where her loyalties should lie was believable and I found it a little uncomfortable. Is there really nothing more important than her husband’s family? I was almost surprised the family let her meet with her friend Tomomi. I have since read that Asa Nonami has a decent female following in Japan as she provides searing critiques of Japanese society in her writings. Yes, definitely a feminist novel!
If I was an editor: Well, I knew it would get weird but the revelation was really out there. It wasn’t the supernatural explanation I was expecting and I still can’t decide whether this disappoints more or not. If you can believe it, the family secret is both so offbeat and underwhelming at the same time. There must be some cultural nuances and references I don’t understand (guilty!). Also, while it is a relatively short novel I think it could have been shorter – Noriko wavered one (or two) too many times with her feelings of loyalty to the family.
Overall: Odd but is seared in my memory.
Now You’re One of Us: 3 Stars
Hardboiled and Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto
This book contains two novellas possessed by the ghosts of love found and lost.
In Hardboiled, the unnamed narrator is hiking in the mountains on an anniversary she has forgotten about. As she nears her hotel and stops on the way at a hillside shrine and a strange soba shop, a sense of haunting falls over her.
Hard Luck is about another young woman whose dying sister lies in a coma. Kuni’s fiance left her after the accident, but his brother Sakai continues to visit.
Hardboiled definitely has fantastic gothic undertones. It is a little creepy with that anticipation of doom just hanging over you. It would make a great film. In fact, I enjoyed the dark side to this novella so much I was disappointed when it ended. Couldn’t it be a full novel??!! On another note, I liked the flashbacks to the narrator’s past relationship too.
Hard Luck didn’t grab me so much at first. I found it rather depressing and slow. However, towards the end of the novel I was hit with the narrator’s pain and emptiness with regards to her sister and therefore the ending really affected me.
Overall: Beautiful, simple writing.
Hardboiled and Hard Luck: 4 Stars
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
I have been incredibly busy in January – even busier than I was in December – but have luckily found time to review this short novel in time for it to count towards the Japanese Reading Challenge, and with one day to spare!
A young housekeeper is sent to look after an old maths professor with a peculiar problem: due to an accident his working memory only lasts 80 minutes. Every morning the Housekeeper and the Professor become reacquainted. Although the professor can only remember eloquent maths formulas, a bond forms between the two.
First Impressions: When I flipped through the novel I saw a few mathematical formula scattered here and there so I worried that perhaps too much of the text would be over my head. Not true! The novel wasn’t as sentimental as I feared either. Ogawa writes with the detached style typical of Japanese authors.
Highlights: Much to my surprise I loved the mathematical musings and found myself trying to work out the problems before the answer was revealed! I felt the same about the many references to baseball teams and statistics, which I was not expecting. I found the Housekeeper’s backstory to be really interesting and would have loved more of this to be included.
If I was an editor: I would find it hard to think of a way to improve this story. More intrigue is always encouraged. Much to my relief it wasn’t overly sentimental and neither was the ending predictable. I do now realise I approached the story expecting (fearing?) a European narrative.
Overall: A great example of Japanese fiction for western readers. A touching way to wrap up my Japanese Literature Challenge.
The Housekeeper and the Professor: 4 stars