Tag Archives: Sex and violence

Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano, translated by Matt Thorn

Nijigahara HolographLong before the latest translated-into-English title from award-winning transgender manga creator Inio Asano is due to hit shelves (fabulous Seattle-based publisher Fantagraphics lists an unspecified February pub date; Amazon lists March 19, 2014 and B&N March 5 for available shipping), the internet has been abuzz for years with fascinating discussions attempting to piece together what happens here. The Japanese original debuted in 2006; I’m not sure how long an English version has been available in the virtual world [forget Google –support the book!], but guessing from the dates of the substantial postings, I would say at least a couple of years, if not more. Having now read the book through thrice, I’m still not certain as the order and details of all the events, but I can say without a doubt that this is one head-spinning, un-put-downable, almost-300 pages of disturbing intrigue.

Composed as two overlapping narratives set some eleven years apart, the first page begins with butterflies, a set of crying twins, an open notebook, and a dark tunnel to nowhere. Dreams and reality become interchangeable over the decade-plus that separates elementary-school-aged childhood from adulthood for those infant twins who will witness mysterious, brutal occurrences that define their lives.

When a body turns up in the entrance to the Nijigahara (literally ‘rainbow meadow,’ certainly rife with meaning!) tunnel, rumors start circulating. The town’s young children insist that a monster lurks deep within: in a fit of terrifying violence, they decide to ‘sacrifice’ Arié – the daughter of a single father and the just identified corpse – and throw her down a long well.

While Arié lies in a coma, a new boy joins her fifth grade class; Amahiko, too, has survived violence, hospitalization, and is trying to fit in as the ‘new boy.’ Their teacher Miss Sakaki recognizes Amahiko as a troubled soul, and attempts to offer him special care. She has secrets of her own, however, least of all the cumbersome bandaging over one eye (again, certainly rife with meaning!) due to a recent injury.

Butterflies abound on many, many pages, fluttering in and out of the panels as if to gather the narrative threads together when they might seem to wander off too far. The winged prove uplifting and threatening both, children can’t fly, adults aren’t reliable, and the dead can still speak. Feeling lost? Go back to that first page to the bottom-left panels: the Nijigahara tunnel entrance with the handwritten journal pages. There you have the eponymous Nijigahara holograph: what follows is for you to decipher … do let me know what you find.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2006, 2014 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

Barbara by Osamu Tezuka, translated by Ben Applegate, foreword by Frederik L. Schodt

BarbaraFor readers familiar with Astro Boy, Buddha, or Black Jack – a few of ‘godfather of manga’ Osamu Tezuka’s signature titles – Barbara might present quite the surprise. This is definitely not your kiddie fare: the front cover warns “explicit content”; the back cover is marked with “18+ mature.”

“Tokyo swallows and digests tens of millions of human beings … then expels them,” the opening panels announce. A filthy young woman squats against a wall: “And here is some of the excrement: Her name is Barbara.” For all her dirt and shame, drunkenness and social rejection, Barbara can quote Paul Verlaine and other French poets while she channels the Greek god Bacchus.

“You don’t sound like a bum or a beggar,” Yōsuke Mikura remarks, before inviting her to his home for “better clothes” and “booze.” Mikura is one of Japan’s most lauded and revered authors, a celebrity with vast social and political influence. He also has plenty of secrets that keep him from establishing meaningful relationships.

Barbara becomes Mikura’s on-and-off live-in companion. She drinks heavily, never cleans up after herself, carelessly asks for and spends his money … and, occasionally, she saves Mikura from himself. They fight, separate, reunite, repeat; he enables her inebriation while she inspires his wildly successful writing. Their strange bond breeds betrayal and murder, amnesia and witchcraft, and even a hint of necrophilia.

Initially serialized from July 1973 to May 1974, Barbara four decades later in English translation feels more like a cultural artifact than timeless storytelling. In a detailed introduction, renowned manga scholar (and Tezuka translator) Frederik L. Schodt provides illuminating context to Tezuka’s creative impetus, the Tokyo of his time, the troubling social mores he portrays: “… some aspects of Barbara may be shocking,” Schodt notes. “I personally suspect that the most disturbing sections to modern readers are not Tezuka’s depictions of nudity, bestiality, and assorted human perversions and madness.” The ominous list goes on, before Schodt concludes, “… most North American readers are likely to be more shocked by Tezuka’s depiction of the violence Mikura inflicts on Barbara, and the relentless portrait of her appalling gutter-level drunkenness and self-degradation.” No expectations of ‘happily ever after’ here, ahem!

Whether just curious or already addicted, Tezuka followers will not be able to turn away. The initially inviting resemblance to his usually adorable characters prove undeniably chilling, and their actions startlingly jarring. Duly warned, embark at your own risk.

Readers: Adult

Published: 1973-1974, 2012 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison

Of the debut novels by non-Asian men writing about Asia and Asian characters that I’ve read thus far this year, three stand out: Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, Brandon Jones’ All Woman and Springtime, and most recently this title by Virginia attorney Corban Addison. The one clear detail the trio share: none shy away from unrelenting violence.

In spite of the horror, Son is stupendous storytelling, while Woman‘s narrative arc never moves beyond maudlin debasement. Walk lands somewhere in the middle, its violent content balanced by a love-story gone awry. Two privileged teenage sisters, Ahalya and Sita Ghai, living in southern India’s Tamil Nadu, survive the devastating 2005 tsunami with little more than their lives. Entrusting an associate of their father’s to deliver them to the safety of their convent school, they instead end up trafficked to a Mumbai brothel.

On the other side of the world, DC lawyer Thomas Clarke is still reeling from the death of his baby daughter, and his subsequent desertion by his Indian-born wife. His high-power corporate law career takes a sharp downward turn, and he makes the drastic decision to take a temporary posting with an international anti-trafficking NGO – based in Mumbai, where his estranged wife has returned to her family. His new job takes him on a brothel raid that rescues Ahalya out of her horrifying situation, but not before Sita has been sold elsewhere. Thomas’ impossible promise to Ahalya to find Sita takes him to Paris, then back to the States on a wild chase involving an insidious drug, child, and sex trafficking international operation.

If you choose the audible route, while you might appreciate actress Soneela Nankani’s accurate pronunciation, her too-young voice devolves quickly into grating when performing the Thomas-focused narrative. Alas, Nankani’s reading probably won’t be the only reason to roll the eyeballs: as timely and critical as the topic of trafficking and sex slavery is, Addison’s novel stalls at just readable enough.

Almost 400 pages (or 15+ hours stuck in the ears) of too-much Thomas is quite the challenge. For a man trying to win back his wife, he certainly places himself in compromising positions. Perhaps to counter his infidelity, his high-minded hero morals are what drive him to fight sex-trafficking in Mumbai, and yet he lets his college buddy take him to a popular club filled with high-priced women, where the friend abandons Thomas to buy his expensive bedmate for the night – and yet Thomas says nothing. Really?

Excuse-filled ‘I’m only human’-protagonist aside, too many plot choices are plain unbelievable, even in the realm of fiction: on the drive home from a beach weekend, Thomas unsuccessfully (but conveniently for his story) chases a black SUV (of course) after a mother screams her young daughter has been kidnapped; as heinous as Ahalya’s experiences are in the brothel, they hardly resemble the real-life monstrosities trafficked young girls face; and, most implausible of all, (*spoiler alert*) in spite of the number of evil men Sita is shuttled through (and not that anyone would ever, ever hope otherwise), she remains unviolated throughout her incarcerations. Again, really?

As crucial as the eradication of trafficking is throughout the world, as literary investment perhaps the better choices lie in nonfiction: Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s pivotal Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide is a highly recommended first choice. Addison’s own website also offers numerous resources to “Learn More,” and “How to Help.” Whether or not you read Walk is a personal choice; fighting the evil portrayed within is a universal imperative.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Indian, Nonethnic-specific, South Asian

All Woman and Springtime by Brandon W. Jones

Just as North Korea’s presence in news headlines has proliferated of late – thanks to the installation of the third-generation round-faced despot; nuclear tests; failed missiles; blatant threats – book shelves, too, have seen an increase in North Korea-themed titles, predominantly written by non-Korean authors.

In the non-fiction section, if Guy Delisle’s 2005 graphic memoir, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, was entertainingly surreal, then Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West, which debuted last month, proved to be the most inhumanely devastating. Barbara Demick’s lauded 2010 National Book Award nonfiction finalist, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, offered something in between uncomfortably comic and unrelenting shockfest.

In fiction, if Jeff Talarigo’s 2008 The Ginseng Hunter was the most luminous about tortured North Korean lives, then Adam Johnson’s stupendous recent bestseller The Orphan Master’s Son was surely the most harrowing. Somewhere within that horror spectrum emerges the latest North Korea-focused title, All Woman and Springtime, by Brandon W. Jones, a debut novel out this month.

In a North Korean orphanage, two teenage girls become unlikely friends. Withdrawn Gyung-ho (named after a boy because her parents so wanted a son) is her family’s only survivor of prison camp. Irreverent Il-Sun, who would have had a privileged life had her mother not died, is for Gyung-ho the quintessential “all woman and springtime, the embodiment of feminine beauty.”

Under the portraits of Great Leader Kim Il-sung and his son Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, the girls toil as trouser seamstresses. In the book’s opening paragraph, Gyung-ho intently watches the “paradox of sewing, that such brutality could bind two things together.” That “methodic violence” Gyung-ho observes will play out through almost 400 pages, leaving such desolation that even the deus ex machina-ending – in equal measures longed-for and implausible – will provide little relief.

Il-Sun’s rebellious need to escape the daily drudgery of the orphanage and factory lands her into the arms of a less-than-honorable young man. She’s forced to flee – with Gyung-ho literally in tow – setting in motion a tortuous odyssey of sexual slavery first in Seoul, then in Seattle, Washington. Before they cross the DMZ, the two become three, joined by brash young Cho, already an experienced “flower-selling girl” – a prostitute – at 19. Before they cross the Pacific, they will add another when brave Jasmine, already trapped for five years in the heinous business, is ordered to indoctrinate the new girls into their dead-end future.

Amidst constant debasement, each relies on scant personal resources to survive – Gyung-ho, detachment; Il-Sun, vanity; Cho, experience; Jasmine, desperation.

As a story, “All Woman and Springtime” is unfortunately driven by predictable extremes: All women are victims and (with the exception of three minor characters) all men are victimizers. Whether in North Korea, South Korea, or the United States, sex is the universal weapon that keeps women and men viciously polarized.

As a writer, Jones’s lucid prose provides brief reprieves from the constant brutality – he can certainly craft elegant, quote-worthy sentences: “This path of survival, and that path of happiness, did not cross,” or “There was never any plan for the future, only a plan to live until the end of the day,” and “The enemy, she decided, was not the communist or the imperialist, but the lack of understanding between them.” Regrettably, Jones occasionally falls into clichéd romance-speak with “She was a girl with a beating heart who had fully capitulated to some unseen suffering, but whose essence still throbbed beneath the surface,” or irregular 21st-century American teenage vernacular with “I’m just saying.” Perhaps a result of lost-in-translation moments, he shortens Gyong-ho’s name to “Gi” (stuttered, the sound would be a single-syllabic repetition of ‘gyuh, gyuh, gyuh’) and awkwardly uses “teacup” as a term of endearment (in Korean, ‘chajan’ just doesn’t work like ‘sweetie,’ or even ‘cookie’).

In early publicity materials – for better or for worse – All Woman and Springtime is being compared to Memoirs of a Geisha, the exoticized bestseller for which Arthur Golden and his publisher settled out of court after being sued for breach of contract and character defamation by Mineko Iwasaki whose real-life story Golden (mis)portrayed. Readers similar to those who bought Memoirs of a Geisha might also make All Woman and Springtime a bestselling page-turner, although to read of one ghastly violation after another is a dark, draining experience.

Perhaps the best – only? – way to experience this novel can be be found in the words of one of its unfortunate characters: “… that being a witness, she was involved, and being involved, she had a responsibility to act.”

Review: Christian Science Monitor, May 3, 2012

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, Korean, Nonethnic-specific, North Korean

No Longer Human (vol. 3) by Usamaru Furuya, based on the novel by Osamu Dazai, translated by Allison Markin Powell

The three-part manga adaptation of Dazai Osamu‘s classic semi-autobiographical novel of human disconnect concludes here with utter fear and loathing. To catch up to this point, click here for the first two volumes.

Yozo Oba, now 22, is living so blissfully with his lovely young wife Yoshino that Usamaru Furuya the online voyeur scoffs, “… the unexpected happy developments disappointed me.” But, of course, he doesn’t stay disappointed for long.

The lovebirds have enjoyed a year of true happiness together. He’s a rising manga artist, and she helps him produce his panels. He’s stopped drinking and smoking. He’s contentedly basking in Yoshino’s complete and irresolute trust in him.

Into their idyllic nest arrives bad-boy Horiki to deliver a letter from Yozo’s past. All too quickly, Yozo succumbs to his old vices, easily dragged down by Horiki’s envy. Horiki calls Yozo a “criminal” for his many past misdeeds: “The word made my heart skip a beat. Sooner or later, the day may come for me to pay for all I’ve done.”

That same night, the descent begins. Yoshino is brutally attacked while Yozo watches in paralyzed horror. Yozo’s anguish turns him gray overnight. His disgust with humanity – but most especially the utter loss of Yoshino’s innocent trust in him – sends him into a destructive spiral from which he will never emerge.

By volume’s end, the story diverges from Dazai’s original novel, as Furuya the writer concludes with his own framing story: as the online reader Furuya finishes Yozo’s diary, he comes upon an “Afterword” from Horiki, who has put the diary online in hopes of finding a now-disappeared Yozo. In the days that follow, Furuya can’t get Yozo out of his head, and seeks out the various characters in the diary, only to find them all too real. “‘I want to draw this man …,'” and so the adaptation comes full circle.

The final pages of the trilogy end with another “Afterword,” most sobering of all as author Furuya reveals his own high school identification with the suicidal Dazai. “I drew the last scene with Yozo, where he may have ascended to a painless dimension, as faintly salvational. … [T]he original novel … ends with an astonishing, bewildering scene of terrifying, weak humanity that pushes the reader away,” Furuya explains. “I sincerely hope that those who feel the manga is too dark will go and read the novel. A despair that I was in the end unable to convey can be found within its pages …”

Furuya writes, ironically, from his home in Mitaka City near the Tamagawa Canal: “It feels like a thread that connects me to Osamu Dazai, who drowned himself in it.” Whew … goosebumps, anyone?

Readers: Young Adult (with caution), Adult

Published: 2012 (United States)


Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

No Longer Human (vols. 1-2) by Usamaru Furuya, based on the novel by Osamu Dazai, translated by Allison Markin Powell

What does it take to update a 60+-year-old story? In the case of Usamaru Furuya’s 21st-century manga adaptation of the literary classic Ningen Shikkaku, a semi-autobiographical novel by Dazai Osamu (published in 1948 in Japan, translated into English as No Longer Human in 1958), an updated wardrobe and the requisite techno-gadgets seem to be all that was needed to create a thoroughly contemporary tale of hedonistic decadence and human disconnect.

From what I remember of reading Ningen in the original in grad school (no, I couldn’t do it now in my old age), Furuya closely follows Dazai’s narrative, even using original Japanese passages (with English translations on the facing page) to begin his chapters. In addition to the contemporary facelift, Furuya also ups the graphic factor – a whole lot of ‘show’ going on, so parents BEWARE: this is most definitely NOT a kiddie cartoon in content or execution.

Told as a story within a story, a manga artist named Usamaru Furuya (surprise!) stumbles on an online “‘ouch’ diary” written by a mysterious young man, Yozo Oba. Three photos show Oba at ages 6, 17, and 25. The transformation from young child to handsome teenager to decrepit old man in such a short time is so startling that Furuya must find out why.

“I’ve lived a life full of shame,” volume 1 begins. Oba, the privileged, handsome son of wealthy parents, gets through life playing the clown. Everyone seems to like him, and yet no one really knows him. In art school, he meets fellow student Horiki, who quickly introduces him to smoking, drinking, and women. He gets embroiled with an anti-American, anti-capitalist student group, misses too much school, and is cut off from further parental funding. His meaningless drifting leads him to a deserted beach with a young woman who sports a butterfly tattoo …

Volume 2 finds Oba in a hospital room, then jail. He’s released to live with one of his father’s former minions who controls his every move. Oba eventually escapes, and learns to prey on lonely women to support him – from a single mother to an older bar owner, he seems to have a magnetic effect on the opposite sex, even as he remains emotionally immune and desperately detached. Until, of course, he meets a sweet, innocent young woman …

The original Dazai novel is split into three manga volumes, with the final installment ironically scheduled for Valentine’s Day. In spite of how Volume 2 seems to end, these titles certainly should NOT be nestled in between the chocolate and roses. Hallmark sentiments aside, however, Dazai’s story in any genre is ultimately a sobering reminder to ‘reach out and touch someone’ – without a mask, without an agenda, without expectations, just an honest, heartfelt human touch.

Readers: Young Adult (with caution), Adult

Published: 2011 (United States)


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

On Black Sisters Street by Chika Unigwe

Four women, living together in a house in Antwerp, Belgium, are “[t]hrown together by a conspiracy of fate and a loud man called Dele.” They have escaped their lives in Africa, but only at the cost of their freedom; Dele, who orchestrated their immigration, now controls their bodies which each must sell over and over again in order to repay their enormous debts.

By page 30, one of the four women is dead and her murderer is bluntly revealed. Her death – ironically and tragically – is the impetus that binds the remaining three together beyond their shared address, their shared customers, their owners and handlers. Efe and the better life she will make for the young son she left behind, Ama and the hypocritical man of God who was supposed to be her father, and Joyce and her nightmarish memories of death, destruction, and desertion, will each survive. Only Sisi, unwilling to accept her unexciting life with her disappointed aging parents and her less-than-ambitious boyfriend, has paid for her dreams with her violent demise.

Chika Unigwe – whose debut novel, De Feniks, holds the distinction of being the first fiction title written by a Flemish writer of African origin – makes her Stateside debut with Black Sisters, originally published in Dutch as Fata Morgana. [Slight aside: Rather mysteriously, no translator is credited in the 2011 U.S. edition, although a note is added about a “slightly different” English translation which was published in the U.K. in 2009; no mention of a U.K. translator, either. Hmmm.] According to the enclosed PR materials, Unigwe, herself an immigrant from Nigeria, was so curious about the red-light district women in Antwerp that she donned “skimpy clothing and thigh-high boots” and spent two years researching these women’s lives, so different from her own middle-class Catholic upbringing.

With wide-open, unflinching eyes, Unigwe layers and weaves her experiences of being among the women. Beyond the unthinkable challenges the women face daily, Unigwe carefully reveals four individual, flawed, searching women who are far more than mere victims of the age-old oppressive sex trade. With their desperation, she finds small moments of peace. With their frustration and longing, she gives substance to the glimmers of hope for a different future. Unigwe finds and celebrates their humanity, even in a world so blindly determined on its very destruction.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2011 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Translation, African, European

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, translated by Jay Rubin

In less than a week, you can be holding 1Q84Haruki Murakami‘s long-awaited spectacular title finally available in English, which hits shelves on October 25. You might choose to hold out until November 8 when the audible version is scheduled for release. All 944 pages (on paper or recorded) will be well worth the wait, I promise!

If you find you need a few satisfying distractions during this final countdown week, re-discovering Murakami’s earlier tomes might just do the trick, especially when unpredictable moons and ladders that serve as downward portals to other worlds prove to be repeated Murakami-markers. Rediscovering Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle a decade-plus after initial reading has been quite the wide-eyed adventure indeed.

Toru Okada is unemployed with little to do. His wife Kumiko’s job at a magazine is enough for now to keep them comfortable. While he’s playing househusband, he’s also supposed to be on the lookout for their pet cat, Noboru Wataya, named after Kumiko’s brother.

Toru’s search for that cat triggers one surreal occurrence after another, surrounding him with a bevy of “inscrutable women coming out of nowhere,” including a faceless erotic voice on the phone who knows too much, his teenaged truant neighbor May Kasahara who dubs him “Mr. Wind-Up Bird, the enigmatic Malta Kano whose prescient powers are initially enlisted to help find the cat, her sister Creta Kano who is a self-described “prostitute of the mind,” and the mysterious Nutmeg Akasaka who proves to be a dubious, temporary savior of sorts.

Meanwhile, the most important woman in Toru’s life disappears without a trace … while her powerful brother becomes a looming, evil presence that Toru must somehow defeat. An elderly officer literally appears on Toru’s doorstep with an unexpected inheritance, bearing long-ago, inexplicable horror stories of war, death, and destruction, proving once again that no beings are as inhumane as humans. Overwhelmed, Toru seeks refuge in a dried-up well in the abandoned house next-door, which might be the only way into room 208 …

Welcome to another of Murakami’s addictive fantastical worlds, an extreme mix of sometimes brutal reality and escapist journeys where, in spite of the stomach-churning speed, you’ll never want to leave …

Tidbit: If Chronicle seems initially familiar, that’s because the opening chapter of the novel debuted to English-reading audiences in slightly different translation as the first story in Murakami’s 1993 collection, The Elephant Vanishes, titled “The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday’s Women.” The story was translated by Alfred Birnbaum, the novel by Jay Rubin. The missing cat in Birnbaum’s story is “Noboru Watanabe,” named after the wife’s brother. Rubin’s absent feline here is “Noboru Wataya,” and also named after the wife’s brother.

Murakami’s Random House website offers a fascinating roundtable discussion about translating Murakami (click on the box marked “Translation” from the main page) – including substantial changes and deletions from the Japanese and American editions (!) – between two of Murakami’s regular translators, Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin, e-chatting with Gary Fisketjon, Murakami’s longtime editor at Knopf. Oh, the many lives (and versions!) of an international publishing phenomenon!

Readers: Adult

Published: 1997 (United States)


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, .Translation, Japanese

The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine by Somaly Mam

Before you open Somaly Mam‘s astonishing memoir, you need to be prepared to bear witness to some of the most horrific acts a human being can commit against another, especially helpless young girls. Once you begin, the frank, unmitigated writing will not allow you to turn away. Once you’re finished, Mam’s miraculous resilience will draw you in to join her fight – for life.

Somaly Mam doesn’t know when she was born. She doesn’t remember her birthparents, who left her to be raised by her maternal grandmother in a remote forest village, home to “an old tribe of mountain people” – an ethnic minority group in Cambodia. At 9 or 10, a man claiming to be her grandfather took her away, eventually arriving at what he claimed was her father’s ancestral village. “Grandfather” proves to be cruel and abusive, keeping her as his servant slave.

But in the new village, Mam finds temporary refuge with the kind village schoolteacher who tells her that she is his brother’s daughter. He is the person who gives her her name: ‘Somaly’ meaning “The Necklace of Flowers Lost in the Virgin Forest,” and ‘Mam’ because he claims her – and, unlike almost everyone else, always treats her – as his valued, respected, true family.

In spite of a bond with the Mam family that remains strong even today, Mam’s childhood respite does not last long. At 12, she is sent to be brutally raped to pay Grandfather’s debts. At 14 she is married off to a violent soldier with whom she experiences only misery. When he disappears, Grandfather sells her to a brothel where submission in the only way to survive the endless hell.

A Swiss humanitarian worker is the first to help Mam out of sexual slavery; while Mam writes about him with nothing but admiration, the fact that he initially hires her as a teenage prostitute is one disturbing fact impossible to overlook. Through sheer will and impossible energy, Mam not only gets out … she miraculously helps many, many others to freedom, rehabilitation, and new life.

Mam wrote this book in hopes that “it will stop me from having to tell my story over and over again, because repeating it is very difficult.” In it are people, places, memories that she “never want[s] to have to talk about … again … [i]t makes me vomit.” And yet because “one day I may no longer be here … I want everyone to know what is happening to the women of Cambodia.”

She insists, “My story isn’t important. The point is not what happened to me. I write my story to shed light on the lives of so many thousands of other women. They have no voice, so let this one life stand for their stories. On their behalf, I would like this book to serve as a call to the governments of the world to get involved in the battle against the sexual exploitation of women and children.” Join her call to (open, waiting, hopeful) arms: www.somaly.org.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2008 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Cambodian, Cambodian American, Southeast Asian, Southeast Asian American

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel

At the core of 1Q84 is a spectacular love story about a girl and boy who briefly held hands when they were both 10. That said, with the fiercely imaginative Murakami as author, the story’s exposition is gloriously labyrinthine: Welcome “into this enigma-filled world of 1Q84,” which begins when sports club instructor Aomame exits a taxi and climbs down emergency stairs in order to bypass gridlocked traffic and make her next appointment.

Meanwhile, cram school teacher and wannabe novelist Tengo is in muddled negotiations to secretly rewrite a 17-year-old girl’s fascinating but still raw novella that has the potential to win a top literary prize. A Chekhov-quoting, Proust-sharing ethnic Korean bodyguard; a wealthy widow who shelters abused women; a policewoman with a penchant for wild, anonymous sex; a religious leader who admits to “congress” with prepubescent girls; a comatose father with a traveling spirit; a misshapen disbarred ex-lawyer – these are just some of Murakami’s uniquely signature characters who both hinder and help Aomame and Tengo’s hopeful path toward reunion.

Verdict: Originally published in Japan as three volumes, each of which were instant bestsellers, 1Q84 – perhaps Murakami’s finest – will surely have the same success in its breathlessly anticipated all-in-one English translation. Murakami aficionados will delight in recognizing traces of earlier titles, especially A Wild Sheep Chase, Norwegian Wood, and even Underground.

Review: “Fiction,” Library Journal, September 15, 2011

Readers: Adult

Published: 2011 (United States)


Filed under ...Absolute Favorites, ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Translation, Japanese