It’s already the 4th of May, and I hope everyone’s been able to enjoy some of the sunlight that has been making more of an appearance lately! I’m back with some thoughts to post about the books I’ve read in April:
- And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
- East of Eden by John Steinbeck
- The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami
And the Mountains Echoed
Premise: Pari and Abdullah are very close siblings. Upon a step-uncle’s suggestion, their father sells Pari to a wealthy husband and wife who are incapable of bearing children.
Review: As an enthusiastic fan of Khaled Hosseini’s previous books, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I was excited to finally start reading his third novel.
And the Mountains Echoed is very different from the format of his previous books. This book actually reads more like a collection of short stories that follows different characters, all connected in some way and spanning across generations and continents.
Although the events that occur are extremely tragic, I couldn’t shake off this unpleasant feeling of aversion to certain bits of dialogue and character actions that were too precious or contrived. I’m very aware of how silly my complaint sounds, but I’m curious to see whether my preferences in books have taken a turn for the darker side as I grow older. What would happen if I were to revisit The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns, both of which I read several years ago?
Nevertheless, the reasons why I love Hosseini’s storytelling can still be found in here. As usual, the message Hosseini conveys through his story is a heartbreakingly beautiful one of love that transcends cultural differences. He focuses on definitive bonds and relationships, particularly between sibling-like pairs, while examining the reverberating consequences our choices can have on others around us throughout history.
East of Eden
Premise: Drawing inspiration from the tale of Adam and Eve and the relationship between Cain and Abel, East of Eden is an intricate story that spans generations of the Trask family.
Review: As usual, Steinbeck breathes life into his characters, bestowing lifelike personalities and clear motivations for actions. The cast of characters comprise complex identities that render choosing sides a difficult task. You will find your sympathies jumping from character to character, with the exception of maybe one (Cathy).
One of the most compelling aspects of East of Eden is the message it carries. The theme in Steinbeck’s East of Eden is a classic one of good versus evil, but with an interesting twist. In the clash between good and evil, Steinbeck emphasizes the power of choice, and it is this power to choose that distinguishes man from beast. Steinbeck effectively demonstrates that good and evil exist on a spectrum and should not be judged in terms of black and white. In conjunction with the theme of good and evil, Steinbeck also explores the universal desire to be loved and how this need leads to destructive behavior.
I do prefer The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men to East of Eden, as those had more of an emotional impact on me than did East of Eden. Still, East of Eden is an outstanding book and aptly demonstrates Steinbeck’s writing prowess.
But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed – because ‘Thou mayest.’
This edition is from the Great Steinbeck collection, designed by Jim Stoddart in celebration of the 75th anniversary of John Steinbeck. It is one of my favorite designs out of the collection. Its compact size works particularly well for reading on crowded trains and fitting into small bags.
The Elephant Vanishes
Premise: A collection of 17 short stories, with the first one being the first chapter of one of his full-length novels, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
Review: In my quest to read Haruki Murakami’s entire bibliography, I picked up this collection of shorts as my next selection. Readers of Murakami are aware that Murakami has a tendency to write recurring themes and images into his works. Examples include classical music, details of the mundane, and mysterious disappearances. The result is a sense that Murakami writes the same stories over and over again.
When I started this book, I experienced this exact feeling of deja vu with the very first line of the very first short story, “I’m in the kitchen cooking spaghetti when the woman calls…” Then, as I progressed further into the story, I realised this was taken from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I’d read two years ago during my term abroad in Korea. My lack of surprise at this feeling of deja vu is very telling of the strong similarities that run throughout Murakami’s work.
Deja vu aside, The Elephant Vanishes is a solid collection of short stories. These stories were more engaging than the ones in after the quake, his other collection of short stories that I have recently read. The stories in this collection are more outlandish and contain a darker humour that complements his juxtaposition of the bizarre and the ordinary extremely well. The nonchalance in his narrators’ voices further contribute to the underlying strangeness that permeates the majority of his stories. There are details and events that I am sure I will find myself remembering on random occasions in the future.
Some of the stories in The Elephant Vanishes also appear to deviate from Murakami’s usual style. Some reviewers have even referred to this collection as an “experimental” collection. I appreciated this shift in style, as it produced variety in a collection where the voices of narration can run together in a monotonous way, as they’re all very similar in tone (conversational, casual).
Keep in mind these stories do not offer much in finality; it’s a very subtle collection that leaves much up in the air in classic Murakami fashion. My favourites were: The Second Bakery Attack; On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning; and The Dancing Dwarf.