The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa, transl. by Stephen Snyder Published by Pantheon in August 13, 2019 (originally 1994) my rating: 3 stars Goodreads avg: 3.75 (as of 2022-05-25) Spoiler-free review Goodreads
I wish I had gotten along with this more, but it was a little flatter than I expected. It was reminiscent to me of 1984 in some ways, although I wouldn’t draw a tight comparison between the two. I thought the titular Memory Police would play a more pivotal role in this, but it felt like they only existed to add stakes to the story. I just felt a lot of “why?” reading this. I could draw connections to colonialism and the erasure of cultures, or the oppression of afab bodies, but it didn’t feel like a fully formed commentary was there. I was largely bored by this and although some aspects were compelling, I felt let down.
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Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata transl. by Ginny Tapley Takemori Published by Grove Press in August 2019 (originally 2016) my rating: 3.5 stars Goodreads avg: 3.72 (as of 2022-05-18) Spoiler-free review
This short novel (or is it technically a novella? I never know) is a pleasantly written examination of societal expectations. It’s set in Japan so while expectations are a little bit different than what I’m used to seeing in my area of the US, I think this is a book everyone can relate to in some way. Keiko has been working at the same convenience store for 18 years and at 36 has friends and family who are concerned about her apparent lack of ambition regarding both her career and romance. Our narrator, on the other hand, is happy with her life. She understands the flow of the convenience store, is able to predict its needs the way one might do with a lover or a child. She doesn’t see the need to expand her horizon, and doesn’t understand why others may be so concerned with it.
This really felt like the perfect length to me; we had plenty of time to understand Keiko’s life, routine, and mindset before the obligatory conflict and subsequent disaster set in. I liked the humor in this and found it easy to get through. It did make me think a lot about how we judge people for not hitting certain ‘milestones’ whether it’s what they want or not. I loved how she was so happy with herself and her life and didn’t understand why that wasn’t good enough for others.
I thought this was great at doing what it was meant to do, but it was just missing something for me, which is why my rating is a little lower. I did enjoy it overall, though, and will be recommending it! Additionally, it is not explicitly stated but I found it heavily implied that Keiko is autistic and aroace. She faces a lot of critique and discrimination for this, so I would make sure you’re in the right headspace to read this if that’s something that could be difficult for you to read!
Confessions by Kanae Minato, translated by Stephen Snyder Published by Mulholland Books on August 19, 2014 (originally 2008) my rating: ★★★.5 (3.5 stars) Goodreads avg: 4.08 (as of 2020-08-24) Spoiler-free review
Earlier this year, I read Penance by the same author and decided to pick up Confessions for Women in Translation month. Minato definitely seems to have a theme in her writing; both novels are highly disturbing in their own ways and deal with the topic of child death. I really liked the different perspectives in this and how the reader slowly got a fuller picture of what had happened and what was actively happening. I honestly wasn’t able to guess any of the twists, so I was kept on the edge of my seat the whole time. The matter-of-fact tone in which the whole thing was told added to the atmosphere as well. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out to see if any more of Minato’s work is translated.
Vita Nostra by Marina Dyachenko & Sergey Dyachenko, translated by Julia Meitov Hersey Published by Harper Voyager on November 13, 2018 (originally 2007) my rating: ★★ Goodreads avg: 4.12 (as of 2020-05-24) Spoiler-free review
Love is not when you are aroused by someone, it’s when you are afraid for that person.
I’m clearly in the minority here since all my friends loved this, but I found this book to be utterly incomprehensible. I had no idea what was going on 95% of the time and had so much difficulty following things. The book really leaves its reader to do a lot of the heavy lifting, so be prepared to make some leaps on your own to figure out what’s happening. There were aspects of it that were really compelling, which is why it gets 2 stars instead of 1, but I got very little out of reading this and felt like it was so much longer than 400 pages.
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.
I wish I had much to say about this, but I don’t. I’m sure this will satisfy a lot of people as an entertaining thriller. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the plot was compelling and thought that Shay was sort of a weak, boring character. Usually thrillers have me desperate for answers, even if they’re lacking otherwise, but I didn’t have that experience here. It was readable enough for me to finish, but I think the biggest issue is that I didn’t feel a sense of urgency; I felt sure Shay would get out of this mess and instead of worrying for her, I just waited to see what would happen. The only piece I really liked was the running theme of statistics. Shay is a big and I loved the data book she kept. Clearly I’m in the minority on this though, and it is great that the somewhat large cast is almost entirely female.
Objectively, I can see the appeal to this. It is generally well-written and there are some interesting aspects to it. Unfortunately, it totally lost me. I found myself mostly bored and not caring enough about the outcome to bother picking it up unless I had nothing else to do. I can certainly see this working for other people, but it definitely wasn’t for me.
This was, uh, strange. I struggled with it a lot and am not sure if that’s due to the writing itself or things getting lost in translation. The tone felt strangely monotone, which made it difficult for me to fully engage with the story. I also struggled to differentiate all the characters — partly because of the flat tone and partly because I felt like I was constantly having names thrown at me. I wish I had enjoyed this more because the format was interesting, as was the story itself. It will definitely stick with me, but it wasn’t something I really enjoyed reading.