Sunday Post #38 – 2/14/2021

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More snow, and another cold week, the last one it looks like. Hibernation with books is still my program. I finished five books this past week! Three had actually a lot in common.


Hikikomori   A cat a man and two women

Devils in Daylight  The Half-Finished Heaven      

📚 Hikikomori and the Rental Sister, by Jeff Backhaus
Published in 2013

As I am doing the Japanese Literature Challenge, I thought it was perfect timing to finally read this novel that has been sitting on my shelf for a while.
As shown in the title, it’s focused on a contemporary mostly Japanese social phenomenon: hikikomori. These people withdraw from society, seeking extreme degrees of social isolation and confinement.
In this novel, a wife is very concerned for her husband Thomas, who’s been a hikikomori in New York for three years. She hires Megumi, a young woman, a Japanese Korean immigrant, to try to help her husband reconnect with society. Megumi’s own brother also experienced this phase in his life.
The author is not Japanese, but still, I found something of the simple beauty and melancholy I often find in Japanese novels. It’s a powerful book about human relationships, about grief, about love.

Hikikomori p1We get to know little by little what led Thomas to that type of life.
Can Megumi’s life experience and knowledge of her brother’s issues help her come to Thomas’s rescue? And how will that impact her own life?
It’s a very deep book I think, that will stay with me. The ending was very satisfying. 

📚 A Cat, a Man, and Two Women, by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Published in 1936
Translated by Paul McCarthy
Read for Japanese Reading Challenge 14, Books in Translation Challenge, and for The Classics Club

I have read four books by Tanizaki this year, and they are all very different, including a fascinating essay on Japanese aesthetics.
This one is about a love triangle involving a cat! And a cat with a lot of character, as any cat owner would expect!
Shozo has gotten rid of his wife Shinako. Possibly under the heavy influence of his mother, who had some personal interest in Shozo choosing another wife. Shinako is lonely and experiencing a complex range of feelings towards her ex.
Remembering the importance the cat Lily had in his life, she decides to ask for the cat to be hers.
Will she get the cat, that she originally hated for taking so much room in her former husband’s heart? How will she behave with the cat? What will Shozo do without his cat? And what about the cat herself, how will she react?
This is a neat small novel also about human relationships in all its complexities, including manipulation.
Shozo  appears as a weak character, always vacillating (why is there always so much vacillation in many Japanese classics I have read so far?). He appears even weaker when we eventually discover his real feelings near the end of the book.
The book has an open conclusion, which I thought worked well with the type of characters present in the novel.
Behind it all is also a lot of comedy.
I highly recommend it to lovers of Japanese literature or to readers who have never read a Japanese novel. It’s short and is quite representative of Japanese classics, I think. And of course, it’s a must for all cat lovers!

📚 Devils in Daylight, by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Published in 1918
Read in its French translation, Dans l’œil du démon, by Patrick Honoré and Ryoko Sekiguchi.
Read for Japanese Reading Challenge 14, Books in Translation Challenge, and for The Classics Club

So after that, I right away read another book by Tanizaki, this time a mystery. I couldn’t find an English version at the ready, so I read it in French.
One day, Takahashi receives a phone call from his friend Sonomura. He says he found a note containing a secret code. Thanks to his knowledge of a similar thing in Edgar Allan Poe, he managed to decrypt the message, and knows that a murder is going to take place at a particular place.
He thinks this is pretty exciting and invites Takahashi  to accompany him to watch.
Takahashi knows his friend is kind of crazy, so he first thinks this is all an invention, but then little by little evidence piles up that this is for real…
This was a very clever short novel, again about human relationships and manipulation! Alongside an unhealthy kind of love.
I found some weird mix of language registers in the French translation, with some very literary passages along very informal or even slang. I cannot alas compare with the original version, nor with another translation, so I’m not sure if this is due to a bad translation.
Still, it’s a very good story with an unexpected twist.

📚 The Half-Finished Heaven, by Tomas Tranströmer
Published in 1962
Translated by Robert Bly
Reading for Books in Translation Challenge, and for The Classics Club

And now to something totally different, a small collection of poems by Tomas Tranströmer, a Swedish poet who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011.
I forgot how I ran into him, and decided to give it a try.
I like his style, sometimes containing obscure images, but very evocative of nature and its impact on people.
If you wonder about Vermeer’s painting on the cover, it’s because Tranströmer wrote a whole poem inventing a scenario around it.
Here are a few poems I really liked:


🎧 And I listened to the Book of Proverbs, for my project to relisten to the whole Bible.


Gone by Midnight Encre sympathique

  Jourde & Naulleau La Vallée

It feels so good to be up to date with review copies and reading challenges, and to take time to read books from my shelves, or just any book that strikes my fancy of the moment

📚 Gone by Midnight, by Candice Fox
Published on March 10, 2020 (US publication)

I discovered Australian thriller author Candice Fox fairly recently. After Crimson Lake and Redemption Point, I’m glad I can finally read book 3 in the series, which seems to be just as good.

“Crimson Lake is where people with dark pasts come to disappear—and where others vanish into thin air…
Four young boys are left alone in a hotel room while their parents dine downstairs. When Sara Farrow checks on the children at midnight, her son is missing.
Distrustful of the police, Sara turns to Crimson Lake’s unlikeliest private investigators—disgraced cop Ted Conkaffey and convicted killer Amanda Pharrell. For Ted, the case couldn’t have come at a worse time. Two years ago a false accusation robbed him of his career, his reputation, and most importantly, his family. But now Lillian, the daughter he barely knows, is coming to stay in his ramshackle cottage by the lake.
Ted must dredge up the area’s worst characters to find the missing boy. The clock is ticking, and the danger he uncovers could well put his own child in deadly peril.”

📚 Encre synpathique, by Patrick Modiano
Published in 2019

I fell in love with Modiano‘s style back in 1978 with Rue des boutiques obscures (Prix Goncourt – translated as Missing Person). Since then, after reading several more of his novels, I got sometimes tired of his style, with so many characteristics common to all his novels.
Still, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2014. And some of his later novels had even sometimes elements closer to the mystery genre, like Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier, translated as So you don’t get lost in the neighborhood).
A French student of mine really enjoyed his latest book, and she managed to convince me to try it. I am obviously reading it in French, but it was translated in English (Invisible Ink) in 2020 by Mark Polizzotti.

“The latest work from Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano, Invisible Ink is a spellbinding tale of memory and its illusions. Private detective Jean Eyben receives an assignment to locate a missing woman, the mysterious Noëlle Lefebvre. While the case proves fruitless, the clues Jean discovers along the way continue to haunt him. Three decades later, he resumes the investigation for himself, revisiting old sites and tracking down witnesses, compelled by reasons he can’t explain to follow the cold trail and discover the shocking truth once and for all.”

📚 Le Jourde & Naulleau, by Perre Jourde and Éric Naulleau
Published in 2008

Unfortunately, this book will probably never be translated in English, and it would remain totally obscure for readers not familiar with contemporary French authors.
It is actually a totally hilarious pastiche on a famous collection of French literature textbooks, les Lagarde & Michard, that generations of French students studied with. it consists in 6 volumes, one on the Middle Ages, then on 16th, etc., until the 20th century. These books were published between 1948 and 1962. They are the most printed  French textbooks, with over 20 million copies, and are now available as ebooks.
Each volume presents the important literary movements of that century; biographies of the main authors, with excerpts of their works, notes, explanations and assignment questions for students.
So Jourde and Naulleau decided to follow that format to “analyze” low quality contemporary French authors. They also added answer keys to some of their questions. It is really totally hilarious, very disrespectful as the French know how to do. I laugh aloud at every page.

And I’m also into French with my current audiobook, a very popular author of thrillers, but that I had not read yet:

🎧 La Vallée, by Bernard Minier
Published on April 2, 2020
Not yet available n English

In the middle of the night, police inspector Martin Servaz receives a phone call from a woman asking his help. The weird thing is that she disappeared eight years before and he had not heard from her ever since.
I just listened to a passage taking place close to and in a Cistercian monastery. That was unexpected and neat, as I’m very familiar with that milieu.


Maybe this book, or the one I received this past week,  see below.

A Fine Line

📚 A Fine Line, by Alan Burns
Published in 2017

Dan Burns in an Illinois Chicago author I met at a couple of events. I liked his style in his short story collection No Turning Back, so a few years ago I bought this one, a thriller.

“A Fine Line is a story about Sebastian Drake, a struggling writer working out of a dilapidated apartment in the city and trying to come up with his next story idea. Drake receives an unexpected visit from a man interested in hiring him for a project and who thinks he has just the solution to Drake’s writing challenges. He also thinks that Drake’s past and secret life with a shadow government organization is a valuable asset.
His proposition to Drake is simple: become a hired agent to investigate a cold murder case involving one of Chicago’s most powerful political families. The job comes with a decent paycheck, all the support he might need, and the types of real life experiences that can form the basis for great fiction stories.
This is a story about a man with a new lease on life, a man who leads a dual existence. By day, he is an aspiring author. By night, he is a rogue undercover and unknown vigilante. His biggest challenge is keeping intact the fine line of reality and fiction.”


The Hunting Gun The Waiting Years

Two Japanese classics, surprised? lol . Two famous authors I have not read yet.

📚 The Hunting Gun, by Yasushi Inoue
Published in 1949

“The Hunting Gun, set in the period immediately following WWII, follows the consequences of a tragic love affair among well-to-do people in an exclusive suburb of the great commercial cities of Osaka and Kobe. Told from the viewpoints of three different women, this is a story of the psychological impact of illicit love. First viewed through the eyes of Shoko, who learns of the affair through reading her mother’s diary, then through the eyes of Midori, who had long known about the affair of her husband with Saiko, and finally through the eyes of Saiko herself.”

📚 The Waiting Years, by Fumiko Enchi
Published in 1957

The beautiful, immature girl whom she took home to her husband was a maid only in name. Tomo’s real mission had been to find him a mistress. Nor did her secret humiliation end there. The web that his insatiable lust spun about him soon trapped another young woman, and another … and the relationships between the women thus caught were to form, over the years, a subtle, shifting pattern in which they all played a part. There was Suga, the innocent, introspective girl from a respectable but impoverished family; the outgoing, cheerful, almost boyish Yumi; the flirtatious, seductive Miya, who soon found her father-in-law more dependable as a man than his brutish son…. And at the center, rejected yet dominating them all, the near tragic figure of the wife Tomo, whose passionate heart was always, until that final day, held in check by an old-fashioned code.
In a series of colorful, unforgettable scenes, Enchi brilliantly handles the human interplay within the ill-fated Shirakawa family. Japan’s leading woman novelist and a member of the prestigious Art Academy, she combines a graceful, evocative style that consciously echoes the Tale of Genji with keen insight and an impressive ability to develop her characters over a long period of time. Her work is rooted deep in the female psychology, and it is her women above all-so clearly differentiated yet all so utterly feminine-who live in the memory. With The Waiting Years, a new and important literary figure makes her debut in the Western world.



📚 The Future of Buildings, Transportation, and Power, 
by Roger Duncan and Michael E. Webber
Published in July 2020

I featured this book a few weeks ago, and ended up winning the giveaway! Sounds really fascinating.

“The evolution of buildings, transportation and power will determine how our future looks and feels, and in the book Roger Duncan and Michael E. Webber argue the Energy Efficiency Megatrend will shape our future technology.
Buildings and vehicles will evolve into sentient-appearing machines such that we will be living, working and moving about inside robots. Buildings may develop personalities and the transportation system will have any manner of vehicle available at a moment’s notice. This complex, interconnected system will be powered by the clean and efficient conversion of fuels and energy flows that surround us.”


📚 Book of the month giveaway
📚 Books available for free this month, to review an your own pace
Review copy available for upcoming book tour: Victorine (literary/histfic)
📚 Subscribe to my Newsletter, and win a book each month!
Here is a sample, with link for subscription at the bottom
📚 Books available for swapping


  • 2/16: Top Ten Tuesday, with Purple, Yellow, and/or Green Book Covers
  • Possibly short reviews of classics
  • Memes participation for L’Origine



60 thoughts on “Sunday Post #38 – 2/14/2021

  1. Pingback: Japanese Literature Challenge 14 | Words And Peace

  2. Pingback: 2021 books in translation reading challenge | Words And Peace

  3. We’ve got cold weather rolling in next week. One day it won’t get above freezing all day. Very worried about people driving (nobody knows how to drive on ice here) and pipes bursting. It doesn’t look good for my garden. Sigh.

    I’m reading The Makioka Sisters by Tanizaki. So far I like it very much.

    The poems are great. I don’t know how I’d ever find a book of poems by that author, however.


    • I was lucky my library had it! I’m sure you can through linter-library loan, can’t you? I’m lucky inter-library loan is free throughout Illinois. Keep warm and safe. I’m still hesitating launching in The Makioka Sisters, not sure the topic would really hold my interest


  4. How do you get your hands on copies of the obscure books? For instance, I looked up the four Japanese books you mentioned and found one I could download from Hoopla, but even the Los Angeles Public Library system doesn’t have ebooks of the other three so I would need to buy them. Just wondering if you bought the four that you read or if you got them from the library or downloaded ebooks or what. LOL They all sound very good!



    • Car? I only have 20 minutes to go to church once a week, and we prefer silence then to get in the mood. No, the secret is do your dishes, forgot the dishwasher, clean the house, cook, etc. Each time you do manual work around the house, listen to your audiobook.
      Actually, if you look closely, I only listened to the Book of Proverbs, all the other books are read, hence the excepts. Maybe I’ll add a different logo next to the audiobook to make it clear for all
      I have started another audiobook, but am not done yet, La Vallée as shown in the section ‘Currently reading/listening to’. It’s also clear that only the last one listed is an audiobook


    • My experience with Tanizaki so far is that no two of his books are alike, and humor is not as present in his other novels – at least the ones I have read. The Ottessa Moshfegh novel seems to have themes in common, but no drugs in mine


  5. Wow, how did/ do you manage to read such a lot in the pas week? My own reading buzz from January significantly died down by Feb 😦

    Anyways, on the subject of hikikomori, it’s fascinating. I know someone personally who’s withdrawn from her family for no obvious reason, and just stays locked away. I wonder how the book by Backhaus explains it. It feels there must be a host of reasons, prominently disappointment with other human beings.

    Transtromer’s poetry looks great, thanks for sharing that snippet. I’m turning to poetry these days, and spiritual stuff works well too.


  6. Interesting. As I said on my blog, I was surprised they took a Vermeer painting as the cover for a Swedish poetry book.

    As much as I would love to read something by Tomas Tranströmer because he won the Nobel Prize, I’m not into poetry at all. Your excerpts didn’t convince me of the opposite, either. 😉 Still, thanks a lot for your link.

    Marianne @ Let’s Read


  7. A great selection of books! I am happy to hear that you loved Devils in Daylight despite some strange language and I think you will love The Waiting Years! I highly recommend it. It is nuanced and the last few chapters can rival something that Tolstoy might have written.


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  10. I’m so impressed by the number of translated books you read! I just checked my digital library for books by Tanizaki but the only one they have is In Praise of Shadows.

    I love the poems you shared. I’m about 50/50 on poetry but when I understand it, I really love it. I rarely seek it out though.

    Thanks for linking to my Books in Translation Challenge!


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