Every 14 Days…(50)

The Last Children of Tokyo (Yoko Tawada)

It has been said that not being able to concentrate on what you’re reading is a sign of depression (I think I read once, I wasn’t really paying attention). If that is true, then I must have been in a complete state of Watford for the nine days I was reading Yoko Tawada’s “The Last Children of Tokyo”.

I may be being harsh, but I simply took in very little of what I was reading. There are four possible reasons for this:

  1. I’m depressed. Let’s not make jokes about this; and Villa have just been the best they’ve ever been (at time of writing).
  2. I generally don’t do well with books set in bleak possible futures – I prefer to leave that to TV and film. I didn’t do well with “The Book of Dave”, “Familiar Things” and “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” But I do get on with “Blade Runner”, “Ghost in the Shell” and “Black Mirror”.
  3. Despite being written by a poet, I found the translation to be not very nicely written at all.
  4. It’s just a bit shit.

In the future, elderly people seemingly live on forever, while the young struggle to survive. Countries have isolated themselves from each other and travel is almost ruled out. But reading my review is as worthless as I felt my reading of this was. Short, the story seems to move on, leaving me feeling that I had missed a few pages of explanation and scene change.

Far too fractured and trying to cover too many ideas in too few pages, this just didn’t get into my head. The last children picked for football, more like. Am I right?!

  • Days to read: 9
  • Days per book: 14.6

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (Manning Marable)

Much like that long, but ultimately quite poor and subjective, Mao book, this is one of those ones that has sat on my shelf for some time unread. I thought it was about time I gave it a read.

Much like the autobiography and the Spike Lee film, Marable’s book shows that there were many faces in the life of Malcolm X, but Marable attempts to truly uncover some of those that were embellished or hidden in previous works to paint a full and complete picture of the man.

Much like the aforementioned Mao book, I do find some of this written in a manner not completely to my liking; and I’m always unsure how to take certain things written by people who weren’t there as if they were. Though thankfully here, nowhere near to the same extent. Marable states that the “Detroit Red” persona perhaps wasn’t quite the criminal portrayed in the autobiography and biopic; that his relationship with his wife was virtually non-existen, running whenever a new child was born and perhaps he himself wasn’t quite so faithful; and that his split from the Nation of Islam could be due to jealousy that a former love was impregnated by Elijah Muhammad, motivating his campaign against him.

Naturally, the film shows a hero – true and just – but while there is a similar narrative thread, the side shows are much different. Lee gives greater focus to Angela Bassett’s love interest as wife Betty. Older half-sister Ella was removed from the film, though Marable would suggest she was the greater influence in his life; Ella unhappy at Betty’s role as consultant on a film designed to make money, while she is ignored; the two never the best of friends. Marable also looks at possible claims against Malcolm’s saintliness, theories that he himself set fire to the family home, as well as his possible affairs and jealousy.

But the various changes in his life that were definite also led to his downfall. Revelations regarding Elijah Muhammad saw Malcolm realise that the Nation was far from connected to Islam and more a cult of personality for money-making and sexual exploitation. Jealousy at his media fame and knowledge of the Nation meant his voice must be stopped. His travels, movement towards orthodox Islam and greater embrace of all of his fellow men also confused many of his followers, unsure now what to believe. That, and the FBI following his every move.

Many people had many things to gain from being with him or against him, and so a lot of words about him were said, whether true or not. With the autobiography ghost-written and published after his death, the film made close to three decades after and this book further from the time still, what is true about him and what is false is difficult to determine, if not impossible. What Marable does make clear, however is this: Malcolm was a charismatic figure, capable of rousing frenzy in those that heard his words, but was able to see things that others could not, and so died with few remaining followers. With comparisons to Che Guevara throughout, Malcolm was a man that many loathed at the time, but is worshiped as an icon by those who came after.

  • Days to read: 32
  • Days per book: 14.7

I am a Cat (Natsume Soseki)

One of the problems with liking Natsume Soseki’s work is that I’ve now read most of it. To remedy this, I propose to improve my Japanese, write a novel in his style and then have someone translate it into English for me…and then, of course, read it. Much like he did himself when he pretended to be a cat.

Known for his writing on the human condition, for his first novel he took on the persona of a cat commenting on human behaviour. His master – a distinctly average teacher, perhaps with an intellect wishing to be stations above himself – spends his days at home, with his wife, three daughters and elderly housemaid and a variety of guests who often drop by for intellectual stimulation, bickering and grievances.

The cat, who remains nameless, comments on their behaviours, following them when necessary, piecing together his opinion of man in a diary-like narrative. In his interactions with his fellow man, the cat is not a champion of his master, often condemning him, but does show sympathies towards him, taking his side. Despite his high opinion of himself, much like his master, the cat often displays ignorance and shows that he is very much his master’s cat.

The translation, perhaps faithful to the Japanese, is written in olde worlde language, reflecting the cat’s supposed superiority. This adds a humour on top of the already humorous dialogue between his master and house guests. The triviality of much of what’s discussed is humorous, but also reflects the nature of human relations. Reactions to the size of a nose clouds all judgement on a situation and leads to endless comments, but no actual development of the scenario or solutions to problems. His master is simply unaware that he is often the butt of many a joke and scheme. The cat sees this all unfold, and could possibly act to help resolve the problems, but chooses simply to sit and watch; a simple cat.

This is a joy to read, and I’m glad that it is spread across three volumes after being serialised originally. It’s sharp, while providing a depth of character across the chapters, with an irony as the human soap opera develops in front of the cat’s eyes.

I don’t think I’ll mind reading some of this again.

  • Volume I
  • Days to read: 8
  • Days per book: 14.7
  • Volume II
  • Days to read: 13
  • Days per book: 14.7
  • Volume III
  • Days to read: 16
  • Days per book: 14.7

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