What happens when you cross the line…

when you discover a taste for the unthinkable?

Could you be drawn into a murder?

For friendship?

For a way out of your dreary experience?

These are the haunting words on the back cover of the novel Out by female Japanese novelist Natsuo Kirino (Book #46 for 2009, Book 7 for diversity challenge – book discussion selection).

I had been mulling over my choices for this month’s FFP discussion, which will center around Japanese books. I have a bunch of Murakamis in my TBR, but I read Norwegian Wood last year and I don’t think I am ready for another one just yet. I also have Snow Flower, Secret Fan by Lisa Yee, but I also just recently read Memoirs of A Geisha and I wasn’t in the mood for another geisha novel so soon. I was considering reading a couple of manga books, when I took out the front stacks of my TBR shelf and found this book.

I’d been terribly busy the past week, so I was apprehensive that I wouldn’t be able to finish this book, at 520 pages, but I read a few odd chapters Wednesday night, polished off nearly half of it last night, and finally finished it off about an hour ago.

Researching on Natsuo Kirino for the weekend’s discussion, I found out that Out is actually an award winning novel: it received the Grand Prix for Crime Fiction, Japan’s top mystery award, and was a finalist (in English translation) for the 2004 Edgar Award. It is also Kirino’s first novel published in English, and the US film rights have been bought by New Line Cinema, to be directed by Nakata Hideo (of The Ring fame).

It was also interesting to find out that Natsuo Kirino is one of the most famous writers in the rise of Japanese women’s detective (misuterii) fiction that started in the 1990s, who have uniquely used the genre of detective fiction to depict and comment on present-day Japanese society and the Feminist situation.

Translated by Stephen Snyder, Out is a gritty crime novel about 4 women in contemporary, urban Japan: Yayoi, Masako, Yoshie, and Kuniko, who work on the night shift in the assembly line of a bento box factory. The foursome leads a troubled existence, each in their own way: Yayoi has a philandering and gambling husband; Masako is estranged from her husband and son right in her own home; Yoshie is a struggling widow with an ailing mother in law and a wayward daughter; and Kuniko is a shopaholic buried in debt.

One night Yayoi turns up at work dazed, and they find out her husband has beaten her, and she reveals that he has gambled away all their life savings. The next day, Masako gets a phone call from Yayoi asking for help — she has killed her Kenji in a fit of rage. Masako volunteers to dispose of the body, enlisting the help of Yoshie and Kuniko. The three dismember Kenji’s body and fill several trash bags, divided among themselves for disposal across the city.

The story gets more complicated after the body parts are discovered in a city park, and the police start investigating. But the women have more than the police to fear — a money-grubbing loan shark who figures out what they’re done, and a menacing nightclub owner who loses everything when he becomes the primary suspect in their crime and is now out to exact his revenge.

Out is definitely not for the weak of heart — it pushes the envelope on conventional views on sex, violence, feminism, and justice. I’m one of the less squeamish readers I know, but even I found this novel difficult to take in. It took me a while to remember why I actually mooched this book, and after racking my brains I remember why — I came across it in a recommendation list after I read Perfume by Patrick Suskind (which I have yet to review, but I’m looking forward to rereading it for an FFP discussion this year, so I’ll save it for then).

Out is similar to Perfume mostly because of the methodical procedures related to the murder (Grenouille’s approach to murder in Perfume and the carving of Kenji’s body parts in Out). Reading this book, I felt like I was watching episode after episode of Crime Night, and while uneasy, I was also reading in morbid fascination, much like I had read Perfume.

But the similarities end there. While I sympathized with Grenouille’s character in Perfume, I clearly knew he was psychotic and I can honestly say I would never go on a rampage like him. In Out, I could identify with the four women, as real as they come, who each dreamt of an escape from their lives, a way out. And it really got me thinking: would I do the same if I were in a similar bind?

I remember a text message I’d exchanged with some gal pals some years back; I don’t remember the exact words, but it went something like this: if I had killed a man, my friends would show up on the doorstep with a shovel, no questions asked.

Would I do it if a friend asked for my help?

What would it take to push me across the line?

The questions are haunting, but they do make you think.

As this is the first Japanese detective fiction I’ve read, I’m amazed that the Japanese culture has a long history of mystery writers, and is probably the only culture outside the Western world that has successfully assimilated this genre.

I’m also blown away that female Japanese writers were able to take this Western genre and make it their own (Japanese women’s detective fiction is a very popular genre, apparently), giving us an insight into the female situation. So many issues were successfully tackled in this book that were seamlessly incorporated into the story — domestic abuse, prostitution, poverty, climbing up the corporate ladder, beauty, weight, self-image — not easy, I imagine, but Natsuo Kirino does it quite well.

Now that I’ve discovered Japanese detective fiction, this opens a whole new world for me in mystery books — it’s a whole new genre to explore!

That’s it for now, must pack
for the weekend!

My copy: Vintage trade paperback, mooched from the US

My rating: 4/5 stars


If you’re the type who is simply clueless, has a knack for perennially getting lost, or a regular at the city hall for racking up traffic violations, Periplus’ Manila Street Atlas might be the book for you, with its detailed maps (especially for the central areas), traffic notations (yes, even the one-way streets!) and user-friendly index filed by street and by building name.

Honey and I attended the book launch at Fully Booked — we got invited as members of their Bloggers’ Book Club.

They had a bunch of activities planned for the guests, such as a mini-treasure hunt (where I got a mini Moleskine cahier (pink!)) and a map challenge, and a raffle also (Honey won a gorgeous hardbound cookbook cum travelogue!). We also got to sample a range of SMB beers (of course I am partial to Cerveza Negra) and worked our way through the buffet (yes, the One More Extra Rice Club strikes again).

my prize
Navigation game
Honey with her prize

The Manila Street Atlas is available at Fully Booked, P1290

ZsaZsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal (2nd time around)

Yesterday, I watched Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah Ze Muzikal with my best friend, my sister, and fellow Flippers Czar, Marie, MayD, and Ihop (with Mr. Ihop and friend) at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

ZZZ 2009 poster (from http://carverhouse.blogspot.com)

Because I have readers outside of the Philippines, I need to explain: Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah is a campy, original Filipino graphic novel by Carlo Vergara. It’s about a gay parlorista (hairdresser/ beauty specialist) whose alter ego is the busty, bodacious FEMALE superhero Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah.

The graphic novel

Last July, the Flippers had a Zsa Zsa book discussion and we were lucky enough to have Carlo Vergara on hand to listen to our discussion and answer our questions about the book (and sign autographs too!). With him was Tuxqs Rutaquio, who plays the lead, Ada, in the musical.

CarVer and Tuxqs at the FFP discussion

Flippers take on ZsaZsa!

Yesterday was actually the second time I watched the musical, as I watched it on its second run at the PETA theater nearly three years ago, before I even read the book, and I have to say it was one of the best things I’ve ever watched onstage. The theater was small and the stage was in the center, and I really enjoyed watching it up close.

So I didn’t mind watching it a second time, although turned out to be a different experience for me.

A few boos: we had reserved P600 seats, only to find out when we claimed the tickets that our reserved seats had been sold to some other people (they refunded P100) and we had seats at the far end of the theater, along the side, and the most annoying of them all: right next to the exit door so all the latecomers had to pass in front of us. Granted, it was a night of horrendous traffic (Eheads concert at MOA), but theater policy should limit late entrance to the intermission, or else they need to devise a way to let the people in without disturbing any of the seated audience who came on time to watch the show.

And my beef: the theater’s audio was really bad. There were times when it was too loud (the earsplitting scene when Ada and Didi were screaming, thinking the house was getting attacked by stone-throwers) and times when the mics were crackly or picked up feedback. But most of the time, especially for the songs layered with background music and solos performed upstage — we couldn’t make out the solos. The play is a musical, they should have made sure everyone could hear it properly — isn’t that a theater rule, to make sure “the deaf old lady in the back row” could hear everything clearly?

The show was still enjoyable despite the aforementioned logistical and technical flaws, if only because of the show’s entertainment value. The camaraderie between Ada and Didi (played by Tuxqs Rutaquio and Joey Paras) was as fascinating as I remembered it, and Eula Valdez as Zsa Zsa was quite possibly even more stellar this time around. I also love that they updated the script and it was still laugh-out-loud funny (at least for what dialogue made it to our far end of the theater), but I really missed the overall WOW experience I had first time I watched it.

Oh, and I should have brought my copy of the book for a third autograph!

My copy: paperback (books I & II combined), bought at PETA run, autographed twice by CarVer (first at the PETA run, second at the FFP reading)

My rating: book 5/5 stars; musical – PETA run 5/5 stars; 2009 run 3.5/5 stars

V-day reading (Book 30! Woot!)

Love Story by Erich Segal
Book #30 for 2009
Book #4 for Diversity Challenge (Reading group requirement)

Reading Erich Segal’s Love Story was like running into an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time.

It must be ten years since the first time I read this book, back in second year high school, a time when all we ever wanted to read were books about undying love, books that make us gush and sigh and cry and wish that someday we’d be able to experience the things we read about (oh, but that is another story…).

I was actually dreading reading this again, because I felt I’d outgrown it already, and if it were not for the Flips Flipping Pages discussion, I wouldn’t have read it again, because the mere sight of the book actually had me snorting in derision.

I didn’t have a copy of the book, and I’d seen dozens of copies of it at Book Sale in the past, but of course, as luck would have it, no copies were to be found now that I needed it. I’d once again proven the law of Book Sale: the amount of urgency applied in seeking out a specific title at book sale is directly proportional to the possibility that it (and multiple copies, too) will turn up when you no longer need it or already have a copy. I ended up mooching a hardcover copy (yes, of course, if I have to mooch internationally, I’d rather have a hardcover) from California, and got it just in the nick of time, the day before the discussion.

To my surprise, I got through the whole book without a single derisive snort! Rereading it was much better than I expected. Though I wasn’t reading it with the eyes of a thirteen-year old girl anymore, I actually still liked it.

It’s the simplicity of the story that has given this book its staying power: rich boy meets poor girl, they fight for their love, but the triumph is short-lived as the girl gets sick and dies tragically young (oops, is there anyone who doesn’t know how Love Story goes?). I agree with our discussion moderator, Czar, when he said that Erich Segal knew when to rein himself in, just short of the point of being mushy.

Like Jenny, I love Oliver Barrett III’s name and numeral (hahaha!) — who wouldn’t? He’s smart, rich, handsome, athletic, and even his rambunctiousness adds to his charm. Jenny Cavilleri, on the other hand, is exactly the girl who can whip his cute little tosh into submission, with her snooty demeanor, smart-ass mouth and artistic temperament. The highlight of the book for me was the playful banter between the two, and the fact that Jenny always got the final word.

Yesterday, we also watched the movie and I was surprised to find out that the screenplay actually came before the book, and Segal actually just wrote the book to promote the movie. The book was mostly faithful to the movie, except for the point of view, but I felt that the final scene was better in the book.

One of the points raised in the discussion was that the movie was actually more realistic, because relationships (in this case, Oliver and his dad’s relationship) don’t get fixed just because someone dies, and closure doesn’t come that easily. While I see their point and agree with it in essence, I don’t think that was what the book meant to say. In the book, as Oliver cries in his father’s arms, I didn’t see Jenny’s death as a cure-all for their relationship, but rather an opening to reach out to each other, and merely the start of Oliver’s coming to terms with Jenny’s death.

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry” (note: in the book it’s actually, not ever, not never) is probably one of the most trite expressions about love today, and while I am not in the position to debate its meaning, I guess it’s not the line’s fault that several generations of readers (and film viewers) all over the world have used it for almost 4 decades now.

I didn’t expect to say this, but I’m definitely keeping this book.

Flippers celebrate V-day with Love Story at Red Palace!

My copy: hardcover first edition with dustjacket
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My best book for 2008

2008 was a landmark year for me and my books – my books tripled in quantity (thanks to BookMooch), my to-be-read stack (TBR) reached crazy heights (now I have a separate shelf for TBR) and was able to read a total number of 230 books.

This month, my book club, Flips Flipping Pages discussed our best and worst books for 2008.

It was challenging to pick out my best book, as I had a lot to choose from, including:

Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Perfume by Patrick Suskind
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Ptolemy’s Gate by Jonathan Stroud
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (reread)
The BFG by Roald Dahl
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Daughter of Venice by Donna Jo Napoli
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

After much deliberation I decided to choose a book that blew me away:
The Arrival by Shaun Tan.

From the moment I held the book in my hands, I was awed by how beautiful it was, and how it seemed to elicit from me a sense of reverence as I turned the pages. Turning the book on its back cover, the critical acclaim is staggering – it is all praises from an all-star roster of authors and illustrators: Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi, Jeff Smith, Jon J. Muth, Brian Selznick, Craig Thompson, and David Small.

You might be surprised to learn that my best book for 2008 is wordless – The Arrival is told entirely in pictures, in a series of breathtaking pencil sketches that silently convey so much emotion.

The Arrival depicts the story of a man who starts a new life for himself and his family in a foreign land. Tan perfectly captures the emotional roller coaster ride the character goes through: sadness at leaving his family behind; the stress of a long journey; the relief of reaching the destination; the bewilderment towards a new way of life; the slow acclimatization to a different culture; and the joy of being reunited with family.

Surrealism isn’t ordinarily my thing (see my review for The Republic of Dreams), but I loved how it is used in this book, especially in the new country. Everything is strange and outlandish– from the landscape to alphabet, alien creatures (the origami birds remind me of the paper birds chasing Haku in Spirited Away and the pet-like animals remind me of daemons in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy), food, customs, and transportation – and creates a perfect metaphor for the immigration experience. It also makes a grown-up theme simple enough for a young reader to understand without making it childish.

The book exemplifies the power of imagery – it’s pretty hard to “read” this book and not feel the emotions wash over you, and its cinematic quality makes you feel you’re watching the events unfold right before your very eyes. It made me smile and laugh and sigh, and as I turned the last page, I wanted to burst into applause.

This is definitely a book to treasure, and a must-read for illustrators.

(The Arrival images from www.shauntan.net)

My copy: hardcover

My rating: 5/5 stars

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