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Update March 2018

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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
Book Review

March 17, 2018 - March 23, 2018

A young man’s infatuation with Tokyo in the 1970s

Ann Levin

At a time when there still weren’t a lot of foreigners in Japan, Ian Buruma moved to Tokyo to immerse himself in the esoteric world of avant-garde Japanese theater and film.

Back in Amsterdam, he had happened to catch a performance by an experimental Japanese theater troupe whose “deeply weird” plays were electrifying to him.

That experience, plus a longing to leave his “safe and slightly dull surroundings” and meet the kind of exotic Asian women he’d seen in the movies, led him to apply to an arts program in Tokyo.

When he got in, he bid farewell, at least for the time being, to the “world of garden sprinklers, club ties (and) bridge parties” of his upper-middle-class childhood.

Buruma’s new memoir, “A Tokyo Romance,” describes the years he spent in Tokyo in the late 1970s — and his coming-of-age as a writer — at a time when the city itself seemed almost as weird to him as that bohemian theater group.

“To be sure, I did not come across ventriloquists in 19th century French clothes being whipped by leather-clad dominatrices,” he writes.  “But there was something theatrical, even hallucinatory, about the cityscape itself, where nothing was understated.”

Buruma, who went on to have a brilliant career as a journalist, succeeding Robert Silvers last year as editor of The New York Review of Books, where he was a longtime contributor, is an unusually lucid writer.

Last December at a talk at the New York Public Library he praised Silvers for insisting that writing should be concrete, and in this book he certainly follows his illustrious predecessor’s advice.

While the book occasionally gets bogged down in excruciating detail about movies only the most ardent cinephile would care about, Buruma paints a vivid portrait of his often mind-boggling encounters with the motley collection of artists, expats and eccentrics he befriended over his six years in Tokyo.

And his honesty is disarming.  He confesses to alcohol-fueled indiscretions and erotic adventures and frankly grapples with the privileged treatment he received as a white man in Japan.

Ultimately, he says, it was that sense of being a perennial outsider in an insular island nation that made it impossible for him to stay.

“Even though I decided to leave Japan, I knew that Japan would never leave me,” he writes.  “I arrived in Tokyo when I was still unformed, callow and eager for experience. ... Japan shaped me when the plaster was still wet.” (AP)

Update March 10, 2018 - March 16, 2018

Tom Miller’s novel turns gender roles upside down

Kim Curtis (AP)

Rarely does a novel begin with rollicking fierceness that grabs readers from its opening lines and doesn’t loosen its grip or lessen its hold all the way through.

“The Philosopher’s Flight” is the debut novel from Tom Miller, an emergency room doctor from Madison, Wisconsin, and he’s woven a fanciful tale set against the historic backdrop of post-World War I America.

In the book’s prologue, narrator Robert Weekes introduces empirical philosophy or sigilry — the  movement of energy to produce a physical affect.  Practitioners draw sigils or glyphs on various surfaces to choose the resulting action.  The science/art came into widespread use in the 1750s and, by the novel’s opening in 1917, it’s used for everything from hovering and flying hundreds of miles to preventing pregnancy, healing injuries — and even, to murder.

Not surprisingly, philosophers have become much sought after in wartime.  They’re even credited with ending the American Civil War.

Women excel at the practice, so naysayers dismiss it as witchcraft and an organized movement seeks to destroy it and send women back into the home rather than watch them rise through the military and academic ranks.

Male sigilrists are rare, but that doesn’t dash Weekes’ hopes of joining the same elite corps that his mother once led.  When he receives a prodigious scholarship to Radcliffe College, then primarily for women, Weekes leaves his rural Montana town and heads to Boston where his formal studies begin as well as his eye-opening introduction to the larger world and its politics and social norms.

Miller’s writing is intoxicating and one doesn’t need to be a fantasy or sci-fi fan to adore this book.  One only hopes Miller can manage to take a break from doctoring to write another book and another and another.

Update Saturday, March 3, 2018 - March 9, 2018

‘Poison’ by John Lescroart is a marvelous mystery

Jeff Ayers (AP)

Thoughts of retirement for attorney Dismas Hardy have to be put on hold when a former client begs for his help in “Poison,” John Lescroart’s latest thriller.

Abby Jarvis made a horrible mistake years ago.  She did her time, and after being released, she found a job as a bookkeeper with Grant Carver and his prestigious company.  When Carver kills himself, she finds herself about to get a huge windfall, thanks to his will.  But a second autopsy reveals that he was murdered by a poison called aconite, and she becomes the No. 1 suspect.  It doesn’t help her claims of innocence that she was embezzling funds from the company.

Dismas Hardy feels compelled to help Jarvis, not only because he truly believes that she didn’t kill Carver, but also because he can’t stay away from the courtroom.  He was shot because of the last case he worked, and his wife doesn’t want him working at all, especially not on a murder case.  Hardy has to balance his personal feelings and his family’s wishes against the pursuit of justice, even if it puts him back into a potentially dangerous situation.

Lescroart’s characters play key roles in this marvelous mystery.  In addition to Hardy playing the role of Perry Mason, police Lieutenant Abe Glitsky and private investigator Wyatt Hunt are also like their counterparts from the iconic series, with Hunt asking the tough questions from the potential suspects.  The way the narrative flows also invokes key atmospheric moments paying a wonderful homage to the world created by Erle Stanley Gardner, while adding material to make it timely and relevant.  While Dismas Hardy contemplates retirement, and his family encourages that decision, readers of this series won’t want to see him leave the courtroom anytime soon.



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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

A young man’s infatuation with Tokyo in the 1970s

Tom Miller’s novel turns gender roles upside down

‘Poison’ by John Lescroart is a marvelous mystery


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