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.
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
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.