I am reading a lot of books about the negative effect of religion these days. I started out with no intention to read any of them, but first tackled Sam Harris’ The End of Faith because an online discussion was just too interesting not to participate. I found the Harris book an eye opener. The number one idea I took away from it was that it doesn’t make sense to exempt religious ideas from any sort of logical argument. Our culture tacitly agrees that anyone can believe anything they want and the result is often that once someone interjects a religious sentiment into the argument or discussion, the debaters silently slink off, whether they agree or not, on the theory that the person is “entitled to his belief”. Believe it or not it had not occurred to me that that practice was not exactly correct. It was tolerant and humane. Harris convinced me it was also dangerous. I think he also convinced me that religion was dangerous when it was “moderate”. Then I read Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy which was notable primarily for the statistics on the numbers of Americans who believe literally in the Bible and the growth of fundamentalist believers and churches—at the expense of the mainline protestant denominations like the one I was raised in. In the interim I read several articles and speeches such as the one by Bill Moyers on why Christians in thrall to The Rapture don’t care about conservation because they expect the world to end soon anyway. (I see he’s even published a short book on the subject called Welcome to Doomsday). The God Delusion is my third read on this topic in less than a year, despite the fact that I would not say that religion is one of my priority topics.
I must say that while my response to Dawkins’ book was a series of "buts", in all honesty I must stay that he had anticipated my responses and gave answers that satisfied me. Which is not the same thing as saying I loved the book.
1Q84 s a book about parallel universes. Not in the SCIFI sense so much as in the moral and a human sense (though there are SCIFI elements). A book about what happens to people (in this case, Aomame and also Tengo) who get off the track in their lives and have to go through some scary stuff in order to get back. It starts with Aomame in a taxi on a freeway in a traffic jam (listening to Janacek's Sinfonetta--which becomes a theme) choosing to get out of the cab and climb down an emergency access stairs to the surface. When she leaves, the cab driver tells her to remember that appearances to the contrary there is just one reality.
But soon it appears that's not true and the world she climbs down into seems different. Her first clue is that the police have different uniforms and are carrying heavier fire power than she remembers. Eventually the icon of the "alternative world" dubbed 1Q84 instead of 1984 (references to Orwell intended) is the second moon in the sky, smaller than the "real" moon, slightly lopsided and green.
Aomame is a serial killer ... of sorts. She happened into that line of work though an elderly rich woman who becomes a client (Aomame is a physical therapist and trainer). Together they target men whose crimes (often but not always crimes against women) that seem not likely to be addressed by the legal system. Aomame's work with the body has put her on to a spot on the back of the neck where she can kill someone instantly leaving no marks. Her job often calls her out to use her skills to help busy people relax which gives her opportunity. She's devised a weapon--a thin needle she keeps in a pouch in her purse. The Dowager identifies the targets and arranges access. Aomame is convinced once the Dowager coaxes her that the men they target deserve to die.
Tengo was a math prodigy in school but has lost interest in math and is playing around with being a writer. He's not published anything yet, but he writes on his days off from the cram school where he teaches math, though on one day a week he frolics with his married lover. He as no friends and few others he sees or talks to. He lives in a old, slightly run down apartment building, cooks for himself and writes in his spare time. When the novel opens, he has been working with Komatsu, the literary editor of a periodical that awards a prize for young and new writers. Tengo has contributed in the past and impressed Komatsu but has never won a prize. This time Komatsu shows Tengo an unusual manuscript which has caught his attention and which he thinks might win not only this prize but a bigger, more prestigious award if it's edited some (actually re-written). The author is a 17-year old girl. Komatsu wants to make into a "star" out of her which will bring money to his publishing house--and to himself and Tengo. Tengo is more that a little skeptical--after all it will be fraud--but he's a relatively passive young man and Komatsu is compelling. Besides Tengo is fascinated by the manuscript of Air Chrysalis.
So we have two basically decent 30-year-olds who have been drifting and two determined and manipulative adults who influence them. It's important that neither Komatsu nor the Dowager is particularly evil. Each has a strong sense of morality and a determination to take matters into their own hands. Both demand (and in most ways deserve) loyalty. Both are loyal in return.
Finally, there's a religious cult called Sakigaki that professes just to be a farming community in the countryside. No one knows much about them, but we learn from Professor Ebbesuno, who's informal guardian to the girl who wrote the manuscript, that she evidently ran away from Sakigaki at age 10 and came to live with the professor who was a friend to her parents. She will not talk about Sakigaki or her parents who have never tried to contact her.
The major portion of the novel consists of sections devoted to Aomame and Tengo alternately. Not exactly first person narratives, mostly third person with the first person (thoughts mainly) printed in italics. We assume after the early chapters that there's some connection between the two but it's a long way into the novel before we learn that Tengo once held her hand when Aomame was a 10-year old girl ostracized in school because her family was associated with a strict religious group. Neither has ever forgotten that. Both somehow assume that the other (if they can find the person after 20 years) is the only person they can be close too, can love. And we learn that Aomame left her parents and their strict Seven-Day-Adventist-type religion at age 10. Tengo believes his strict father is not his real father and has only one enigmatic memory of his mother.
Both eventually discover that they are living in an alternative world, one with two moons and a few others things askew. What happens in this alternative world (in 1Q84) can be impossible in the reality that we know and that they have known. Aomame first and then Tengo seem to recognize that they must meet in the present before either can escape back to the "real world".
It's a multi-layered story which is at once a page turner and a story to contemplate.
I've been looking for this everywhere, but was disappointed. It was repetitive and tedious and the uplifting ending was not justified by what went before. I guess I was expecting time travel rather than a wishy-washy "influence" from the past.
This is a good book. I'm fascinated by London during the Blitz so read everything--fiction or nonfiction--I can find about it. I also read Doomsday Book years ago (and bought a paperback recently to reread it) and was fascinated by the vision of historical research done by actually visiting the past. BUT this book leaves the reader totally up in the air. Clearly the situation is resolved in the follow-up book, All Clear, but novels need to have some internal integrity which this one does not, ending as it does--or not ending as it does. As it is, it reeks of the marketplace--how to ensure that the reader buys the second book. Even serial novels written for kids have more internal integrity in each novel. That said, I just put All Clear in my cart....
I listened to unabridged versions of the first two volumes of this work and loved every word. This was got very confusing and I missed the detail. I have the book and I guess I'll have to read it. Never again will I try abridged versions.
I'd have been more impressed when I was younger, but somehow this escaped me and I'd never read it. Of course, I knew basically what is was all about. Now it seems awfully contrived--interesting as a moral tale but not so much as a novel. What I liked best: the wonderfully witty dialog. What I like least: the narrator. He hadn't a clue how to pronounce anything English--names of people and places were wrong and the pacing was off too.
The narrator is excellent, sounds Afghani, but I hated the book. I'll grant the author has a talent for story telling but for this one I can only assume that he made a list of all the horrible things that could happen to a female in Afghanistan and then outlined a novel to include every one of them. It feels like propoganda to me. I've read personal accounts by Afgani women where the story is what happened to them. That's honest. I've read articles about woman under the Taliban with some egegious examples. That's honest. But this novel is dishonest. It takes advantages of people's desire to read about atrocity after atrocity and it assumes that readers in English are so uninformed that they can't get information except when it's also entertainment.
I liked the book a lot but hated the narrator. I agree with the last reviewer than a male reader would have been better. But in addition, this reader dragged on--I wished I had a control to speed her up. I will not choose this reader again.
I've loved all of Ackroyd's biographies (Dickens, TS Eliot, Blake). One thing Ackroyd does better than anyone else is explain the texts of a writer in contemporary terms, so that here he explains Shakespeare's imagery (flowers, trees, landscapes, even books and events) in terms of what the man probably experienced. It made me want to reread Shakespeare from start to finish--surely how a biographer wants a reader to react.
Underworld seems at first difficult to read because the author juggles a lot of themes--trying to project, among other things, a taste of what it was like to live through the second half of the 20th century in America--but doesn't use conventional plotting or organization. Gradually, the reader begins to make the connections between long, seemingly unrelated sections of the book. For me once I got well into it--say 200 pages of an 800 page novel--I loved it. It's the kind of book that will have to be footnoted extensively in the future and which, even now, younger readers may need a concordance for if they don't remember Jackie Gleason and The Honeymooners, Toots Shore, J Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson, Lenny Bruce or Bobby Thompson's home run in the game where the Giants won the Pennant in 1952. One theme that recurs focuses on garbage (the hero is a waste management consultant and we follow him around the world--among other things--solving problems from overfull landfills). The weapon--from pistol to nuclear bomb--is another theme and the Cuban Missle Crisis of 1962 is a pivotal event which the novel keeps coming back to, to look at from multiple angles. The novel is written from a variety of points of view: different characters but also a narrator in several sections so you see the same characters narrating parts of the story themselves and the 3rd party narrating other parts which focus on that character. The hero is in some ways a typical American hero: Nick Shay is a guy who ends up putting his life together pretty well, but who started out with 4 or 5 strikes against him--poor kid from the Bronx, whose father disappeared and who grows up tough and kills a man. I can't possibly give you a flavor of this rich novel. In fact, I'm wondering if I can even talk about it intelligently before I read it again.
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