Waiting and Hotel Iris


I read Ha Jin’s book Waiting in just a day and enjoyed it. It was an easier read than War Trash and was basically a love story conducted within the mores of communist China and all the cultural and social inhibitions which shaped the conduct of the main protagonists. It is well written and constructed and worked on me on two levels. Firstly it was an interesting tug-of-love story which unfolded over the whole book and showed the double bind of duty and love as they became entwined and confused. But also, its setting in 60s and 70s China was also instructive. The order and bureaucracy of the Cultural Revolution and the impact on ordinary lives was well crafted by the author. This won the Penn/Faulkner Award in 1999 and is worth a read.

I had begun to read Ha Jin as an attempt to enjoy more asian literature whilst I was here in Hong Kong. Both books I have discussed have done that perfectly and so I was looking yesterday for more books written by asian authors. Those who know me well will know I have routinely tried to cover the Man Booker prize in recent years. reading as many of the long-list, all the short list and coming to a conclusion with friends about what we thought was the best book of the year. In early October with 5 others we all agreed that the only book on the 2010 short list not worth it as a winner was the Jacobsen. Of course this proved our literary knowledge b y the announcement that Jacobsen had indeed won. A little disappointing to us but we had a great evening discussing the merits of the other five books.

Imagine my joy yesterday when I accidentally hit upon the Man Asian Literary Prize 2010 whose long list of 10 books was announced in mid-December. Short list is not until February and winner announced in March 2011. So this gives me some direction for my reading and I have already set about the long list. The full list for those interested is:

Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu

Way to Go by Upamanyu Chatterjee

Dahanu Road by Anosh Irani

Serious Men by Manu Joseph

The Thing About Thugs by Tabish Khair

Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna

The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe

Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa

Monkey-man by Usha K.R.

Below the Crying Mountain by Criselda Yabes

So if anyone wants to join me on this quest. get reading and post some views online.

Hotel Iris

The only book I could find yesterday in the book shop was Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa. This I read in a couple of hours and was more a short story or novelette than a full novel. Superbly written and set in a seaside resort in Japan (though it could easily have been Weymouth or another english resort) it was a dark and disturbing novel centred on a young woman of 17 bullied by her Mum who drifts, seemingly willingly, into a sado-masochistic relationship with an older man. Other twists inlcude the mute nephew with whom a brief affair also results.  It is not comfortable reading and challenges our thinking about sexual relationships but was powerful and leaves many questions. Whether the english translation had lost any more specific japanese cultural elements I do not know. It appears this was written in 1996 but qualifies now as it has just been translated. An interesting start to my quest to read the long list if I can find them here in Hong Kong.

A good literary start to the new year!!

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