Please Enjoy Your Happiness is a dreamy memoir of an unlikely encounter between the author, then a 19-year old sailor in the US Navy, and an older Japanese woman (she was only 30, but much more mature than him at the time) in Yokosuka, Japan in 1959. The two quickly discover a shared love of literature and the art and the woman encourages him to pursue a career as a writer. But slowly he discovers her complicated past, complete with yakuza entangling.
The book moves between the present, the encounter, and the period before it to convey a sense of uncertain time and truth for a moving historical, literary, and personal story.
Listening to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi is a biography of Noguchi, sculptor and designer of gardens, furniture, and more. I find biographies challenging to read, as lives often proceed like DNA, with lots of junk between interesting genes, and this one was no exception, even with a remarkable subject. I thought that his childhood story to be very intriguing: his American mother abandoned while pregnant by his Japanese father, who took only a very small interest in him (and her), his being sent alone, age 13, from Japan to a US boarding school, and his deciding, after high school, to pursue education outside a conventional academic education. Another aspect of his life that the author explains well is his continuous, and successful search to renew himself, all the way into old age. If you can endure the multiple moves from continent to continenent, the many love affairs and, once he got successful, his bossing around everyone around him, you will do well with the “junk” pieces too.
Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die is as meandering as its subtitle. To simplify, one might say that the author and her two young children visits a playground in Tokyo where children are allowed, even encouraged, to play with dangerous tools, jump down from considerable heights onto cheap mattresses, and play with fire — and she becomes fascinated by the contrast between the playground and the ultra-safe environments in which American children (of a certain economy class) play.
I would have preferred a more structured approach but enjoyed the author often funny asides, such as her reaction when seeing an older gentleman who regularly visits the playground and carves sticks for the children: New Yorkers would overwhelm the 911 system if such a character appeared in their playgrounds!
In 1871, as part of the Meiji-era modernization of Japan, five girls between 6 and 14 were put on a ship bound to San Francisco, from which they would eventually travel to the East Coast to study and live in the United States, and stay there for ten years for the three youngest ones, long enough for them to speak perfect English, graduate from high school or college, and forget most of the Japanese they knew, at least for the youngest. The goal was for them to return to Japan to teach new generations of women about the ways of the West, but by the time they returned, the vogue for everything Western had cooled, and their positions as women did not exactly encourage them to create schools. Still, all three participated, to some degree, in educating girls and Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back tells their amazing story by relying on letters and archives, but with a lively tone and tempo so the book reads like a novel. It’s fascinating and makes you wonder about the strength of character they displayed as children and teens.
Consumed stars two investigative reporters of the last order, who will stoop to anything to get a story. They are researching a couple of French artists who may or may not have staged the murder of the wife and cannibalistic consumption of her body by her husband. So this is not a story for the faint of stomach — but that is not why I am affixing a (very faint) star to it: it’s boring! Despite incessant travels from Europe to Canada to Japan and North Korea, despite the very varied sex lives of everyone involved, despite the bizarre medical afflictions the characters endure, I was bored by the wild coincidences that serve as a plot. Bored also by the lengthy and pointless descriptions of the photographic and computer equipment used by the heroes. If I want an iPhone commercial, I know where to find it. (And I’m not sure Apple would appreciate such edgy surroundings for a paean to their wares!)
O, and the French couple’s last name, Arosteguy. It’s Basque, not Greek. The iPhone research was good, the patronymic one, not so good.
Haruki Murakami is, of course, the author of 1Q84, the only book so far that earned 4 stars on this blog. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is nowhere near as inventive and beguiling, but Tsukuru is a haunting anti-hero, mysteriously rejected by his close childhood friends and living a life of loneliness and quiet despair, with only a pushy may-be girlfriend by his side. Her only endearing trait is that she pushes him to find out what happened to the lost friendship, and the story of re-discovery will illuminate his whole life (and take him to Finland, a particularly lovely part of the story).
The fragile and returning hero will stay with you for a long time.