A zodiac symbol on Chapter 5

number1stupendous number2cherishable number3gripping number4aaargggh – Number9Dream by David Mitchell

So this is how I die, minutes after midnight on reclaimed land somewhere south of Tokyo bay. I sneeze, and the swelling in my right eye throbs and nearly ruptures. Sunday, 17th September. I cannot call my death unexpected. Not after the last twelve hours. Since Anju showed me what death was, I have glimpsed it waiting in trains, in elevators, on pharmacist’s shelves. Growing up, I saw it booming off the ocean rocks on Yakushima. Always at some distance. Now it has thrown off its disguise, as it does in nightmares. I am here, this is real. A waking nightmare from which I will never wake up. Splayed on my back, far from anyone who knows me, my life bar at zero. My body is racked and I am running a temperature as high as this bridge. The sky is spilling with stars, night flights and satellites. What a murky, gritty, pointless, unlikely, premature, snot-sprayed way to die it has been. One bad, sad gamble that was rigged from the beginning. Very nearly my last thought is that if this whole aimless story is to go on, God the vivisectionist is going to need a new monkey for his experiments. So many stars. What are they for?

That is the opening line of the most recent chapter that I finished, the fourth one, before I shot up from my bedding and turned this machine on. Wait, I ran to check if I still have cigarettes left. I needed a quick one to settle my nerves while waiting for the machine to boot up. I clicked Notepad, yes, I use Notepad and then just copy-paste everything. I open iTunes. I want to listen to Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in C Minor. After the first movement, I switched to Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. Wait, I want Bach’s Concerto for Three Strings in D Major.

Okay, I am being incoherent. Number9Dream is Eiji Miyake’s hopeless search for his unknown father. So Eiji dies at the fourth chapter? Not so fast! That, the quotation above, is just one ounce of the lyrical suspense that the novel has to offer.

A background: Eiji Miyake’s mother was the lover of a rich business person. That’s all the information that we have about his father. His mother is, well, not good at being a mother, and it must have been distressing to sign the job contract with fraternal twins. You might be wondering where’s the twin sister? The name’s Anju. Go figure where she is by rereading the quotation above.

So Eiji’s mother resigns from her job after three years, hiring her mother, Eiji’s grandmother, to take over. We see snippets of the twins’ childhoods in the second chapter. And then we see Eiji prove himself a sexual being at the third chapter. And what of the first chapter?

It’s a comical and engaging cha-cha between Eiji’s ornate imagination and Tokyo’s tumultuously mundane realities. The first few pages disguised themselves as a sci-fi adventure, only to realize later, after a few helpings of air-reactive ink dissolving on paper, that we’ve been delightfully cheated. We don’t mind, because as always, Mitchell is a genius.

Now that my nerves are calm, I flip to the near end of the book. An innocent chapter page.

Number9...
Number9…

But wait. It can’t be that thin. It can’t be just a single leaf. Flipping over to get a glimpse, this is what I see:

...Last Page?
…Last Page?

What is Mitchell brewing? This is one of those times I wish I were a demonic speed reader with full powers of comprehension. I would love to take a vacation leave from work just to finish this book and find out the mystery behind the blank chapter. I am overreacting, but I cannot help overreacting with books that I am itching to mark with the amazing five stars.

I know you are thinking what I rabid fan-girl I am. But you have to read this! Or any book by Mitchell. I have a couple of bookish friends who would gladly attest to Mitchell’s talent. There’s the blogger of Fully Booked. Me who five-starred The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (a future must-read for me). There’s the blogger of Bookish Little Me who recently five-starred Cloud Atlas (my first encounter with Mitchell). There’s the blogger of Book Rhapsody who five-starred Black Swan Green.

Wait, that’s me. Okay, let me finish my dose of Bach and then I’ll ravenously continue to the fifth chapter.

Date Started: February 26, 2012. 06:15 PM. Book #10 of 2012.

The opening sentence for all three parts

Let’s itty and viddy if we could translate some nadsat slovos – A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

For the benefit of those who didn’t get this post’s title, it directly translates to “Let’s go and see if we could translate some teenage words. Nadsat talk is the language employed by the teen gangsters of A Clockwork Orange. Reading its first chapter is disorienting, because one is not yet used to this strange and funny language. One would be tempted to chuck the book back to the book shelf or consult Google to help him in understanding the text.

But really, there’s no need to do that. One must not hurry through this book, and one needs to rely heavily on the context clues. After a couple of more chapters, one is set to become like real horrorshow in ponying and govoteering these nadsat slovos.

The introduction of my edition says that most of these slovos are of Russian descent, but that does not matter to me because I don’t know Russian. It’s just a detail that’s nice to know, and one could get that feel because slovos like devotchka, yarblockos, chelloveck, moloko, and bratchny all have Russian overtones. Some nadsat slovos are based on repetitions, like creech creech creeching and boo hoo hoing, some are plays on sound, like jammiwam and eggiweg, some are associations, like viddy for video and sinny for cinema. And oh, did I forget that nadsat talk involves the repetitive use of the word “like”?

So let’s have a little practice, shall we?

After that I had lovely Mozart, the Jupiter, and there were new pictures of different litsos to be ground and splashed, and it was after this that I thought I would have just one last disc only before crossing the border, and I wanted something starry and strong and very firm so it was J. S. Bach I had, the Brandenburg Concerto just for middle and lower strings. And, slooshying with different bliss than before, I viddied again this name on the paper I’d razrezzed that night, a long time ago it seemed, in that cottage called HOME. The name was about a clockwork orange. Listening to J. S. Bach, I began to pony better what that meant now, and I thought, slooshying away to the brown gorgeousness of the starry German master, that I would like to have tolchecked them both harder and ripped them to ribbons on their own floor.

After that I had lovely Mozart, the Jupiter, and there were new pictures of different faces to be ground and splashed, and it was after this that I thought I would have just one last disc only before crossing the border, and I wanted something old and strong and very firm so it was J. S. Bach I had, the Brandenburg Concerto just for middle and lower strings. And, listening with different bliss than before, I saw again this name on the paper I’d destroyed that night, a long time ago it seemed, in that cottage called HOME. The name was about a clockwork orange. Listening to J. S. Bach, I began to understand better what that meant now, and I thought, listening away to the brown gorgeousness of the old German master, that I would like to have hit them both harder and ripped them to ribbons on their own floor.

This is one of the easier passages to read, although it’s also one disturbing passage, if you ask me. How could good classical music plant violent thoughts inside your gulliver, I mean head? I particularly am shocked because I am a big fan of Bach. I have all the Brandenburg Concertos in my iTunes library, but they are not my favorites. I like the violin concertos and cello suites better, if you want to know. And Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, how could it bring about negative energy when it sings of joy?

Well, Alex, our protagonist and narrator, has this one singular redeeming quality: his acquired taste for classical music. Other than that, he’s just reckless, irresponsible, and ultra-violent. In the course of the plot, he’s going to pay for his crimes. He’s going to be experimented upon, to be cleansed of his impulse for violence.

The movie adaptation of this film is based on an old edition that was stripped of the critical last chapter. I have with me the full edition. I wonder if I would prefer the book with or without the last chapter.

Date Started: February 21, 2012. 10:15 PM. Book #09 of 2012.

Independent People by Halldór Laxness

Of sheep, lungworm, coffee, and poetry, and God, and a lot, lot more – Independent People by Halldór Laxness

For some time now, I’ve been itching to write something about this wonderful, funny, lyrical, all-encompassing book. And now that I have a few moments to devote on it, I realize that I cannot put into words my love for this. The only thing that I can do is to keep shoving this to people with whom I share the similar taste in books.

But really, how can I justify the magnificence of this masterpiece if all I could tell them is that this book is all about sheep? It’s about farmers discussing and debating the different aspects of sheep farming while drinking coffee. It’s about them figuring out how to get rid of lungworm from the flock while discussing a little politics here and there. It’s about them worrying about the coming winter and hoping that their sheep will survive.

And oh, it’s about the fierce battle of the unwavering independent spirits of a father and daughter. It’s a war waged between these two independent people. And I’d like to do a little background.

Bjartur of Summerhouses, the father that I mentioned, works his way out of servitude by saving money for almost two decades. When he earns enough money, he buys a piece of land that is believed by the townspeople to be cursed by some mad, evil, crazy woman. Bjartur, being one of the most iron-willed characters that I have ever encountered, ignores this. He builds a little house, starts raising sheep, marries a not so bad dame, and builds a family.

And the struggle for independent living goes on. Independent people, like myself, know the ups and downs of having to rely on your own resources to survive. Sometimes, the odds are with you. The good times keep rolling. You have coffee and sugar and dried fish in your stock. Sometimes, things are just bad. Sheep get lost, sheep get lungworm, sheep die.

But when things are good again, the kids get some home schooling. They study literature, geography, and catechism. A funny thing that I remember is that Little Nonni, the youngest son of Bjartur and my favorite character, imagines apples as red potatoes. Aren’t there apple trees in Iceland? The matter of apples was brought up when the kids’ teacher taught them all about Adam and Eve.

Fourth day: “Then why did God allow sin to enter the world?”

At first the teacher seemed not to have heard this question; he lay for a good while staring blindly in front of him, as if in a trance, a thing that occurred more and more frequently every day now; then suddenly he sprang up with a startling abruptness, gazed intently at the girl with huge eyes, and repeated questioningly: “Sin?” then he burst into a long fit of coughing, a deep, toneless, rattling cough; his face grew red and finally almost blue, the veins swelled in his neck, his eyes filled with tears. And when at last the fit was over, he dried his eyes and whispered breathlessly:

“Sin–sin is God’s most precious gift.”

So you see, this is not only about sheep. There’s a little talk on God and existence and the universe and who-are-we-what-is-our-purpose. There’s also some war in it, but since Iceland is mostly an observer when the world staged wars in the past, you get this feeling that our sheep farmers are isolated, only discussing among themselves the economic advantages that they might reap out of it. With coffee, of course.

And lest I forget an important character, I’ll introduce her now: Asta Sollilja. She is the cross-eyed stepdaughter of Bjartur, and the only person left to Bjartur thanks to his stubborn fight for independence. This is a strangely beautiful thing for me. You see, Bjartur has three sons, but he chose to let them go and favor the daughter that wasn’t his own in the first place.

Aside from his iron will, Bjartur also has a stone heart. He can get on your nerves, what with his repetitive talk that hey guys, I’m an independent person, I bought this land, I bought my sheep, I feed my family, I serve you coffee that I bought with my own money. And he would never ask anyone else’s help, even if it would make his family sacrifice and suffer, and even if it would cost them their lives.

But I am drawn to him. He is a poet! He recites Icelandic poetry. That, I think, is Bjartur’s most redeeming quality. And he is like a crustacean of a father; hard outer shell, soft innards. For why would Asta Sollilja, another stubborn spirit, finally go home to him and seek that soft spot on his father’s neck? Yes, at the end, Bjartur loses almost everything, all his three sons, but he has Asta Sollilja, a name that has something to do with a flower. Yes, I cannot remember what exactly that is. Perhaps the flower of his life?

5 star - it was amazingAnd can one be truly independent as Bjartur is obsessively trying to be? I don’t think so. People are supposed to help each other, to be there for each other. Especially family. And we are social beings, for crying out loud. We cannot do it all by ourselves.

Bjartur learns his lesson and realizes the flaws of his ways. It’s always like that, isn’t it? We only realize our errors when everything is said and done. But we do not mock Bjartur. We do not tell him it’s all your fault, you and your goddamn pursuit of independence.

Instead, he earns our respect. We root for him even though we know he is prone to acts of stupidity. We forgive him for the things that he lack. We hope that he could still raise good sheep despite the harsh Icelandic landscape. And I think he could. He is one tough sheep farmer after all.

The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 9

What was the Little Prince doing on Earth? – The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

01. Getting a tan at the deserts of Sahara.

The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 1
The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 1

02. Moonlighting at the deserts of Sahara.

The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 2
The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 2

03. Contemplating bouquets of roses.

The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 3
The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 3

04. Contemplating bouquets of wild flowers.

The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 4
The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 4

05. Contemplating fox fur.

The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 5
The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 5

06. Doing some charitable construction work.

The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 6
The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 6

07. Reenacting Humpty-Dumpty, for a cause.

The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 7
The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 7

08. Distinguishing the stars from each other, particularly that star where his rose is.

The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 8
The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 8

09. Flaunting his muffler. And tossing his golden curls.

The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 9
The Little Prince's Earthly Adventures, 9

I think the Little Prince is gay. Seriously, I think all you need to read is the following to get the essence of the book:

And he went back to meet the fox.

“Goodbye,” he said.

“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

“It is the time I have wasted for my rose–” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.

“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose…”

“I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

Date Started: February 21, 2012. 7:30 PM. Book #08 of 2012.

A Couple of French Authors

Oh please, excuse my French

It’s a challenge to spell Houellebecq. It’s a challenge to pronounce it as well; the eleven letters only take up two syllables. And so is Gide. I always thought it sounds like “giddy,” but I recently found out that it has a silent e and the g is pronounced like a j.

Sure, almost everyone loves French, reputed to be a lyrical and sweet language. But why all the excess of unpronounced letters, diacritical marks, and apostrophes? By the way, I’m not even sure if Michel is pronounced as “Michael” or “Mitchell” or “mee-KEL.” I just checked now, and I think it sounds like “Michelle.”

Anyway, I got The Possibility of an Island last February 15, Php 50.00, at National Book Store – Glorietta 5. Jzhun pointed it to me; it was stuck between forgettable titles in one of the sale bins. What I was doing with this bookish friend is nothing close to romantic; we were scouting for French restaurants for our February book of the month, which is oh, written by a French writer. I will post more of that in the coming days.

The Fruits of the Earth is given to me by Emir the following night while we were having a dinner-meeting. He saw me wish-listing this book at Goodreads. So yes, it wouldn’t hurt to create a wish list shelf. You can never tell what battered books are gathering dust in your friends’ libraries. Why we were having a meeting, I’ll also post in the coming days.

If you are want to see my wish list shelf, visit my Goodreads profile. Oops, you have to be signed in to be able to check it out.