The Buried Giant

The Buried GiantThe Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (2015)

Summary

King Arthur helped put an end to the war between the Britons and the Saxons, but his reign has come to an end and a mysterious mist has swept the land, clouding the memories of its inhabitants.

The Buried Giant tells the story of an elderly couple who journey across the land to find a son they can barely remember. When they find what may be a way to remove the mist, they must decide whether it’s worth it to risk bringing back painful memories and disrupting the peace in order to remember the past.

Review

Kazuo Ishiguro has written other books like Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, but The Buried Giant was the first book I’ve read by him.

As I was reading, I felt pretty ambivalent about The Buried Giant. It was slow-paced and lackluster, but I still kind of wanted to keep reading to see if it would get interesting. And that was how my whole experience reading the book went: not sure where Ishiguro was going with the story, but hoping there would be some fascinating revelation on the next page or chapter. It never came.

I didn’t care about any of the characters and the dialogue was frustrating and excessively repetitive. The story lacked focus and drive. This is one book I’d like to forget about.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Memory loss
  • Saxons vs. Britons
  • Charon from Greek mythology
  • Allegory
  • Widows who taunt boatmen by repeatedly slitting rabbits’ throats
  • Fantasy settings (dragons, ogres, giants, pixies, etc.)
  • Arthurian legend

Find Me

Find MeFind Me by Laura van den Berg (2015)

Summary

A mysterious sickness has spread across America, causing patients to forget everything and die within days. Joy is a young woman who works the graveyard shift at a grocery store in Boston. Abandoned as a baby, she grew up in a series of foster care and group homes and now she drinks cough syrup to numb the pain of her past. When it is discovered that Joy might be immune to the sickness, she joins 149 other potentially immune people at a hospital in rural Kansas for study.

Quarantined at the hospital, Joy and the other patients submit to strange rules and daily tests by doctors and nurses in hazmat suits. After things fall apart at the hospital, Joy escapes and journeys across the devastated country in search of her mother.

Review

Find Me is easily divisible into two very distinct parts: Joy in the hospital (first half) and Joy outside the hospital, trying to get to her mom in Florida (second half). I liked the first half so much better than the second. A mysterious pandemic with a potentially unreliable author quarantined in a strange hospital? Sounds great. Cross-country bus trips and doing drugs with bizarre people in the woods? A lot less interesting. The second half of the book was just a weird mess. I kept reading, hoping for some great revelation, but it never happened. Sadly, Find Me isn’t a book I’d recommend. :/

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Near future apocalypses
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Foster care
  • Grim, gloomy, and bizarre
  • Pandemics

Station Eleven

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

Summary

Station Eleven begins with a present day performance of King Lear, during which a famous Hollywood actor named Arthur Leander dies on stage. Leander’s death is quickly overshadowed by the onset of a flu pandemic, which wipes out almost all of the world’s population and completely shatters our modern way of living.

Two decades later, a young woman named Kirsten who was a child in the King Lear performance, has found a home in the Traveling Symphony, a small troupe of actors and musicians that travels between scattered villages.

Station Eleven jumps around in time to events before, during, and after the pandemic, telling the stories of many different people, all connected in some way through Arthur Leander.

Review

After hearing so much praise for Station Eleven online, I knew I had to read it. I didn’t know much other than the fact that it was a post-apocalyptic book, so I wasn’t sure what to make of the initial King Lear part of the story. I was hooked when out of nowhere I read:

Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.

Overall, I thought that Station Eleven was interesting and worth reading, but I’m not quite sure it lived up to all the hype I saw.

You might like this book if you like…

  • Global epidemics
  • Hollywood celebrity gossip
  • Post-apocalyptic stories
  • Shakespeare
  • The Walking Dead
  • Survivialism
  • Religious fanatics

The Alchemist

The AlchemistLast week, I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, which is an international bestseller about a journey of self-discovery. It’s also pretty short (~200 pages), so I blew through it.

Summary

The Alchemist is about the journey of a young shepherd as he travels from Spain to Egypt to fulfill his “Personal Legend.”

Review

I have family and friends who loved The Alchemist and encouraged me to read it, but I was left underwhelmed and uninspired.

The Alchemist reads like a fable. The writing is very simple, the characters lack depth, and Coelho beats you over the head by repeating the same themes and phrases over and over and over again. While the simplicity might make the book accessible to a broader spectrum of readers, it really turned me off.

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

Its initial message was essentially “follow your dream,” which is admirable. However, Coelho writes that one’s dream (“Personal Legend”) is some unchangeable, unquestionable thing which we can only see clearly in childhood. I didn’t buy that at all. Furthermore,  he says that if you want your dream to happen hard enough, the entire universe will conspire to fulfill your individual desire and it will help you along the way with things like beginner’s luck and omens. Then, he started throwing out concepts like “The Soul of the World” and “The Language of the World” and other nonsense. Uff da.

There’s also a ridiculous subplot involving Fatima, a young woman whom “the boy” (the main character is always referred to this way) meets while travelling in the desert. The two fall in love immediately upon meeting and when the boy leaves shortly thereafter to pursue his Personal Legend, she accepts that it is her role as a woman to wait behind while her man goes out to fulfill his dream. Oi.

Maybe The Alchemist is just very polarizing. I know a lot of people have found it inspiring and life-changing, but it really did nothing for me.

The Signature of All Things

I just finished The Signature of All Things, the latest book by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of bestseller Eat, Pray, Love). I went into it not knowing much about the book other than the author.

Summary

The Signature of All ThingsThe Signature of All Things tells the life of Alma Wittaker, who was born in Philadelphia in 1800. Alma’s father is Henry Wittaker, a self-made man who traveled with Captain Cook in his youth and made his fortune from pharmaceutical and exotic plants. Alma’s mother, Beatrix, is a strict, disciplined Dutch woman, who is also an expert botanist.

Alma grows up at White Acre, her family’s vast Philadelphia estate, where she spends her time studying science, math, and languages and exploring the wilderness and gardens. She develops a sharp, scientific mind and a love for taxonomy. While wandering the estate one day, she discovers a moss-covered rock and becomes fascinated by the overlooked world of moss, launching her into a lifetime of bryology (the study of moss).

Review

I have to say it was an ambitious move by Elizabeth Gilbert to write a 500-page novel about a moss-loving spinster from the 1800s. My mom finished the book before me and jokingly asked, “How do I recommend a book about moss to people?”

The Signature of All Things is about more than just moss, though. While it’s interesting to see the perspective of a female botanist from the 19th century (women were not welcome in scientific communities back then), the book also explores the tension between science and spirituality, altruism, evolution, and relationships. It also describes Alma’s lifelong sexual frustration, but I thought all those references to Alma’s “quim” and “binding closet” were excessive and perhaps unnecessary.

Elizabeth Gilbert is a charming and skilled writer, but while I really enjoyed the beginning of the book, I felt like it fell flat somewhere in the middle.

Overall verdict? It’s decent. I liked it. I didn’t love it.