Review: Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

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There was a time in my life when I almost exclusively read literary fiction. This is obviously not that time and so I’m both a little surprised and thrilled that the Asian Lit Bingo challenge got me to read two works of literary fiction in (a little more than) a month. Rainbirds was the second of these novels. It is set in Japan and follows Ren Ishida as he goes to the small city of Akakawa to take care of his sister’s affairs following her unexpected and untimely death. Keiko, you see, was murdered.

The novel is a slow burn. Ren decides to stay in Akakawa after he’s asked to take over his sister’s position at a cram school. He is finishing up his time at university, having submitted his thesis for his Masters degree in English literature at a university in Tokyo. He even moves into her unconventional living situation. His sister had been living rent-free in the home of a wealthy politician in exchange for bringing his catatonic wife lunch and reading to her every day. The story moves back and forth between Ren’s memories of growing up with his sister, who was almost a decade older than him, and the present-time narrative of Ren putting his sister to rest while trying to figure out how she died.

As Ren gets to know people in Akakawa, so do we. They are an interesting cast of characters. These side narratives help to build a picture of the city and also of Keiko’s life prior to her death. Ren discovers that he didn’t know his sister as well as he thought he had.

This novel was not what I expected it to be. After reading a few reviews before selecting it, I expected something more fast-paced and centered on the murder. But, this novel was slower and took was through many little mysteries to eventually weave a heartbreaking picture of this young man coming to terms with a tremendous loss. I am so glad that I picked this up, even if it broke my heart.

The audio book was read by David Shih and he did a wonderful job.

Review: At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft

At the end of April, before I started the Asian Lit Bingo Challenge, I was listening to an audio book before bed. Because there is maybe something a little wrong with me, the book I was listening to was At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft. 510qnpnltsl-_sl500_

I read this ages ago when I was younger and into horror and creepiness and not at all aware of the world. And, let me just say… don’t re-read old things that you loved as a younger person if you don’t want to have to confront everything that’s problematic about them.

Sigh.

Anyway, the audiobook is read by Edward Herrmann and he does an amazing performance. I believed he was an academic who just wanted to do his research but who fell into something older and scarier than he could have imagined and who now JUST WANTS TO WARN HUMANITY OKAY. He really sold it. I loved it.

But, back to the problematic bit: H.P. Lovecraft had no problems at all relating the tales of these terrible creatures to exotic things you may have heard about from other places like The Orient.

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That’s H.P. Lovecraft, waving his fingers mystically when he thinks about the Orient. And, the first time it happened, I rolled my eyes and thought, “product of his time. all of his work is xenophobic. you know that.”

But, it comes up a lot. Like, a lot a lot.
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It’s a good thing I was listening before bed because all of that eye rolling is exhausting. The descriptions of the creatures are still top-notch and weird and the atmosphere still comes across as spooky. And, Edward Herrmann, man. Seriously. He sells the crap out of it.

 

So, I recommend this recording if I you want to read or re-read this story. But, know, that if you’re even a little bit woke, this dusty old dude is going to make you want to shake your head and argue with him in between being creepy and being weird.