Friday, October 27, 2023

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Cat’s Cradle is a novel by Kurt Vonnegut that was published in 1963. The story is a wild, satirical tale told by a narrator named John, who wants the reader to call him Jonah. Told in flashback, John is working on a book, called The Day the World Ended, about what people were doing on the day the US dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

John is particularly interested in the late Felix Hoenikker, a creator of the atomic bomb, and he plans to interview Hoenikker’s children and coworkers. Along the way, he learns that Felix Hoenikker invented a substance called ice-nine, which acts as a seed crystal to make water freeze at room temperature.

Later on, another writing assignment brings John to San Lorenzo, a fictional island in the Caribbean. Hoenikker’s three children, Frank, Angela, and Newt, are all there too. During his journey to San Lorenzo, John learns about Bokononism, a humorous religion based on lies. When he reaches the island, he meets the beautiful Mona and the island's dying dictator. So much happens that it's hard to even summarize.

One of my favorite parts was the vocabulary from the The Books of Bokonon. The term karnass refers to a team of seemingly random people that carries out God's will. They're the people that each life is tangled together with for no logical reason. In contrast, a granfalloon is a false karnass, or a meaningless grouping of people, for instance, "any nation, anytime, anywhere."

Cat’s Cradle has short chapters, each serving a purpose of making a commentary. The book is dark, cynical, and absurd, with commentary on science, religion, government, business, and the (lack of) meaning of life.

Purchase and read books by Kurt Vonnegut:

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut


Monday, October 23, 2023

Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda

Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda

Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda is a collection of intertwined short stories featuring living humans interacting with ghosts and spirits. Matsuda’s inspiration for each story came from Japanese folktales, legends, kabuki, rakugo, and plays. She provides synopses for the original tales at the end of the book. I read the English translation from the Japanese by Polly Barton.

The stories are unique in that the ghosts and spirits are growing, learning, and changing. The spirits are not scary, horrifying, or frightening; instead, they exist side by side with the living. The collection begins with the story of a young woman who is blaming herself after her boyfriend breaks up with her. The ghost of her aunt who died by suicide appears to the woman, reminding her not to destroy her strength. Later, the young woman’s cousin (her aunt’s grieving son) appears in other stories. Many of the stories are interconnected. Some stories are connected by the characters, others by their themes, and still others by their location.

I enjoyed the stories and wish I was familiar with the originals. In this season of ghosts, reading this volume was a good reminder that there are spirits all around us, if we just open our eyes to them.

Purchase and read books by Aoko Matsuda:

Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda Monkey Business: New Writing from Japan Volume 6


Thursday, October 5, 2023

The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner by Herman Koch is a dark, corrosive tale about bad people doing bad things. I read the English translation of the novel from the Dutch by Sam Garrett. Set in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, the book tells the story of two brothers and their wives who meet for dinner at a fancy restaurant to discuss a family matter involving their sons.

The book’s sections are named for the dinner’s five courses: aperitif, appetizer, main course, dessert, and digestif. Paul Lohman and his wife Claire arrive at the restaurant first. They await the arrival of Paul’s brother Serge and Serge's wife Babette. Serge is a famous politician who is planning to run for Prime Minister of the Netherlands.

Paul is the narrator, and he’s an unreliable one. Beyond that, he’s a sociopath. Paul is aware that his son Michel and Serge’s son Rick have committed a heinous crime. Their violent act was recorded on video, but the boys have not yet been identified. Over the course of the dinner, their parents must decide—should they turn their sons in, or should they cover up and ignore their crime?

To any reader with a moral compass, the decision is obvious, but these characters lack morals.

Purchase and read books by Herman Koch:

The Dinner by Herman Koch Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch