Book Review: ‘Kafka on the Shore’

3 different covers for the book. One has an illustration of a cat blended with a person's head. Another has an abstract blue background with a small silhouette of a cat. The last cover has a head in the shape of a golf ball resting on a tee.
Various covers of the book

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

A power of stories is their ability to transport readers to other places and times. Murakami does this very well for me — his stories are mesmerizing. And Kafka on the Shore is his latest book to have that effect on me.

An overview of the book …

At 15 years old, one of the main characters disguises his first name (to be called Kafka Tamura) and runs away from home. He wants to get away from his father and tries to escape the Oedipus Rex prophecy that his father put on him. Talk about a heavy burden to carry. Kafka wants to find his mother and sister, who left the family when Kafka was four.

Kafka’s chapters alternate with those of Satoru Nakata, who is quite an interesting character. During World War II, Nakata was in school when strange event happened. He and his schoolmates were hunting for mushrooms in the woods. All the kids lost consciousness and fell to the ground. However, the teacher was not affected. After the teacher ran to get help and returned to the kids, they started waking up. But not Nakata. He remained in a comatose state for a while. And when he eventually woke up, he could neither read nor write. 

From that background, leap to the time of the book’s main action. Nakata is in his sixties and still can’t read or write. But he can talk to cats. Which helps him find lost cats for people in his neighborhood.

Back to Kafka Tamura: he journeys to the island of Shikoku, to the city of Takmatsu, where he finds a private library. He enjoys reading in the peaceful place and befriends the librarian Oshima. Miss Saeki runs the library and spends much of her time in her office. Miss Saeki also has an interesting background, which Oshima tells to Kafka.  

Murakami’s stories typically contain oddities. In this book: fish and leeches fall from the sky … spirits appear in the form of Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders … soldiers from World War II haven’t aged … another world/alternate reality opens up.

Also, this book contains portions that may cause some to not pick up this book: incest by the main character, and another character eats still-beating hearts of cats. As for the second action, that character has a reason for doing it. Still, it’s a rough chapter. Murakami doesn’t gloss over gruesome parts.

(In The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a character skins another man while he’s alive.)

Kafka on the Shore has many portions that are food for thought. The quote below is from Kafka’s alter ego (“the boy named Crow”), who gives advice to Kafka in the beginning of the book. I thought the message was moving. To me, the message is about growth after enduring a struggle — it’s when you are either forced out of a comfortable place or you choose to venture out of that comfort. 

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” 

Quote from: Murakami, Haruki. Kafka on the Shore. Alfred A. Knopf. 2005. pp. 5-6.

Book Review: ‘Passions: Love Poems and Other Writings’

front cover of book. The background is a painting of the back of two women. They are nude and gazing down.

Before I get to the review, Gabriela Marie Milton is holding a poetry contest around her new book Woman: Splendor and Sorrow. Head on over to her blog post for details!

Now on to the review of her previous book…


Passions: Love Poems and Other Writings by Gabriela Marie Milton

Let’s say you’ve walked through a few houses with blank walls. Maybe these are show houses in a new development in town. The blankness of the houses reminds you of routines: doing the same things every day, eating the same foods.

Then you enter a house with tapestries hanging on the walls. The tapestries are filled with vibrant images and suggestions of senses. That’s the kind of feeling given by Passions: Love Poems and Other Writings. Each poem is like a tapestry. 

You walk up to each tapestry and absorb the images woven into the fabric. Some images give the suggestion of aromas (cinnamon, “braid my hair with smells of lavender and roses”). Some images invite touch sensations (wind, “running barefoot on cobblestone streets”). Others conjure sounds (purring cat, whispers, “you make pianos sneeze old rhapsodies”). Others serve up tastes (passion fruit, “destinies melt in the taste of coffee and mistrust”). Others give glimpses of places around the world (Florence, Granada, Rio de la Plata).

The poems are celebrations of language, locations, emotions, and senses. These are Flamenco dancers, characters from myths, kisses, flowers, wooden beds, a woman being called Beatrice and wishing that was her name, “pigeons guide ships lost at sea,” wine, dreams, and a lot more.

The poems invite you to take in the images from those tapestries. Remove each tapestry from the wall and wrap it around you. For these bright emotions and senses enrich our lives. These keep our lives from become stale, monotonous. 

Most of the book is comprised of Ms. Milton’s poems, but there are two other sections. One includes poems by Flavio Almerighi, and these are split into columns: English translation on the left and the Italian version on the right.

The final section includes prose poems and flash fiction. The rich language continues in these, now with more narrative to sew together more concrete scenes. I enjoyed the poems in the book, and I enjoyed these fiction pieces more. I felt the fictional pieces were easier for me to enter the scenes and take in what was happening there.

This is a lovely book that’s like taking a vacation from the ordinary.

You can by this book at Amazon here.

More of Ms. Milton’s writing is at her blog.

Book Review: ‘Parable of the Sower’

Front cover of Parable of the Sower. There is an illustration of a Black woman wearing a pink and orange dress. Around her are small shapes, like seeds.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

If you like dystopian fiction, I highly recommend this novel. 

The state of the union of America is chaos. Like Cormac McCarthy in The Road, Ms. Butler doesn’t dwell long on reasons why American society collapsed. Although, climate change and expanding wealth gap are mentioned here and there in this powerful novel. Unlike McCarthy’s novel, Parable of the Sower includes much information about the effects of that collapse.

Life is dangerous in unprotected places. People are apt to rob, kidnap, rape, and/or kill those who are seen as easy targets. When called, police might not show up. If they do, it could be the next day. You’ll need to pay a fee to the police for them to look into a crime. And there’s no guarantee they will follow through with an investigation.

The book’s main character, Lauren Olamina, lives in a walled community with her family—along with several neighbors—in a suburb of Los Angeles. Their life is safer than outside the wall, yet danger can arrive. Sometimes, thieves scale the wall and steal items the houses. And they steal vegetables from gardens and fruits from trees. In this future, food is scarce—unless you grow your own. Drinkable water is scarce, too.

Lauren’s father is a Baptist minister who who gives sermons in their house. And he teaches his children about guns and takes them for regular target practice. I mention this because of Lauren’s actions. She fires a gun several times in the hostile world to survive and protect people around her.

Also, Lauren develops her own religion: Earthseed. The overall book is comprised of Lauren’s journal entries. Before each chapter is an excerpt of the book within the book—Eathseed: The Books of the Living. One of those excerpts:

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

God
Is Change.

— Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower

Another of Lauren’s inheritances: “hyper-empathy” because her mother used a drug during pregnancy. With this condition, Lauren acutely feels pain and pleasure of other people.

Lauren Olamina makes for an intriguing main character. The book’s beginning has Lauren as a teenager and drama with her neighbors inside the walled community. Then Lauren takes a journey, and she navigates the lawless landscape of California. 

This is a gripping book, for the wildness of its near-future world. The story begins in July 2024, a mere three years from when I’m writing this review. The world in the story is very different than now. Much of society has regressed: slavery, purchase of people, company towns. There’s a new drug called pyro, which makes people stare at fires in fascination, and addicts go on killing rampages.

Octavia Butler has crafted a scary world here. Yet there’s light. That’s a lot of weight on Lauren’s shoulders. Thankfully, she has strong shoulders.

Excerpt: ‘Other Lives of the Boothbys’

Yesterday, I promised (warned?) that an excerpt would arrived today, from my novella Other Lives of the Boothbys.

And now here’s the section where Bradley Boothby calls the writer George Foulkes to chat about a character in one of George’s stories…


Excerpt

Dialing the phone number on the screen, Bradley hoped George Foulkes wouldn’t ignore the call. If George had caller ID (and didn’t most people?), he wouldn’t recognize this number and might assume it was a telemarketer. George could let the call go to voicemail.

“Hello?”

“Hi. Is this George Foulkes?”

“That’s me. Who’s this?”

Bradley didn’t have a flair for the dramatic. If he did, he could’ve deepened his voice, wishing to sound like a theatrical voice from beyond. Bradley said his own name in his normal voice.

Silence that could’ve lasted an hour but was merely a handful of seconds.

“Is this the editor again?” George asked. “No, I guess not. The number’s different. So’s the voice. Who is this, really?”

“I’m really Bradley Boothby. The editor called you because I went to his office this morning. I asked him to look up my name in his company’s books, and he discovered it in yours.”

“But my book isn’t published by his company,” George said. “I’m sending it around.”

“Okay, so that part’s wrong. But the book was at his company. And my name’s in your book.”

“Oh my God.” The writer’s caution dropped its luggage and jumped into excitement. “My own character is calling me. Do you have a quest for me? Or do you want me to chronicle more of your adventures?”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Is this like in The Dark Tower?”

“Dark what?”

“A book series by Stephen King,” George said. “The characters visit King, and they convince him to continue writing the series. Well, they hypnotize him to keep going. He was afraid of being killed by the Crimson King. And with good reason. It’s a fantastic series. King’s a master of his craft, and I like stories about parallel realities.”

Bradley pinched the bridge of his nose, and the pressure helped to center his thoughts. “I’m wondering if I’m in a parallel reality.”

“Is it like ours? Or is it a post-apocalyptic wasteland?”

“It’s not a wasteland. Not yet.”

“Too bad,” George said. “It would’ve had more opportunities for characters to act like savages. But you calling me is huge. Never in a million years did I think one of my characters would call me.”

“I’m not your character,” Bradley said.

“Oh yeah? Do you own a storage facility?”

“No, and I didn’t find a time machine.”

“Then how do you know about the time machine?” George asked.

“Jack Schneider told me. We just had drinks, and he told me about your novel, how you got the idea for the name of the characters.”

“I know you’re not the people from the booth. They’re not my characters.”

“And I’m not, either!” Bradley’s volume was louder than he had meant.

Danielle looked worried at her husband, leaning against the kitchen counter, growing more agitated, his arm held across his chest propping up his other arm holding the phone at his ear. The past couple weeks had put a strain on Bradley, and today’s revelations made it worse. They should’ve improved the situation, by providing answers. However, not all answers gave relief, instead causing troubles of their own.

“This is disappointing,” George said. “Especially since you don’t have a time machine. That’d be more incredible than incredible.”

“Believe me, if I owned a time machine, I’d be rich,” Bradley said. “I’d go back in time and buy the stocks that would make me rich. And I’d live in a much bigger place.”

Bradley didn’t have to look around the kitchen to remember its dimensions and middle-of-the-line appliances. He and Danielle fantasized about owning a rowhouse, rather than renting this apartment. They were saving money for that dream.

“Okay, okay,” George said, enthusiasm drained from his voice. “So you’re not my character. It would be cool if you were, though.”

“Gosh, thanks for acknowledging me as a real person.”

“I deserve the sarcasm,” the writer said. “Why’d you ask the editor to look up your name?”

As Bradley gave the background of the persistent déjà vu outside of Randolph-Turley, it was easier to talk about. Growing accustomed to it with practice. George asked if the feeling was one that Bradley often had, and Bradley said he rarely felt it before the recent happening with the publishing company. Before, the feeling was minor, going to a place and having the sense he had been there but was unable remember the specific memory.

Bradley pictured George sitting cross-legged on a rug, peering through eyeglasses, a notepad resting on his lap, pen jotting down nuggets of information. The writer turned into therapist. Wanting to delve into the inner workings of this situation, discover what made it tick.

“We find ourselves in a fascinating place, don’t we?” George asked. “Here’s how I see it. You could hang up, and this whole thing is over. You found your answer about my character. You can chalk it up to random shit in a random world.”

“Sounds about right,” Bradley said.

“But this doesn’t have to end here. We can keep going.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning the universe aligned to put us together,” George said. “I don’t know why, but it did. We should get together in person.”

“You want to come to New York and meet up?”

“Or you could come here. I’ve got it.” Excitement returned to the writer’s voice. “How about we meet the people in the booth? My wife and I are regulars at the diner. We’ve seen those people there before. Wouldn’t that blow your mind? Boothby could meet the Boothbys.”

Bradley pondered such a meeting. “I think it would blow your mind more than it would blow mine. They’re just regular people to me.”

“You’re sort of connected to them. Think it over. It would be a shame to end things with this phone call.”

Bradley said he would consider the idea, then he hung up and told Danielle about George’s invitation. She didn’t share the writer’s thrill about meeting strangers who happened to be eating in the booth behind George Foulkes and his wife on a particular night. Kansas City, Missouri wasn’t a subway ride from Brooklyn.

***

Audio of 4 ‘Dancing Fish’ Poems

I dipped my toe into the audiobook world by narrating four poems from my book The Dancing Fish.

This is something I’ve wanted to try and see how it goes. A different way of experiencing the poems. At first recording (using my cell phone), I sounded dorky and stilted. Then practice, practice, practice. Until I sounded more natural. And narrating became more fun as I relaxed more.

The four poems that I read on the video are:

  • “The Dancing Fish”
  • “Popcorn Tree”
  • “Quirky Miss Q”
  • “Xob of Chocolates”

If you’d rather see the video on YouTube, click here. If you watch it, please remember that I’m not a professional audiobook narrator 🙂

Free Ebook: ‘The Dancing Fish’

Front cover of book: A fish dances on the surface of the ocean. It wears a top hat and carries a cane. A lighthouse flashes its beam in the background.

Do you like playful poetry and drawings? You do? Well, my friend, you’ve come to the right place!

Today through Wednesday, the ebook version my book, The Dancing Fish, will be …. (wait for it) … FREE!

That’s Aug. 16 through 18, 2021 if you’re seeing this post in the future. (Has Dippin’ Dots stopped using the slogan “Ice cream of the future” and is using “Ice cream of the here and now” yet?)

You can grab your free copy here on Amazon.

Not ready to take the plunge and get the book?

Here’s a little background about the book: I was inspired by Shel Silverstein’s books to write silly poems in the hopes of causing my two daughters to giggle. They’re now in their late teens, and I’ve put together a book of many of those poems, along with drawings.

And here’s a bit from the book’s blurb:

Buds on a tree grow into popcorn… a cheese danish escapes… Pomegranate Janet visits a city… a pirate captain changes his life… a ghost tries to scare Maya.

These happenings happen in this collection of poems and drawings. If you count the haiku as a group, there are 100 poems in the book. But if you count the haiku individually, there are 106 poems. Most are accompanied by a black-and-white drawing, some in lovely tones of gray.

You could say these poems are for children, but they’re also for adults with youthful sides that come out for recess.

Still not ready to take the plunge and get the book?

Not only are you a snappy dresser, you’re also a discerning shopper when it comes to free merchandise!

Check out samples of some of the poems in the book:

Book Review: ‘Voice of a Story Teller’

Cover of book, with an image of the night sky. Many stars are shown, along with a shooting star.

Voice of a Story Teller by Sara Kjeldsen 

Two story tellers are in this book, as the overall story is told by Barak, who has survived a war. He is haunted by watching his friends die in that war.

In his PTSD, Barak isolates himself in the small village and doesn’t spend much time with the other villagers. He prefers fishing on the river alone and creating wooden carvings alone in his hut. Barak weaves a bitter story in his opinion of the villagers, as he judges them for moving on from the war and putting the memory behind them.

The object of Barak’s harshest judgement is Almaz, the story teller who has come to the village. Stories can have the ability to draw us into their worlds, and Barak dislikes Almaz for doing that to the villagers. Yet Almaz offers to help Barak try to find peace from his war memories.

Sara Kjeldsen has crafted a powerful voice in Barak, and that makes for an interesting story. Because Barak is not a one-speed character. Along with his haunted memories, he enjoys looking at beauty in the natural world around him. And he’s conflicted about what decisions to make.

“All of us are little more than stories ourselves,” Almaz says. And the kind of stories we tell ourselves is important, shaping how we see ourselves and the world. This book is a great example of that.

This novella is available on Amazon.

Also, you can check out more of Sara Kjeldsen’s writing on her blog.

Book Review: ‘Swinging Sanity’

Front cover of Swinging Sanity, on which there is an illustration of a woman's face with various colors on her cheeks and forehead

Swinging Sanity by N. F. Mirza 

Many people may not feel the urge to have an outlet that helps them process life’s struggles. Others feel that urge. And some of them use poetry to try to convey the landscape within themselves.

In the first stanza of the first poem (“Anything but Sane”), N.F. Mirza likens herself to a “restless lioness.” A powerful image. And the description comes through the poems in this book, particularly in the restlessness of emotions and thoughts.

Some of these poems are difficult to read — “Celebrating the Curse” describes self-harm behavior. I can only begin to imagine the difficulty of writing them. Not only that, but drawing the portraits in the book. Each section of poems begins with a drawing and a quotation. The drawing for “Anything but Sane” shows a face with wide, expressive eyes — perhaps filled with anxiety.

Through the poems and drawings comes a vulnerability of Ms. Mirza being open about her feelings. And with that vulnerability, a courage of making them available to the public. That courage creates the possibility of readers realizing they are not alone in experiencing similar emotions.

Some poems include contemplations with touching descriptions. Like the poet blending with water in “Ocean and I Become One.” Then her soul sitting on a bench, its back positioned toward the world, in “The Day I Sat by My Soul.” These descriptions are moving. Also, they offer inspirations for having our own contemplations about where we might find a bit of understanding and moments of peace.

The book is available on Amazon.

You can read more of the poet’s writings on her blog.

Free Ebook: ‘Jumble’

Front cover of Jumble book. The background is orange, and little drawings are in the JUMBLE title. Drawings such as an elephant, pipe, sock, and bagpipes

Starting today and lasting through Sunday (July 11), you can get the ebook version FREE of Jumble: Stories and Drawings! If you’re interested, head over to Amazon to pick it up.

More of my ebooks will be given away during July, on a staggered schedule.

I hope to get more readers checking out my stories. And if you’d like to add to your summer reading, here’s a way to do it without spending a dime. (Of course, you can also borrow books from the library, but these books are indie grown.) So keep watching this space for upcoming posts of more ebooks enjoying free days.

What is Jumble about?

In this quirky collection, you’ll find 18 short stories and 68 drawings, which are independent of the stories, although a few drawings echo something in the stories, a fine example being an elephant.

Examples of the stories include a man finding joy in a pancake house, a girl interrogated because she picked up the king’s rolling crown, elderly Claude Monet visiting his long-time friend Renoir, a science fiction writer donning a cap of electrodes hooked up to a computer so his dreams could be transcribed, and a group of private detectives hired to research the possibility of reincarnation.

The drawings lean toward the cartoonish and simply illustrated, which could be criticized if you’re of the mindset that drawings need to be highly detailed for them to even begin to be considered of decent quality. Actually, one “drawing” is a kind of flowchart and another is a kind of list, so their categorization as drawings is debatable. Yet the nonexistent marketing team for this book argued that saying it contains 66 drawings, 1 flowchart, and 1 list is too clunky to include in the book’s description.

Want a sample before you make the leap to grab the book? An excerpt from the story “Pancake House” is here.

The 18 short stories are:

  • Pancake House
  • Elephant Curve Road
  • Sock and Glove
  • Bagpipes on the Wind
  • Claude
  • Hidden Spaceship
  • What Dreams May Be Written
  • Uneasy Lies the Head
  • Arrivals, Departures
  • You to the Nth Power
  • Up and Down Stairs
  • Away from the Orchard
  • Auto-reply
  • Farthingstone Manor
  • Streets of the New City
  • That Time You Were a Princess
  • Time Stood Still
  • The Loving Type

Book Review: ‘Eternal Road’

Front cover of Eternal Road, with a 1956 blue and white Oldsmobile on a road

Eternal Road: The Final Stop by John W. Howell

An imaginative story of one man’s entrance and journey in the afterlife. This is quite different than St. Peter standing before the pearly gates and checking a book to see if you can enter, or if you’re sent downward.

James Wainwright dies in a car wreck early in the story. As a spirit, he’s still driving, and he picks up a hitchhiker — who turns out to be Samantha Tourneau, with whom James had a childhood love. Samantha (mostly going by Sam) has grown up in the afterlife, as she was killed when she was in the first grade.

So a trigger warning: a girl is murdered at the beginning of the book. More depth comes to that plot line toward the ending.

James and Sam embark on a time-traveling journey: jumping into Tombstone, Arizona during the OK Corral gunfight, to the Alamo just before the battle, to more. I don’t want to list all the destinations and give away surprises in the story.

The time-travel locations have a feeling of randomness, but that gives an entertaining unpredictability. Also, these are times and places where James could spend his eternal home. Sam serves as a guide to help James find his eternal home, but the jumping through times is mostly out of their control.

Indeed, the time bouncing makes for a fun story, and it helps James and Sam get reacquainted after not seeing each other for 17 years. Their relationship deepens beyond that childhood affection. And Sam is a good guide to get James acquainted with this stage in his spiritual life.

However, James must face some struggles alone, as Lucifer himself makes several appearances in trying to convince James to join him in the hot place.

The book works on several levels and isn’t simply a time-travel adventure. In the book’s dedication, John talks about a lesson from his father: “we all have challenges in our lives, and those that can succeed in reaching their goals despite them will find happiness.” John certainly wrote a story to describe challenges for James to endure. James needs smarts and courage and assistance from Sam for those challenges. And throughout, he holds on to hope.

The book is available on Amazon.

Also, John is a prolific blogger, and you can read more of his stuff here.