Hello! I hope you are healthy and safe. I’ve read three more books this week:
Gorky Park, by Martin Cruz Smith, Read by Henry Strozier
“Arkady [a prisoner of Pribluda] got to his feet and stretched. ‘Want to get back to your seeds, Major?’ […] ‘you know I do.’ ‘Say you’re human.’ ‘What?’ ‘We’ll go back,’ Arkady said. ‘All you have to do is say you’re human.’ ‘I don’t have to do anything. What kind of game is this? You’re so crazy Renko it makes me sick.’ ‘It shouldn’t be so hard to say you’re human.’ Pribluda walked in a tight circle as if screwing himself into the ground. ‘You know I am.’ ‘Say it.’ ‘I’ll kill you for this! For this alone,’ Pribluda promised. ‘To get it over with,’ his voice fell to a monotone. ‘I’m human.’ ‘Very good. Now we can go.’ Arkady started toward the house.”
Gorky Park is about Moscow’s Chief Inspector, a guy named Arkady Renko. He’s called in to investigate the death of three people in a Moscow park. Along the way, he gets embroiled in international intrigue, falls in love, and almost dies. Will he actually survive? Will he sell himself out to corruption? Read the book and find out.
This book was very entertaining. Arkady Renko was a very astute inspector who always came up with these precise theories. I was always left wondering how he figured them out. Not that it was illogical, just that it was impressive. There was good action, there was good adventure, there was good (slow-burning) romance, and there were a lot of twists that sometimes felt like they came out of nowhere (How did Arkady figure them out again?)
What was also impressive was that Arkady became a three-dimensional character. He started out very two-dimensional (“Gotta solve the mystery! Oh no, my wife’s cheating on me! But gotta solve the mystery!”) He spent about half the book being two-dimensional, but then in the second half he developed.
The narrator was also very good (though he kept mispronouncing Arkady’s name which, as a Russian learner, was hilarious). Still, he brought a lot of emotion and life to this story, so kudos to him.
Overall, I would recommend this book if you were looking for something entertaining to read. It doesn’t really have philosophical depth, but it’s interesting anyway.
The Woman in the Dunes, by Kobo Abe,
Translated by E. Dale Saunders
“Someday he would tell her the story of the guard who protected the imaginary castle. There was a castle. No. It wasn’t necessarily a castle, it could be anything: a factory, a bank, a gambling house [….] Now the guard, always prepared for the enemy attack, never failed in his vigilance. One day the long-expected enemy finally came. This was the moment, and he rang the alarm signal. Strangely enough, however, there was no response from the troops. Needless to say, the enemy easily overpowered the guard in one fell swoop [….] No, it was the castle, not the enemy, that was really like the wind. The single guard, like a withered tree in the wilderness, had stud guarding an illusion.”
In this book, a man goes missing. He basically gets captured and put into a hole where he has to dig sand with a woman, because for some reason if he and the woman stop digging sand, the village above them will get crushed by the sand. That makes absolutely no sense, but let’s just pretend it does.
Moving on, we get a philosophical exploration of sand, water, escape, imprisonment, meaning, and delusion.
It’s entertaining and I’m sure it will provoke thought. However, I found it wasn’t really that interesting–I felt like I knew what was going to happen at the end before it actually did happen, so when the end came, it wasn’t as surprising as the author seemed to want it to be. Maybe it’s because I’ve read a lot of books. Maybe it’s because it felt like the author was just trying to manipulate his characters to achieve this outcome without it organically coming from the characters themselves. Maybe it’s just me.
This book is one of the most celebrated books in Japan, so I’d still recommend reading it. I’m just not sure if it’ll be the best book you will ever read (though I could be wrong, since lit is very subjective!)
Night Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko,
Translated by Andrew Bromfield
“I’ve seen all of you. Road sweepers and presidents, robbers and cops. Seen mothers killing their children [….] Seen sons throwing their mothers out of the house and daughters putting arsenic in their fathers’ food. Seen a husband smiling as he sees the guest out and closes the door, then punches his pregnant wife in the face. Seen a smiling wife send her drunken husband out for another bottle and turn to his best friend for a passionate embrace. It’s very simple to see all this. All you have to do is look. That’s why they teach us not to look before they teach us to look through the Twilight. But we still look anyway.”
This book is about a guy named Anton Gorodetsky. He’s a member of the Night Watch, a group of people assigned to preserve good in the world. Fortunately it’s more complicated than that. Night Watch members can’t go around doing good indiscriminately, because they have a treaty with the Day Watch (the powers of evil), that if they start doing good, the Day Watch can start doing evil back. This treaty leads to morally-questionable acts by Night Watch members in the name of good. Are you actually good just because you call yourself good? Do the ends justify the means? Do the means justify the ends?
And here we have Anton, who is questioning the ethics of the Night Watch while trying to avoid getting killed, while trying to find out about a powerful woman who could save them all. It makes for good reading.
The back cover describes it as being, “Like Tolkien getting mugged in a Moscow back alley by John Le Carré,” but I’d describe it as, “like Tolkien getting mugged in a Moscow back alley by John Le Carré and Dostoyevsky’s ghost.”
Because, unlike Gorky Park, Night Watch incorporated philosophy. It was also well-paced philosophy (unlike Dostoyevsky). And unlike in The Woman in the Dunes, the philosophy and the story felt fresh.
So if you’re looking for something that is both entertaining and philosophical, I’d recommend Night Watch.
Until next week!
2 thoughts on “Lit in the Time of Coronavirus: Smith, Abe, and Lukyanenko”
The Woman in the Dunes always pops up, when I browse for Japanese literature. So far I’ve resisted, but as you say, it is one of the most celebrated Japanese novels. Maybe one day…
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That’s what I’ve heard, anyway. I hope you enjoy it!
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