Chi’s Sweet Home, Part 1 (CBR11 #26 – Half Cannonball)

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I’m pretty sure I’ve never read manga before I picked up The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home. I know some of the reasons I didn’t pick one up before, (honestly, I blame Sailor Moon TV Show – I didn’t like it at all and there’s something about the overly large eyes typical of manga that bothers me) but it was mostly just a decision I had made that the manga/comics section of the bookstore or library wasn’t for me. I was wrong. While I read more comics now than I ever have before, I don’t think I’m converted to manga necessarily, but I did very much enjoy Kanata Konami’s work.

I think part of my enjoyment of Chi’s Sweet Home is that it is part of a subgenre I didn’t know existed: cat manga. Manga of course has something in basically any genre you’re looking for: action, adventure, comedy, detective, drama, historical, horror, mystery, romance, science fiction and fantasy, erotica, sports and games, and suspense so I really have no excuse for not finding something for myself sooner, or for being surprised that beloved cats wouldn’t also have their own place in this world.

Chi’s Sweet Home tells the story of Chi: a mischievous newborn kitten who gets lost. Separated from the warmth and protection of her mother, Chi is distraught and she breaks into tears in a large park meadow where she comes face to face with a similarly upset young boy. Chi is rescued by Yohei and his mother. The book takes off from there, giving us a view into how our cute little kitten is incorporated into the warm and inviting Yamada family, and all the subterfuge needed to hide a kitten in an apartment complex that does not allows pets.

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This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

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Daughter of Fortune (CBR10 #54)

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It took me a long time to read Daughter of Fortune. By some cosmic joke, which the reading gods seem to enjoy, I had paced my book choices in such a way that this book overlapped with Jane Eyre and that is quite a lot of heavy book to process all at once. What it did for me (besides slow me down a bit) was provide an opportunity to compare and contrast two different powerhouse women writers writing about the self-determination of their female leads. Isabel Allende is a white whale author for me. I first tackled her The House of the Spirits two years ago, and was simply blown away by it. She writes in an incredibly dense style, using history, allegory, and incredibly high personal stakes to weave her narrative together. Like The House of Spirits, Daughter of Fortune wasn’t a novel that I could power through, or skim, or wanted to. I felt the self-imposed deadlines nipping at my heels, but this remained a book that needed and deserved to be savored.

Daughter of Fortune is the story of Eliza Sommers. It starts as the orphaned girl who was left on the doorstep of the Sommers home in Valparaiso, Chile and is raised in Valparaíso’s British colony by well-intentioned Victorian spinster Miss Rose and her rigid elder brother Jeremy enters her teenage years. At the tender age of sixteen she meets and falls in love with Joaquín Andieta, a poor clerk who works for Jeremy and is not an appropriate suitor for a girl raised as a high class English lady. Then, as neither Joaquin or Eliza know how to proceed,  gold is discovered in the hills of northern California and Joaquín takes off for San Francisco to seek his fortune. Eliza discovers that she is pregnant and decides to follow and try to find him in California. The first half of the novel displays the magical realism that I expected from Allende, and we are deeply rooted in the story of Eliza and her town.

Then, we have the fortunate meeting with Tao Chi’en and Eliza’s escape in the hold of a ship to California, and her terrifying miscarriage. At this point, the tone of the novel shifts entirely, we leave behind most of the magical realism components (Tao’s faith still play into that arena) and are instead on a journey with Eliza as she truly leaves her girlhood behind, first in search of the elusive Joaquin, and then as she discovers her true self and the kinds of relationships that are truly soul-filling. As I got to the end of the book it became a little easier to call, a little more by the numbers than I was anticipating. While I was deeply engrossed in Eliza and Tao’s intertwined stories the narrative felt unfinished. We are left for the most part without definite conclusions, and while that is certainly the author’s prerogative and a sign of surety, it left me a bit cold at the end of the day. But this is still a stunning work about what defines being fortunate, what lives can be carved out of seemingly limited possibilities, and the strength of faith in oneself.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

August (CBR9 #73)

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For the first time in three years I am giving up on the Read Harder Challenge. Changing jobs in November (yay!) and the coming holiday bonanza has cut more severely than I anticipated into my reading time. I have knocked my review goal down to 75 from 78 and jettisoned four books from my to read list that would have completed this year’s challenge. (Expect to see some of them next year.)

The book I didn’t purge was this one, August. One of the challenges was to read a book set in Central or South America written by a Central or South American author. To me the easy choice was to expand my reading of works in translation, and somewhere in my travels I happened across August which is written by and author from and set in Argentina. Briefly the book is about a woman returning to the small town she grew up in, and while staying in the room of her deceased best friend coming to terms with herself and her life. While this book straddles the line with one of my least favorite tenses (first person present) it is really one woman confessing to her dead friend all the ways life is messing her up, and ruminating on what to do about them.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that Romina Paula is under 40. Everyone I know in our early to mid-30s either is or has recently struggled in some way with the various emotions and family landscapes that Paula explores in this work. I hope this book does well enough that some of her other works will be translated, I would love to see what one of her plays is like.

I’ll be giving the Read Harder challenge a go again in 2018 (the tasks are already up and I’m already a bit concerned with finding the right books for it and me), I just have to remember to make sure I pace myself better and not save so many for the last three months of the year.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration for our 10th Read is open now, you can join us to raise money for the American Cancer Society by reading what you want, reviewing it how you see fit (with a few guidelines), and posting and sharing on our main page. I hope you will!

The House of the Spirits (CBR8 #50)

There is so much that Isabel Allende weaves into her writing, it is simply astounding. There is so much history, allegory, and personal stakes woven into the story of one family that it is almost impossible to know where to start. How have I not read this before? Why the holy fucking hell did I have to read Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis when this existed in the world. I COULD HAVE DEMONSTRATED THE STUDY OF LITERARY WORKS IN CONTEXT THROUGH THE STUDY OF WORKS IN TRANSLATION SO MUCH BETTER WITH THIS THAN THAT TRIPE.  I feel like my International Baccalaureate teachers went with Kiss of the Spiderwoman because it was short and needed something translated from another language. C’MON THIS WORK IS ALL ABOUT CULTURAL ASSUMPTIONS, YOU DAMN IB TEACHERS OF MINE.

Ok, I promise to calm down and write a coherent review. I hate Kafka a lot, guys. And I loved this.

From Goodreads, here’s the synopsis:

Isabel Allende weaves a luminous tapestry of three generations of the Trueba family, revealing both triumphs and tragedies. Here is patriarch Esteban, whose wild desires and political machinations are tempered only by his love for his ethereal wife, Clara, a woman touched by an otherworldly hand. Their daughter, Blanca, whose forbidden love for a man Esteban has deemed unworthy infuriates her father, yet will produce his greatest joy: his granddaughter Alba, a beautiful, ambitious girl who will lead the family and their country into a revolutionary future. The House of the Spirits is an enthralling saga that spans decades and lives, twining the personal and the political into an epic novel of love, magic, and fate.

I took a long time to read this book not because it bored me, but because each paragraph, each page, and each chapter need time to be digested and understood. This wasn’t a novel that I could power through, or skim, or even wanted to. This is a book that needed and deserved to be savored. Tracing nearly a hundred years of the life of a family, Allende unpacks the various forces that cause the sweeping and epic changes of a country, and the sorrows and triumphs of a family.

A lot is written about the magical realism aspects of Allende’s writing here. The book’s characters literally see ghosts and interact with the spirit world. But… it’s just another aspect of the book, the same as not referring to internationally recognizable persons by names and instead using titles. It’s all in the world that Allende is building, and feels as normal as anything else, in the best possible way. It’s not played for cheap thrills, it’s all just part and parcel of how these characters interact with their world, which is also our world.

I am so glad that the Read Harder Challenge this year included a task that fit this one, which pulled it up my to read list and onto this year’s plate.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.