Tokyo, 1984 (the title refers to the year and the Orwell book of similar title, not the IQ measurement of intelligence). Boy meets girl in the fifth grade and without a word being spoken they form an unbreakable love bond. Boy loses girl who turns into a contract killer. There follows sex, violence, magical realism, suspense, and a compelling love story that is sustained for three consecutive books, published separately in Japan, but as a single volume in the U.S. Japan in the mid-80s feels very cold and lonely. Religious cults, here standing in for Orwell’s Big Brother, dominate large swaths of people. Everyone else appears to be either stuck in traffic jams or mindlessly trudging through their working day. And yet. Aomame, Tengo, and Fuka-Eri hooked me. I wanted them to succeed by finding connection and meaning in their lives. More than once I felt like I was being unnecessarily drawn into the sexual fantasies of an aging Japanese writer and wondered how the plot would have been handled in the hands of a female author. (Japanese women don’t really purchase Manga, do they?). Nevertheless, I blazed through all 900 pages to find out if individual actors could overcome the forces of thought-control and the magical realism that suffused the book and was sometimes hard to deal with.
Nobody quite does a comedy of manners like the British and Graham Greene’s paean to the superiority of living life on the edge is a masterpiece with its tongue firmly placed in its cheek. Henry, an aging, retired, 50-something bank manager finds himself entangled in the adventures of his 75-year-old Aunt who leads anything but a normal life. Extracted from his dotage tending dahlias, Henry is whisked away into his Aunt’s smuggling underworld of Turkey, South America, and Paris. I smiled all the way through.
Churchill by Paul Johnson ** (of 4)
An interesting approach to a biography of the man who saved western civilization from Hitler. Churchill wrote more than 10 million words in his lifetime, provided some the world’s most memorable oratory, was a painter of significant renown, and most notably was the first and loudest clarion to warn of Hitler’s rise. He resisted Germany with all his prodigious power and intelligence keeping England afloat while the rest of Europe sank. But Paul Johnson’s approach to the man takes less than 200 pages and aims for easy hyperbole. The lesson of Churchill, writes Johnson, is “work hard, never give up, do what you believe in with great intensity.” It feels both supercilious and superficial.