Week Eighteen: The Monday Review
The Memory Police, Yoko Ogawa
Translated from Japanese by Stephen Snyder, Yoko Ogawa's The Memory Police is a plaintive commentary on totalitarianism, environmental depredation and loss. Dream-like and resonant with structure and tones influenced by Franz Kafka, Ray Bradbury, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and George Orwell, The Memory Police ("Secret Crystallization") is a masterpiece of speculative fiction.
Finalist for the 2019 National Book Award for Translated Literature, the 2020 International Booker Prize and the 2020 World Fantasy Award, Yoko Ogawa's novel slowly reveals natures of
apathy, conviction and complicitness.
The book begins with a young novelist whose own work could be characterised as sur-realism:
The gentle love story between a typist and her teacher. The piano tuner wanders through music shops and concert halls searching for her lover, a vanished pianist, relying solely on the sound of his music left lingering in her ears. A ballerina, living in a greenhouse with her botanist boyfriend, after unexpected accident leaves her half-paralysed.
Ogawa allows readers to enter experience the unraveling of her dual-natured characters, narrative and writerly intention.
The young novelist has two trusted friends; a beloved editor, R, and an old man whom she has known since childhood. In their lives, disappearances are continual - an observation or object dissolves along with the memory of its existence. "Quiet, dazed" island inhabitant observe small ceremonies to commemorate the departure of their belongings -- flower petals, roses, birds, hats, ferries, legs and arms - until there is almost nothing left to commemorate but the sound of their voices - caressed by the air current that changes directions with purpose.
When I first began The Memory Police, I was taken aback by its fluidity and gentleness. Unhurried, it moves with a soft, steady pulse that preempts its poignant denouement. Although I was initially told that the book was a thriller, I realise now that it is more psychological than this. It is not suspenseful or cliff-hanging in the traditional sense, but rather, weaves a narrative that leaves one on the edge of an subtle, oppressive landscape.
2. Sensible Shoes: A Story About The Spiritual Journal, Sharon Garlough Brown
A moving narrative around four strangers who draw near to the hope of a living, spiritual formation. Hannah, a pastor weary of wearing a mask; Meg, a widow haunted by her past; Mara, a woman whose rejection finds root in her relationships; and Charissa, a student so dedicated to her studies that she forgets to spend time with what she learns.
Relunctantly, these four women are called forth into a personal, collective journey of support, revelation and truth. Along the way, each one finds a new way of understanding God.
Self-exmination isn't about being perfect. It's about listening and responding to the Spirit. It's about allowing God to reveal where we are hiding and resisting his love so that we can come out from hiding to receive grace and mercy and wholeness. This isn't about beating ourselves up, and it's not an invitation to obsessive introspection. We can't make ourselves whole or holy. That's the Spirit's work. Our work is simply to cooperate with the Spirit by saying yes to God's movement in our lives.
I was a bit hesistant to begin this book, despitely how highly it has been praised by the people closest to me. Although I understood its power to comfort, confront and speak truth to readers, I wondered about its style. As a believer in Jesus, I have read a lot of old/contemporary Christian literature: Magazines. Blogs. Theological Discussions & Doctrine. The Common Books of Prayers. Daily Devotionals. Christian Theatre, Allegory & Poetry. Study Guides for Children, Young Girls, Young Women. Memoir. I value the purpose these works have in our life, and I believe they draw us closer to the presence of Christ in reminder of what he has and continues to do in the world.
God spoke the world into being as the Word.
From the beginning, the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made. In Him was life, and the life is the light of man.
John. 1: 1- 4
Literature (def: written works, especially those considered of lasting artistic merit) is the main medium through which God chose to reveal himself. Christian readers should embrace literature as a meaninful expression - a meaninful response - from human authors in worship of a Word who existed from the beginning.
As an MSt graduate in Creative Writing, I celebrate and study the weight of words with the hope of opening windows to the world, and in some small, candle-flame way, to the Word himself. This is why I often found it difficult to read Christian fiction.
C.S. Lewis is quoted to have said:
The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature.
Much of Christian fiction is poignant in its message. It reflects the gospel, thoughtfully, and with attention to the presence of God. Even works that are not explicitly 'Christian' often reveal the nature of heaven in its dominion of earth. Similarly, many secular works centre around an abstract matter.
The granduer message is often found in the details. Details are important; they remind us of how intimate our relationship with God is.
Honestly, Christian and secular fiction have the potential to lose the comprehensive exquisiteness of details and narrative when authors neglect structure and technique by focusing solely on metaphysical, theoretical and/or intellectual content. Over the years, I have learned how important it is to write with a balance between concept and commonplace.
I was curious about the content of Sensible Shoes, but I worried a little bit about the style and writerly read. I believed Brown's vision would speak, delicately, to the Spirit inside, but I wondered if her narrative would lose itself in an attempt to teah or minister to the reader. Would she be able to balance this? Maybe I'm more critical of Christian literature. Although I have read many secular works where the message overwhelms its plot, I care more deeply about our message of peace.
Sensible Shoes was a gorgeous, delicate weaving of the commonplace - the day to day struggle with the present, past and future. Each characters' retreat and interaction with God moves them from fear to a humble confidence - and the journey is breathtakingly inspiring. Brown writes with sensitivity to language and literary techniques. Her sentence-structure is edited thoughtfully and balances the honest reflection of God and his investment in the lives of Hannah, Meg, Mara, Charissa and reader. A high recommend.
3. The Pearl, John Steinbeck
The Pearl is a touching, fragile tale (interpretation of folklore) in which a poor pearl diver's life is suddenly reshaped by the discovery of a gorgeous, grey pearl, "of the World," as the townsfolk say. The story invites literary criticism - its symbolism, language, characterisation, narrative and visual artistry conveys the moral with a sort of provoked, intimate subtlety.
In this parable retelling, Steinbeck considers the consequences of money and greed, and yet, there is a humanness - an innnocence - to his characters that is both pure and mature. Kino and Juana are complex characters who mould to and disentangle both the societal, cultural and gender conventions of mid 1940s La Paz, Bolivia. Highly recommend this novella.
4. The Testament, John Grisham
With great disdain for the money, the drugs, the alcohol, the greed, the apathy and the self-centeredness of his family----a large family, being that Troy Phelan, at his great, old age, was married three times in his miserable, wealthy life----the billionaire rewrites his will. It is a holographic will, a secret to be kept until his final day. For the truth was not that Troy cared for who was to receive his inheritance, for indeed, Troy cared little. Rather, it was that Troy Phelan knew who he did not want his inheritance to befall.
With death hours away, Troy decides to send a message to his children and ex-wives. The message, albeit harsh, is one that uproots legalities and transfigures the trajectory of all who do and do not expect something from the inheritance.
Classified in Troy Phelan's final will is the name of his sole heir: a missionary living deep in the jungles of Brazil. His father daughter, born out of wedlock. While the Phelan family in D.C. furiously continues to contest the will, disgraced corporate attorney Nate O' Riley is sent the Pantanal and enters a world where a woman --- hidden both from friends and enemies --- meets him with a stunning surprise of her own.
I loved this novel because it was nonplus in nature and telling. I had never read a John Grisham book before, but I knew that his work was beloved among academic and non-literary circles alike. Before becoming the best-selling novelist that we know him by today, John Grisham worked as an attorney and Mississippi legislator. This background made the narrative fascinating, for it was steeped in legalities and judicial proceedings. I was impressed by the way Grisham developed the prose and description, carefully, and with great attention to detail. I was able to grasp the judicial developments without losing sense or momentum of the story's grandeur vision.
Although I expected the novel to have a thriller vibe, after a little research, I realised that The Testament was written with subtler suspense. Instead of his traditional, psychological nature, the work takes on a thoughtfulness and lends itself to more abstract, philosophical message.
The novel is long, a little over three hundred and forty pages, with most of the action straddled between the Pantanal and D.C. court. But I promise, if you like a slower, steadier read, the ending will leave you truly satisfied.