Saturday, September 24, 2016

RIP WP Kinsella, and Edward Albee, Plus The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake and The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam

I am gutted about this. I saw Kinsella speak once and had him sign a book of short stories for my best friend Muff Larson (RIP) who was also a big fan of his books and the movie, Field of Dreams, which was filmed in the same town where Muff and I went to college, Dubuque, Iowa (and nearby Dyersville).

RIP W.P. Kinsella

author of Shoeless Joe, the basis of the hit movie Field of Dreams, died
on September 16. He was 81. He published nearly 30 books and wrote
fiction, nonfiction, poetry and short stories.

"Kinsella's works were known for their affection toward baseball, with
characters and plots frequently set around the sport," the New York
Times wrote. "They also were infused with a magical realism."

In Shoeless Joe, the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson, the star banned from
baseball after the 1919 Black Sox Scandal--even though he likely was not
part of the conspiracy to throw the World Series--inspires an Iowa
farmer to build a baseball field so that he can play the game again.

The 1989 movie starring Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones and Ray Liotta
was a hit and introduced the phrase "If you build it, they will
come"--slightly tweaked from the movie's "If you build it, he will
come"--into the nation's vocabulary.

In an announcement about Kinsella's death, his literary agent Carolyn
Swayze said that he had died in a doctor-assisted suicide but gave no
further details about his health. She called Kinsella "a dedicated
storyteller, performer, curmudgeon and irascible and difficult man."

Canadian novelist W.P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe, which became the 1989 Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams, died last week at age 81. Kinsella's novels and short stories were primarily about baseball, with dashes of magical realism, and about the plight of Native Canadians. His first published book, Dance Me Outside (1977), is a collection of 17 stories set on a Cree Indian reserve in Central Alberta. Shoeless Joe (1982) and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy (1987) remain Kinsella's most enduring works. In 1997, he suffered a brain injury during a car accident that kept him from publishing another novel until 2011's Butterfly Winter. Kinsella died via doctor-assisted suicide after suffering from diabetes for many decades.

Shoeless Joe takes its title from Shoeless Joe Jackson, a baseball player banned from the sport after the Black Sox scandal of the 1919 World Series (though he was likely innocent of any involvement in the conspiracy by a group of White Sox players to throw the series). Ray Kinsella, the novel's protagonist, hears a voice telling him to build a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa corn farm. Ray's field summons the spirit of his hero, Shoeless Joe, and other baseball legends seeking redemption. Ray sets out to find to find J.D. Salinger, another of his heroes, and ease the reclusive author's pain. Among several other alterations, the film Field of Dreams replaces J.D. Salinger with fictional author Terence Mann. It also brought the phrase "if you build it, they will come," into popular use, though both versions of Kinsella's story actually say "he will come."  --Tobias Mutter

When I was a theater major at Clarke College, we did several plays by Albee, among them a Delicate Balance, which was so powerful that it convinced me to switch majors and join the theater department.

Edward Albee
"widely considered the foremost American playwright of his generation,
whose psychologically astute and piercing dramas explored the
contentiousness of intimacy, the gap between self-delusion and truth and
the roiling desperation beneath the facade of contemporary life," died
September 16, the New York Times reported. He was 88. His honors
included a pair of Tony Awards for best play as well as three Pulitzer

In 1959, Albee "introduced himself suddenly and with a bang" with his
first produced play, The Zoo Story, which opened in Berlin on a double
bill with Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape. "When the play came to the
Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village the next year, it helped
propel the blossoming theater movement that became known as Off
Broadway," the Times noted.

Albee's Broadway debut came with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in
1962, which was also adapted into an award-winning film directed by Mike
Nichols and starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. During his
career, Albee created about 30 works, including A Delicate Balance, All
Over, Tiny Alice, Seascape, Three Tall Women, The Goat, or Who is
Sylvia, and Me Myself & I.

"All of my plays are about people missing the boat, closing down too
young, coming to the end of their lives with regret at things not done,
as opposed to things done," he told the Times in 1991. "I find most
people spend too much time living as if they're never going to die."

I want to read this:
The Other Einstein: A Novel by Marie Benedict (Sourcebooks Landmark,
$25.99, 9781492637257). "Einstein. Just hearing that name likely brings
a smile to your face, as you picture the mischievous wild-haired
scientist with the twinkle in his eye. In The Other Einstein, readers
get a view of the woman behind the genius, his first wife Mileva Maric,
a strong willed and brilliant physics student who refused to let society
dictate her life's path, but who lost her way when love came on the
scene. Benedict has penned an engaging tale that will likely inspire
readers to investigate the true story behind Maric's genius and her
personal and professional relationship with Einstein." --Sharon Layburn,
South Huntington Public Library, Huntington Station, N.Y.
The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake was an ARC trade paperback given to me by the KCLS librarian, Jen, who comes to talk to my book group once a year about books that we might like to consider for our next year's monthly reading roster. Though I've read books about the Japanese internment during WWII, and many books about the second world war, I've never read any books outlining what happened in Japan during the American Occupation in the years following the war, when we were supposed to be helping the Japanese rebuild their severely depleted country. My father in law, a career US Air Force pilot, lived on the base in Japan during the occupation, and had his first child, Jack junior, known as "Jackie" while there. My sister in law, Jill, was born in the US on a base on the East Coast, and my husband Jim was born on an Air Force base in Ankara, Turkey in 1960.  So I felt compelled to read this book and get a glimpse of what life must have been like in the late 1940s and early 1950s in Japan.  Unsurprisingly, it was fairly horrific, especially for the children, who were scrambling for food and shelter and medical care along with the adults, many of whom were deported from other countries, such as Canada and the US, because they were of Japanese heritage (even if they had been born and raised in North America). Here's the blurb: An emotionally gripping portrait of postwar Japan, where a newly repatriated girl must help a classmate find her missing sister
Born and raised in Vancouver, thirteen-year-old Aya Shimamura is released from a Canadian internment camp only to be repatriated to Japan with her father who was faced with an unsettling choice: Move east of the Rocky Mountains or go back to Japan. With no hope of restitution and grieving the loss of Aya's mother during internment, her father feels there's nothing left for them in Canada and signs a form that enables the government to deport him.
     But life in Tokyo is not much better. Aya's father struggles to find work, compromising his morals and toiling long hours. Aya, meanwhile, is something of a pariah at her school, bullied for being foreign and paralyzed when asked to communicate in Japanese. Aya's alienation is eventually mitigated by one of her principal tormenters, a willful girl named Fumi Tanaka, whose older sister has mysteriously disappeared.
     When a rumor surfaces that Douglas MacArthur, who is overseeing the Allied occupation of Japan, sometimes helps citizens in need, Fumi enlists Aya to compose a letter asking the general to find her beloved sister. The letter is delivered into the reluctant hands of Corporal Matt Matsumoto, a Japanese-American serving with the Occupation forces, whose endless job is translating the thousands of letters MacArthur receives each week. Matt feels an affinity toward Fumi but is largely powerless, and the girls decide to take matters into their own hands, venturing into the dark and dangerous world of Tokyo's red-light district.
     Told through rich, interlocking storylines, The Translation of Love mines the turbulent period to show how war irrevocably shapes the lives of the conquered—and yet the novel also allows for a poignant spark of resilience, friendship, and love that translates across cultures and borders to stunning effect.

 I agree that this was an emotionally gripping story, especially from the POV of these two young girls, who have heard that General MacArthur is some kind of magical being who can grant the requests of whomever writes to him. Some of the letters are heart-breaking in their innocence, even if they are from adults. My husband is a long-time fan of Japanese monster films and Japanese culture, enough so that he learned to speak and write some Japanese after taking lessons from a native speaker for 5 years after we moved to Seattle. Because of his friendship with some Japanese people, we've had visitors from Japan, during the 1990s, and I felt that even now, there is an innocence and purity about the way these Japanese people we hosted view the world. They certainly view the elderly in a more respectful manner, and yet the way that women are seen as lesser beings, and somehow disposable,  counteracts that innocence with a virulent sexism and misogyny that sickens me every time I encounter it. There is also a lot of racism toward mixed race children and adults. And a pathological shaming of anyone who is handicapped or disabled. Still, I felt the author built strong characters with her sturdy yet elegant prose. The plot never lagged, and the story itself, though sad, was beautiful and engrossing. A definite A, with the recommendation that anyone interested in post-war Japan give this a read.
The Man with the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam was a book I found at the library book sale, and I have been looking for another of her books, Bilgewater, for awhile now. This particular novel has mesmerizing prose that drags you in and never lets you go, though the plot is vague and twisty, and the characters full of secrets and lies. Here's the blurb:
The New York Times called Sir Edward Feathers one of the most memorable characters in modern literature. A lyrical novel that recalls his fully lived life, Old Filth has been acclaimed as Jane Gardam's masterpiece, a book where life and art merge. And now that beautiful, haunting novel has been joined by a companion that also bursts with humor and wisdom: The Man in the Wooden Hat.
Old Filth was Eddie's story. The Man in the Wooden Hat is the history of his marriage told from the perspective of his wife, Betty, a character as vivid and enchanting as Filth himself.
They met in Hong Kong after the war. Betty had spent the duration in a Japanese internment camp. Filth was already a successful barrister, handsome, fast becoming rich, in need of a wife but unaccustomed to romance. A perfect English couple of the late 1940s.
As a portrait of a marriage, with all the bittersweet secrets and surprising fulfillment of the 50-year union of two remarkable people, the novel is a triumph. The Man in the Wooden Hat is fiction of a very high order from a great novelist working at the pinnacle of her considerable power. It will be read and loved and recommended by all the many thousands of readers who found its predecessor, Old Filth, so compelling and so thoroughly satisfying.
Why we are meant to think of Old Filth as somehow wonderful escapes me. He's a lawyer who spends most of his time at work, yet is somehow extremely possessive of his wife, whom he extorts to "never leave him" under any circumstances. This is enforced by a grotesque Chinese dwarf who threatens and menaces Filth's wife Betty (and nearly everyone else who comes into contact with Filth) and claims to be jealous of anyone else who spends time with Filth, when Ross (or Albatross, as he's nicknamed) steals his pocket watch and tells him nothing of all the secrets he gathers (such as Betty's infidelity with Filth's rival lawyer Veneering whose son Harry Betty seems to adore, for some bizarre reason). I felt a great deal of pity for Betty, who wanted a husband that would cherish her and spend time with her, only to realize later that her husband loves the law practice more than anything else in his life. When it becomes apparent that she will never have children (a miscarriage and hysterectomy later), she becomes obsessed with gardening and Harry Veneering, and the one night she spent with his father, who claims that he loves her, too (though he's married to an Asian woman who is, apparently, a terrible person for wanting his time and attention, and for being chubby, which is a capital crime in these circles). Though I normally do not finish novels rife with characters I dislike, the prose and storytelling were good enough that I finished this one, though now I am not so sure I want to read anything more by this author. I'd give this book a B+, and recommend it to fans of post-war British literature who are not bored by books that are more about inner landscapes that exterior action. 

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