Thursday, December 31, 2015

Of finer sensibilities

I often claim that I was raised by/with books which I think is the most accurate description I could ever come up with. From as early as three years old, I’ve always felt that there is an enchantment that engulfs the words written across the pages of any book. I would also listen to my parents take turns reading to me growing up, and neither of them knew then that these simple bonding moments with their eldest daughter will inspire her to become a storyteller someday. For two decades since I devoted everything that I am as a person by finding it in books, as well as building who I will become through the authors I admire and characters who became childhood heroes. I was a prolific reader on a quest, challenging myself to acquire phenomenal, innovative and eye-opening literature until one day two years ago I realized that I was able to amass a collection I’m very much proud of. I decided that the time has come to share these books with you.


"This case has become a conspiracy of lies"

I started my Book Diet novels 2015 by reading four Sherlockian anthologies during January, which is also the said Great Detective's birthday month, so I thought it only appropriate to finish this year with a Sherlock Holmes novel once more, and this time it's something written by writer Larry Millet. It's the first time I encountered his Holmes series. In fact, I purchased this book by luck while sifting through boxes of a second-hand bookstore months and months ago. I'm always on the look-out for any Holmesian story I can get my hands on so I immediately bought this and knew I had to read it soon enough. And it wasn't a disappointment. Millet's series, from what I can tell, are focused on Sherlock Holmes' travels and subsequent cases in America, and The Rune Stone Mystery is no exception. 

Once again chronicled in the first person by his constant and faithful friend Dr. John Watson, this story takes readers into Minnesota where a farmer uncovered what could possibly be a Viking rune stone that would prove that the Vikings themselves have arrived to America before Columbus. If proven true then this could be the biggest anthropological discovery in recent years. Disguised under assumed names of London museum curators, Holmes and Watson traveled to the states, but before they could authenticate the rune stone, the farmer who discovered it had been brutally murdered and the said stone can't be found in his possession! Afterwards, more disconcerting facts and theories begin to surface among the townsfolk, especially the Swede residents. And thus began a thorough police investigation (and Holmes' own deductive process on the side) where certain persons of interest have more to conceal than anticipated, and the key in solving this disturbing mystery might just lie in the late farmer's daughter, the fragile Moira "Moony" Wahlgren who may have a developmental disorder, and whose life is endangered because of her connection to her father's presumably hoax of a rune stone. 

If the rune stone is indeed a hoax then who could possibly benefit from it? Who could be held liable if the artifact was discovered and proven false? What lengths would concerned parties will go just to ensure it's not revealed to the public? What happens if the rune stone is indeed the true thing--why kill for it? Holmes and Watson try to unravel this tangled web of conspiracies as best as they could, only to find more threads that don't make sense and even mislead.

With a daring and riveting narrative that definitely captures Conan's own style, this novel also has enough memorable characters to keep readers very invested in the resolution of the case and the sideline conflicts of its characters, but of all of them, Millet also included a unique character of his creation named Shadwell Rafferty, an inquisitive and charismatic Irish saloon owner who knew is way around America, and has assisted Holmes in other cases featured in Millet's previous novels. Rafferty's rapport and chemistry with both Holmes and Watson is refreshing and enjoyable, and he provides a great contrast to Holmes' own brand of cleverness. Rafferty is also a talented investigator, and his insights and warmer approach to things and people lend a more human touch to the art of deductive reasoning which even Holmes welcomes, seeing as Rafferty definitely assists than hinder. I liked how he  made passages of chapters very entertaining and humorous at times.

Another intense and curious character is the villainess Mary Comstock whom Holmes even compared to Professor Moriarty which is both the highest and most perturbing compliment the great detective could ever assign to anyone. She's essentially a female arch-enemy, a rare type of woman whom Holmes described succinctly, "has no need for men in her life but finds uses for them every now and then". She's portrayed to be wicked and without remorse, and her interest in the rune stone is a puzzling one, something that Holmes was determined to find out before she ends up a few more steps ahead of him in the game. Their interplay as detective and criminal is noteworthy and even Watson is mesmerized by it. I was also heavily invested in the child Moony's involvement since from the beginning I knew she had a critical role to play in the events later on.

Anyone who would attempt to write a Holmesian novel should make sure it's always engaging and thrilling, filled with characterizations that ring true from the source material. It also has to branch out and include more details and depth to what was established by Doyle, always both mentally challenging and entertaining for readers like myself. Although at first I wasn't that intrigued with the rune stone case, the way the mystery unfolded and the players who are involved have acted or been disposed of had won me over eventually while midway through reading. Sherlock Holmes and the Rune Stone Mystery had been captivating and earnest in its portrayal of the Great Detective and the loyal doctor, and the mystery and detection were satisfying during the process of the case, and as readers reach that unexpected conclusion, they would be pleased that they stuck around long enough to see it all the way through the end. I'm certainly going to try and find more Millet books after this one.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

"The world opened up for me once I embraced who I am"

I stumbled upon Felicia Day almost four years ago when she first appeared in the CW's Supernatural during its seventh season. She played the role of the queer computer expert and all-around geek Charlie Bradbury, and has since continued to reprise that role in the subsequent seasons of the show. I absolutely enjoyed her portrayal because I found that I can relate to her as Charlie, so I researched about the actress online and found out that she has written and produced her own webseries called The Guild, a rather funny slice of life story concerning a bunch of gamers and their eccentricities and struggles both on and off their roleplaying games. I was instantly hooked by the first two seasons and utterly mesmerized of the confidence and talent that Felicia has displayed as herself and as the co-founder of her company Geek and Sundry that has a channel in YouTube featuring the most nerdgasmic content about gaming and other related stuff. 

As an independent woman who has made a profit out of her geekeries, Felicia Day is someone I found rather inspiring and so I have spent copious amount of time downloading and watching a lot of the G&S shows like Tabletop, Meta Dating, Sword and Laser, Co-Optitude, The Flog, Vaginal Fantasy, Written By a Kid and many more. I couldn't get enough of this lady and simply had to know more about her.

Luckily, she finally published her memoir and I eagerly devoured it the moment I got my hands on a copy. This was everything I expected it would be and so much more! I would recommend this to EVERYONE even if one does not know who she is because her journey to get to where she is now is astounding and enjoyable, written with a style and prose that exude warmth, teeming with humor and insight. Felicia Day certifiably makes her distinct mark recognizable and uniquely hers in every passage found in You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), an autobiography that never ceases to be engaging from beginning to end. Day is sensible and humorous as she recalls her unconventional childhood and family ties, her studies to become a violin virtuoso while also earning a Math degree, and most importantly her introduction to the gaming world and how finding a community of like minds (and having a very supportive mother) has nurtured her individuality and confidence in herself. But Felicia Day is not always as self-assured and secure in her life no matter how much she thrives on her uniqueness. In fact, her amusing streak of neurotic insecurities fill the pages with stories about her daily freak-outs over the most minuscule of things, and her struggle to make it as an actress during her twenties. They are very realistically rendered and often very heartfelt and hilarious at the same time. 

It was only when she found a support group of other creative women and finally decided that she wanted to write a show about her experiences with game addiction that Day found her true calling in life. That being said, there are more battles to come that she needs to conquer to maintain her success, small and non-mainstream as it may be, but still very much hers to claim and be proud of nevertheless.

The memoir also reveals her creative process and the grueling and often disheartening ways she almost didn't want to write or act or do anything because she was overcome with fear, anxiety and the pressure of living up to people's expectations, as well as her built-in personality flaw of chasing after perfection. These are the most gripping portions of her book because it was her tell-all. Her crippling self-doubt is something we all can relate to. By showing her weakest points and allowing the readers to see how she challenged herself to get the upper hand over them, Day has also encouraged them to take control of their lives and pursue what they're most passionate about--regardless of how weird--no matter the pesky negative feedback from an unappreciative audience because sooner or later other people who share that passion will find them and make all the heartache and rejection worth it. 

Bravely and proudly, she writes to all of us:

"Create something they've always dreamt of. Connect with the people they never thought they'd know because there's no better time in history to do it...We need the world to hear more opinions, give glimpses into more diverse cultures... 
Everyone has a chance to have his or her voice heard, or to create a community around something they're passionate about and connect with other people who share that passion. Best of all, it rewards people and ideas that never would have made it through the system and allows the unique and weird to flourish." 

Felicia Day is the living embodiment of this example, and by establishing her Geek and Sundry channel, she has allowed other individuals who have the same vision about themselves and the world at large to come forward and bask in the glory of their geekiness; to never be ashamed of being labeled as weird, idiosyncratic or a little crazy. Day's memoir essentially imparts the message that once you accepted what you are and become fearless enough to show it to the world, the world will open to you and you can carve a place in it where you can belong. You can even help people build their lives around the things they love and want to celebrate with others. This is why she has a spin-off extension channel for aspiring vloggers who talk about whatever they want, however they want. That is what defines a nerd or a geek. It's the often obsessive but devoted ways we show how much we love and enjoy the books, shows, games and fandoms that have dominated our lives. Day simply found a very positive and constructive way of using it to reach to an audience who is interested to hear her story and point of view, and all of us could do the same, thanks to the power of the internet.

I love the idea of breaking the system. The beauty of the internet is that it gives unrepresented voices, the opportunity to do a little breaking."
You need to be able to be proud of yourself. You are unique and good enough just as you are."

Of course, she also shares her bad experiences during the #GamerGate incident which was something that you could tell was hard for her to talk about, but she soldiered on anyway because she knew her voice as a female gamer has to be represented especially when she is a role model to a lot of young women who want to feel safe in their gaming community that has continued to become even to this day so vile, close-minded and sexist. Day expresses her concerns and wishes that this misogyny and discrimination not just against women to be put an end to because it damages the gaming community to the outside world, and fractures the relationships of these people within their own divided factions.

Felicia Day's You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is an unforgettable and inspiring narrative detailing a young woman's quest to find a fulfilling vocation that led to the creation of her own geekdom. It's funny, audacious, reflective and very much riveting. Pick it up, even if you don't know who this woman is because it's nigh time for you to get acquainted with the ferocious Felicia Day.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

"To the tolling of the bells"

No other writer evokes horror in its rawest, most human form like Edgar Allan Poe. Sometimes his stories are a blunt force trauma while others are drilled into the mind using precision instruments of terror. His themes and depictions of people's greatest fears are very diverse and uniquely constructed, more visceral in some aspects but also cerebral in execution for a select few. This anthology The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings is comprised of his finest works in short story and poetry forms tackling what is readily terrifying, certain terrors that elude the psyche, and the unfortunate ways human beings transform into the very monsters they fear.  

With seventeen gruesome tales and sixteen morbid poems, this anthology is a must-have for any aficionado of the genre. The prose that Poe crafts in each of his pieces is spellbinding; we get descriptive ramblings of mad men and women, psychologically layered instances and premonitions, and frightening yet subtle symbolisms plus debated interpretations of each work. Reading his short stories transport you right into the disturbed minds of irredeemable individuals who heed the call of misery and darkness, acting both predator and prey of their own machinations and failures. 

His best pieces are those that make readers experience paranoia and dissociation themselves and such stories have become a classic for that very reason. The titular The Tell-Tale Heart is a brief yet searing account of a man haunted by his macabre misdeed while The Black Cat and The Cask of Armontillado have characters who commit murders for reasons somewhat hollow and petty; the former was discovered in the most absurd way possible while the other was successful in concealing it but is forever tainted after the fact. We also have allegorical pieces such as The Masque of Red Death, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, and A Descent in the Maelstorm which evoke a series of unavoidable misfortunes, marking its characters in blood and death.

And then we have tales that have more non-conclusive interpretations and resolutions such as The Fall of the House of Usher, Ligeria, The Pit and the Pendulum and The Premature Burial. All four of these stories are imaginative and insidious, dealing with fantastical elements and spine-tingling primitive fears that plague as all, only if we allow ourselves to contemplate deeper about them. A few other stories deal with catastrophic, life-altering conflicts which are found in Ms. Found in a Bottle and Silence--A Fable. And then we have the character-centric baffling accounts of William Wilson, Eleanora, and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, the last of which has the most trying length.

Before there was ever a more defined detective genre and its formulaic elements, Poe has created C. Auguste Dupin, the first crime reasoner who used deductive reasoning in solving criminal cases that later on inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with his more famous great detective Sherlock Holmes. Dupin only appeared in two stories, The Murders in Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter which deserve multiple readings to be acquire a more nuanced appreciation for the groundwork and thought process that Poe has employed in characterizing his detective and resolving the plots.

After readers had their fill of his gripping short stories, they can move on to the assortment of his poems which offer a more economical way of slaking their interest and intrigue for the memorably horrific and sometimes even upsetting concepts regarding ailments and discord that people will always find themselves caught up in and often not overcoming. Poe's poetic style is refined and elegant in a lot of respects but there are moments of sporadic contemplations and truly intense retrospective epiphanies that will keep reeling readers in. I personally enjoyed Israfel, The City in the Sea, The Valley of the Unrest, The Sleeper, The Bells and Alone

With a vigorous and daring marksmanship in which he penned his works with, Poe's prose is very much alive--rustling, palpitating, throbbing, moaning and groaning and every other vivid ways that may drive weaker minds mad upon reading. His tales are cavernous places, buried deep in the recesses of our minds we never fully acknowledge. But every so often we can hear them calling for us--like a bell tolling from a distance--or the low, persistent humming of a heartbeat; whether concealed in a crypt, lodged inside a bottle in the middle of an ocean or has made itself comfortable right under our very beds where we believe we are most safe when we really aren't.


Friday, November 13, 2015

We are never ready for the weight of it all

We lose more than we gain and these losses always resonate. They have very sharp edges and far-reaching sounds. They are both unique to every person, and universal to all. The impact of never having them again is just something we could never quantify. The world we live in is populated with the ghosts of those we loved--those who were claimed by the dark, and continue to haunt us long after they perished. A loss can hurt a person too deep that there is no way to swim back to the surface, even more so when the option of sinking is so tempting. A loss can ignite us with a purpose too. When love is forfeit and must be restored again, others would seek out answers to questions that could never offer closure. The search for that ultimate puzzle piece, the despair in trying to move forward, the grating incomprehension of sorrow and guilt--the weight of it all is far too great, too intangible, too heavy to ever carry ahead, let alone fully understand. But we have to try anyway.

"Our situation is this. We are standing in front of a closed box which we cannot open." ~Albert Einstein

Tragedies force us to examine the state of our relationships and perspective about the things we can't see or define, and when they occur so suddenly as they often do, it curses us with the opportunity to change, the burden of insight. We learn to die far more often we can count, but we also get to live again--either reborn as stronger people, or become mere empty shells. Author Jonathan Safran Foer attempts to capture the overwhelming mystery of what loss (as well as guilt) can do to us, as well as the shocking simplicity of the things between them. In his 9-11 tragedy-inspired novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Foer shaped a fascinating story told in the eyes of a nine-year-old Jewish boy named Oskar Schell who is coping with the death of his father, Thomas, after the terrorist attacks. Smart, inquisitive but still very young and so naive of the ways of adults, Oskar embarks on a journey to preserve the memory of his father by reading too much into clues and making up theories along the way concerning the last few things his father had done before he was killed during 9-11.

He retraces the steps of his father's habits, and explores the places he had been weeks before until he became obsessed with visiting every person in the six boroughs of his neighborhood with the surname 'Black', believing he or she may be the last person his father talked to before he went to work and died. His most prized object was the key his father left behind, wishing it will lead to some secret or revelation, regardless of whatever it is. Oskar is not the only POV narrator of this novel, however. Between his journal entries faithfully cataloging every minuscule detail of his adventures are the letters shared by his paternal grandparents. The grandmother writes to Oskar, retelling the story of how she met and fell in love with her husband who left before Oskar's father was even born. The grandfather, Thomas Sr., on the other hand, writes to his late son whom he had never met, but now he was willing to connect with his estranged wife in the wake of their son's unexpected demise in 9-11. Their respective entries serve as breaks from Oskar's own, but they have to be the saddest pieces of writing I have ever read from two people who struggle to make a life together but couldn't figure out why it was worth having one together in the first place.

The climactic meeting between Thomas Sr. and Oskar at the very last hundred pages or so of the book was a quiet moment filled with both meaningful and pointless conversation. It was also when Oskar finally confesses as to why he couldn't stop missing his father, and why he had been trying to solve a mystery he may have pinned all his hopes to, mostly because it was the only thing left of his father he can hold onto. What he had always wanted in the end was forgiveness. As perceptive and brave as Oskar was during the coping process, he remains a child of nine years; selfish, narrow-minded, innocent and optimistic. He's far too young to face such a harrowing existential crisis, but that inner conflict is what drives the spectacular quality of this novel.

I think Foer's narrative style and stylistic language overall have an impressive breadth; the descriptions are so uninhibited and very detailed, yet also quirky and sporadic that the incoherent ramblings of each of its three major narrators can be very poetic and poignant, if not altogether exhausting to peruse. I can liken Oskar to Christopher John Francis Boone from Mark Haddon's A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime because I think Oskar may also have a developmental disorder and may even be in the autism spectrum. He sure is a strange child with a sense of wonderment yet also well-acquainted with cynical and disheartening views about how the world works and the agonizing paradoxes of death and living. His grandparents are probably the saddest people I have ever encountered in fiction. Oskar's detailed accounts remind me of Captain Ahab's in Moby Dick where nothing is held back. This also means that Foer's writing has a tendency to drone, often at the consequence of the story's natural flow itself. Much like Moby Dick, this expansive writing style that is borderline anal retentive is an acquired taste and so I don't recommend this book for easy and casual reading. I admit that even I was getting irritated if not entirely bored in some passages.

Despite that, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was a fulfilling and daring chronicle about grief and loss, death and metamorphosis, told in the conflicting yet enriched perspectives between a child who lost a parent and an old married couple who lost their son. The 9-11 inspiration was done just right without giving itself to some condescending melodrama, and Foer was actually able to create a vivid landscape of feelings whenever he can say a lot more with the most economical words as long as they can deeply speak to the heart. The trouble with the writing which I remain critical of simply lies in its indulgent tendency to become garrulous, filling the pages with too much information that interrupts the flow of an otherwise consuming and unique narrative. 

In a nutshell, I really liked this book for its effort to convey how a young mind tries to process having a loved one die in an event of national importance, and how that can potentially mess him up. I really thought Foer had the ability to distill the essence of such pain and wanton longing, particularly when I read the passages shared by the grandparents because those parts of the book really made me feel as if contents of my own soul are laid bare before me, and I fear what is being reflected back in its muddled surface. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is an elegant tale that for me struggles and somewhat succeeds in offering half of the answer for The Beatles' song about where all the lonely people come from, and the wondrous, possible places that they travel to once they decided there is no reason to stay stuck in a place that only makes them feel less whole.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

'You could never get away from yourself'

This had to be the seventh Murakami book I've read since I was seventeen. Back then, there are only two authors whose works I faithfully consumed. One was Murakami-sensei, the other was Chuck Palahnuik. Both have exceptional writing styles that stay with you and often haunt your days and nights if you allow them. I remember reading a Murakami anthology (The Elephant Vanishes) but since it was only a borrowed copy from the library, I never got to finish (I plan on re-reading that next year). This is the second anthology I was graced with and it was composed of six measly short fictions that are, in the truest Murakami sense, irresistibly consuming. The theme for this collection deals with the catastrophic 1995 Kobe earthquake and the lives of his characters who have to cope in its wake. 

Each of the stories had protagonists who are already so immersed in wanton longing and abandonment, and it was only after a disaster took that place that they became even more uncomfortably acquainted with their mortality, as well as their ultimate irrelevance in the grander scheme of the cosmos. But there's hope of course. Losing themselves to oblivion has to occur only so they regain stability and purpose once more as soon as the dust settled and changed the course of their destinies forever. Passages of existential crisis for me have always been Murakami's strongest quality in writing after all. The following stories that are comprised of After the Quake are UFO in Kushiro, Landscape with flatiron, All God's Children can Dance, Thailand, Super-frog Saves Tokyo, and Honey Pie.

"I want to write about people who dream and wait for the night to end, who long for light so they can hold the ones they love. But right now I have to stay here and keep watch over this woman and this girl. I will never let anyone--not anyone--to try and put them into that crazy box--not even if the sky should fall or the earth crack open with a roar."

Three out of the six stories struck me as very memorable and meaningful. First is UFO in Kushiro that told the story of a man named Komura whose wife had ran away because she accused him of being an empty vessel. In her own words: "Living with you was like living with a chunk of air." Trying to adjust to this abrupt abandonment and now feeling even emptier than usual, he goes to deliver a package to his sister, a box whose contents he was curious to find out but never got to. 

The second story that I thoroughly enjoyed was Thailand. A young doctor named Satsuki travels to a foreign place, accompanied by an insightful cab driver who introduced her to a fortune-teller during her stay. Satsuki's symbolic dreams reveal the suffering she has carried with her, a weight that makes it unable for her to escape her doom, no matter how much she traveled because there is simply no way one can get away from oneself. Murakami's prose for both stories explored a human being's tendency to erase themselves or become less than what they are in fear of never becoming whole again. 

Both Komura and Satsuki gain a newfound perspective about who they are once they were able to free themselves from the torment and distraught that their respective spouses have inflicted on them. Komura learns he is important regardless what his wife had said, while Satsuki is finally able to put to rest her vengeful thoughts about her husband. The symbolic use of the earthquake as a catastrophe that transforms lives was fully realized in the third story that is the most surreal of the six.

Super-Frog Saves Tokyo was about Katagiri, an ordinary man whose assistance was required by a six-foot frog who claimed that they are the only ones who can stop an attack underground permeated by a large worm who apparently has just woken up and was about to throw a tantrum fit which will destroy the city. Katagiri agrees in spite of hesitation and the battle between the two creatures was definitely something worth reading that I won't spoil here in the review. 

The other three stories of the collection were just as unique and contemplative and I think out of those least three favorites, I can recommend All of God's Children Can Dance most of all. It simply reads like an amusing coming-of-age story due to its awkward and unassuming young protagonist Yoshiya, who is dealing with his strenuous pseudo-Oedipal relationship with his beautiful mother who claims he was the second coming of Christ, but later on he also comes to terms with the real identity of his estranged father, and how to talk to him and make him understand. Before he could make that choice, he witnesses an earthquake happening from a distance where he stood in shock.

In a nutshell, After the Quake is a worthwhile read filled with retrospective tales and the lonely characters that inhabit them. I don't consider it as one of Murakami-sensei's strongest works, but the three stories that became my favorites are at least worth checking out for yourself.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Three Important Words In Any Language

I bought this book first, but the very first Charles Yu work I've read was my next purchase which was How to Live in a Science Fictional Universe. I could never begin to tell you just how madly in love I was with it from start to finish. You can read my review about it in case you're curious. Now, if I sit still for a moment and think about it again for a whole minute, I might get lost inside my own head and never recover. The only reason I bought this other book was because of one of the quoted reviews in the back page cited that if I'm a fan of the cult NBC show Community, then this one is definitely my cup of tea. And I can agree with that some extent. The truth is, if it wasn't for that reference to my all-time favorite sitcom, I never would have even bothered looking for Yu's novel in the first place. Also, if I happened to read this first before How To Live, I'm afraid I might just put this author aside which would be a damn shame because How To Live was one of the most amazing literary experiences I have ever had which touched the geekiest parts of my soul. 

That being said, this collection entitled Sorry Please and Thank You wasn't like How To Live in a Science Fictional Universe. For one thing, it's an anthology of twelve stories, and a few of them are so convoluted and ridiculous but they still manage to be delightfully imaginative. His conceptual work of the plots (or a lack of any plot at all) can be gratingly incomprehensible one moment, and terribly poignant and heartbreaking the next. What was common between the two books had to be the overall style and delivery. There is no doubt that they are definitely penned by the same writer whose sense of humor and wit are mystifyingly outstanding and unique. At their best, these same qualities could make up for the flaws in his storytelling for some of the pieces. 

Writing-wise, Charles Yu has the kind of voice that speaks a language you and I may not understand at first until we listen to it without distractions as we try to analyze how he communicates or attempts it with us--and why sometimes he often fails. Only then can readers unravel the secret pain and wish fulfillment in his written words that are so wrapped up in his ramblings about how a few people in this world ever really learned to talk and respond to him in the same manner. But those that do speak his language and are willing to form a dialogue with him will find a ready friend and confidant in Yu's comfortable and unassuming lead characters. They are often just him role-playing through a piece, much like a lonely child creates magic and mystery as he plays by himself while adults look on, both amused and worried of the stories he comes up with.

Only three stories truly stood out for me as magnificent pieces in this collection; the rest are products of the deranged, quirky and absurd writings of a most puzzling man who indulges in his whimsical passages with disregard for harmony and structure. Yu is far too fanciful with the other stories that it's hard for me to take them seriously, let alone have some sustained interest in them. However, as critical as I am about his overall lack of literary restraint, and slightly appalled by his chaotic compositions for Sorry Please and Thank You, I will attest that he has quite the huge talent and potential to become, well, even crazier and uninhibited in his storytelling. His prose is never stilted, never dishonest or bland. Charles Yu will tell you a story and you will hate him for how he tells it but he will make you feel something as if you have never lived until you heard/read what he has to say. And so, ultimately, what he offers in this anthology may be so disparaging and irregular, so imperfect and so laughably disturbing and fucking preposterous but you are guaranteed to become a duly impressed, captivated audience. I have never read a writer who had laid bare his soul and all its contents--the broken trinkets and the precious suffering--and still remain so genuinely innocent and clueless about the darkness and void he had treaded without heed or caution; and all because his imagination has no strings or a cage big enough to enclose it.

This may not have the powerful resonance of How To Live in a Science Fictional Universe but Sorry Please Thank You is just as exceptional; it has never been tedious or dull and there are interesting details to each story that can be quite enjoyable to re-read again. As for the three stories I truly loved in this anthology, they are Standard Loneliness Package, Hero Receives Major Damage and Open. These stories were deconstructions about humanity's awkward relationship with death, destiny and identity respectively, and Yu did not hesitate to tug that seam repeatedly to show us what could be lurking underneath our insecurities about them until the entire thing frayed. I also liked Inventory, Note to Self and Designer Emotion because the style and approach to said pieces managed to be inventive and hilarious all at once. Others like Troubleshooting and The Book of Categories are laborious to write since they parody the content of technical manuals with a humorous twist, and no other writer but Charles Yu could pull it off. I simply believe the man is absolutely bat-shit insane and I think that's why I enjoy reading his stories so much even when they confound me to no end!


Sunday, September 13, 2015

More opaque to ourselves and aware of our incoherence

"For all men are eggs, in a manner of speaking. We exist, but we have not yet achieved the form that is our destiny. We are pure potential, an example of the not-yet arrived. For man is a fallen creature--we know that from Genesis. Humpty Dumpty is also one. He falls from his wall, and no one can put him back together again--neither king, nor his horses, nor his men. But that is what we must all strive to do. It is our duty as human beings: to put the eggs back together again. For each of us is Humpty Dumpty. And to help him is to help ourselves."

I became intimately familiar with Paul Auster for the first time when I read his novella Travels in the Scriptorium back when I was eighteen and I had wasted the first two years of college skipping classes I don't like and opting to stay inside my dorm room instead just to read books and watch shows. Auster's book was one of these distractions I easily warmed up to, particularly when I found his narrative style to be surreal and at times even out-of-this-world while also still being in it. It's a refreshing paradox and his work was probably the very first time I read something not strictly reality-bound. Perhaps he may even be the author who fueled my interest in metaphysical stories after all. As soon as I finished The New York Trilogy, a book I had in my possession for seven years but had put off reading, I realized that it was a rather incomplete experience--and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Comprised of three short stories that have vague interrelations with one another, Paul Auster's The New Trilogy is quite the evasive, baffling yet wondrously insightful novel concerning the nature of stories, identification and pursuit for substantial meaning.

Disguised as a detective story, each tale is told in the perspective of protagonists who investigate cases that ended up revealing something crucial in themselves which would ultimately turn out to be inconsequential and unknowable after all. I supposed one can consider this as a meta story on detective fiction which are two things I absolutely love separately. Seeing them woven together in The New York Trilogy was a thrilling thing to see in theory. After all, the genre of hard-boiled detective fiction and procedural crime stories in general are encompassing, influencing some of the finest works in books, television and movies. Most of the popular shows on TV right now deal with a detective of some sort and his colleagues as they solve mysteries and crimes ranging from mistaken identities, theft, murder, serial killings, and even to the spookier stuff that may or may not have a touch of the macabre or the supernatural. The most recent and grandest of this had to be HBO's True Detective which I was completely obsessed with for a time, especially during its first season.

The reason I bring it up is because Paul Auster's novel strongly reminded me of True Detective's formula and approach. At first glance, each of the tales in this book was a detective story but as the plot evolves and the characters start to become more familiar with the readers, that's when we discover for ourselves that the mystery being solved here is the crisis and inner demons of the protagonist himself. The more involved he becomes in the case he is trying to solve, the more his own deeper struggles become unsolvable to him. He therefore found himself trying to unravel the mystery before him, hoping it would help him get some type of closure in his own life where there are some things he isn't allowed to comprehend at all. The stories then become rather convoluted, shockingly obtuse and unsatisfactory as soon as you get to the last page.

"The present is no less dark than the past, and its mystery is equal to anything the future might hold. Such is the way of the world: one step at a time, one word and then the next. For knowledge comes slowly, and when it comes, it is often at a great personal expense."

Much like the first season of True Detective, The New York trilogy is a collection of the fragmented consciousnesses of its protagonists who turn out to be the heart of the mystery that the plot itself is ironically the one trying to untangle for the readers. Each story then reads like a myth, one that divulges secrets in the dark but never truly shedding a light on each clue; a story that frustratingly conceals more than it reveals, leaving readers dumbfounded of the pieces scattered before them. I had the same kind of grueling experience while watching True Detective although since it was in visual form, I'm able to enjoy it and still be grounded on reality regarding the vital scenes I see for each episode. With the written form, the desired effect is much more personal and horrific; I simply do not know what to make out of the smallest details for the stories which I get the sense are important but become lost to me along the way. And that, I think, is Auster's aim in trying to construct a meta interpretation of detective stories in general. That is where the frustration and dissatisfaction lie.

The primary reason why we read books, especially works of fiction, is to understand ourselves and the world around us. We explore stories because they are supposed to reflect reality and interpreted in a creative, intellectual stimulating way. For Auster's The New York Trilogy, he purposefully wrote these three tales with the opposite of what the reader expects. In fact, most of the scenes in this novel are banal, utterly uneventful a and mercilessly puzzling. Man is considered to be the most mysterious being of all, but his life, when broken down into details, is nothing but a whimsical and tattered tapestry that doesn't always depict a complete picture. And aren't we all trying to be completeists in our lives; trying to define everything in terms that for us make sense but in the end may be just as incomprehensible as where we have started? I'm certainly more confused now after finishing this novel than I was when I began reading it days ago. It's an awful yet uplifting feeling all the same.

Paul Auster brilliantly captures this paradoxical relationship we have with stories in this passage:

"We all want to be told stories, and we listen to them in the same way we did when we were young. We imagine the real story inside the words, and to do this we substitute ourselves for the person in the story, pretending that we can understand him because we understand ourselves. This is a deception. We exist for ourselves, perhaps, and at times we even have the glimmer of who we are, but in the end we can never be sure, and as our lives go on, we become more and more opaque to ourselves, more and more aware of our own incoherence."

In City of Glass, we meet the small-time fiction writer named Daniel Quinn who was mistaken as a detective but he was intrigued enough about the case laid before him that he placed it upon himself to solve it. He follows a man who in turn is an eccentric trying to decipher the nature of language, hoping to create a universal language everyone can speak, much like in the biblical story of the Tower of Babel until God struck down these humans and made them speak different languages. There is also the brief allusion to Don Cervantes' Don Quixote which Quinn contemplated about for a while, never knowing that--by the end of the story--he himself has become such a tragic character in the same vein as the delusional "knight" in Cervantes' dramatic tale. Quinn loses all sense of reality and identity the more he tried to unravel a mystery that is simply not for him to solve.

In Ghosts, we meet the detective Blue, a protégé of Brown, who is hired by a man named White to conduct surveillance on a man named Black. Blue performed his duty well, submitting his daily reports to White regarding Black's rather dull and uneventful activities. As the case consumes him, Blue becomes increasingly anxious and paranoid, theorizing that this was all a grand conspiracy between White and Black, and that he is the one being watched instead of the other way around. Upon confirming this, Blue then is faced with an impossible choice.

Finally, we have The Locked Room which is a staple of the genre where a supposedly unsolvable crime was committed inside seemingly locked room. It's worth noting that True Detective's third episode of the first season is named with the same title (and is one of my favorites). In this story, an unnamed protagonist was asked by the wife of his childhood friend to find the missing man in question. This man, Fanshawe, left his works of fiction in the confidence of the protagonist where he specifically requested for the protagonist himself to determined if his material is worth publishing. The protagonist had the stories published and then married Fanshawe's wife and adopted his son. But Fanshawe was not dead but remained adamant that he doesn't want to be found. 

Unable to satisfy his curiosity and eager to completely get a sense of closure from Fanshawe, the protagonist still pursued finding Fanshawe (in order to kill him) and discovered a rather bizarre thread of events that had something to do with the first story City of Glass but the reader and the character himself have no clue as to how all of this is connected...and perhaps we never have to know.

"Writing is a solitary business. It takes over your life. In some sense, a writer has no life of his own. Even when he's there, he's not really there."
Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy is a dizzying experience filled with unanswered questions and equally unsolvable mysteries. His characters were just as painstakingly elusive, leaving us with only a sense of what has happened in our minds but never what has truly happened in objective reality. That's because there is no objective realism in the three stories and everything is open to interpretation and up for debate. In spite of this, I definitely enjoyed the topsy-turvy ride Auster provided for this novel, and I would recommend it while also cautioning readers to have a tremendous amount of suspension of belief because The New York Trilogy is one of the most nonsensical narratives you will ever come across. Still, it's an interesting journey worth the try.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Of women and fiction; of patriarchy and war

This book is a real treasure since it collects two of Virginia Woolf's most notable essays namely A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas. They were both such insightful readings filled with memorable and philosophical passages that took me in an adventurous and stimulating journey about important issues that I damn well should care about. In fact, I was so incredibly enthralled by the essays that I ended up placing strips of sticky notes for the pages that have the most discussion-worthy quotes. I suppose this review will be littered by them as I write this because I want to take the time to explain how much Woolf's writing affected me, and the kind of lasting impressions it left. Please take note that I will be devoting more time in tackling A Room of One's Own and just briefly touch upon Three Guineas much later on. I enjoyed the first essay more than the second one.


"Literature is open for everybody. I refuse to allow you to turn me off the grass. Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt, that you can set upon the freedom of my mind."

This is probably the only written feminist piece that resonated with me for all the right reasons mostly because it was written for and about women who aspire to write in literature themselves. I don't consider myself a feminist; even when I joined Gabriela Youth in the first two years of college, I simply didn't become passionate about the movement itself. It's just not a political identity I can strongly associate myself with, but I would be a negligent asshole if I don't at least acknowledge and be thankful for the benefits I'm reaping now which are mostly due to the long decades of dedication and hard work of earlier generations of women who fought for feminist values. That is why A Room of One's Own was such a meaningful reading experience to me now that I'm at this tricky point of my life where life-altering decisions depend most often on the small and seemingly inconsequential ones. I myself have always dreamed of becoming a fictionist. I want to write something publishable someday too. It's just a matter of fate for me to seek out the words of a respectable writer like Virgina Woolf, and what she could teach me.

Divided into six cohesive chapters, A Room of One's Own is where Virginia Woolf imparted a beguiling lesson on the status of women in both the real world and in fiction whilst providing very searing observations regarding their perceived inferiority, and the day-to-day oppression that they had to face throughout the centuries. Woolf also employed the 'stream of consciousness' type of narrative for this titular 1929 extended essay which was originally a series of lectures she delivered in Cambridge University about Women and Fiction.

The essay's title is derived from Woolf's assertion that a female writer needs to be financially stable and to have the space and privacy in which to write. It's also essentially a metaphor for the freedom 'needed for creativity and imagination to flourish' (Collins). The quoted passage below was taken directly from Chapter 5 of the essay where Woolf was reading the first novel of the fictitious Mary Carmichael as Woolf made notable criticisms on where she could improve and how to go about it. The commentary she provided for this part of the essay is one of my favorites. Sure, it was bizarre to read about a literary criticism on a novel that doesn't even exist, but Woolf made it work, using Carmichael as a way to further emphasize the points she wants to get across when it came to the formation of female writings. She assessed for any woman who wants to write:

"Give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days."

To determine how and why women write fiction, Woolf traced how women have been represented in fiction so far as written by men. She took on the persona of Mary Beton. The first chapter gave detailed accounts explaining her experience in luncheons and tedious social gatherings she had to attend at a university, and how she seemingly feels at times misplaced in her surroundings. As Beton, Woolf distanced herself from her writing as she tried to establish the definition and constraints about women and/in fiction in general. This led her to some crucial and enlightening research about the several crises, challenges and disadvantages women have been subjected to that in turn stifled whatever creative heights they can accomplish as novice writers. Her research included and highlighted a great many essays written by men who argued that women have less intelligence than men, and therefore cannot sustain the discipline and other qualities needed to pursue a literary endeavor or anything based on an intellectual pursuit.

Quotes such as "Female novelists should only aspire to excellence by courageously acknowledging the limitations of their sex" can be both infuriating and amusing to read, and Woolf was very glib albeit sharply critical of such ridiculous sentiments coming from well-educated men who had internalized and perfected their chauvinist points of view into a near art form. To contextualize this, Woolf called out patriarchy to attention as an enabler for such a cyclical narrow-minded view about women and their role in civilization. It's interesting because, in her next essay about the needless contraptions of wars fought in the name of masculine gain and greed, Woolf held patriarchies in contempt, citing them as dangerous social constructs that allowed the fascist movement to take root and infest Europe. But I digress. For now, Woolf shared us these gems to illustrate the oppressive function that women were unwittingly placed upon:

"Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size...Whatever may be their use in societies, mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action. That is why Napoleon and Mussolini both insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for if [women] are not inferior, [men] will cease to enlarge...and if she begins to tell the truth, the figure in the looking-glass shrinks, his fitness for life is diminished."

Woolf as Mary Beton proceeded to quote certain male essayists regarding on how they view women, the paradoxical ways that they women as muses on pedestal to serve for inspiration; but also as sirens or seductresses who lure them to to their destruction and ruin once a woman ceases to agree with him or worship his every word as if it's the only sacred thing. This for me is the singular, most spot-on assertion that anyone has ever said about men's idealization of women in fictional landscapes and sexist disregard of them in real life; something that could still hold true even in modern times:

"Women have burnt like beacons in all the works of all the poets from the beginning of time. Indeed if woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some would say greater. But this is woman in fiction. Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words and profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read; scarcely spell; and was the property of her husband."

Midway through the essay, Woolf as Beton then began to weave a fictitious tale about Shakespeare having a sister who is just as talented as he is but unfortunately was never allowed to study so she can learn to read and write. This sister was said to be just as creative but instead was forced into marriage which she promptly denied. Ber family disowned her and she was forced to leave in the streets, her hopes of being just as accomplished as her brother had turned into despair. In this fictitious Shakespeare sibling, Woolf merely wanted to showcase and drive home the point that the education and privilege afforded by men will always give then more opportunities and varied choices for careers, livelihoods and vocations. Meanwhile, women play the parts of a subjugated, separated species altogether in the background, only meant for homemaking and childbearing alone. In fact, Woolf cited poetry from possible women who lived in those times and the content of their poems she shared is depressing; almost all of them protest their stifling homebound lives that they consummately fixate on the unfairness of their chains, rendering them unable to write anything else. Woolf made an educated guess that if a learned woman (born in a high-class family) aspires to write, her stories and poems will always bear the tragic mark of her enslavement and would not create any kind of literary legacy. Such in the case back then for women who have creative inclinations.

"…a woman was not encouraged to be an artist. On the contrary, she was snubbed, slapped, lectured and exhorted. Her mind must have been strained and her vitality lowered by the need of opposing this, of disproving that. For here again we come within range of that very interesting and obscure masculine complex which has had so much influence upon the woman's movement; that deep-seated desire, not so much that she will be inferior as that he shall be superior."

In addition, Woolf also talked about how a fully-characterized woman in fiction should be depicted by her fellow woman as genuinely as possible, and that in order to be successfully understood, her value as a person should not be exclusively tied to her relation to a man at all in a story . This is still applicable today especially in male-centered narratives in certain genres like action movies where women are one-dimensionally portrayed as the men's love interests, sex objects or damsels in distress to rescue (hell, even all of the above so the story can focus on the male lead's journey and completion of goals; the worst of which is the "girl" is reduced to becoming a 'prize' he is entitled to claim). Sure, women both in fiction and real-life have a wider range of roles these days but the battle--to define ourselves without having to always contextualize male presence and perspective and how they contribute to our decisions and actions-is ongoing and is still being fought.

"All these relationships between women are too simple…almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women in fiction were not only seen by the other sex but seen only in relation to the other sex...indeed, literature is impoverished beyond our counting by the doors that have been shut upon wome. Married against their will, kept in one room, and to one occupation, how could a dramatist give a full or interesting or truthful account of them?"

Woolf also briefly referred to lesbianism which she surmised is natural; 'sometimes women like other women' and that's that. I'm also queer myself so Woolf writing about lesbian identity was a nice touch because I've always felt more emotionally compatible with the same sex though, ironically, I intellectually identify more with the literature written by men which brings me to this intriguing philosophy Woolf offers about bisexuality in men and women:

"…it made me also ask whether there are two sexes in the mind corresponding to the two sexes in the body, and whether they also require to be united in order to get complete satisfaction and happiness…in each of us, two powers reside; one male, one female...the normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two live in harmony together, spiritually co-operating…'a great mind is androgynous'. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all of its faculties."

As Virginia Woolf nears the end of her essay, she gives us this great advice to women:

"By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream. For I am by no means confining you to fiction."


This essay, on the other hand, expounds on the promotion of education for women so they can hold positions in more demanding careers and even in public office. This is contextualized in the eve and aftermath of the world wars. Woolf exposes the stupidity of war according to her opinion, and lays out facts she believes are indisputable when it comes to preventing wars, and that should start with the liberation of women. For example, she talked about finances and that a woman should be allowed independent control of money she earned:

(1) The daughters of educated men are paid very little from the public funds for their public services; 

(2) They are paid nothing at all from the public funds for their private services; 

(3) Their share of the husband’s income is not a flesh-and-blood share but a spiritual or nominal share, which means that when both are clothed and fed the surplus fund that can be devoted to causes, pleasures or philanthropies gravitates mysteriously but indisputably towards those causes, pleasures and philanthropies which the husband enjoys, and of which the husband approves. It seems that the person to whom the salary is actually paid is the person who has the actual right to decide how that salary shall be spent.

Once again, Woolf emphasized the limited roles of a woman during that time, particularly on how her individuality is automatically diminished once she is taught that marriage is her only calling and must therefore subject herself to the whims and ambitions of her husband.

"It was with a view to marriage that her mind was taught. It was with a view to marriage that she tinkled on the piano, but was not allowed to join an orchestra; sketched innocent domestic scenes, but was not allowed to study from the nude; read this book, but was not allowed to read that, charmed, and talked. It was with a view to marriage that her body was educated; a maid was provided for her; that the streets were shut to her; that the fields were shut to her; that solitude was denied her—all this was enforced upon her in order that she might preserve her body intact for her husband. In short, the thought of marriage influenced what she said, wha she thought, what she did. How could it be otherwise? Marriage was the only profession open to her."

I was honestly more enticed with A Room of One's Own than Three Guineas which I might have to re-read because I got decidedly uninterested midway through reading. Nevertheless, Woolf manged to write something exceptional and remarkable in these two essays and I warmly congratulate her for the insights she accomplished to deliver in her pieces, most notably in A Room of One's Own. I am so excited to read her fiction before the year ends. I'm undeniably compelled to do so now..


Monday, August 24, 2015

Fushigi Yuugi: Genbu Kaiden by Yuu Watase

Back in sixth grade, the entire class almost religiously watched the anime Fushigi Yuugi every Friday night and then talk about it in groups come school day. The classroom would be filled with lively chatter about what happened in a recent episode, most especially when my best friend at that time would bring along merchandise such as posters, action figures and copies of the English translated manga itself she tirelessly looked for so she can share them with me. At first it started with the girls but pretty soon the boys joined in, mostly because the anime is scandalous in itself, featuring semi-nude and acceptably sensual scenarios that are not that aggresively sexual.

It's a love story about the star-crossed lovers Miaka and Tamahome that got the girls hooked while it's an action-adventure fantasy that the boys could enjoy. Three years ago, I re-watched the anime again and the nostalgic charm was still there. I was compelled to read the manga and also pick up the other spin-off series and I was glad I did because Yuu Watase creates really riveting female-centered stories. Though the very first Fushigi Yuugi is my first love, the third and final installment of the series Genbu Kaiden was ultimately the greatest love of my life, shoujo manga-wise.

I could compare the first FY to a high school boyfriend. He was your sweetheart and you grew up together but he will always belong in the past. Genbu Kaiden is the man you eventually settle down with and marry, and together you are partners celebrating and honoring your sacred union no matter the difficulties of every day life and obligation. This is resonant in the deeply contrasting ways Yuu Watase wrote the love stories between Miaka and Tamahome, and Takiko and Rimudo; the former was the definitive young love that often consumes itself and burns quickly while the latter is the kind of love that knows there are worlds outside its scope that are just as meaningful and so the lovers become mature enough to accept their relationship should not be codependent and they don't end up entiterly losing themselves in each other. They have other important relationships outside one another, and decisions to make where their love for each other sometimes don't have to be the only priority.

Takiko is the very first maiden to be whisked away during the 1920's in Japan, transported by the magical Book of the Four Gods into ancient China. According to an old legend, a woman from another world will appear as a prophecy foretold where she will become the priestess of a certain country, a representative of one of the four gods, depending on the geography she will make her appearance in. In the first FY, high schoolers Miaka Yuuki and her best friend Yui Hongo took the mantle as priestesses for Suzaku and Seiryuu of the South and East Kingdoms respectively. For Takiko, she became priestess for the West, representing Genbu. The storyline for this manga follows the same formula as its predecessors Fushigi Yuugi and Ayashi no Ceres where the young, impressionable maiden gathers the seven warriors of the god they are aiming to summon. The story dictates that the priestess is allowed a wish if she successfully gathers all warriors and summons the god. It's a premise as predictable and universal as any hero's journey, only this time making the hero in question a heroine and she always develops romantic feelings for one of her warriors, almost always the first one she encountered the moment she gets transported. The central conflict lies in how they endure the varied tests and threats to their blooming romance.

The same thing happens to Takiko in this manga, much like Miaka was with Tamahome. The glaring difference, however, is the characterization and development of their individual arcs and as a couple's relationship. I would like to believe that Watase has learned from her mistakes with handling Miaka and Tamahome's love story which was essentially a really flawed and superfluous one.

"I'm sorry but I don't have magical powers of my own that you can absorb from my body. That light you see is simply my heart's way of expressing how devoted I am in becoming the priestess. And nothing will take that away from me."

As a supposed prequel to the original FY but written much later on, Genbu Kaiden retains a freshness and vitality to it most likely because of its lead character Takiko. Unlike the unassuming Aya, clumsy and fickle Miaka and the vengeful Yui, Takiko was instantly likable and admirable in her courage and purity of the spirit. I think it's her family situation that enabled her to deal with things more maturely. Her mother has consumption while her father has always been neglectful of her, always buried in his work. Her unrequited love for a childhood friend remained unfulfilled after he married another woman, leaving Takiko generally all alone and ignored. After her mother fully succumbs to her illness and dies, Takiko's father returns but was more concerned with publishing his latest translation on an old story about the Four Gods of Ancient China than attend to the funeral arrangements. Angry and betrayed, Takiko takes away the copy of the book from her father and boldly questions him if he wished she was a son and if she was indeed male, perhaps he may have paid attention to her; even love her. Her father acquiesces that this was true which forever devastated Takiko beyond words so she tries to rip the book in two but ends up getting magically transported within its pages.

In ancient China, she encounters a strange man who can control the winds and even turn physiologically into a woman. She then meets one of the bounty hunters looking for this person and was caught up between their rivalry immediately. Later on, she discovers the purpose of her coming to this land; about being a prietess foretold to save the kingdom from destruction and ruin. Unlike Miaka who agreed so she can wish herself home or Yui who wanted to take revenge, Takiko readily accepted the prophesy as her calling because of the most heartbreaking motivation ever: SHE WANTED TO FEEL NEEDED AND BE OF USE TO PEOPLE. She cared for her sick mother as a young girl and never felt like her father wanted her (which she had confirmed before coming to China) and was relieved--joyous, even--to feel like she can help people if she took the role of the priestess, not fully aware of the consequences and repercussions of such a role. It's all because Takiko's inherent brokenness lies in her desperation to give love and hopefully, mercifully, receive a piece of it in return.

In spite of such a sad and seemingly defective trait, this is actually what makes Takiko such a well-developed and compelling heroine to root for. This girl is unafraid to pick up a weapon and fight. She has some training in kendo so she is capable enough to hold herself during duels which is great to see because she never has to be a helpless damsel in distress all the time. Most of all, what I believe is the most amazing thing about Takiko is her compassion that enables her to identify with people's suffering and spiritually heal them. In Genbu Kaiden, people consider the priestess prophesy to be a bad omen. Anyone they discovered to be one of the potential seven warriors of Genbu was shunned, ostracized, exploited or driven away from their homes. This is the greatest challenge of Takiko's journey in finding them: some of these warriors already hate Takiko because of her priestess role and would never join her cause…until Takiko finds a way to touch their soul and make them believe they have a place in the world, that they do belong and they matter.

I get so choked up in every encounter she has with a Genbu warrior who all have tragic tales to tell about being outcasts and victims of their fates. Reading Takiko reaching out to them and earning their trust and devotion is so wondrously thrilling and emotionally resonant, further strengthening my admiration for Takiko. She is a person who knew rejection so well and has become loving and patient because of it. Each Genbu warrior knew rejection themselves firsthand; either through their own families or at the hands of their own clan/community. Takiko finds them and saves them, gives their lives meaning and urges them to fight not for glory or reward but merely for the sake of their countrymen even though many of them despise the Genbu warriors for what they are.

Takiko is never discouraged. She continues to thrive and serve her role faithfully…even if it meant never having a proper relationship with Rimudo, the first warrior she encountered and who gradually captured her heart and made it soar heights she never would have fathomed possible. Much like Takiko, Rimudo has upsetting daddy issues; his own father is having him hunt down to be killed all because of the prophesy that guarantees Rimudo will be his undoing. This is what initially drew the two together other than the usual physical attraction. Rimudo likes Takiko's ferociousness in accomplishing her tasks and the passion imbued in every selfless act of hers. Takiko likes Rimudo because he is burdened with a tragedy he constantly tries to overcome, and surprises her every time he puts aside his self-interest to lend her a hand in her calvary. Pretty soon these feelings deepened until they could no longer hide from their respective masks and costumes as renegade crowned prince on-the-run and savior priestess for long and they professed their love as they make a promise every day to stay in love even if duty and the upcomig civil wars have to be prioritized. I love the fact that they are both of independent will; they don't get so obsessed with each other that nothing else matters. Takiko and Rimudo were never selfish people that sometimes when they do get a little selfish, I encourage it because both deserve some kind of happiness as young lovers.

Genbu Kaiden is understandably not a happy ending in the romance side of things, at least not in a conventional sense. Takiko and Rimudo may love each other so much but have accepted that they could never be together at least not in body. The priestess after all has to be virginal. They could never be wholly together in heart and spirit either because Takiko is steadfast in fulfilling her role as priestess of Genbu and securing peace for the country. And, because Rimudo loves her for her unique courage, he decides to fight by her side for the good of all even if it meant losing her in an ultimate twist: if you have seen FY anime before then you know the price of summoning Genbu. Once Takiko discovers it, she never wavered from her obligation. She readily accepts its steep price and gives herself to the fate awaiting her to save her friends and the country and its people she has learned to love and be fiercely protective of.

Overall, Genbu Kaiden is intricate, heartfelt and engrossing with well-rounded characterizations composed of sensible conflicts and small yet satisfying resolutions in between. It has an empowered lead female character who is unafraid to define her relationships and not the other way around. It has an elegantly resonant and moving love story as its centerpiece but in spite of its love-story trappings, Genbu Kaiden is also a story about rejection and acceptance both from self and others as well as the transformative powers of friendship and community.

You can start reading the manga HERE and I hope this review will convince you. It's such a spellbinding tale about love in all its beautiful and often painfully cathartic forms. I guarantee that you will fall in love with Takiko as a person and root for her and Rimudo because they are inspiring individuals who luckily happen to be a romantic couple. The other Genbu warriors are also endearing and special in their own ways and their separate relationships with Takiko enhance the magic and poignancy of the narrative.