Book Club End – God’s Mountain by Midori Bamba

I finished this book and I think I need to schedule more time to read these. But that will come in another post

For this book, I want to continue the discourse on author voice, as it is quite distinct, and as I mentioned before, to me very Japanese.

I mentioned previously the shorter sentences and limited description. This makes the voice come across as young, but also, and more importantly I think, naive. It is not so much the voice of a child, but the voice of someone who has little experience in the world.

This is true for the main POV character in God’s Mountain. She has not left her small, poor village, and the amount of work it takes to survive means she has thought very little of the rest of the world.

There are religious and mystical undertones in the story from the outset, with the description of a man escorting his elderly father to the mountain to die so as to not be a burden on the family. It is not the young man’s choice, but the father’s. There is a dignity in the father’s words that dug deep into my emotions. For me, the emotion in this scene is palpable, even with the sparsity of description. In my opinion, the lack of descriptors for the mountain and the journey makes the reader focus more keenly on the emotional turmoil.

The naive and unworldly quality of the character voice lends to the mystical feel of the story. It sounds very much like a mythical retelling of folklore, which it is, in a way. But it is told close and first hand, pulling the reader closer to the turmoil in the story.

The simplicity in the telling also lends to the idea of innocence in the telling. That first scene hints to the reader what is coming, but leaves the main character unburdened by that knowledge. You feel for her from the beginning. It roots you firmly in her corner.

The author’s voice in this piece is so much a part of the story, that if you knew Midori, as I did, you would wonder if it was fable or fact. So much of the story is shared in the way that Midori would share stories in person.

This is a well-worth reading tale, even if it is hard to get into at first as the voice seems so foreign to what i would identify as the Western author voice. We all (I mean, we all should) know and love reading Haiku, and there is that quality to the words chosen in God’s Mountain, the dense compaction of emotion in very few, but highly measured, words.

If you read along with me, what do you think of the author’s voice? Is there another voice you would compare it to? Contrast it to?

Book Club Middle – God’s Mountain by Midori Bamba

I know I am late for a concluding post for this book, but…I am not finished reading it. I am struggling…not because there is an issue with the book, but because I am rereading it so close to Midori’s passing.

And the whole book is about the traditional, ritual sacrifice that Japanese elders would make for their families when they became older. It hits a little close to home when I think about Midori’s mind set when she told me she’d been diagnosed with cancer, and that she was simply going to put her affairs in order so that her children’ would not be burdened by it after she passed.

In that first post about starting this book, I mentioned that I expected a lot of Midori to be in this book, I just wasn’t prepared for how much would be in there. I have cried.

But I want to give you something, Make a start on discussion, and I think I would like to discuss the author’s voice, that elusive quality that editors and agents talk about so often but can never seem to really describe. They just know it when they see it.

Midori, in this book, uses a very distinctive voice (she also wrote as O. Snow). This voice, to me at least, is very Japanese. The sentences are short and to the point. Very reflective of Midori, the person.

When speaking to her in person, it is obvious that this is because English was her second language, and Japanese was her native tongue. And though you cannot read the Japanese accent she spoke with, having that personal, prior knowledge, I can hear her speaking the words to me. I think anyone familiar with the cadence of the Japanese, whether speaking in Japanese or English, would hear the words in a similar manner.

As an editor, when I first read this book several years ago, I cringed. I didn’t like the short, somewhat stilted sentences. My own writing, then as now, uses longer sentences and sometimes flowery wording. Back then, I had only spoken to Midori long enough at a writing conference for her to gift me a copy of the book. Back then, I thought I could help her tell her stories.

She didn’t need help.

This story is moving, and the somewhat formal, stilted language seems appropriate now. It adds an authentic quality, making it seem more memoir than fiction, though it cannot be. It makes the characters more Japanese, in a way, setting their language apart from the flowery, long-winded English so often used in Western story-telling.

It is an authentic voice that many an editor may have destroyed if given the opportunity, believing it needed to become more “westernized” for the American reader.

With this reading, I don’t think it does. I have learned an appreciation for the Japanese “voices” made truer by the sentence structure and formality.

If you are reading along with me, what are your thoughts about the “voice” of this story? Do you think it lends to the story, or takes away from it because it is so far from what we would usually read?

Musings: While Sitting at the Tire Shop

The sun is out and the temps are above freezing and I’m sitting outside the tire shop while the technician puts two new tires on the kid’s van. Well, its my van, but its what the kid drives, so…

The back end of the vehicle has been repaired with a hatch that doesn’t match, and there are visible rivets along the edge of the patch alongside. Hence the moniker “Frankenvan”.

I think the kid was six when we bought the van new to replace the old Dodge I’d been driving. That van’s radio didn’t work anymore and the hatch used to stick midway closed so I’d have to jump on it to get it down. I’m sure that was funny to watch, especially if I was in a skirt and heels for work.

It was strange to buy a brand new car. It was the first time I’d bought one new.

My very first car was a used Chevy Citation hatchback, bought just after I’d graduated high school and started working a pretty much full-time job. My grandfather helped me get a good deal. I got a loan for the 2500 bucks it cost. I’m not sure you can buy a drivable car for that much nowadays.

That first Dodge van was bought soon after the kid was born. It was difficult getting the car seat into the little 2-door Mazda 323 my husband had. We still kept the 323, so we became a 2-car family.

Well, 3 car actually–my husband had a ’68 Javelin to drive around in, too. Still has it in the garage waiting to be made drivable again. But that car story is for another musing.

The technician working to put the tires on the Chrysler is an older man, a little stooped. My husband knows him, just as my husband knows a lot of small-time car guys. We bring our vehicles here because we know him. And he does a good job, though it might take him a little longer than a younger man would take. I watch him inspect the underside of the van when he takes the first tire off, checking for too much rust and holes. He sighs, but seems satisfied that it’s okay.

He’s the only one working here; he’s the only one ever. If he’s sick, the place is closed. But I don’t recall him being sick much.

Because of the pandemic, the chairs are set outside for those waiting for their car. You always have to wait. It’s a small lot and there isn’t really room to drop off a car and come back later. He’s working outside, in the sun, a single jack holding up the back of the van. He chats with me, asking how my hubby is, how the kid is, telling slightly off-color jokes. Nothing to make me upset.

He’s almost finished with the van, putting the last lug nuts on the wheel, when another customer shows up to have work done.

I dig out my credit card to pay, and we wait–and wait–while his contraption finds the internet and finally completes the sale. I ask how his sister is; he chuckles and tells me another joke. I offer a tip in cash (my hubby made sure I had it when I left the house) and he laughs and accepts it.

It was a pleasant just-over-an-hour stint in the sun. I started this post on my phone, finishing when I got home, just to get all the thoughts down.

You don’t get the visiting and camaraderie at a big shop. You sit in their cold waiting room, watching horrible gossip TV on mute, keeping three chairs away from anyone else (it’s a pandemic!).

This was a nice break in my day; it got me out of the house. I got to talk with someone other than my hubby (in person, no less). And I know my business went to help someone local keep their shop doors open.

Book Club Start: God’s Mountain by Midori Bamba

For this next book I’m going into a slightly different direction with God’s Mountain by Midori Bamba. This is another novella, since so many of us are getting busy again right now and finding time to read can be hard.

I knew Midori (and honestly, I know most of the writers I’ve read books for these book club posts). Midori passed away last September from cancer. I wasn’t able to go see her before she died because of the pandemic.

She didn’t want to give me COVID just because she had cancer. I think she was bitter about her diagnosis. That came across in her emails and socially distanced conversations. I think anyone would; she was diagnosed at stage 4. It was basically a fait accompli that she was dying.

She was also conscious that this brought back memories of my mother’s diagnosis of stage 4 lymphoma back in 2012. My mom died in 2018.

Midori was deeply religious, but also deeply Japanese (she was born in Otaru), and I think this book will reveal something of that. Please join me in this read. You can find God’s Mountain at Amazon.

Book Club Finish – The Wen by Nyall Robert Frye

[Ya know, this is a day late because I failed to hit the “publish” button last night. Sorry.]

Well, for this novella, let’s discuss genre. Over on LinkedIn, where these posts are shared, we discussed whether or not this novella is truly horror. One review on Amazon stated it wasn’t. (You can see more of this over at the Book Club Start post on my LinkedIn account).

And while this LinkedIn reader agreed that it wasn’t horror, he still thought it was a good read. Especially as the story wrapped up in a novella and he doesn’t have much time to read.

I think novellas have made a comeback, not just because of ebooks, but because folx don’t have the time to read like they used to. Our lives have sped up so much and we have so much to do every day.

But, on to genre.

What makes a book horror? I’m probably not a great judge of what is horror, since I don’t usually read horror, and since I liked this novella, maybe thats a sign it isn’t?

Wikipedia defines horror as a “genre of speculative fiction which is intended to frighten, scare, or disgust”. It can invoke fear and repulsion. It further explains there are two type of horror: psychological and supernatural.

By this definition, I would consider The Wen to be horror, a mix of the two subgenres (I won’t go into detail as that would be a spoiler, and I do hope you go read it.)

Now…is it Stephen King level horror? No. But I tried reading Cujo back in high school and couldn’t. Thats probably why I don’t consider myself a reader of horror. 

This one, I could read. And yes, I experienced a bit of fear and revulsion in the end. That anyone could be.. like that…(ooh…no spoilers).

Now, I also read Maverick Heart by Pamela K. Kinney, not realizing it was in the horror genre, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I should have known, since that’s what she writes.. but I digress.  I’ve also been told my Dhampyr novels (as E. G. Gaddess) are horror. I never knew that when writing them.

So let’s consider intent, as that is a part of the Wikipedia definition. Did the author intend for the story to invoke fear and loathing? I think so, or it wouldn’t be labeled horror. And it did this successfully with me as I read it. With other readers, it did not as that is something they mentioned specifically.

Now I definitely think this story is solidly in the realm of speculative fiction. I think that’s where most of this author’s stories fall. (I have read others by Nyall Robert Frye.) Speculative fiction is a broad, overarching term that encompasses a wide swath of genres, so I’m not certain that helps anyone define a specific genre.

It isn’t science fiction, nor is it fantasy. It isn’t magical realism or alternate universe. It is set solidly in today’s world, with today’s science, but hints at something supernatural.

There is a solid psychological aspect to this tale. There is violent murder. One man playing with the mind of another. Someone doubting their sanity at times. This manipulative character is what caused me to feel revulsion, so yeah, psychology plays a big part in this story.

The supernatural mythology presented in the telling of the story would mean it’s not a pure psychological horror, bleeding over into the supernatural horror. Which is why I think it overlaps the two subgenres.

Maybe the big defining part of whether someone would consider this horror or not is how much other horror they read, and what other books they are comparing it to. As someone who reads only a little horror and has only done that recently, I consider this horror. Maybe it’s accessible horror? Horror light?

Is genre only in the mind of the reader? What do you think? Please share your comments.