Spring Snow

Spring Snow

Yukio Mishima

First Sentence:     When conversation at school turned to the Russo-Japanese War, Kiyoaki Matsugae asked his closest friend, Shigekuni Honda, how much he could remember about it.

Back of the book:

Tokyo, 1912. The closed world of the ancient aristocracy is being breached for the first time by outsiders – rich provincial families, a new and powerful political and social elite.

Kiyoaki has been raised among the elegant Ayakura family – members of the waning aristocracy – but he is not one of them. Coming of age, he is caught up in the tensions between old and new, and his feelings for the exquisite, spirited Satoko, observed from the sidelines by his devoted friend Honda. When Satoko is engaged to a royal prince, Kiyoaki realises the magnitude of his passion.

Quote from the book:

Once we are even marginally separated from what we can touch, the object is sanctified; it acquires the beauty of the unattainable, the quality of the miraculous. Everything, really, has this quality of sacredness, but we can desecrate it at a touch.

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A Special Providence

Richard Yates

First Sentence:     On Saturdays, when inspection was over and passes were issued in the Orderly Rooms, there was a stampede of escape down every company street in Camp Pickett, Virginia.

Back of the book:     Robert Prentice is eighteen, and his boyhood dreams have disintegrated on the battlefields of Europe. At home, his mother, Alice, wraps herself in fantasy against the relentless disappointments of life.

From his compelling portraits of these two damaged souls, Richard Yates creates a brilliant novel of post-war America, at odds with its own identity, striving to combine prosperity and ideals, and mercilessly exposed in the attempt to do so. At once tender and ironic, bitterly sad and achingly funny, A Special Providence is the second novel by the author of Revolutionary Road.

Quotes from the book:

“He had come for sanctuary in the very comfort of her “lies” – her groundless optimism, her insistent belief that a special providence would always shine on brave Alice Prentice and her Bobby, her conviction, held against all possible odds, that both of them were somehow unique and important and could never die.”

For that reason Alice Prentice had always welcomed sleep, but she suffered an insomniac’s dread of the time just before sleeping, the act of falling asleep itself, the perilous twilight of semi-awareness when the mind must struggle for coherence, when a siren or a cry in the street is the very sound of terror and the ticking of the clock is a steady reminder of death.

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Kurt Vonnegut

First Sentence: All this happened, more or less.

All this is brilliant, more or less. I can’t believe I haven’t read any Vonnegut up until now. If his other books are half as good as this I’ll definitely be reading some more. And soon. Inspired by the firebombing of Dresden in 1945 (which Vonnegut himself witnessed) this is an exemplary anti-war novel. Kind of similar to Catch-22 (both hyphenated titles, both incredibly funny in places) it truly is a remarkable piece of work  which is a joy to read right from the start. It follows Billy Pilgrim as he becomes ‘unstuck in time’, experiencing his life out of sequence, form the war in Germany where he lives through the Dresden bombing, to his capture on the planet Tralfamadore, to his post-war life as a succesful optometrist and ultimately to his inevitable and unavoidable death. So it goes. One of the main themes is free will/fate etc. which is explained by the Tralfamadorians in the middle of the book:

I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.

In other words, “There is no why”. This is definitely one of those books i can see myself reading over and over. Timeless.

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