My Kyrosmagica Review of Double Negative by Ivan Vladislavic

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Originally part of a collaborative project with photographer David Goldblatt, Double Negative is a subtle triptych that captures the ordinary life of Neville Lister during South Africa’s extraordinary revolution. Ivan Vladislavic lays moments side by side like photographs on a table. He lucidly portrays a city and its many lives through reflections on memory, art, and what we should really be seeking.

My review:

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This was another great suggestion from Norwich Writer’s Centre summer reading adventure. More details of the summer reads are at http://www.writerscentrenorwich.org.uk/yoursummerreads.aspx.

Double Negative is published by And Other Stories, an alternative UK publisher that brings “collaborative, imaginative and shamelessly literary” works to the fore with their annual subscription package. Join the mailing list at: andotherstories.org/join-us. Follow on twitter @andothertweets, and join on Facebook: And Other Stories. Check out their website:  http://www.andotherstories.org/

Our main protagonist Neville is a young white man, a university drop out, back home living in his parents house in Johannesburg.  He seems to have lost his way and is painting lines and arrows in parking lots with fellow worker Jaco. On the surface Jaco may seem okay but don’t be deceived by impressions. “Jaco was like a can that had been shaken, for all his jokey patter, he was full of dangerous energies, and if you prodded him in the wrong place, he would go off pop.”   The era is pre apartheid, Neville doesn’t like to get too involved, he prefers to stand on the periphery watching events unfold, a wavering character. Though he does take exception to his  father’s new neighbour’s out and out racism. “An odourless poison leaked out of him.” “His prejudice was a passion.” His father fears that he will fall in with the wrong crowd.  Neville has no idea what he wants to do with his life so his father introduces him to a family friend, a famous photographer Saul Auerbach who takes Neville out for the day with a British journalist, Brookes who is looking for a pre-apartheid story.   Spending a day with Auerbach changes Neville’s life. He  is encouraged to play a game of chance as they stand on top of a hill. Each choose a house to visit at random not knowing who lives inside or what they may find. For me, the story really grasped my attention at this point.  They only get to see two of the houses. Neville’s choice is abandoned due to poor light. Auerbach’s portraits of the first two become celebrated pieces.

Nev is awakened by the experience, now it is as if he is seeing life through a camera lense. The narrative moves swiftly on, giving us snapshots of  South Africa during this period of tumultuous change. Nevillle struggles with the concept of duty but takes the easy way out and moves to London to avoid military service. His day with Auerbach made  such an lasting impact on him that he becomes a photographer.  But he misses his home in South Africa and longs to return.”The poetry of the moment made me long for the prose of Johannesburg. I went to see a travel agent.”  An old lady had thrown chicken feed into the ballot box!  He returns to post apartheid Johannesburg but much has changed. His former home seems alien to him. Now Neville is a fairly successful photographer being interviewed by  Janie, a blogger. He thinks about the day spent with Auerbach often.  He has not forgotten his choice of house, and he decides to visit decades later. Behind every front door there is a story to be told and each story is so different. Each photograph can be so different from the next. The possibilities are endless.

Double Negative spans decades in time. It handles these changes well.  I particularly liked Nev’s quote:  “I’m growing into my father’s language: it will fit me eventually like his old overcoat that was once two sizes too big.”

Double Negative is exceptionally well written. It captures an everyday life against the backdrop of South Africa’s incredible revolution in an engaging portrait of a city and its many diverse citizens.  I loved the link with photography, and the whole idea of the Double Negative. The following quote is taken from a later section in the novel when a mature Nev is talking to his wife Leora.

“She was being ironic, obviously,” she said.

“Yes.”

“And so are you.”

“I guess.”

“The whole thing is ironic.”

“Including the ironies.”

“Maybe they cancel one another out then,” Leora said, “Like a double negative.”

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Saul Auerbach is a fictional character though he has similarities to David Goldbatt, South Africa’s celebrated photographer. Goldblatt began photographing in 1948 and has recorded South Africa through the period of  apartheid to the present day. There is a very interesting article about him at ideastap : http://www.ideastap.com/ideasmag/the-knowledge/david-goldblatt

Also he featured on African voices on CNN: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/08/world/africa/david-goldblatt-photographer-apartheid/index.html

My rating:

4 engaging Film Strips! Highly recommended.

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Authors website
http://www.ivanvladislavic.com/

Have you read Double Negative? Do comment I’d love to hear from you.

Bye for now,

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Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx

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My Kyrosmagica Review of Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Tsukiko is in her late 30s and living alone when one night she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, ‘Sensei’, in a bar. He is at least thirty years her senior, retired and, she presumes, a widower. After this initial encounter, the pair continue to meet occasionally to share food and drink sake, and as the seasons pass – from spring cherry blossom to autumnal mushrooms – Tsukiko and Sensei come to develop a hesitant intimacy which tilts awkwardly and poignantly into love.

Perfectly constructed, funny, and moving, Strange Weather in Tokyo is a tale of modern Japan and old-fashioned romance.

My review:

I’m a huge fan of Japanese literature and Strange Weather in Tokyo didn’t disappoint. I just loved its quirkiness. Hiromi Kawakami’s writing style has a strange, earthiness, that quietly draws us in. The writing is stark and simplistic portraying Tsuikiko’s loneliness and the growing emotions that slowly develop between the pair of main characters.

Lonely Tsukiko, a woman fast approaching forty, lives alone. One evening she meets a former high school teacher, ‘Sensei’, at a bar. The pair begin an unusual friendship, meeting  by chance at a local bar. He is  an elderly, retired gentleman, who is  full of vigour. She assumes that he is a widower. Delicate details of his character keep us guessing. He carries a briefcase around with him, wears a tweed suit, and leather shoes, even when he goes hiking!

The odd couple continues to meet up, and share food and drink sake. The plentiful Japanese food references will keep foodies like me in rapture.

Sensei’s thoughts on tofu: “Tofu is quite special…it’s good warm. It’s good chilled. It’s good boiled. It’s good fried. It’s versatile.”

“It was sort of like an octopus version of shabu-shabu. Thin, almost-transparent slices of octopus were submerged in a gently boiling pot of water, and them immediately plucked out with chopsticks when they rose to the surface. Dipped in ponzu sauce, the sweetness of the octopus melted in your mouth with the ponzu’s citrus aroma, creating a flavour that was quite sublime. ”

You can just taste the octopus!

We discover little snippets of information about Sensei’s past, his wife’s abandonment of him and their son. In time,  Tsukiko realises that when she’s not with him, she misses him, and wonders how she managed to be happy before. This slow developing almost dream-like sense of their growing feelings for each other slowly develops into love, despite the difficulties associated with a large age gap. The author depicts Tsukiko, in a child like fashion. So in a sense the teacher, student aspect of their relationship still remains. Though Sensei, seems fitter than her! This is amusingly related in the mushroom hunting chapters. The novel is interlaced with a delicate humour, and a sweet sense of sadness, as the couple come to terms with the inevitability of life.

“At some point, sitting beside Sensei, I began to notice the heat that radiated from his body. Through his starched shirt, there came a sense of Sensei. A feeling of nostalgia. This sense of Sensei retained the shape of him. It was dignified, yet tender, like Sensei. Even now, I could never quite get a hold on it – I would try to capture it, but the sense escaped me. Just when I thought it was gone, though, it would sneak back up on me…Wasn’t a sensation just that kind of indistinct notion that slips away, no matter how you try to contain it?”

My rating:

5 stars!!!

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About the author

Kawakamki is one of Japan’s most popular contemporary novelists. Strange Weather in Toyko won the Taniziki prize in 2001, and was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2013.
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Strange Weather in Tokyo
By Hiromi Kawakami, 2013
Translated by Allison Markin Powell
Portobello Books www.portobellobooks.com

This is one of the summer reads suggested by the Writers’ Centre Norwich, and the Library Services in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, UK. www.summerreads.org.uk

Amazing cover art deserves a mention: http://yowayowacamera.com/

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Have you read Strange Weather in Tokyo? Do leave a comment below I’d love to hear from you.

Bye for now,
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Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx

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