Wednesday, November 30, 2016

beware: rant ahead -- it's been a crap month for buying from Amazon sellers

This has been me over the last month  or so.  Not once, not twice, but three times I've had issues with  different sellers who have been less than up front about what they actually have in stock, and of course, I'm the one who ends up being disappointed and frustrated to the point of tearing out my hair. This is the part where I name names, because this is just crap and people shouldn't be treated like this. To be fair, I've ordered a lot more from other sellers that actually did their jobs in a very good way, but I just get so angry when I feel like the bad sellers could care less about their customers.

on with the crap sellers:

 MovieMars, from whom I ordered a British dvd on 10/29, sort of didn't tell me that the item they had "in stock" actually came from the UK, and that it would be four weeks before it arrived.  When I emailed the company  (via Amazon buyer/seller messages) that the tracking number they gave me (DHL global, of course -- slower than molasses) didn't seem to exist in the DHL tracking system, their response was that "tracking doesn't seem to be working right now."  Well, hell, it wasn't working EVER, at any time, not just on the day I made the inquiry.  In the meantime, I ordered books from the UK and other dvds through Rarewaves Imports and other sellers, and they all got here within two weeks.  I'll just be skipping MovieMars in future, even if I have to pay more from someone else.

Then there's a company I'll NEVER buy from again, melisandy.  These people just take the freakin' cake.  Again, they listed a book at a decent price, I bought it, and like MovieMars, the book they had "in stock" ended up coming from the UK and no one bothered to tell me when I asked where my book was.  Not only that, but they bloody well lied to me in the process:
"Dear Nancy        
Thank you for your email.I have shipped your book on time via media mail which you paid for. Expected transit time for this shipping method is 4-14 business days. (Monday - Friday, not including postal holidays). In rare instances items may take up to 21 business days to arrive. But most of our books has been arrived earlier than expected time.I hope you will get it on time. If you meet with any problem please let me know. "

Oh yes. And then the tracking number ... nonexistent, which I discovered when I emailed back to inquire about it. Response:

"Dear Nancy , Thank you for your email.I have shipped your book on time via media mail which you paid for. I am sorry but this order has any tracking number. Expected transit time for this shipping method is 4-14 business days. (Monday - Friday, not including postal holidays).I hope you will get it on time. If you meet with any problem please let me know.                      Best regards
And then, of course, my book comes, and not only was it NOT mailed "media mail" as the two responses I received said it was, but it came from the UK, from somewhere called Chalky's. To top that off, they didn't bother to mark it shipped on Amazon until nearly a week after they said they'd mailed it.   Now, I don't know about anyone else, but for me the customs declaration label, along with the return address label from a store in the UK sort of gives it away that melisasandy didn't have the damn book in stock to begin with.  So then I wrote again to say I was disappointed that I was lied to, and the only response I got was "I'll pass on your disappointment to the shipping department."    I still haven't written that feedback, but it's coming.

Case #3 -- another book from another seller (whose name I'll provide if this doesn't get sorted quickly),  a hardcover copy of a novel I've been wanting to read which ended up coming to me as an ARC copy.  I haven't heard back from them yet, but I can't wait to see what they have to say. How the hell do you go from hardcover, like new,  to ARC? Hmm. My guess would be that they didn't have the hardcover in stock to begin with.  This is just bogus and it's another company my dollars will never reach. 

I don't get why Amazon doesn't crack down on sellers who can't actually lay hands on what they're selling and have to get it from somewhere else. Sheesh! If I wanted it from somewhere else, I would have bought it from somewhere else.  

rant over. Share any experiences like these -- I feel better knowing I'm not alone. 

*Kokoro, by Natsume Soseki

Penguin Classics, 2010
originally published as こころ, 1914
translated by Meredith McKinney
238 pp


This novel would probably still be languishing on my shelves had it not been for an online friend who, reading it with a group,  suggested I read it along with her. Great idea, because it also gave me the opportunity to read yet one more book I've owned forever that's just been languishing on my shelves unread. 

  Kokoro is,as I discovered, one of those novels where a second reading and a bit of research can completely change what you thought about it after the first time through. The second read was spurred by 1) discovering that a scholarly controversy had arisen over this book and 2) deciding to pick up and read another translation along with an introduction that explained said controversy. After much time to focus, think and absorb, well, the second time around actually clarified things I had trouble zooming in on after the first time. 

(the second time through): trans. Edwin McClellan
Peter Owen Publishers, 2007

Structured in three parts, the novel opens with the narrator meeting and attaching himself to an elder man he calls Sensei, and is soon "yearning for the possibilities of all he had to offer." However, Sensei, who reveals that he distrusts humanity, is reticent to open up about himself, and our narrator often finds himself frustrated when, as he says, "I failed to gain what I sought from him in matters of the mind." However, Sensei also reveals that while he is "suspicious" of most people, he realizes that the narrator seems "too straightforward and open for that," and that Sensei, before he dies, wants to "have trusted just one person." If the younger man could "be that person, ... sincerely in earnest," from his heart, then he will reveal to him the story of his past and leave nothing out, but not right away, since "It requires a suitable moment." What he wants in return is left unspoken for the moment. Eventually the narrator will learn all, but not before part two, which finds him back home with his parents. While there because his father's health is failing, he abandons his own family at a critical moment due to some disturbing news from Sensei, which sets up part three, where all is revealed. Sadly, since everything sort of turns on the revelations in part three, I have to keep silent, since to tell would be to spoil, but this is actually the part where we come to understand Sensei and where we learn exactly what it is he expects from the narrator -- it isn't expressly stated in so many words, but trust me, it's there. 

I wish I could make this post less cryptic, but there's a lot happening in this novel that a reader really needs to experience and sort out on his/her own. Look for thematic elements such as the formation of bonds, relationships, betrayal, individual vs. social responsibility, love, and above all, what it really means to bare or entrust one's soul/psyche to an outsider. What I will say is that after the second reading, Kokoro became an even darker book than it was the first time through, which I didn't think was possible.  Interesting factoid: the use of hiragana for the word kokoro (
こころ)  rather than the kanji (;) has,  according to Tony Rayns, who wrote the liner notes for the dvd,

"the effect of diffusing the meaning, making it seem less clear-cut and more open to semantic and philosophical nuances. For Soseki, this was related to the sense that the Japanese national psyche was changing; he saw an emptiness in Japan's kokoro brought on by external pressures from the West and internal pressures to assimilate them."  

Highly recommended for people who enjoy Japanese literature or for people who want to start reading Japanese fiction; it probably won't take everyone two readings, but I got a lot more out of it by doing it that way. 

So, having read the novel I had to see the film as well. Big differences abound here, which are covered a bit in the dvd liner notes. As just one example,  the movie "simplifies" Soseki's novel, "reorders its plot and eliminates some of its subtext while playing up the homosexual implications that are merely latent in the original."  I have to say that since the subject doesn't actually come up labeled as such in the novel, I was surprised to see a scene in this movie where Shizu (Mrs. Sensei) starts wondering out loud whether or not there's some sort of attraction between her husband and Hioki  (the novel's narrator, given a name here) which Hioki quickly denies with an "it's not what your thinking!" response.  Much of the story is revealed through flashbacks, which I think really is the best way to have done it, since so much of the novel turns on what happened in the past.  I've seen people criticize this approach used here, but I really don't see how else it could have been done. To tell it in a linear-narrative, chronological style would have wrecked things (as it would have in the novel as well).   While the movie is certainly  worth watching, the book is much, much better. There are movie critiques everywhere so I'll leave it there. 

book & movie -- definite yesses, but definitely read the book first.  

fiction from Japan

Monday, November 21, 2016

oh my god - that ending! Whoa! The Matiushin Case, by Oleg Pavlov

and other stories, 2014
originally published as Delo Matyushina, 1997
translated by Andrew Bromfield
249 pp


The Matiushin Case is second in a trio of stand-alone army novels known as the Last Days trilogy, which begins with Pavlov's Captain of the Steppe (his first novel, shortlisted for the Russian Booker Prize in 1995) and concludes with Requiem for a Soldier.  The Matiushin Case won the Russian Booker Prize in 2002, which is how it came to my attention (and thanks to and other stories for translating it, to my home).  Pavlov has also been awarded a number of other honors: the Solzhenitsyn Prize in 2012, a spot on the shortlist for the Russian National Literary Award "Big Book" in 2010, three literary magazine prizes, and he was a nominee for the Russian Booker Prize of the Decade in 2011.  His first novel was published when he was just 24.

Well, it's a good thing that I don't mind bleak in my reading, since no light seems to shine through anywhere in this story. That's not a bad thing -- on the contrary, sometimes people in books don't have happy lives, just as in real life there are people for whom life isn't always lived on the sunny side.  And while several literary people have pointed out what they see as this novel's flaws,  I don't care -- I was very taken with this novel.  For me this was one hell of a reading experience. When I feel like I'm locked into a claustrophobic, hazy hell along with an already-damaged character and that there's no possibility of escape until the end, well,  to me that's a sign of a good book. Disturbing, yes, but if I'm that disturbed as a reader, well then the author's done his job.

The reality is that it is not a happy world Matiushin is living in here, which we discover as the book follows him from childhood to his time as a young Soviet Army soldier, where he ends up as a guard at a horrific Soviet labor camp aka The Zone.  As a child he grew up in an unhappy, unstable home with his mother, a brother and an overbearing, often violent and drunk military father; as a young recruit he finds himself in a world of corruption, mind-numbing routine, violence, and brutality among his fellow soldiers.  But it's the aha-moment ending that really got to me, one I never saw coming, and one that afforded an entirely different perspective on some earlier parts of this novel.

Obviously I haven't really given much away here, and it's better that way in case anyone decides to read it sometime down the road.  I'll post two reviews but I'd suggest refraining from reading anything that gives away too much.  Anyone at all interested in literature reflecting the Soviet era should not miss this book -- while it has many of the same thematic elements as a lot of other literature of its time, there's something different in this one, causing the story to worm its way into my brain and refuse to leave.

review: Phoebe Taplin, The Guardian, 08/21/2014
review: Brandy Harrison, Three Percent

fiction from Russia