Marja-Leena Rathje
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reading break


"And when at last a puff of air would toss a delicate thread of scent his way, he would lunge at it and not let it go. Then he would smell at only this one odor, holding it tight, pulling it into himself and preserving it for all time. The odor might be an old acquaintance, or a variation on one; it could be a brand-new one as well, with hardly any similarity to anything he had ever smelled, let alone seen, till that moment: the odor of pressed silk, for example, the odor of a wild-thyme tea, the odor of brocade embroidered with silver thread, the odor of a cork from a bottle of vintage wine, the odor of a tortoiseshell comb. Grenouille was out to find such odors still unknown to him; he hunted them down with the passion and patience of an angler and stored them up inside him."

The above quote is from page 35 of Perfume: the story of a murderer by Patrick Suskind, translated from the German by John E. Woods. This is a beautifully written story of a very strange, very scary child of the slums of 18th-century Paris, who grows into a dark and sinister young man. He has an incomparable sense of smell that is his passion in life. At one stage he apprentices himself to a perfumer, quickly making his employer rich and successful. You will never think of the organ called a nose in the same way again. A most compelling story, yet I'm almost scared to approach the end, not being fond of murder stories.

I must mention that a few months ago, because I was wait-listed for "Perfume", I read my first Patrick Suskind book: Mr. Summer's story, a very charming yet with a disturbing undertone, little adult fairy tale illustrated by Sempe with a surprise ending. (Warning: don't read the Amazon blurb - it gives away the whole story!)

Enforced rest and recuperation is allowing me to indulge myself in a small reading binge. I have an inviting stack of books lent by a good friend plus the local library plus some of their DVD films. I'm enjoying reading All That Matters by Wayson Choy, about the life of Chinese immigrants in the 1930's and 1940's in Vancouver's Chinatown, as seen through the eyes of a little Chinese boy as he comes of age.

Some others tempting me on the stack:

The Reconstruction by Claudia Casper of Vancouver, about a sculptor who is hired to build a life-sized model of Lucy. "The gradual process of reconstructing her human ancestor forces Margaret to explore fundamental questions of evolution, the human condition, and her own troubled and perplexing life." I had actually read this a few years ago and absolutely loved it and look forward to rereading it. I rarely buy novels, preferring the library, but this one is tempting.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, about a murder mystery and trial set against the background of the tragic history of the Japanese Americans in the Puget Sound area of northwest Washington State during World War II. This has been made into a movie which I've not yet seen.

Finally, of several DVD movies we've watched, Italian for Beginners (in Danish and Italian with English subtitles) was the very best with its quirky gentle humour, very un-Hollywood, about several lonely individuals who get together to learn Italian, and then decide to travel to Venice. My favourite character was the newly ordained and very timid new pastor who arrives in town.

Notice there is not one art or archaeology book on the list, unless you count Casper's - I said I'm indulging myself, didn't I?

UPDATE April 16th: I finished "Perfume" today and must say it was a most unusual and powerful story! I highly recommend it. I've also finished "All That Matters" and recommend it for it's very insightful views of Vancouver life up to and including WWII - the discrimination against "foreigners" signing up for war service and having a vote, discrimination in the hospitals keeping foreigners separate from the AngloSaxons, the treatment of the Japanese, Germans and eastern Europeans as enemies, and so on. I'm rather shocked again that this was happening less than 60 years ago here in Vancouver and all over Canada.

Last night we watched Finding Neverland, the story of James M. Barrie's friendship with a family of four boys and their widowed mother, who inspired him to create Peter Pan. It's very well done, and I continue to be impressed by Johnny Depp's acting - definitely one of the best of the younger generation of actors, unlike many of his pretty boy contemporaries.

Lastly, I forgot to mention the very good Marion Bridge, a story of three estranged sisters who reunite to care for their dying mother and deal with old conflicts and secrets. It is set in Cape Breton on the east coast of Canada.

Marja-Leena | 13/04/2005 | 4 comments
themes: Being an Artist, Books


Snow Falling On Cedars was a haunting book. I thought the portrayal of Japanese sensibilities and their outlook on the world relatively realistic and I like the way Gutterson was able to mark the difference in the way Japanese-Americans perceive things and act and the way Japanese born and raised in Japan are. It's not often that someone from culture who has not lived in another culture can accurately write about that other culture. That's why, for me, Kazuo Ishiguro's books about Britain, where he grew up (like Remains of the Day) ring very true, but his books about Japan (Artist of the Floating World) seem very contrived.

I saw the Snow Falling On Cedars movie. Very well done. The Japanese actress Yuki Kudo is unusual in acting in a foreign film and her decision to leave Japan and give acting a try in America was a very brave one, especially because she has dropped off the map here. I met her once, briefly, while walking downtown, and she's as charming and complicated as the character in the movie. It isn't often that I feel that a movie can do justice to a novel, but this one is close.

Thank you , Miguel, for your insightful comments. I'm looking forward to reading it even more now, and seeing the movie later.

I've read a number of excellent books by Japanese-Canadians about their difficult period of internment. I wish I could remember their names now - I should be keeping a diary of books that I read.

I loved "Snow Falling on Cedars" - more than the movie, actually - and also really liked "Perfume" - what a strange and fascinating book, by a good story-teller!

Yes, please do start keeping a book diary and share it with us!

Pleasant to find you in literary mode - and with time to wallow. I have just reserved Perfume on the strength of your review.