blaise's book feast

Un amuse bouche de la litterature

Month: April, 2013


Arcadia by Lauren Groff

Lauren Groff is back with a decidedly different flavor compared to her debut, The Monsters of Templeton. In her second book, Ms. Groff tells a tumultuous tale of hippie idealists in the 1970s, who receive a tract of land in rural New York, complete with derelict mansion which they lovingly restore and name Arcadia. The story is centered around young Bit, his mother Hannah, and his father Abe, a quiet and magnanimous figure who gives Arcadia its strength behind the flashy leadership of Handy.

Ms. Groff adeptly details the pride and perils of a counter society; the small bodies that go hungry under the disdain of consumer driven mainstream culture, the influx of runaways who steal from the commune to fund their next high, and the eggshell thin foundation of a community constructed under utopian ideals. In fact, much of the book has a dystopian twinge, ultimately redeemed by the path of Bit who finds his way in the disorderly outside world.

Arcadia blooms under Ms. Groff’s characteristic prose; wild brush strokes of words hemmed in with the poetic restraint of a knowledgeable hand.  A great springtime read.


Hitching Rides With Buddha

Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Ferguson

*Note- Gaijin is Japanese for “foreigner”

Interrupting the sweet revelries of adolescent Japanese boys and girls, who write poems and ponder koans under the first blossoms of the sakura, is Will Ferguson, a lumbering, cacophonous caricature of the feared gaijin.

Will arrives in Japan with a decent grasp on Japanese to teach eager high-schoolers English. In between bereaving their utter incomprehensibility between “L” and “R”, and his stunning lack of ping-pong prowess, Will goes on a spectacular journey from the southern reaches of Japan to the frosty North on a quest to watch the cherry trees unfurl their blossoms from their first pollination in the South, to their brave stand in the bitter North.

To make this journey unique, most people would consider conveyances such as bicycles, motorcycles, boats, or their own intrepid feet. Not Will. To the derision of his fellow teachers, he decides to set out on his quest by hitchhiking. Apparently, the Japanese are terrified of hitchhikers (and gaijin as a whole) which created some lively interactions between the lanky gaijin and his hosts.

Mr. Ferguson does an excellent job of providing snippets of insight into Japanese culture. He laments on how he will always be viewed as foreign no matter how long the length of his tenure, a feeling that many expats have echoed in their inability to fully ingratiate into Japanese society.  He spends considerable time detailing the incredible lengths people go to host him in their homes, many of whom are WWII survivors and remember vividly the destruction Americans wreaked on their island nation.

Like all wanderers, Will’s journey is full of introspection and cultural anecdotes, but his is wrought with a humor and humility that I have rarely encountered.