Thursday, April 21, 2016

Book Review: Revenge by Yõko Ogawa

Release date: January 31, 2013 (first published in 1998)
Author links: Goodreads
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Pages: 162
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

A woman goes into a bakery to buy a strawberry cream tart. The place is immaculate but there is no one serving so she waits. Another customer comes in. The woman tells the new arrival that she is buying her son a treat for his birthday. Every year she buys him his favourite cake; even though he died in an accident when he was six years old. 

From this beginning Yoko Ogawa weaves a dark and beautiful narrative that pulls together a seemingly disconnected cast of characters. In the tradition of classical Japanese poetic collections, the stories in Revenge are linked through recurring images and motifs, as each story follows on from the one before while simultaneously introducing new characters and themes. Filled with breathtaking images, Ogawa provides us with a slice of life that is resplendent in its chaos, enthralling in its passion and chilling in its cruelty.

What a strange, awesome little book this was. I picked this one up from the library just because it sounded interesting and I was looking for more short stories to read. I didn't really have any expectations towards it, which I think is a good thing. On the other hand, I don't think I ever could have expected quite something like this.

Yõko Ogawa's Revenge begins with a woman who goes to a bakery to buy a strawberry cream tart for her sons birthday. What is soon revealed is that this son actually died in a tragic accident when he was six years old. A simple trip to a bakery turns into something much more complex and as the book processes, the short stories start to make connections between each other - we see new sides to situations and characters and through the use of linking images, motifs and themes, the stories become individual parts of a much larger story. 

The way these stories are weaved together is done brilliantly! It is not done too obviously, but rather allows the reader to look for the connections and to establish the links between the themes, characters and so on. Ogawa's prose is beautiful and subtle, which makes some of the shocking moments REALLY shocking. Ogawa does not aim for spectacle, but rather makes the shocking moments so shocking because of their simplicity and subtlety. There are moments of beauty here, but also moments that were extremely upsetting and uncomfortable. To describe something so tragic or violent so beautifully takes talent. 

I went into this after reading The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, and while both are collections of short stories, the similarities pretty much end there. I loved both, but in very different ways. With Revenge, I marveled at Ogawa's craft first and foremost, while at the same time I fell in love with the stories and their occasional absurdity. The moment I finished with this one I instantly started looking for Ogawa's other work, because I definitely want to read more from her to see if her other work is as awesome and effective as this one.

Revenge definitely left a positive impression on me and made me want to look for more short story collections to read. I also love the fact that it originates from a culture very different from mine, which added a whole new element to the enjoyment of its stories.

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