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At long last, I'm back to reviewing books!

**** "Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World" by Haruki Murakami, translated by Alfred Birnbaum

Murakami definitely ranks among my favorite authors these days, which surprises me, because I often have limited tolerance for surrealistic storytelling without definite plot wrap-ups. I won't spoil this book for you with a summary, because half the fun is finding out what's going on... but as usual, the story is unique, beautiful, breath-holdingly intriguing, and somehow written in a style that is incredibly lyrical at the same time as being down-to-earth.

*** "South of the Border, West of the Sun" by Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel

This one was a tad bit more melancholy, a tad bit more realistic, than most of Murakami's works. Still loved it, but it isn't my favorite of his works.

** "Survivor" by Octavia Butler

Probably my least favorite Butler so far. Although the concept is strong, I felt that the timing of the story was all wrong, and I kept being distracted by the scientific improbability of humans meeting an alien race that we could interbreed with in the way described. The main character is a young human woman who grew up wild, a scavenger. In her early teens, she was adopted by a missionary group and trained to be a good Christian girl... but part of her wildness never left her. Because of this status as an outsider among humans, she is the only one o the group who comes to understand the aliens on the new world to which her missionary group migrates... understand them well enough to see the threat they pose to the humans. At the same time, feeling almost equally alien among both groups, she is not sure which one to give her loyalty.

** "Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness: Four Short Novels" by Kenzaburo Oe, translated by John Nathan

This was May's book-club book, and I found it very hard to get into but ultimately wound up enjoying it a fair bit, even though the storytelling style was difficult to follow at times. The author, as a child, lived through Japan's defeat in WWII, and the national shame and confusion and mental re-ordering that followed in the wake is evident in the way his characters act and think and experience the world. Similar story pieces come up again and again, making me suspect that the stories are at least half auto-biographical. One line stood out to me in particular-- “...the passive affinity two people have for one another when the same gloom is gripping them” (257, from the story “Aghwee the Sky Monster”)

***  "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffeneger

So, the buzz has finally died down enough for me to give this one a try. Again, I found it somewhat confusing at first-- the story is told in turns, and out of chronological order, by a man who involuntarily vanishes at moments and shows up at other points in his own life, and by his wife, whom he first meets when he is older and she is a young girl-- but I eventually became entranced as the different story-lines began to fall into place with one another. In the end, very satisfying, if a bit trite at some moments and difficult to keep track of at others. I think I'll skip the movie, though-- apparently, the time traveling makes our hero sick to his stomach nearly every time, and I have no desire to see that on film!