Book Review: Lonely castle in the mirror by Mijuki Tsujimura, translated by Philip Gabriel

Notable Characters: Kokoro, Masamune, Aki, Subaru, Rion, Ureshino, Fuga, Ms Kitajima, Kokoro’s mother, Mr Ida, Miori Sanada, Tojo-chan/Moe-chan


Synopsis: Kokoro has stopped going to her school and spends her days in her bedroom watching TV the whole day, with the curtains drawn. Something had happened that had led to her current situation. Then one day the mirror in her room starts glowing. Surprisingly, she is able to walk through the mirror and on the other side she finds another world— a world inside a castle. And there are other children of her own age who too have been summoned to that castle. The story is about Kokoro and the other children navigating through the world of the castle and also their own worlds. And the story is centered around bullying and friendship.


My thoughts: The synopsis cannot contain the essence of this story that was so carefully stretched throughout the book into something meaningful and deeply touching. When I started reading the book, I was a tad underwhelmed to think that this was just a plain story about these children and their having fun in this fantastical place, but the story held so much more depth, subtlety and nuance. It started out slow, with a meek pace it proceeded and presented the layers of a complicated situation in Kokoro’s life as well as in the life of the other significant characters. 

Bullying was the central theme and the story revolved around it and took a dive into its complexities, yet it didn’t just adhere to a common storyline to pressurize the importance of it, instead it dragged in a lot of symbolism in the form of this ‘other world’, and brought with it a heap of surprises and twists. The surprises were gentle at first, very subtly impinged into the storyline and enough to retain one’s attention. But the latter half geared to offer some not-so-mild surprising twists and a stack of unexpected turns. I didn’t predict a lot of these things. I was astonished to stay afloat in a contradiction of feeling so beautifully baffled and getting the gist of the events at the same time. The events in the book had a wonderful progression and even though these had a literal meaning i.e these certainly took place for real— a significant amount of symbolism was nested over these. Even when the questions were answered and a majority of things explained, one could relay their doubts about the subversive meaning of these events— their hidden significance.

The events, the twists and turns, the subtly crafted significance of these, cannot be emphasized without the wonderful portrayal of these characters and their nuanced personalities, their ongoing contradictions and issues. When I started reading the book, along with my doubts for the overall story, I enforced my prejudices over these characters who so slowly but swiftly won my heart and made me care for each of them. Especially the children- all of them. They were all different. The clever portrayal of them ensured that each one was known for who they were, their voices significant, their differences noteworthy but beyond the differences they were seekers of connection and understanding. Barring all the differences they could all connect. These connections again had their nuances and complicacies. From the start itself things weren’t very straightforward between them. Yet there were moments of a deeper connect, subtly reinforced over time through a parley of care and understanding. There were moments, especially towards the end of the book that enforced a plethora of emotions and the friendships shined. Combined with the twists that heightened the complexity of the situations, these moments of care evoked a monumental effect of both joy and bittersweetness. In fact the ending can be termed as bittersweet. It was a happy one in many cases yet at the same time it held a bittersweetness. The way things tied up brought a good measure of closure yet held the possibility of speculations and predictions. There was a sense of dreaminess that catered to it that thawed the bittersweetness to a greater extent.

As I have marked in the beginning, the book did open paths for a few questions- not just questions related to the complicacies of the events but questions centered around the theme of bullying. What can be termed as bullying and to what extent a situation has to go for someone to give it the label ‘bullying’? The way people, adults in particular, get caught up in the criteria or superficial definitions of a thing and do not seem to go beyond these definitions and dig into the core of humans to truly understand them. Especially in the case of children who are naive enough and haven’t made their opinions and strongholds yet— this attitude of adults pose a problem at times.

But the book portrays adults who aren’t bound by any criteria and formal definitions and can truly see through the children’s cores. A word from them can shift their balance and they are willing to put themselves in other’s toes, thus fostering an ability to pull them up from an unshakable mess when the need arises. The book portrayed such characters beautifully and overall it portrayed every other character with an equal fervor and showed in a myriad of ways how much impact they had on one another, both subtly and explicitly.

©Bikshya

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The housekeeper and the professor book review— A book by Yoko Ogawa

Synopsis- A touching Japanese tale about a professor— a maths genius, whose memory lasts for eighty minutes, and his friendship with his housekeeper and her son. 

My thoughts: The worth of this story is not brief, the memory of it extends and clings on to you. While reading the story, I was engrossed in that warm, choking feeling, the kind that lends one the dilemma of not knowing whether to cry or smile — a bittersweet feeling. I was witnessing a noteworthy friendship of an unlikely trio and my emotions were a hazard. Too many adjectives might not even result in a strong imagery of the actual friendship. A plethora of them mightn’t draw the characters well. After all, the beauty and strength of this story is rooted in its simplicity— in the story’s ability to assign a depth to the characters, their personalities and emotions and their shared connection through a handful of simple phrases. The professor— a quirky character riddled with unusual behavior— a man so at odds with normal life was skillfully presented, the nuances of his complicated memory and his passionate obsession with a subject drawn out in layered subtlety. One could strongly sense and see through his passion in the text. One could feel his struggles. Most importantly one could be in tune with his kindness and warmth he possessed for the mother and son duo. 

The professor’s view and understanding of the world around him was guided by Maths. This simple act of his— which, though a tad absurd was too real in its core, a thing that might not have made perfect sense to everyone but it made sense to him. It was his only tether to the world. Nothing about him was too normal, stereotypically normal at least in the first place. And perhaps the world made even more sense to him than it did for others— his understanding of it unmarred by the disasters of time, the essence of the world presented to him in its undiluted glory in the realm of Maths of which he was a devoted part of. Everytime he conversed with his newly found friends— his words hung up on numbers— it seemed as if the world opened up a little to reveal its nature. Well, maybe it did for him anyway.

That picture of eccentric geniuses hung up on their subjects of obsession is a commonality that might have been restored in the story in conjunction with a plethora of other sentient aspects. However I feel that the picture would be half-acknowledged if I don’t ponder upon these people and their strangely acquired insights, aided by their eccentricities, into a world that many haven’t accessed yet. There are things about the professor that could be defined— his external layers of memory and loss, drawn down into sentences. Yet he had places in him that could not be easily traced, and the story managed to lend me this feeling without being too evocative. The contradiction of not thoroughly knowing him yet understanding him from deep down is a feeling that’s not mere words. 

The friendship held a vivid imagery though. The depth of the story is engraved in it. It was so subtly presented, the nuances of everyday connection depicted in simple sentences. There were too many moments of undiluted care— care of the mother and son duo towards the professor— and an utterable kindness and love from him in return, a man who didn’t remember much, a man who forgot them each day and yet carved out a fresh place for them in his heart every time they met.

©Bikshya

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri book review

Goodreads synopsis

The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans. On the heels of their arranged wedding, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli settle together in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An engineer by training, Ashoke adapts far less warily than his wife, who resists all things American and pines for her family. When their son is born, the task of naming him betrays the vexed results of bringing old ways to the new world. Named for a Russian writer by his Indian parents in memory of a catastrophe years before, Gogol Ganguli knows only that he suffers the burden of his heritage as well as his odd, antic name.

My thoughts

From the start itself, the story left its mark in the most unidentifiable ways, the subtle flavour of Lahiri’s prose arising with the narration — the slow and swift narration of the life of an Indian couple(Ashima and Ashoke) moving to the US. It was the start of something fresh— an indication of a journey that won’t ever be perfect yet one that held promises and a degree of uncertainty. I loved the presence of these characters in a foreign territory, their navigation through the foreigness, their yearning for the things left behind. The backstories of the characters instituted a depth to the present timeline of the book. A striking one was that of Ashoke— a narrative of a certain incident whose influence on him marked his present life and the pages of this book. 

And then came Gogol— the son— his years were described with the same inimitable flavour that was initiated in the start, in the case of Ashima and Ashoke. The swift passing of moments was juggled well in the text with nuance and lucidity. Gogol’s name was a territory widely explored, a name that was not a name in the first place but the surname of an eccentric, long dead Russian author. Again backstories were at play here— about how and why the name of Gogol came to be. And Gogol’s aversion to it gave way to a lifelong search for his identity. 

Identity had often been a withdrawn entity— a thing that could renew and remake itself in many obscure forms. Thus throughout the book, the many territories that these characters traversed, the people they got attached to, didn’t lead them towards a destined identity.

Search for identity—a recurring theme— too held its propriety in the realms of subtlety. I liked the Namesake because of it. Because of the subtlety it possessed— subtlety in the character’s deeds and behavior, subtlety of the ongoing contradictions of the heart. 

Thus the overall culmination of the theme of identity; aspects of travel, food, cultural diversity and relationships brought a flavour to the book as a whole. It was a lucid experience to swim through the pages— held captive by the prose that could dig deeply into the characters cores and their inner contradictions.

©Bikshya

The Song of Achilles book review

I dove into this Greek mythology retelling with minimal expectations. I had heard that it was tragic— the story of two princes and their soul stirring relationship and the story did not end well.

It was more passionate than I expected though. Passionate not just in the story. But passionate in the sentences and the reconstruction and execution of an age-old legend.

An era of Greek legend was laid out carefully in the modern text, a legend about the mighty Achilles—the greatest war hero of all time— and his deeply intimate connection with Patroclus.

Being unaware of how the legend plays out in the original myths the start didnot tell me much. Very quickly there was a turn of events in the story at the beginning itself, and Patroclus ended up getting exiled from his own kingdom. He was then sent to Achilles palace. The meeting of the main characters had a spark but it wasn’t too apparent at first. Yet as the story progressed, it was easy to sense the slow unravelling of passion and the start of a destined friendship. Very soon this friendship dwelled and grew in unlikely places. A scene of adventure unfolded and the duo forged their togetherness in less troubled lands, in lands guarded by nature— a sweet scenerio— one that would please the readers senses while the characters were still on the verge of innocence. Let me quote a line from that phase of the story

‘We were like gods at the dawning of the world, & our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.’

The Song of Achillies

But troubles landed henceforth and the togetherness was threatened, however instead of falling apart it bypassed the callousness of troubles and intensified.

Then war came— the merciless war and the dangers vividly swimmed across the realms of the story in Miller’s gorgeous writing. The way the war was described had me on my toes. Being not acquainted with the original myths I knew the name of the forsaken Trojan war but never had an insight to its details. But Miller’s fluidic description of it brought out the war in all its grandoise and gruesome details. It flashed through the pages— the 10 years of a fatal event fleshed out beautifully— a tragedy that had its countless merciless scenerios but also contained the little moments of awe and minute joys rooted in the camaraderie and companionship.

It was so easy to picture the larger than life moments. It was easy to sense the dilemmas and contradiction in the characters and their relationships amidst war specially in the case of Patroclus and Achilles. When the conclusion drawed, the tragedy heightened to a level that cannot be described but only felt. There was beauty throughout the story,  beauty in the moments of union, beauty in adventure and friendship, but an inexpressible beauty loomed in the midst of the heightened tragedy. There’s beauty in sorrow when it comes to good writing, and that shone through and despite the brutality of the circumstances, it was hard to ignore that beauty in the description of the instrucable sorrow of loss and despair.

But though the book raved with tragedy, it did brew the hymn of the hopeful in many places. Tragedy couldn’t be obscured or scratched off from the old legends but Miller, through her arduos writing sprint and passion for these characters, she saved for them a minutiae of hope. And you would see it in the last sentence of the story.

©Bikshya

Parables of heart

I mull over words in my head, brewing a series of efforts to break through their surfaces, preserving the right ones for the sensations of my heart.

There are many that gorgeously evoke a saccharine rhythm in stale pages. Yet are they pressurized enough to procure the caged voices that hide, in those obscure trenches of my spirit? 

I had once urged myself to pick up a few pauses and nestled them into my breaths to cease the flow of a language. Pauses had been stapled to the bare creases of my outer skin. 

Yet a moment of gentle retreat with a pen had coerced the den of blocked sentiments to spill out and thus resurrect the language of my stoic breaths

I wish for the vigour, that same erect force of words to occupy my moments of reflection and sanctity. I wish for my world to season and flower in the mush loops of phrases. The transparency of the unsaid should gleam, the sea of metaphors unwinding it over and over again, thus upholding the penance of my heart.

©Bikshya

Untitled poem

There are modest tunes waiting to release
in dots and smudges
amidst the shudder
that erupts in harsh winters

A fraction of trippers,
touring through the altitudes
of savageness,
hopes to knock against a stark sanity.
Sturdy lines of bliss
apearing henceforth,
above the fractured roads.

A stiffening armor
stroke the ragged skins of civility.
Yet a few solitary whispers
trigger a warning
to loosen the armor
that’s a symbol of unwritten dread
and beckon the vows of unity in its stead.

©Bikshya

A yearning for the lost skies

The hearts of men revive when
a speck of dawn remains behind.
Even though dawn might acquire its form under a veil, 
its visibility needs to be traced 
by those whose lives are hindered by fate. 

Thus when art lay punctured in frigid lakes,
stunned voices duelling against a jargon of hate,
men should not cease to revisit the tremor
possessed by their brethren,
for outlasted shine formulated against morbid backdrops
might cause the seasons of hate to pause and relapse.

The perpetual noise of loss would be stalled
when the picture of hope arises to meet their gaze, 
the one which the humans from beyond must provide and caress,
thus beckoning the doom of evil lores.

©Bikshya

An Eternal Trust

Gambling with the streams of joy,
I had faltered upon that one true spot
that preached a preciousness
and held on to the unsaid bliss.

Then the passing smoke
had blurred my prime regions of rest
and even though I believed
to have scathed myself with a never ending ache,
my feet resorted to a vitality
that moved me closer to that spot of calming essence

The daily taunts of life are still rolling through the horizon
but my spot is easily laid with a shine
and is holding my wobbly feet
And even if I am unkindly thwarted
by a piece of maddening taunt,
I can afford to hone my trust for
the infinite
amidst the jargon of my days

©Bikshya

A Reunion With Grace

In a jerky detour from my benevolent spaces
I have gathered a steady vigour.

In shaky regions my dreams have balanced upon a graceful demeanor
lent by precious hands.

Thus I silently roll up my futile worries,
embracing a slow moment of certainty—
a certainty of a world inside my heart
where an abundance of chaste emotions can take shape,
a world in which I can shift my focus to,
binging on an eternity of soulful love
and annotating smiles upon the few coarse paths.

©Bikshya

A spread of bluish bliss

Today I decided to pry open my eyes a bit more and absorb every essence of the world outside my window.

I have looked at the sky before and whenever I could relay to it my truest attention, I had sensed its gifts in clear sight, unhesitatingly rolling towards me— its vigour and silence piercing my heart, a subtle freedom cuddling my eyesight, something that could not be traced in daily objects.

I thought I would repeat my act of paying attention to that infinite realm above me, dig deeper into the scene. Because why not? The blue of the sky was swelling with such vigour—a shapeless spread, a daunting echo of something magnificent. Clouds didn’t dare to engage with this scene.

I surveyed the wide length, scanning for a remote corner of it that was perhaps not too perfect but I found none. It was spotless. The blue felt effortlessly tangible. Perhaps if I  willed my hands to reach the magnanimous sky, it would offer me its own, and hold my palms for eternity.

I lay thinking how a few months prior, I had lost my tether to it, numb eyes struck by a colossal blackness that could no longer decipher the blue of the sky. I can’t imagine I had lost the sky back then and everything it had to offer.

After regaining it— its essence tending to my heart once again, I can graciously praise its boundless existence. When we are struck with a dreaded realization that we have lost something forever and then it finds its way back to us, we are enormously grateful for its presence and never take it for granted. Our hearts are filled with an inexplicable joy of revival and rebirth, the vibrations of it magnifying our senses, until the colours are not just colours but living creatures with souls— roaming entities that sing and occupy our ears and hearts. I can feel the blue reverberate within me and I doubt it is just a colour for I can hear its voice and secret wishes.

©Bikshya