Tuesday, September 18, 2012

George R. R. Martin – A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire #3)

The third installment of Martin’s complex, fantastical series “A Song of Ice and Fire” was a big improvement from the last installment. Martin expertly navigates plays with the reader’s emotions and creates strong, complex characters. It is this ability that sets him above many other fantasy writers. He is also willing to do something most authors refuse to. Martin is not afraid to kill characters off, and in fact does so regularly. What seems the logical or desired outcome melts away into chaos over and over leaving the reader devastated and desperate to know what will happen.
In “A Storm of Swords” war has reached nearly every corner of the globe. The entire continent of Westeros is in shambles as factions vie for allies and land. The Stark family desperately tries to gain independence from the King’s Landing, where House Lannister has taken control. The late King Baratheon’s brother Stannis tries to recover from a desperate defeat to take his place on the iron throne. The Black Brothers fight the rise of otherworldly beings who seek to destroy all of mankind. Meanwhile, Daenerys wins victories in the eastern continent, slowly edging her way towards a war with all of Westeros. This leads to a world of intrigue, plotting, and murder where no one can be trusted.
 I honestly have no idea how the story will turn out. With so many factions and such a volatile world, anything could happen. Martin is brilliant in this regard. He has not given the audience one person to root for, but many. As much as the reader may want the Lannisters defeated, they hate Stannis (the rightful heir). As much as they want a Stark victory, that would dash the hopes of Queen Daenerys who is desperate for revenge and the iron throne. As much as they love Tyrion, they hate his Lannister family. To complicate matters, the previously flat Jamie Lannister begins to turn into a most interesting fellow.
There are so plot twists and unbelievable events in this book that many time I had to throw it down in disbelief. “A Storm of Swords” is a thrilling read that will keep your eyes glued to the page. is no doubt in my mind that “A Song of Ice and Fire” will go down in history as one of the great achievements of fantasy literature. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Yukio Mishima – Temple of the Golden Pavilion

The story of Japanese author Yukio Mishima is well-known. A phenomenally popular author at the start of the post-war period, Mishima was also a popular actor and model. Later in his life he developed a strong nationalistic philosophy and founded “Tatenokai.” Members of Tatenokai were trained by Mishima to protect the Japanese Emperor and traditional Japan. These activities culminated in an attempted coup. When the coup failed Mishima famously committed seppuku.
“The Temple of the Golden Pavilion” is Mishima’s most famous work. Based on a true story, the book follows a young Buddhist acolyte studying at Japan’s famous Golden Pavilion temple. I first began interested in the book after seeing portions of it acted out in the film “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters,” produced by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas. I will include a clip from the movie at the end of this post.  
Aided by his strange club-footed friend, the sadistic Kashiwagi, the main character Mizoguchi becomes obsessed with the concept of beauty. As a child Mizoguchi fell in love with the Golden Pavilion. “The image of the Golden Temple as Father had described it to me that dominated my heart.” When he moves to the Golden Pavilion he becomes less impressed with it. Its permenance begins to bother him. After some time he becomes convinced that the safe shadow of the Pavilion is the reason for everyone’s “mediocrity.”
Kashiwagi convinces Mizoguchi that impermanent beauty is the only true beauty. “The uselessness of beauty, the fact that the beauty which had passed through his body left no mark there whatsoever…it was this that Kashiwagi loved.” It is this realization that causes Mizoguchi to burn the temple.
            Although Mishima does give these teenagers a bit too much philosophical credit, this is a well-executed novel. It is a brief and compelling look into a fascinating, and sick, mind. Strange images and corrupt priests help the novel not feel like a graduate philosophy thesis while still being intellectually stimulating. I found I could hardly put this novel down.
            One has to wonder how much of the philosophy discussed in this book was close to Mishima’s own heart. In some places you can almost hear the heartbeat of the violence that is to come growing stronger. This is definitely a must read for anyone with an interest in Japanese literature or anyone who enjoys a highly erudite novel.