Quite bluntly, I am no great reviewer of books (you will soon see that for yourself anyway). I think it is because I lack the patience to write a review before jumping onto another book wagon. But I do like a bit of reflection. And ever since Instagram has happened, I have been rather inconsistently microblogging (is that the word now?) and that quite worked out conveniently given how short my thoughts are, atleast when writing them out anyway. But I do want to document most of that here on the blog every now and then when I have a few books to talk about.
Ikigai – what a beautiful word, “a reason for being”, a purpose for living. I picked this book up at Blore airport. Having spent a few weeks with family after more than a year, I was ecstatic. I felt extremely energized and I picked this one up and read it in that enthusiasm. Naturally, I waited for a while to write this. Having read it in a happy frame of mind, I liked parts of it because they felt like summaries of concepts that map to a good healthy life – diet, exercise, community…. There is definitely bits to take away, ponder over AND most importantly, read more about. But to be objective, this book was a fair bit of a jumble drawing from schools of psychology to interviews with octogenarians in Okinawa to benefits of green tea? I felt there was so much to dig into and draw connections probably but it felt like a potpourri of good advice (a summary of concepts from Japanese culture) but never doing justice to something as deep as Ikigai. Most of it is through the authors’ lens as they experience the Japanese culture which makes it a a fair bit of “here are the takeaways”. Agreed, Ikigai itself is a topic so personal but the book left me wanting for a far richer narrative, more life stories (the interviews form such a small part of the book) and threads that connect our stories. I don’t know what that would exactly look like, but I wish this book had it.
I will admit that I sometimes start some books with a lot of hesitation. I do not enjoy pseudo-intellectual thinking and meandering for the sake of it that sometimes runs into pages and pages. And so, inspite of hearing amazing things about Kundera’s books, I started this with low expectations. It always helps to start something that way, doesn’t it?
Kundera definitely goes deep into aspects of his characters. There are only 4 of them, none of them who seemed remarkable to me at first. But that is the joy of reading because you let the author and her/his words really tell you about them and get you inside their heads. I will give it to Kundera for his craftsmanship in the way he has presented little insights, hard-hitting, soul-crushing and poignant in parts. There are no endless paragraphs but when you reflect on the small chapters and some of those insights, the book feels impressive. One of the biggest dilemnas that the characters face is the one that haunts each of us at different points in our lives – the “what if” and maybe even the pursuit of perfection. But it is hard because, in Kundera’s words, “We can never know what we want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives nor perfect it in our lives to come.” It is the irony of having a single life. For this very reason, one’s choices do not have a lot of weight in the grand scheme of things. The unbearable lightness of being. Somewhere along, different events occur that touch you and impact you in different ways and “relieve” you from this lightness.
There are definitely parts in the book that I could not understand. I do not want to call it pretentious because after all I have only read this once so maybe a re-read would help, but I am not so strongly inclined to go back and read it again for the time being. The book definitely made me think, not in a life changing way but in a way that helps me appreciate the simplicity, complexity and beauty of abstraction and life.
I read this a while ago and I just cannot NOT share this here – please read this autobiographical memoir. I have tried to blink away my tears of joy and sadness and pride as I read this on my commute almost angry at myself for withholding from expressing what I felt so strongly about. It is incredibly hard for me to come close to describing the unparalleled joy that Kobayashi’s school Tomoe, a school set in railway carriages and nothing less, gives me. Totto-Chan (author Tetsuko Kuroyanagi herself) recounts the several little ways her Headmaster Kobayashi devised to make children feel special led by his strong belief in the innate goodness of children and his attention to them. The way the classes were organised, the farmer teacher, the sports day with specially created games resonated so deeply with me and while I am not ready or patient enough to speak of why this book is probably going to be one I will read and re-read for a long time to come, I promise to, someday. That a school like Tomoe with all its little stories of love, compassion, loss and rebirth, existed in Japan while the world was at war, with children blissfully unaware of the ongoings is heartbreaking and beautiful. The post-script is equally a joy to read and the students continue to have reunions every year on November 3, their Sports Day. Having worked in education, I know it is not easy to create a class or school, even the one that you strongly believe in. But Kobayashi was one of them who did. And to have it all taken away on a morning during the war angered and deeply saddened me. Wars have never done anyone or anything good. But I am happy Tomoe existed for those 7 years from 1937 – 1945 and that Tomoe’s story will live on in the hearts of the readers and inspire many even if only by mocking some of the systems we have. And this time, it was me by the window in a train reading about a little girl and her school set in railway carriages not so long ago. It really was a damn good school, you know.
I have a few more books to talk about but I think I will stop here for now and get to my little Prince 🙂