“The Traveler” by John Twelve Hawks

10 09 2009

John Twelve Hawks - The Traveller

“The Traveler”
(Book 1 of The Fourth Realm)
by John Twelve Hawks

“The Traveler” begins with the life of Maya who grew up in London to become a Harlequin whose role is to protect Travelers – people who have the ability to cross over different realms with their spirit. Trained to fight against the Tabula – which has the mission of killing all Travelers – and to hide from The Grid – which is the system to which people have given up their freedom (installed CCTV everywhere, government’s ability to track information, etc.) for an illusion they believe as safety and security – Maya was given the mission to find two Travelers living in Los Angeles and protect them.

One very particular thing I can talk about this book is that it has the ability to be adapted into a film or a TV series. The author, JXIIH (Shortening of John Twelve Hawks), presents a very dynamic visualization of the different scenes and showed that every character in the book can never be forgotten as they would contribute later on in the story. At first, the story seem to focus a lot with the life of Maya from her childhood when she was being trained by her father Thorn to become a cold blooded warrior who did not care about anything but protecting a few people who were not only special for their abilities but were also threatened by the Tabula. But it shows a lot more about the world these characters are living in where everyone is thought to be in this so-called Grid which is being compared to Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon – the world became a prison where people think that they are being observed even though they are not being observed which is a really smart way to create a setting.

The idea of fate was dealt with in this novel. Maya, Lawrence Takawa, Sophia and the Corrigan brothers had situations where they were presented their roles in a world where everyone believed that Travelers, Harlequins, Pathfinders and the Tabula do not exist anymore. Maya did accept her fate eventually in this story which is rather different from what she believed she wanted which is having a normal life working in a company. She did protect a Buddhist monk before and her life was being threatened the moment she met up with her father for the last time in Eastern Europe who gave her the mission of finding the Corrigan brothers in the US.

Fate is a hard thing to accept especially it deals with something that we as human beings do not have control over. Fate would be a given with regards to our gender and race – although that is changing these days. But association with a religion, culture, political setting, status, or work/profession is something that we can change as we live in this world and Maya proved that considering her situation. Be an ordinary citizen, be a Harlequin, the novel gave that indication when she became lonely because of her so-called fate – she should have just kept a low profile and not bother with what the crazy Harlequins are up to.

I like those moments when Maya (and in certain parts, together with other characters) try to escape from the Tabula who has more access to the Grid which provides information about every individual not just their identification, name, age, gender, birthdate, etc… but the Grid is also able to monitor people through thousands of CCTVs installed in every country and track everyone’s credit card number and chequing information. The key to their escape is always change: movement from one place to another, disguising themselves, using fake IDs and false information; all of this for the sake of hiding from the real enemies, the Tabula, who has the ability to hack through the Grid’s computer systems to hunt down Travelers, their Pathfinders – people who will determine whether a Traveler is real or not – and the Harlequins.

It gave the idea that life probably won’t become static unless we move on by escaping from it through change, through adventure and through accumulating experience.

Overall, it was a good read, probably the first time I finished a 400-page book – the story was enjoying and it looked short but the flipping was what made me turned off which resulted to me finishing the whole book in around 1 month which I don’t usually do with a 250-page book which has larger page dimensions from this one which is a mass-bound paperback that I could finish in 2-4 days. Setting trivial things aside, probably when I have read the second book of “The Fourth Realm”, I will probably talk about what crossing over different worlds would mean – “The Traveler” only gave us the whole deal with spirits crossing over different realms.


“Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return” by Marjane Satrapi

8 07 2009

Marjane Satrapi - Persepolis 2

“Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return”
a comic by Marjane Satrapi

I would have to say that I never cried on a graphic novel like what I experienced with Satrapi’s two graphic novels. Persepolis 2 just hit the spot for me because of how I can relate with her life away from her native country – well except for the whole sex, drugs and hobo thing.

After reading the second installment of the series – and I’m hoping the third and fourth to be translated in English very soon – I learned a lot more about the conditions of anomie which is something that I learned in one of my linguistics classes. Not only does anomie apply in language but also in terms of culture and traditions which migrants carry when they leave their motherland unaware of the future and the unprecedented changes that will take place there without them watching over or listening.

Anomie, according to the book by H. Douglas Brown about Second Language Acquisition, means a feeling “of social uncertainty, dissatisfaction, or “homelessness” as individuals lose some of the bonds of a native culture but are not yet fully acculturated in the new culture” (p. 376). This definition I believe truly defines my state in life at this moment thousands of miles from my homeland.

It’s the feeling that the character Marji felt exactly: when she’s abroad, she will always be an Iranian, but back home in Iran, she will always be a foreigner. The freedoms that she experienced in Europe – such as sexual freedom – is something that her friends in Iran can hardly relate to. But she kept strong with all the things that she went through. As someone who educates herself with all diligence and self-discipline, Marji fought against the challenges of life that she had to face.

What I found really emotional was the time when she was back in Iran to end up in a marriage that was not working, a society controlled by the guardians of the revolution and despite her freedom to study, a limited application of her education. Her decision to leave the country might be a really hard decision to make but with this decision I understood why I am where I am right now. I didn’t want to be betrayed by my view of my home country before I left but of course I didn’t hesitate to take the opportunity to watch news about it. As you experience life in such manner, you find yourself defining your love for your own country in another light.

I find my country as beautiful and rich in culture, traditions and history. But I don’t like the politics which influences the minds of people – to be watchful and speculative, to be fond of rumours and gossip and to be the ones who wish to take the law in their own hands.

But going back to Satrapi’s graphic novel. The main point of the Persepolis series is “freedom”. Being born in a country where this freedom is “abused” these days, I do find myself envious of those who never had it and are fighting for it. Those who are controlled by the state, by society, by the media, these victims who can never find freedom in their lifetime; these people are the ones who I always pray for a lot. When all they wanted to do is have a good and comfortable life, you’d ask why is it necessary for someone to interfere with them or why is it important that everyone in the society has to know about it. It’s not all about privacy but it’s all about freedom from ridicule that I find myself wishing for all these poor people and most especially for those victimized by a society who claims to have the right to make insensitive reactions about someone without a solid basis ridiculing them and eventually ostracizing them from the society. We just don’t learn.

One thing I agree with Marji is that there’s a price for freedom.

“Persepolis: A Story of a Childhood” by Marjane Satrapi

4 07 2009

Marjane Satrapi - Persepolis

“Persepolis: A Story of a Childhood”
a comic by Marjane Satrapi

I thought I’d put aside novels for the meantime to enjoy a funny and touching story by Marjane Satrapi called “Persepolis”. This autobiographical tale deals with the life of Marji during her childhood years at the time of the Islamic Revolution of Iran which won from the rule of the Shah and the Iran-Iraq war which succeeded it. What really hit me from this story was the fact that Marji, the main character, wanted a really cool story about her family to be proud of. As human beings, we want to tell our friends a grand story about ourselves to show everyone that we are relevant to society and to everyone’s lives – that we essentially have a status by having a great story to tell. I do have that tendency and I feel guilty for sometimes over-exaggerating the facts about me which I tell my friends. But here’s one fact that is true about me, I never drank alcohol until I was 25 but when I first drank, I got red rashes and itchy skin all over my body.

At times, we do tell these grand stories to protect ourselves – we know the usual “My dad was member of the secret police” or “My grandfather is the President” or “My Uncle killed over 9,000 people in one shot” stories. As kids, it’s more of a “Don’t mess with me” tactic when they tell such story. But we do find out that these grand stories can put someone into trouble as how we see Marji almost poke nails with one of her classmates who claimed to have a father who have killed many people. In a lot of cases, some people unconsciously know that our grand story could be either patriotism/nationalism or religion and we see them as instruments of our cause (for going to wars, protesting, etc.) or our beings (personality, etc.). Others who don’t really explain themselves in a grand story, based on my experience, would not care whether people have status or not and some would even abhor them since talking about yourself is to a certain degree committing pride and boastfulness. Well, that’s what grand stories are all about.

The struggle for a normal life is also the theme of this comic. It’s quite sad that so many things were banned in the early years of the revolution from Western music, to playing cards to chess sets. I’d understand the alcohol part since the government ruling are Muslim clerics who in the story ended up to control the entire Iranian society through the veil which Satrapi smartly introduces in the comic.

There were plenty of funny moments in the book. I’d like you guys to read it. The outspoken Marji, who also narrates the story, do give us tons of insights about the changes in Iran which totally gives us the distinction between what makes us free and what doesn’t.

Overall, I’d say the stories told by Marji gave me some laughs which came from the political jokes and just smartly laid out situations. The comic also gave me moments of grief since the revolution in Iran as well as the Iraq-Iran war were not the best moments in Iranian history. The plot is simple and all you need is a bit of open-mindedness with regards to the history of Iran.

I’m very glad to have written this reflection on the comic because I have been watching and listening to the news in Iran which is currently in chaos because of the election that took place in the country. Ahmadinejad and Mousavi were the two rivals in the event and many people were protesting because of the fraudulent results of the elections which was claimed to be won by Ahmadinejad. Satrapi was able to hold a document from an Iranian agency telling the real results of the election which Mousavi won fairly and Ahmadinejad lost greatly. I do pray Iran can get out of this mess and that the truly elected president will be sitting in to represent their country.

Happy 100th Anniversary to Anne of Green Gables

12 06 2008

I haven’t watched the films nor have I read “Anne of Green Gables” but I am pretty aware about how it is a Canadian story and that it is set in Prince Edward Island. The story spread throughout the world as far as the United States, Europe and Japan.

The book was written by Lucy Maud Montgomery and was published in June 1908. It was aimed at fiction readers of all ages, translated in 33 languages, and was adapted into TV Series, Film, Musical Play, and even into an Anime series in Japan who at that time was adapting tons and tons of stories from the west (others I might remember are “The Sound of Music”, “Princess Sarah”, “Heidi”, “The Dog of Flanders”, etc… I might try to find the time reading the book and have my reflections on it – living here in Canada, I think I really need to read it. From studying Canadian History, I only read “Marie Chapdelaine”, “Kiss of the Fur Queen” and part of “Obasan”.

But that aside… For now, I’d like to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Anne of Green Gables since its publication.

Anne of Green Gables helped a lot with the tourism industry of PEI where half of the tourists came in all because of the novels. This year, there will be an event called “Anne 2008” and the organizers and facilitators are hoping to not just make it into another event which will just draw tourists but also a way for the islanders themselves in PEI to revisit and become fascinated once again to the story of Anne as well as the life in the island more than a hundred years ago.


“Welcome to the NHK” by Tatsuhiko Takimoto

29 05 2008

“Welcome to the NHK”
by Tatsuhiko Takimoto

It took me 3 days to read the whole book.

The story begins with Tatsuhiro Satou, a recluse – he is one of the so-called “hikkikomori” which are people who lock themselves in their house afraid of interacting with people and the society. He thought that there is a conspiracy that is trying to bring him down, an evil organization that aims to keep him the way he is. Yet, all it takes to solve his hikkikomori problems was to meet up with a girl named Nakahara Misaki who wanted to help him remove his disorder. But along the way, his high school classmate and next door neighbour who is partly a hikkikomori named Yamazaki Kaoru met with him and shared the ideas about women and happiness through “eroge” or erotic games.

Let me start this book reflection by telling everyone reading this to please follow these advices of mine: Don’t do drugs; Don’t make bombs; Don’t try to commit suicide; and Do not download child porn. I warn you if you ever read this book, it’s contained with information about drugs, violence, bombs, eroticism and things which some I’m glad were reconsidered from being included in the anime series.

I apologize for those who were expecting this to be a journal on the anime series or the manga. This is about the original novel to which the ideas were taken from – well some of them that is.

The anime series is a lot lighter. It includes a romantic element on it between Satou and Misaki, Satou and Hitomi, and Yamazaki and Nanako (Nanako never materialized in the novel but the anime wanted to create her to make some kind of completeness and story to the character of Yamazaki’s girl) rather than following the dark contents from the novel. The manga is more devoted to the original novel and of course the novel is the god of them all hehehehe. anyway…

Takimoto’s interpretation on the novel in comparison to the anime series is just mind-blowing. For every page I turn, there are always issues that brings me into deep reflections – many were dealt with in the anime series but the novel catches your mind a lot more with the language that can sometimes go beyond the reasonable and it had made me sort of involved with the crazy world they made – the only difference is that I’m not the one high on drugs.

It’s funny how the character of the narrator Satou seem to send the message that these thoughts are all his and we should care a lot more with what we think and what our worldview is all about – in short, we should just mind our own business.

But I have to point out one very important reflection. It’s when we think too much about our failures in life – with accepting defeat and the fact that we are useless and no-gooders in this world. We even go through thoughts of suicide which amazes me cause it’s always one of the options being considered by depressed people.

In this book, I was so drawn with the idea of happiness according to the narrator. That our loneliness is caused by our interactions and relations with people. We refuse to feel hurt by how other people will react towards our utterances and actions. Yet we also refuse the so-called half-assed sense of happiness – partial happiness in simple terms – which brings the conclusion of being a loner as the best solution.

But this is something that I found worth reflecting as I read the part when Satou and Misaki were about to finish the hikkikomori program… Once we actually move on in our lives – whether by our own actions or through a certain miracle – we will suddenly suppress those depressing thoughts from our minds and come to the conclusion that life is great despite how mysterious it may be. And Satou was able to realize that in the book.

Another issue I found was on the idea of “conspiracy” according to the narrator – that there is an “evil” entity (or organization) conspiring to bring individuals down from moving on with life. That evil is something people want to disperse and as bad as it may sound, religion and gods seem to be one of the ways that evil can be defeated.

But the idea in this book is that “evil” is not something that is external from the individual. Evil is something that is within us and we – the self – are the only witnesses to that evil.

What message this brings to us is that we have the evil in our own lives as well as the good. Each individual have created their own little world so that they can tell to themselves that “this is how I understand life” or “this is how I understand the universe” or “this is how I perceive love, hate, romance and erotic sex”.

We have created these entities in our minds in order to accept who we are and tell the world to respect it. This brings me to this philosophy that I have taken by heart – Anything is possible in every human being! What stops us from that idea is fear and choice. Consider this! And I hope people who would read the book can find something valuable from it with regards to life and how you can believe in the limitless possibilities of being a human being.

“Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” by Dai Sijie

27 05 2008

“Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress”
by Dai Sijie

Amazing work by Chinese-French novelist Dai Sijie! I love the story and I became a lot emotional as symbolisms and important events reveal itself.

The book revolves around two teenage guys who were sent outside of the city to be re-educated in a rural village as ordered by the Chinese Government when Communism was at its strongest grip in the early 1970s. They didn’t have any hope to be released from the re-education because of the fact that their parents were among the so-called “enemy of the people”, a label that the Chinese Government gave to them because of being either immoral or being reactionary against the preachings of the power-hogging government. But as they stayed in the re-education process, they found a beautiful girl from next town and a suitcase filled with banned books which brought change to the lives of Luo and the unnamed narrator. These events started to change the lives of the two to the point that they felt freedom from re-education.

This book deals a lot about learning. We learn as we experience life as it progresses in many ways. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sensational experience – going to university for the very first time, going to another country, meeting new friends, having a new hobby, playing a new game, studying a new subject, even reading books – all of these can bring forth new ideas that will make a person wake up into a new world. In the novel, the encounter between them and the little seamstress as well as the event when they read a banned book for the very first time since the time which gave them the opportunity brought Luo and especially the narrator into many reflective moments which then became a coming-of-age story for them. They learned about love, sex, romance and freedom in a world which tries to tame them from even thinking about those notions.

It acknowledges the existence of teachers. The villagers, the books and their experiences have become a great source of learning for the main characters…

Yet there is a line in the story that have drawn me to what the whole deal is all about: “Dancing is not something that could be taught… The same is true of diving and writing poetry, for the best divers and poets are self-taught. Some people can spend their lives having lessons and still resemble stones when they hurtle into the air. They never achieve the lightness of dropping fruit.”

Learning will always take place. But in the end, it’s all about us – the self. Learning is quite distant from the person. The only way to learn really isn’t from the outside but from the inside. It involves how we understand life and how we can approach it so that it can work for us – so that we can learn easily – and so that we can benefit to our surroundings as well. We are taught to be reflective. We are encouraged to show empathy.

Through the tenacity of all the forces that our minds absorb, we then find a way to learn for ourselves.

But here’s another thought that I made… No one can control those forces – not even a government who may have all the power to kill anyone who is devious in the social or political order.

In the end, we are all individuals – we have minds, we have souls, we have individual aspirations, we have good and bad traits, we are all hypocrites and opportunists, we are all caring and loving, we are all desiring, we are all needing; all of these in certain levels among us… in the end… we are all… “unique”…

And that uniqueness is what we should respect and understand.

“Naomi’s Tree” by Joy Kogawa & Ruth Ohi

22 05 2008

“Naomi’s Tree”
by Joy Kogawa
Illustrated by Ruth Ohi

I was in the Japan Foundation two weeks ago and I was able to meet with these two wonderful people when I was volunteering for their book talk event: Joy Kogawa, a Japanese-Canadian children’s book writer and novelist; and Ruth Ohi, also Japanese-Canadian who draws for children’s books. These photos were taken with my own camera.

Left: Ruth Ohi talking about what inspired her to draw and how she does it.
Right: Joy Kogawa sits down and talks about their book, “Naomi’s Tree”.

Ruth Ohi and Joy Kogawa after the Book Talk event together with their new book “Naomi’s Tree”. I requested to take their photos and to tell you, they’re really nice. I do hope the photos are just fine if ever they see it. I had a chance to get a copy of “Naomi’s Tree” and had both of them sign it. I also had a copy of “Obasan” by Kogawa which the author alone signed.

The first time I encountered Joy Kogawa was in the novel “Obasan” back when I was still in college. I wasn’t a really hardworking student back then which is why I didn’t have the chance to read the novel cover-to-cover. I’m sure I’ll be able to go through that book very very soon.

For now, I want to talk about one of Joy Kogawa’s children’s books which was done with the help of the creative and expressive drawings of Ruth Ohi.

I was able to learn all about the lives of Japanese-Canadians in Canadian history back in college. This book just gave me an idea of the events that time from the perspective of an individual who is a Japanese-Canadian and who went through those experiences along with her family. From the time they were living peacefully in the beginning of the century as immigrants to Canada up to the Second World War which have affected drastically the Japanese-Canadian community, and even until today…

I was able to learn about how it is so important to “preserve love” within the lives of people no matter how unavoidable separation can be even if separation itself could last for a long, long time. Kids need to value the importance of love – of caring for other people, of spending quality time with other people, of making peace and harmony within family and friends a great deal. “Naomi’s Tree” have provided that experience through the relationship between Naomi and the cherry tree – the Friendship Tree, whose role is to become a symbol of love which lasts for a long time and is preserved for generations to come. This love is shown through its beautiful pink petals during spring and its sweet fruits as they ripen.

But the best thing about this is that it relates to the life of Joy Kogawa who had this exact experience and who realized great things throughout those encounters in life. Thank you very much for sharing those experiences.

With regards to Ruth Ohi’s drawings. I have to admit that there are emotional moments in the book that the pictures do intensify and I really liked it. And of course, these images can be appreciated very well by the youngsters who can open up to different perspectives of life aside from just sticking to their out-of-this-world imaginations which parents always find really interesting.

I hope everyone was able to acquire something valuable out of my reflections to this work. It was a great read! I’m pretty sure that I will pass this literature on to my kids if ever I would get one hehehe.