When two worlds become one

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly

http://www.nwasianweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/33_07/shelf_surprise.jpgThe Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya
By Nagaru Tanigawa
Little, Brown and Company, 2013

As in the previous book, the latest installment in the Haruhi Suzumiya series features two different versions of the same story and continues where the last one ended.

The first version begins with Kyon, Haruhi, time-traveler Mikuru Asahina, and esper-boy Itsuki Koizumi rushing off to the home of Yuki Nagato, the remaining member of the SOS Brigade (Save the World by Overloading it with Fun Haruhi Suzumiya) and their resident alien, who has been ill. The gang does what they can to try and help Yuki feel better.

For Kyon, this means meeting with a group of potentially dangerous individuals from other organizations who are watching over Sasaki, a girl he knew in middle school, suspected of having similar deity-like powers as Haruhi.

The second version follows the SOS Brigade, as they continue the recruitment process to bring new members to their illegal school club.

All the while, Kyon remains suspicious of the individuals tasked with watching over Sasaki. At the beginning of the story, the group remains in the background, but becomes more of a concern to Kyon, as he tries to figure out who they are and what their motives are.

For those who have followed the Haruhi Suzumiya series since the beginning, Surprise shows just how far the characters have come. The SOS Brigade started out as a group of individuals tasked with keeping its leader happy for the sake of the world. But over the course of one school year, they have become friends who care about each other’s wellbeing and will do anything to defend each other.

This is especially prevalent in Kyon, the narrator of the story. He may not always be happy about the misadventures Haruhi drags them into, but it is clear he considers her and the remaining SOS Brigade members his friends. And this friendship is put to the test throughout Surprise as he gets to know this new group better, as they try to recruit him to their cause.

http://www.nwasianweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/33_07/shelf_noodle.jpgOn the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, With Love and Pasta
By Jen Lin-Liu
Riverhead Books, 2013

Who really invented the noodle? Was it the Chinese? Or was it some ethnic minority living within China’s borders? Did Marco Polo really bring the concept to Italy? And if not, how did noodles – or pasta – end up there?

These are questions Jen Lin-Liu tries to answer, as she travels through western China, Central Asia, Iran, Turkey, and across the Mediterranean.

She was prompted to take this trip after spending her honeymoon eating her way through Italy. The more delicacies she sampled, the more she noticed the similarities between Italian and Chinese dishes.

And so, with the blessing of her new husband, Lin-Liu set out on a journey to see how food and culture moved along the Silk Road, the ancient trade route that links Asia to Europe.

Do not read this book on an empty stomach or while exercising. I made that mistake as I cracked open Noodle Road while on the elliptical machine at the gym. With every page I turned, visions of noodle dish upon noodle dish entered my mind until it was all I could do to not jump off the machine to drive to the nearest Chinese noodle house.

Lin-Liu’s vivid description of the dishes she eats, as well as the noodle-making process she witnesses will have you right there in the kitchens and dining rooms alongside her, wishing you could have been there with her in a more literal sense.

She visits with noodle makers ranging from restaurant chefs to women who have invited her into their private homes. They share personal stories, as well as some of the local history around noodles, giving Lin-Liu a new perspective and appreciation for her own life and marriage.

Lin-Liu takes the notion of knowing where your food comes from to the highest degree, as she delves into various cultural histories and the influence food has had on them. From archeologists discovering the oldest noodle in the world (about 4,000 years old), to the difference between noodle dishes from one village to the next, everything you could ever want to know about noodles is in this book.

You’ll never look at a bowl of ramen or a plate of chow mein the same again.

http://www.nwasianweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/33_07/shelf_translator.jpgThe Translator
By Nina Schuyler
Pegasus Books, 2013

For a year, Hanne Schubert works to translate a Japanese novel into English. Throughout the process, she finds herself becoming more and more fascinated with the story’s protagonist. By the end of the project, she feels that she has done the story – and the character – justice.

Shortly after that, Hanne takes a fall down a flight of stairs, which results in a brain injury that leaves her unable to speak her native languages. Instead, she can only speak Japanese. Now facing the difficulties of trying to communicate with others in San Francisco, she leaves for Japan.

Once she’s there, Hanne is shocked when the Japanese novelist, whose work she’d just finished translating, confronts her and accuses her of sabotaging his work. Shaken by the incident, Hanne travels to the small town where the author’s inspiration – a famous Japanese Noh actor – lives.

The two enter a passionate and volatile relationship that has Hanne reexamining her life – specifically her relationship with her estranged daughter, Brigitte.

All throughout Translator, Hanne has flashbacks about Brigitte, making it clear that even though the two have not had contact in years, her daughter is never far from her mind. Schuyler shows how difficult it is to break the bonds of family. No matter how damaged Hanne and Brigitte’s relationship may seem, they still play a role in each other’s lives.

And through Hanne’s job as a translator, Schuyler shows how versatile languages can be. As Hanne works to translate the novel, she puts a lot of thought into her choice of words and what feelings they may evoke in the reader. She is very particular and aware of how one word can completely change the tone and meaning of a sentence.

Such attention to detail on Hanne’s part will have readers considering their own choices of words the next time they have to write something – whether it’s a report, an e-mail, or a text message – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. (end)

Samantha Pak can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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