Project Bungou Stray Dogs: The Moon Over the Mountain: Stories, by Atsushi Nakajima

9811918Original Title: 山月記 (Sangetsuki)

Author: Atsushi Nakakima (中島 敦, Nakajima Atsushi)

Translator: Paul McCarthy and Nobuko Ochner

Genres: Japanese Literature, Chinese History

Rating: ✮✮ +½

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“We are all of us trainers of wild beasts, it is said, and the beasts in question are our own inner selves.”


Project BSD

Stories in this book:

  • The Moon Over the Mountain
  • The Master
  • The Bull Man
  • Forebodings
  • The Disciple
  • The Rebirth of Wujing
  • Waxing and Waning
  • Li Ling
  • On Admiration: Notes by the Monk Wujing

I try not to be apologetic when I review books, but this is one case where I feel truly terrible – and my rating isn’t even that low.

Atsushi Nakajima is famous for his stories on Ancient China, and is considered to be a master of the sub-genre by keeping his stories faithful to their original source. He’s highly regarded in Japanese Literature and praised for his work – an annual festival is even held in his honor – and his writing style is one full of rich philosophical idioms about what it means to be the “self”, and why things are the way they are. According to the translators, Nakajima’s original Japanese is “erudite” and hard to read, which might be why this is the only collection of his stories published in English.

To the accuracy of the content, I cannot verify; I studied Ancient China once, but it was years ago, and it’s all but forgotten. The first few stories – including, of course, The Moon Over The Mountain – are beautiful. They’re absolutely beautiful.

Having chanced to go mad, I became a wild beast

Calamity piled upon calamity – I cannot escape my fate.

Who could now withstand my fangs and claws?

Yet in student days I shared your bright promise –

Now I have become a beast crouching in a thicket,

While you ride grandly in an official’s carriage.

Tonight I gaze at the bright moon over the mountain.

Unable to sing an ode, I can only howl.

The problem with his style, though, is that it’s unbalanced. Though it might be accurate, most of these stories are “related” and not “created”, just as Sima Qian laments about in the novella Li Ling. Basically, these stories are recounted fact for fact, until it stops reading as a story and becomes a textbook. While in the shorter stories the effect is softened, in longer ones such as The Disciple, The Rebirth of Wujing, and Li Ling, it’s exponential. The events that take place in these stories are indeed full of blood, power struggles, politics, and war – there’s even a castration. Ouch – but due to the way it’s written, it’s hard to get enraptured and easier to fall asleep. It’s exactly the same as medieval history: it seems exciting until you start studying it.

This could be a big case of, “It’s not you, it’s me”. For him to be so highly respected, I have to think that my feelings are more due to personal taste than Nakajima’s abilities as a writer.

Review: Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

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Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

Genres: Young Adult, High Fantasy

Rating: ✮✮ 

“Enlighten me, Strange. In what version of the world could you possibly help?”

This book started out at five stars. Then it became four. Then it almost became one. I’m giving it a middle rating because I’m having a hard time making up my mind.

Laini Taylor is an author that, even if I’m not the biggest fan of her work, I admire with the utmost respect. Her writing is exquisite, and her stories explode with a creativity that I wish I could harness for my own. However, whenever I read her books, they always follow the same pattern: I am at first mesmerized, and then I am greatly disappointed. Then the ending is an explosion that makes up for some of that disappointment, and I’m tempted to read the second one.

The story itself is rich and wonderful. There’s a mystical city that lost its name and a young librarian named Lazlo Strange, who’s been obsessed with it since birth. Lazlo was orphaned and ended up at the Great Library by chance, and has spent his days obsessing about the Unseen City, diving into books and enriching himself with stories. For this reason, he has been dubbed “Strange the Dreamer”, and he has always believed that his dreams will never come true and he will never get to see the city he loves, the one that has become “Weep”. Of course, that’s not the case.

To dive into what the rest of it is about would, in a way, be like spoiling it for you. It’s one of those books that keeps secrets, and you have to read on to discover what they are. There are gods, and there are goddesses, and there is magic, and there is carnage, and that’s really all you need to know to get excited about it.

My low rating is due to one thing that ended up becoming many: the romance. I got sick of it. Laini Taylor’s style is very theatrical, and this is all well and good until people start smooching, because she drags it out so much that it starts to bore me to death. One kiss lasted seven pages. I’d have to use both of my hands to count how many times Lazlo described Sarai’s lips, and my toes for how many times he mentioned how beautiful her blue skin is. Not to mention the fact that it’s very instantaneous – Sarai appears in Lazlo’s dreams a couple of times, and they talk some shit about the moon and the sun, and just like that, they’re in love. I don’t get it.

It affected the pacing. This exact same thing happened in Daughter of Smoke and Bone: tons of magic and action that made the pages fly by, and then we’re slammed with a vending machine. (If you get that reference, I love you.) I started to fall asleep while reading, and at first I thought it was because I was simply tired. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before – but when it kept happening, over and over again, even after a decent night’s rest and a good dose of caffeine, I knew that it wasn’t me. I like romance, but it blighted the book so much in parts that it became nauseating.

Also, where was their chemistry? At first, I thought this was going to be an LGBTQ+ fantasy because there was tons of tension between Lazlo and Thyron, and I was eating it up. I’ll admit that I ship everything gay under the sun, but it felt like something was going to happen between them, and then nothing did, and then Sarai showed up and stole Lazlo away. I swear to god, if the next book doesn’t have Thyron at least pining for him, I am going to lose my shit.

Laini Taylor’s books are received really depends on the reader, and I don’t think I’m ever going to be the type of person that is infatuated with them. I love how she writes, and I love the way she thinks, but the way she executes them leaves something wanting.