Author Archives: Robin

About Robin

I’m a wife, mother, grandma, retired teacher, gardener, knitter, and passionate reader. I live near Portland, Oregon, USA.

Sweet Bean Paste

People’s lives never stay the same colour forever. There are times when the colour of life changes completely.

Sweet Bean Paste, by Durian Sukegawa, is a story of friendship and renewal.  It is set in modern-day Japan, and focuses on some cultural changes that are just happening within the last twenty-five years or so.

from the publisher, Oneworld:

Sentaro has failed. He has a criminal record, drinks too much, and his dream of becoming a writer is just a distant memory. With only the blossoming of the cherry trees to mark the passing of time, he spends his days in a tiny confectionery shop selling dorayaki, a type of pancake filled with sweet bean paste.

But everything is about to change.

Into his life comes Tokue, an elderly woman with disfigured hands and a troubled past. Tokue makes the best sweet bean paste Sentaro has ever tasted. She begins to teach him her craft, but as their friendship flourishes, social pressures become impossible to escape and Tokue’s dark secret is revealed.

Sentaro begins to learn from Tokue how to make the wonderful sweet bean paste, and he learns so much more than that from her! She has a wonderful outlook on life, but is mysterious about her past.

It turns out that Tokue had leprosy as a child. She had been cured more than 40 years ago, but because of the cultural stigma and harsh laws against lepers, she lived all her life in a sanitarium, isolated from the rest of society. In 1996, Japan changed the laws about lepers, and she was given her “freedom” from the confines of the leper community. Sadly, there was no family left and no place for her out in the world, so she and many of the other residents simply stayed at the sanitarium.

In a culture that defines a person’s success as what one can contribute to society, she and the other former lepers were denied that personal identity and meaning. But Tokue was able to find an elemental freedom in her imposed isolation from society, and found deep personal meaning in the language of nature. She taught Sentaro that life is so much more than what society dictates, and that every single thing that lives on earth contributes in their own way.

One thing I can do in Tenshoen is sniff the wind and listen to the murmur of the trees. I pay attention to the language of things in this world that don’t use words. That’s what I call Listening, and I’ve been doing it for sixty years now.

It’s my belief that everything in this world has its own language. We have the ability to open up our ears and minds to anything and everything. That could be someone walking down the street, or it could be the sunshine or the wind.

Anyone is capable of making a positive contribution to the world through simple observation, irrespective of circumstance. This is the idea that Tokue expresses when she writes in her letter, ‘We were born in order to see and listen to the world.’ It’s a powerful notion, with the potential to subtly reshape our view of everything.

from Booklist:

‘Although Tokue’s past is a reflection of a dark chapter of Japanese history, her wisdom, patience, and kindness shape this touching and occasionally wistful novel. Through Tokue’s story, Sukegawa eloquently explores the seeds of biases and challenges us to truly listen to the natural world and the messages it artfully hides.’

This was really a lovely, positive book to read. There is also a movie that was made of the book, and it stayed very true to the story. It is available on DVD as “Sweet Bean,” and was beautifully filmed.


This book was on my list of choices for the Japanese Literature Challenge.

A Delightful Surprise

I’ve bought quite a few used books through Amazon, although Powell’s Bookstore is always my first choice. But I was looking for a particular book by Miss Read, and it was available through a third-party seller on Amazon, so I ordered it and it arrived yesterday. It was a very rainy afternoon, and our mail often arrives in a rather wet condition on those days. This book, however, was wrapped well in waterproof packaging (do they do that when sending books to the Pacific Northwest?) and was in great condition. But the delightful part was the personal note I found with the book. With that note, Texas Exile Books, in Oro Valley, Arizona, has won my heart!  I’ll happily recommend them and order used books from them again.

Here’s what the note said in case you can’t read it easily in my photo:

Dear Mrs. Rice,

Thank you for choosing Texas Exile. We hope you enjoy The Market Square by Miss Read (Dora Jessie Saint).

We also suggest – as firm fans of Miss Read & even the old grump, Mrs. Pringle – The Fairacre Series and the Thrush Green novels. Also The Howards of Caxley & the author’s memoirs, A Fortunate Grandchild & Time Remembered.

…Texas Exile Books

Books Can Change Your Life

My library posted this wonderful quote by David McCullough on Facebook the other day and I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea. It is true that books can change our lives and characters can have tremendous impact on us. In my own experience, I think the book and character of Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, read (the first time) when I was in the 7th Grade, had a lifetime impact on me. I read many of the books my older brother read, and I remember that after he finished Jane Eyre he told me he thought I would like that book. I most certainly did!  I have vivid memories of scenes and impressions from the book. The strength and resilience of the character, Jane, made a large imprint on my both my heart and my psyche.

Since then, I have found many influential characters and more favorite books. But that first encounter with a character that I admired deeply, and was so influenced by, was a life-expanding experience for me. And for that, it will always be my “favorite book.”

Which is your special book and life-changing character?

 

A New Series!

I love finding new series to read especially if they are mystery series! Recently, while waiting to meet friends for lunch, I browsed through the mystery section of a little bookstore in Edmonds, Washington. A series by Elly Griffiths caught my eye and looked very interesting, so I bought the first book, The Crossing Places. I read it in December, and yes, I’m hooked! I’m looking forward to reading all the others!

Japanese Literature Challenge 12

Another reading challenge for 2019 has caught my eye. Meredith (@Dolce Bellezza) is hosting her 12th  Japanese LIterature Challenge this year. I’ve participated in her challenges numerous times before and enjoyed each of them. I already have some Japanese literature on my Classics Club list, and two new books on my Kindle that would qualify for this challenge, so I decided to join…again.

This time, I am also going to add a few films to watch. Long ago, when my kids were little, I took a continuing education class at the University. It was called the “Art of Japanese Film” and I absolutely loved the class! And then, a few years ago, my husband and I bought a boxed set of DVDs of movies by the brilliant Japanese filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa, so Hubby and I are going to have our own Japanese Film Festival during this Challenge.

Books to Read:

  1. The Book of Tea, Kazuko Okakura
  2. Kokoro, Natsume Soseki
  3. Absolutely on Music, Haruki Murakami
  4. Sweet Bean Paste, Durian Sukegawa

Films of Akira Kurosawa to Watch:

  1. Stray Dog
  2. Ikiru
  3. Seven Samurai
  4. The Hidden Fortress
  5. Yojimbo

Other Japanese Films to Watch:

  1. Miss Hokusai  (we watched it on January 2, 2019)  This is a film based on the life of the daughter of the great painter, Hokusai. It was adapted from a Manga series written and illustrated by Hinako Sugiura.  It was directed by Keiichi Hara, and won numerous awards.
  2. Ugetsu (based on the book, Tales of Moonlight and Rain, by Akinari Udea)
  3. Spirited Away
  4. Our Little Sister
  5. My Neighbor Totoro

Click on the titles below to read my reviews of books I read for Dolce Bellezza’s previous Japanese LIterature Challenges.

One more thing

My husband’s grandmother was a “picture bride” brought from Japan to Hawaii in the early 1900s as a bride for one of the Japanese plantation workers. If you are interested in that fascinating part of history, you can read my review of the book, Picture Bride, by Yoshiko Ushida.  If you can find it, there is a beautiful little film called “Picture Bride,” that is well worth seeing.  There are many stories of the 20,000 or so women who were the picture brides. They didn’t know their husbands-to-be before they were brought to Hawaii, and some to California. Each was chosen as a bride by their photo.

My husband’s grandmother and aunt are in this photo of plantation workers in Hawaii.

First Book of 2019

This book of poems by Judith Viorst is delightful. I’m Too Young to Be Seventy, and Other Delusions, is full of poems that are both humorous and poignant. She nails the aging process in every way, from the physical changes, to the relationship changes. From children growing up and the arrival of grandchildren. From the unavoidable realization of limited instead of limitless time.  I decided that since I am turning seventy later this month, I should return the library book and buy a copy for myself.

As you probably know, Judith Viorst writes wonderfully humorous books. My family loved her book for children (of all ages!), Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  It was originally published in 1972, when my son was 6 months old. We read it to him, and then to our daughter, many times, and the well-worn book now sits on my grandson’s bookshelf. It’s amazing to realize that she has been a part of my life for almost half a century!

As Time Goes By

I wake on Monday,
Eat lunch on Wednesday,
Go to sleep on Friday,
And next thing I know it’s
The middle of next week
And I am shaking mothballs
Out of the winter clothes
I stored for the summer
Five minutes ago,
Because snowstorms follow
The Fourth of July
Faster than faxes,
Faster than e-mail,
Faster, maybe, than the speed of light.

You want to slow down time?
Try root canal.
Try an MRI.
Try waiting for the report on the biopsy.
Or try being a child on a rainy morning
With nothing to do,
Wishing away the hours, the days, the years,
As if there will
Always
Always
Always
Be more.

This First Book of the Year 2019 is also part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old.

 

THANK YOU, Sheila, from Book Journey, for hosting this fun event at the first of each year!

The Best of the Best 2018

I miss you, Mom!

In 2018, I read 97 books. That’s pretty good for me in a year of change and loss. My reading has been a real solace after losing my Mom in July. Dedicating some time each afternoon for some quiet reading was magical and helped to fill the silence of those times when I used to talk with her on the phone each day.

There were some terrific books among those 97 that I read. So I’ve picked out my Best Nine to put together in a collage…And then a photo of the cover of my Number One favorite of the year. Each of those “best of the best” books was a wonderful experience for me. The stories captured me, the writing deeply impressed me, or they were just plain fun to read. Or all of the above!

2018 was also a year I returned to reading challenges. I used to join so many different ones, and loved the variety of reading they introduced into my life. I haven’t participated in as many in recent years, but I enjoyed getting back to some very nice ones this year.  I am loving being part of The Classics Club! My 50-books-in-five-years goal is a lot of fun for me. I’m happy to say that since I started the challenge in March 2017, I have read 21 books from my list, although I haven’t finished posting reviews for some of them yet.

I also participated in The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge hosted for the eighth year by Adam (@roofbeamreader). Out of my list of 12 books that have been sitting on my shelves for years and years, I managed to read four of them. I’m happy about that even though it may look like another challenge fail for me. It IS four books that would probably still be sitting there, unread, so I consider it a success! I’ve signed up to continue on with this challenge in 2019!

In 2018, I returned to the Readers Imbibing Peril Challenge which I hadn’t participated in for a number of years. It was so much fun this time! I do love reading mysteries, so this turned out to be a terrific way to spend the Fall months. For that challenge I read ten books and completely enjoyed every one of them! I’m looking forward to doing that challenge again in 2019.

The Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thons in April and October were highlights of this reading year for me, and I look forward to repeating those experiences in 2019 along with my other challenges!

My Best Nine of 2018:

 

And my NUMBER ONE favorite book read in 2018:

…was Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming!  I listened to her narrate it on audiobook and loved it. It was a book of hope and dignity, the story of her life so far. For me it was a breath of fresh air, and it renewed my spirit and gave me hope that we can become better individuals, better people, and a better nation. She didn’t preach, she just very honestly shared with us how she became the person she is today. And I admire that person more than ever because of her honesty and integrity.