Friday, March 7, 2014

Tournament of Books: Ozeki vs. Hamid

I'm playing along with the Tournament of Books

Today's book match:

A Tale for the Time Being v. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia


This is an interesting pairing of books, both of which I originally gave 3/5 stars.  Both have to do with a very modern Asia, one that has been deeply effected by significant change.  In A Tale for the Time Being, it is natural disaster - the tsunami and earthquake in Japan.  In How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, it is the economic shift, providing new opportunities where they may not have been any before.

Both novels employ unique storytelling styles - the Ozeki is told in pieces through a discovered journal addressed to the Time Being, and the Hamid is told as a self-help style book, written almost entirely in second person.  The Ozeki is overly complicated and the Hamid is deceivingly simple.

How complicated?  You wouldn't believe everything that is crammed into A Tale for the Time Being - the journal of 16 year old Nao living in Japan, her great-uncle's diaries from World War II, a biography of her grandmother Niko, and a later-parallel story of Ruth, an author living in Canada who finds Nao's journal and other ephemera washed up on her island shore. Just these ideas and concepts were almost one too many, and then the author decided to throw in a touch of bizarre quantum mechanics, people struggling with Alzheimers, memory loss, suicide attempts, bullying, and a bizarre character trying to plant ancient plants.

How simple? The tone of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia is pretty basic, with each chapter focusing on a different topic a person would need to rise from slums to a self-made success in business.  It wasn't until after I finished that I realized I had also learned the story of the character in there, that I knew about his lifelong obsession with the Pretty Girl, and just how far he would go to try to make a buck.  In the end, it wasn't as simple or as positive as it felt while reading it.  I think this kind of writing, and any time you get a story down to its bones, takes a masterful turn.

I'm not sure how the official judge will think, but for me, I wanted to tell Ozeki to go back, remove all but one accessory, and pull it back into a cleaner story.  There were good parts but in the end all the angles muddied the waters.  I'm giving this round to How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia!

ETA: The official ruling over at Tournament of Books.  

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