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Topic: The Love We Share Without Knowing, by Christopher Barzak

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Subject: The Love We Share Without Knowing, by Christopher Barzak
Date Posted: 3/9/2010 8:10 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
Posts: 723
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I've started this thread because the book has been placed on the final ballot for 2009 Nebula Best Novel award, and it looks like several of us will be reading it over the next few weeks.  If you've previously posted about it, feel free to re-post your comments here.

We should avoid posting an ending spoiler, but detail spoilers are inevitable.  If you are planning to read it soon, and do not want to see detail spoilers, I recommend you not read this thread yet.

Last Edited on: 3/9/10 8:17 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Subject: Tom Hl's review
Date Posted: 3/9/2010 8:11 PM ET
Member Since: 3/25/2006
Posts: 723
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Of the 2009 Nebula finalists I've read, this is easily the best.  It's structured as a sequence of interrelated short character pieces, told from a variety of points of view, that unite into one beautiful and humane thread.  Each story touches only very lightly on the others, some events are told separately from the perspective of each of the two participants.  Part of the reward is identifying when that is happening.

The book starts off with the portrayal of each of the four members of a Suicide Club, and that seems like kind of a depressing hook.  But after their suicide, the book turns to a more in-depth portrayal of other people who had been a part of the suicides' lives, and continues forward with those.  These people bear their pain without recognition, sometimes even by themselves, and live lives of inner loneliness.  This is exaggerated by the norms of Japanese culture, but it's true of the Americans in Japan just as much.  Humans, even when on intimate terms, can't truly know each other.  Barzak shows us this in the depths of his characters, and the book spoke to me of the ways in which I (like all of us) am isolated.  Yet we reach for love, in spite of the barriers.  In that regard, I found the book sad at times, but not depressing.  Maybe a little melodramatic as more than one character had cause to burst suddenly into tears; I'm just not sure if that's authentically Japanese or not.

Magic realism is a form that has been around for something like 50 years without being identified as part of science fiction or fantasy genre. I remember when SF tried to claim Jorge Luis Borges a few decades ago, but it didn't really stick.  This book has been nominated for an SF award, so I considered whether it belongs there through a few questions.

Are the fantastic elements really taking place or are they a product of the characters' imaginations?  This was ambiguous to me for a long time, up until near the end when one character began speaking first-person from the afterlife.  Barzak meant for them to be real.  So, one checkmark towards SF.

Were the fantastic elements separate literary devices, or were they part of systematic world-building?  The recurring element was the persistence of the spirits of the dead, and their fleeting interaction with the yet alive.  That would be systematic.  Two checkmarks towards SF.

Were the fantastic elements created by the author, or lifted out of an existing culture?  The spirithood of ancestors is very much a traditional cultural concept in Japan. Barzak did not build this world. One checkmark towards it being cultural literature rather than SF.

My conclusion: It's a boundary case. 

For what it's worth, the book would get my Nebula vote.

Last Edited on: 3/9/10 8:14 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 3/9/2010 9:34 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
Posts: 1,376
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Nice review Tom! I think, given your reaction and other peoples' comments, I will attempt this whenever it comes my way despite the depressing subject matter. . . ;)