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The original idea sounded good. One night in a camp in China, as Japanese forces invade the country, three men, over a bottle of whisky, drunkenly agree that when they die they will reunite on the anniversary and at the site of the pledge . So far, so good.
The reality is a poorly/ clumsily told story. It might be down to poor translation, I'm sure English was not the original language. Perhaps the story teller is trying to convey the ignorance and limited ability of one of the characters but I've previously read translated stories that were far more eloquent, consequently, more entertaining.
There was a time when I would read a difficult book to the bitter end, the "I've started so I'll finish" attitude that got me through "The Road to Wiggan Pier" and "the rise and fall..of the Roman Empire....". But not anymore, I'm too old to waste my time trying to justify the effort . I now read purely for pleasure and the first 5 chapters of this book was not a pleasure so why continue !!
The first half of chapter 1 is good. Then it started to confuse me. I have hard time to follow when the timeline started to change back and forth. I may read it again down the road when my mind is clear.
I agree with those who say this is long winded -- too much telling, not enough showing. It would've been a shorter and stronger piece of literature had the lyrical writing been judiciously pruned.
The concept behind the book is not a new one, where there are several narrators (in this case, there are five: three men and two dogs) whose different points of view lend facets to a complex narrative. The setting allows for a lot of drama and, in my case, a bit of education about the war between the Chinese and Japanese in the mid-20th century. That was what kept me reading.
The book is 295 pages long, not a lot, but it took me four days to get through it. Way too many descriptions of non-essential details. Way too much explaining the emotions and intentions of characters. Can you please just let me, as a reader, figure that out?
The part where two dogs are anthropomorphized and explain and expound on the motivations of their masters made me cringe. I grew up with dogs. I've trained many of them (not professionally, just enough to have a harmonious life with them). I bonded with each one, but despite the closest bonds I had with even the most intelligent dog, I know that there is no way that they can tell every iota of thought I've ever had, or that they can explain every little nuance of my behavior. If this is the author's attempt at magical realism, it fails tremendously.
I wanted to hear the voice of Stella/Wende/Ah Yan instead of the incredible (as in not credible) point of view of both dogs. After all, she is the subject of the story. She is the reason for the novel coming into being. In this novel, all the characters are ghosts. But Stella is just a shadow of a phantom here, and she deserves more, SO MUCH MORE, especially when she was so strong and brave in life, stronger and braver than all three men and two dogs combined.
Sadly, I found this book to be a very, excruciatingly painfully slow read. I forced myself to continue wading through it - but after about 1/3 of the way through, I gave up. This is something I rarely do, which is an indication of how I feel about the book.