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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Tokio Whip: A Book Review - Blech

You may have noticed that whenever I do a book review, I am usually pretty generous with my praise and always recommend the book to you.

It's because I have a hard time—as a writer and a wannabe book writer—criticizing the efforts of someone who has got off their ass to actually write said book.

Which brings me to Tokio Whip by Arturo Silva from Stone Bridge Press.

I did not like the book.

Why? Because it made me feel stupid.

Tokio Whip is a fictional novel about a group of friends, foreigners living and working in Japan, and their Japanese friends. It takes place in 1980s Japan, with the chapters set up in locales along a Tokyo subway line. That part is all brilliant.

It's like the ukiyo-e prints of the 53 Stations of the Tokaido by Hiroshige Ando (surname first).

The book has a collective Breakfast at Tiffany's vibe... lots of conversation with lots of angst. Truthfully, it's 2016 and despite me enjoying the past, if I want to read something that seems to have a 50s vibe set in the 1980s, well... I can harken back to the first time I saw Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Don't get me wrong. The author, Arturo Silva is a very good writer... much better than myself, and I think he knows it—and there's the rub.

There was one section encompassing three pages of the book where the author's pretentiousness completely lost me as a reader.

How weird were those pages?

Well... at first I thought it was a printing error by the fine folks at Stone Bridge Press.

It was pages 53 to 55. Take a look:

(I've left a bit of the proper writing style on the third page - so you can see that it is well written - even if the author doesn't believe in using "quotation marks" to denote people talking - but that's okay, because it's all conversational. My issue is that it's boring conversational.)

Look at the pages scanned above... notice how sometimes the lines run off the page (second page), with the next line making no sense whatsoever (pick a page). That's a printing error right? Nope. This is experimental writing and one I bet gave headaches to the editors and printers.

The thing is... I didn't know this was an experimental writing book—it is—or that this section was going to be completely unlike anything else in the book—it was. You the reader won't know it's an experimental writing style novel either. The publishers simply call it "stylistic." Stylistic can be pretty broad - a catchall for when one doesn't know what to call something. At least that's what I think.

There was no set-up for these pages. No explanation for these pages, and thus utter confusion for me, the reader.

And then I figured it out after reading it through a few times...

Every few lines, the subject matter continues.
  • Line one continues to line four.
  • Line two continues to line five.
  • Line three continues to line six.
  • Line four continues to line seven.
  • Line five continues to line eight.
  • Line six continues to line nine.
  • Line seven continues to line 10... and so on.
Yes... the very smart author tried to confuse the dumb reader with his brilliance—foiled only because I was stubborn enough (as a book reviewer) to try and figure out just what the fug he was trying to accomplish.

A jumble of thoughts? A conflagration of conversational fragments? Printing error?

The stylistic musings were of interest to the plot, but it was presented in such a way that I felt so effing stupid for not figuring it out sooner than I actually did.

I didn't even understand the sub-head leading into that dogs-breakfast of writing. ABC-squared?... Aw, geez... are you kidding me? Now I effing get it... ABC and then ABC... Silva is telling us how the lines should be read.


I just figured that out! See? Me am stupid. What me worry? Aooograpsst.

Sorry, I just just involuntarily drooled on my keyboard. It's just hanging there from my lower lip down onto the letter D... which is where the next line should be read.

You can call me a lot of names and they don't bother me. Calling me stupid, and we have a problem. Making me feel stupid... well... that's worse.

ABC-squared is not a literary device. It's a pain in the butt to read.

Wait... is that even squared? No! That's what the way you write things for chemical formulae... so... ABC, lower case 2? Does that lowercase 2 affect only the letter C (the third line)? See?! Nothing really makes sense even when you think it should! Is it a coefficient?! What do you call the number when it sits like that? I know it's not a plot device! I'm shouting. I'm sorry. See? I feel stupid.

It wasn't something as clever as Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson writing the Mouse's tale from Alice in Wonderland in the shape of a mouse's tail—no, that was cute, brilliant and fun to read.
Alice In Wonderland - Chapter 3.
Neither was it someone artsy writing a story in a circle going inwards, ending right in the middle - no... that's challenging to read, fun to twist the book around to get it all.
Circle of Life - Buddha.... apparently THE Buddha...
And it wasn't one of those adventure books where you get to choose the action of the hero: If you want Charlie to attack the monster go to page 12. If you want Charlie to try and talk to the monster go to page 47. If you want Charlie to run away go to page 36. Those are the choose-your-own adventure books.

Bantam Books had a large selection of the choose-your-adventure books that I may have read in my youth, borrowing them from my much younger brother.
Confusing the reader... not cool.

I actually read a few more chapters (to page 78 of 369, actually) before my anger made me stop reading. I've never NOT finished reading a book before... in fact, everything I've ever started, I've finished over the past 30 years. Everything.

Until now. I just don't want to finish Tokio Whip. You pushed the wrong buttons with me.

And, if we are delving further into specifics, from the few chapters I read—I hated the arrogance of all of the characters.

All the foreigners spoke perfect Japanese, shopped at trendy Tokyo shops and bakeries. Effing yuppies (Young Urban Professionals) or Dinks (Double Income No Kids) who have nothing in common with me, and are in fact the type of people who piss me off with their pretentious airs.

Obviously not all Yuppies or Dinks are like that (most are)—but the ones in Tokio Whip are.

I will credit author Arturo Silva for his ability to write female conversations well... the fact that I hated the characters (the men, too), implies he was able to get under my skin by having them sound like people who would tick me off.

Another thing that I found interesting, but might bother the fan of Japan who lacks a lot of knowledge of the Japanese language (like me), is that I thought there should have been footnotes indicating explanations of what certain Japanese words or phrases were. What the hell is shumai? I had no idea they were pork dumplings. Should I have to go to the internet and search Japanese definitions? No. I'm reading a paper edition for a reason.

As well... the story is set in 1980s Tokyo. To fully "get" the book, you had to have been in Japan in the 1980s or 1990s... no, actually, you had to live in Tokyo at that time. That's an extremely narrow focus.

Look at the book's cover at the top... a hazy black and white image... it's like it's supposed to be a story set in the 1950s when Tokyo was still in black and white—just as we have learned that Kansas is from The Wizard of Oz. Okay, I'm kidding, but the sprawling image of a smoky Tokyo is there smacking you in the face letting you know that it's going to be the type of book your girlfriend is going to like, that you aren't, but your wife will hate because she hates your love affair with Japan.

I lived in Japan in 1990 through 1993, but lived in a small city 100 kilometers to the north of the capital. I visited Tokyo maybe 15 times... and because I only know of Ueno, Akihabara and Roppongi, I don't know where any of the places are in Tokio Whip. A subway map near the frontspiece needs to head up every chapter with a large circle around the particular station the author wants us to visit next. That's a knock against the book design.

I know it's different in a book, but with THIS blog, I provide translations for Japanese words, even noting the order of Japanese names—because sometimes I can't even tell which is the surname. I assume that for every article I write, that someone, for the very first time, is reading about Japan.

Uh... so in this case, the writer is assuming the reader has more Japan experience, and isn't treating them like idiots—but again, it's also not in the best interests of the reader.

Lastly... what the fug is up with the archaic spelling of Tokyo? It's two effing syllables. It was the American's inability to pronounce Tokyo as two syllables that turned it into the three syllable Tokio... something that was repeatedly spelled incorrectly during WWII. You know, because they were the Nips... those cowardly bastards who attacked 'merca.

See... sounds wrong, doesn't it? It's because it is wrong. It's To-kyo. Two syllables.

Hey... Tokio Whip wasn't my cup of tea. I haven't drunk tea since I left Japan—green or black.

Because Johnny Depp can look manly as a gay pirate, only he can rock a hat like this and not look like a hipster doofus.
I hated Tokio Whip. It'll probably win some sort of famous book prize and they'll make an indie black-and-white movie... sorry, film of it. And guys wearing those stupid hats will go see it while raving about the angst and the director's effective use of grey to convey the irony of the angst that no one else who doesn't drive a Prius or a Tesla will ever understand.

What the hell do I know? Then again, I already saw Breakfast at Tiffany's.

I love Audrey Hepburn, but I hated that movie, too. Spoiled, idle rich. Hot, in an I-know-you're-dead-now kindda way. I'm sure people enjoyed the fantasy of it all, but I hated the whole woe-is-me attitude (sorry Truman Capote)... and that's all over Tokio Whip's characters... or at least that's what they all seemed like for as far as I could dare read.

Sorry Stone Bridge Press. I love you guys, but Tokio Whip doesn't get to share my love.

I'll also add that because you added the word 'whip' into the title, I was expecting something more adult... in the fun way. Not the boring, conversational adult manner. Like this book.

I have done many other reviews of excellent, well-written and entertaining books published by Stone Bridge Press—so visit their website and see what else they have to offer:

Andrew "refuses to Golightly" Joseph


  1. That was a definitive nay nay for Tokio Whip! ;-)

    1. Hmm... I wasn't sure I was clear enough. Thanks. :)-
      In Japan, I used to feel dumb when my fellow foreign teachers would start chatting in Japanese or using English with a single unfamiliar Japanese term. They were showing off, I know - I suppose we all did it, but I could only show off my Japanese language skills for the first week there. After that, I was surpassed. I made it me feel stupid. Languages just aren't my thaaang. This book did the same thing but in a different way. It tried to be original in presenting a story - and succeeded - but I think the story, from what I read, was a dull and dismal affair. Boring characters doing boring things. There was no hook to drag me in.

    2. Did you know it comes with a reader's guide? The guide is interesting. Not sure I could put in all the effort required to read the work. In my younger days, maybe ... (Ah, but I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now.)