REVIEW: Haru’s Curse (2021)

A Manga by Asuka Konishi

Cover

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Natsumi’s little sister Haru was her whole world—and now she’s gone. After the funeral, Natsumi reluctantly agrees to date her sister’s fiancé Togo. But as their relationship develops with the passing seasons, Haru’s memory lingers over them like a curse. Asuka Konishi’s English-language debut is a nuanced and affecting portrait of the conflict between romantic and familial love, and of the hard choices that face us all in making our lives our own.

Description

I usually stay clear of romance manga because its generally childish, basically pornography for men, or entirely comprised of slapstick comedy, usually taking place in high school, and is so far distanced from my life that its like me watching Disney Channel sitcoms meant for children. I gravitated towards reading Haru’s Curse for two reasons: I love atypical art styles in anime/manga, and the description sounded mature and somewhat thrilling for a romance manga.

The art style thing comes from my distaste of how most anime has looked for the last decade or so, I’ll likely upset people here, but I feel most of the Moe Manga boom from 2008 onwards looks the same and tells the same stories, and this style has infiltrated just about every non-shonen property. The tall, angular art style in Haru’s Curse reminds me of CLAMP or its derivatives upwards of 20 years ago. I love it when manga artists are willing to move away from the stylistic norm, even if it’s a throw-back of sorts. Usually, to me, its a sign of quality. and it definitely was.

Internal page

Storyline-wise, the way Asuka Konishi writes is refreshing. Most romance manga follow the tried-and-true cliched plot of 1) girl lusts over dreamy and brooding guy 2)he has mysterious past 3) they go headlong into love 4) some obstruction gets in the way 4) they work through it and are together, or in some cases the main characters die etc. It gets tiresome and seems too formulaic. This story is somewhat flipped on its head as it jumps point of view a few times, even telling the story from the male protagonist’s POV a few times. The couple in question only start “dating” as some sort of mourning for Natsumi’s younger sister Haru, who has died of cancer. Once they meet a requirement of her proposal, that Togo takes her to all the places that he enjoyed with Haru, their relationship abruptly ends. Or at least, that’s what they think. I don’t plan to spoil everything, don’t worry!

All of the main characters are written as real people, none are “Mary-Sue” perfect people, and each has flaws. Seeing the story from all points of view was great, and gave depth to everyone. This comic deals with issues like arranged marriages, familiar pressure, and even Japanese societal norms that really leaves you on the edge of your seat like any good drama would. I don’t normally say this about this genre, but I think this has been my favorite manga of the year so far, and I will try to find a way to read the author’s previous work, Raise wa Tanin ga Ii (something like: I’d Prefer It If We’re Strangers in Our Next Life).

REVIEW: Northern Ireland: The Troubles: From The Provos to The Det, 1968–1998

A book by Kenneth Lesley-Dixon

Cover

NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.

Being a member of the Irish Diaspora, I try to occasionally learn something about my ancestral homeland’s history when I can. We’re talking usually ancient history, so I felt that I was severely lacking in my knowledge of more recent events. Its no secret that American schools usually don’t go over details about world events of recent memory, and corporate news largely ignores anything that is not politics anymore. So unless I decide that Cranberries and U2 song lyrics will be my only window into “The Troubles”, I figured a book would be in order! That’s why I was excited for my opportunity to read Northern Ireland: The Troubles: From The Provos to The Det, 1968–1998. This appears to be the newest book in a series called History of Terror including books on Islamic State and Zulu Guerilla attacks.

It is, of course, no secret that undercover Special Forces and intelligence agencies operated in Northern Ireland and the Republic throughout the ‘troubles’, from 1969 to 2001 and beyond. What is less well known is how these units were recruited, how they operated, what their mandate was and what they actually did. This is the first account to reveal much of this hitherto unpublished information, providing a truly unique record of surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, collusion and undercover combat. An astonishing number of agencies were active to combat the IRA murder squads (‘the Provos’), among others the Military Reaction Force (MRF) and the Special Reconnaissance Unit, also known as the 14 Field Security and Intelligence Company (‘The Det’), as well as MI5, Special Branch, the RUC, the UDR and the Force Research Unit (FRU), later the Joint Support Group (JSG)). It deals with still contentious and challenging issues as shoot-to-kill, murder squads, the Disappeared, and collusion with loyalists. It examines the findings of the Stevens, Cassel and De Silva reports and looks at operations Loughgall, Andersonstown, Gibraltar and others.

Book description.

I will confess, my knowledge of “The Troubles”, prior to this book, boiled down to my assumption that the whole thing was a guerilla war between the IRA and the UK military, not realizing there were dozens of various paramilitary groups acting in their own self-interests, some nationalist, some loyalist, others seemingly agents of chaos, ever splintering into more groups and in-fighting the entire time. trying to sift through all of the allegiances, and goals for these various groups was hard, but I feel like I learned a lot more from it.

I will say that, perhaps, one flaw of the book is that it dumps a ton of information on you all at once assuming you have a passing knowledge of the topic – Since I was remedial at best, a lot of the beginning of the book just washed over me. I understand that I, an American far distanced from The Troubles, isn’t likely the author’s target audience, but maybe a more “training wheels” introduction would be in order if a second edition were to ever be made. Once the book took a step away from statistics and went more into a narrative history of the events, I was sold on it. Later sections went over prominent players in each “side” of the conflict, their origins, goals, and what sort of terror they caused. The information is in depth, and conveys the terror that everyone had to deal with for so long.

“Republicans and Nationalists were matched in their paramilitary activity during the troubles by loyalists intent on championing Unionism, protecting Protestant communities, and ruthlessly retaliating against Republican violence.”

Book quote

Most-jarring for me, but honestly not a big surprise, was the revelation that the British Military had a hand in basically supporting some of the loyalist murder squads. I mean, sure, everyone could assume that the old saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, but it goes a bit far when that “friend” is killing civilians. This was revealed via documents that were recently de-classified that the author discussed in the book.

Care is made, by the author, to not take a side for the most part, any of the various paramilitary “murder squads” are all painted as ruthless and somewhat evil in their doings. I appreciated this, as most books on terrorism, and counter-insurgency that I’ve read are very one-sided and downplay the reasons behind the behavior. I wasn’t expecting a pro-Britain book or anything, but the honesty was refreshing.

I enjoyed this book a lot, It’s very dense with information and covers a lot of ground. I think its written a bit too much like a government analytical report meant to debrief a law enforcement agent or something, but it wasn’t hard to read or anything – its just VERY heavily with numbers and statistics. Having any prior knowledge of the events is also a plus. This is definitely a series that I plan to check out more of, I feel like I learned quite a bit.