One of my favourite Indie books that I read last year was Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat, by Andrez Bergen - a clever mix of Blade Runner and Mad Max style Sci-Fi with a touch of old school Humphrey Bogart Film Noir, all neatly blended with an Austrialian sense of humour. It was one of the most original reads I've had the pleasure of reviewing and one that I've been highly recommending to a lot of friends.
So when the author approached me, stating that he had another book out, I said yes without needing any time to think about it! I didn't know what to expect - but I enjoyed what I read!
One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is a little bit different than Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat, in the sense that's more of a spiritual journey - but it's by no means any less enjoyable to read!
I had to admit I actually had to look up the word Vicissitude to learn what it meant before reading. And I was most interested to learn the definition of the word (or at least the definitions that I got read as follows).
1. Regular change or succession from one thing to another, or one part of a cycle to the next; alternation; mutual succession; interchange.
2. (often plural) a change, especially in one's life or fortunes.
Ok, now I was interested. So I read on.
The story is actually a sort of spiritual successor to Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat as it features the villain of the piece - Wolram E. Deaps. (SPOILERS for TSMG ahead). Having been killed by Floyd at the end of the book, Wolram finds himself in a sort of purgatory with Kohana, a geisha with a story to tell.
And so Wolram goes on an amazing journey with Kohana, as she shows him her life through her memories, her past, and the history of 1940's Japan as they relive some of the most horrific moments from the country during its war-torn time. As they delve deeper and deeper into this journey, Wolram's life starts to interconnect with Kohana's - and he soon learns that he must understand Kohana's life in order so that he can forgive himself for sins committed in his own life.
First of all, I think it's fantastic that Wolram was the central character - it's not often a writer takes who was essentially the antagonist of the last story and makes them the protagonist in the next book. It's a daring twist that works well and we get to understand a lot more of the character of Wolram and learn that his hatred of Floyd wasn't entirely unjustified. However, much like Floyd in Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat, Wolram has a quick wit and is well versed in the art of literature and film. Kohana is also a great character, well versed and full of wisdom - yet she can be quite sardonic and wicked at times. The dynamics between the two of them are great and I love the way they play off each other. It kinda reminds me a little of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox - the way they try to constantly outdo each other and prove to the other one that they know it all. Both of them are a joy to read about and you just can't help but love them, despite their foibles.
The story is laced with elements of mythology as well as history, creating a dreamlike world that is constantly shifting, mixing reality with fantasy. Much like with Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat, the book is loaded with references to other mediums - everything from Shakespeare to Manga. But don't worry if you don't get the references, the book does keep you up to pace with what they are talking about so you don't get lost. But what is REALLY clever is how sometimes they can take a reference to one thing, and then mention a few other titles with the same name! One example of this is when Kohana mentions the character Akuma from the Streetfighter series - and then goes onto mention several other titles with Akuma in the title. We then realise that Akuma was a nickname for her - as it means Devil or something to that effect.
The scenes are constantly shifting from one memory to the next - sometimes in just a second. Sometimes the memories jump in and out of sequence and from one time to the next. We never get the full story at once, but gradually piece it together as it goes along. It feels like a jigsaw puzzle that you just want to complete and see what the image is. And the most pieces that are added, the more we come to understand why this journey was needed. It all leads to a really emotional climax that, I gotta be honest, I did find quite moving.
But for all its intelligence and emotion, this is not something that a casual reader will want to dive into without preparation. The book is almost like Inception in a way, in that the plot is fairly complex and does require your full attention to get the best out of it. I often found myself going back and re-reading chapters to make sure I got the understanding of what was happening. But even though I got lost now and then, it was by no means a chore to read. And in fact it was amazing to discover little things that I missed the first time.
For me, 100 Years of Vicissitude is a story about looking back over your past and learning from your mistakes. And whilst I haven't given too much about the plot away to support this statement, I feel that doing so would diminish the enjoyment of reading it yourself. Whether you have read anything else from this author or not, I highly recommend this one in your collection. It's a magical journey, with wit and heartfelt emotion at its core.