100 Years of Vicissitude
Story of identical twin geisha born on the first day of the Great Depression, one of whom loathes the other.
"First up, a disclaimer. I suspect I am a dead man. I have meagre proof, no framed‐ up certification, nothing to toss in a court of law as evidence of a rapid departure from the mortal coil. I recall a gun was involved, pressed up against my skull, and a loud explosion followed."
Thus begins our narrator in a purgatorial tour through twentieth-century Japanese history, with a ghostly geisha who has seen it all as a guide and a corrupt millionaire as her reluctant companion.
Thrown into the milieu are saké, B-29s, Lewis Carroll, Sir Thomas Malory, Melbourne, The Wizard of Oz, and a dirigible - along with the allusion that Red Riding Hood might just be involved.
"Dreamlike and bewitchingly evocative." A FLAWED MIND
"A unique, memorable story—indescribable, exhilarating." FORCES OF GEEK
"A terrific book!" BARE BONES
"Quirky, poignant, and utterly brilliant." DRYING INK
"Hard-boiled and entertaining." ZOUCH MAGAZINE
"A wildly enchanting journey down the rabbit hole." ELIZABETH A. WHITE
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
- “The death of a broken-down old man is, unquestionably, the least poetical topic in the world.”
First up, a disclaimer. I suspect this is the strangest book I have ever read. I have no morsel of proof, nothing to waive around in a court for all to gawk at. All I remember is the words on the paper, and a surreal feel from the reading.
Right from the get-go, Bergen launches us into his weirdest book yet.
“First up, a disclaimer. I suspect I am a dead man. I have meagre proof, no framed‐ up certification, nothing to toss in a court of law as evidence of a rapid departure from the mortal coil. I recall a gun was involved, pressed up against my skull, and a loud explosion followed.”
As said, the beginning really hooks you. It’s strange, funny, serious, and actually starts with action that jumps backwards. I mean, if an author can pull THAT off, I’m sold. However, the loose thread of a plot might be to the dislike of some readers.
We witness a murder finished, a man and woman smoking over the corpse all nonchalant. Then we jump foreword to the first chapter where our narrator gives a deluge of internal monologues about life and likes. This punctuates the fact that I thought Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat was verbose. One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is the very definition of verbosity.
And I fear a tad bit could’ve been cut to help the pace brisk along. While it does move fairly fast for a novel just a tad over two hundred pages, it sometimes dwelled on descriptions rather than actions. That’s not to say the former wasn’t needed. No, it very much was to establish the beautiful Japanese history, but sometimes, rarely but just enough, it felt like padding.
Nevertheless, if I ever became bored with some trivial matter, too much wordage or not a hint of tension, Bergen dropped a completely new scene on me.
His plot was very jumpy which creates a distorting, somewhat rollicking story and, to a lesser extent, pace. Yes, it’s all becoming confusing, right? Well, that best defines Bergen’s second novel. It’s a befuddling mess of a story.
“I don’t exactly recall how I arrived.”
However, Bergen’s second novel is better than the first, as expected.
Whereas in Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat the author tried to balance character, world-building, and plot, here he focuses almost solely on character. To that, I cannot congratulate him enough. Wolfram was such an annoying character as time went on, seeming to bicker at every shred of information his guide presents him. But this could be made out to be passive aggression, seeing as he’s a dead man.
What I really enjoyed was that this isn’t the story of our narrator, Wolfram, but of the guide, Kohana.
She’s an enigma, shooting off random history and sarcasm at every turn. We learn her past from memories they experience, like A Christmas Carol but not. And from these incidents do we see the shell being peeled away, making a sympathetic and almost tragic woman.
It would be a disservice to mention Bergen’s extreme love of pop references.
He litters the story with mentions of Alice in Wonderland, Charles Dickens, World War 2 from the Japanese side, and numerous bands that I don’t have a clue are. Yes, if there’s one thing that Bergen can pull off in every novel, it’s the dialogue and name drops.
If there is one way to best describe this novel, it’s taking a taxi through the streets of some major city. Possibly Tokyo. Only, the taxi is speeding without traffic, and when there is, he doesn’t stop. Oh, and he speaks in a foreign language the whole time. But what about the sharp curves, barely seen until you’re already turning them? And by the time he’s placed you at the steps of your exit, the beat in your chest is about to explode.
Yes, that is what to expect. Except, nothing is that straight-forward. It’s a post-modern story with the wheels inside the wheels analogy, save that Bergen gives you the much needed support of spokes in the guise of brilliant characters.
While it may be my least favorite of the three, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude will appeal to any reader who loves a, simply put, wonderful tale.
“In that story Sutherland gives chase to another child-sized fugitive in red. He presumes this is his recently deceased daughter, but it turns out to be a homicidal dwarf. Nothing is what it seems.” ~ Caleb Hill, Acerbic Writing
- Exquisite writing, this Ghost-of-Christmas-Past tour of the events of 20th-century Japan through the eyes of a geisha dragging along a crusty old tyrant in a purgatorial afterlife. Took me a long time to get into, with all its Japanese terminology and fragmented scenes, but it picked up about halfway through as the threads began tying themselves together. The two have an interesting rapport, her ageless beauty and endless romantic encounters contrasted with his elderly impotence in being forced to observe them. She needles and bewitches him, as is her professional companion nature, living much more freely, despite being thrust from one tragedy to the next—a survivor.
Being a fan of the author’s previous novel (in which said tyrant is the “final boss” antagonist, albeit a mysterious one), I’d hoped we’d explore more of his past in this book, but it’s 90% hers. Him being the narrator, of course, we do get to pull back the curtain on his personality, sad as it may be. Bergen exhibits his diverse skills here, as I’d never have guessed these two books were written by the same person. ~ Gordon Highland, Author of 'Flashover'
- Andrez Bergen’s novel pulls a neat trick. It is not actually about its protagonist, Wolram E. Deaps. Instead, it is the mysterious geisha, Kohana, which the story focuses on. The story uses her tumultuous life to explore the recent history of Japan. I should mention that the novel starts after Wolram and Kohana are dead. Bergen uses the “life flashing before your eyes” routine to great effect. The novel is a series of vignettes as we track through Kohana’s past and Wolram complains.
This is essentially a character study of two very different people and the many small tragedies that make up a life. The characters are strong enough that about halfway through the novel, the big, important historical events stop being the focus, and the characters take the center stage. I loved this transition. I found the characters compelling and amusing. Both are deeply broken (and dead), but they are able to come to grips with their horrible pasts.
There is one problem that I had with the book. There was a tendency, especially during the first half, for the prose to get very complicated. I love all kinds of writing, but this got a little over done. There were passages that were more complex and hard to read than they needed to be. This wasn’t a deal breaker, but it is a real hurdle, in the sense that once you make it far enough, it is smooth sailing. There is no jumping involved.
Ultimately, I liked where the book was going the entire time, and by the end, the writing was much simpler. This really is a sweet story about two people. Sometimes, that is all you need to tell a good story. This is definitely a book that rewards your patience. I’m glad I stuck with it, and I think you will be, too.
Three Fugu Livers out of Five ~ Ben Rhodes , Fanboy Comics
- It’s a tad hard to discuss 'One Hundred Years of Vicissitude' as its plot follows on from from 'Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat' and to discuss it in length would be quite a spoiler for it. But I’ll give it a go.
The story of 'One Hundred Years...' features the antagonist of 'Tobacco...' finding himself on a journey through Purgatory, accompanied by Kohana, a young geisha. At first it seems to be all about her, but as they journey through her memories and her past, intermixed with scenes of moments from Japan during WWII, he learns that he must understand Kohana’s life in order to understand his own life/afterlife and finally be able to forgive himself.
It’s great that we get to learn more about the character from 'Tobacco...'. It gives us a chance to understand him a bit more. He is even a kind of What If? of Floyd, ie, what if Floyd didn’t have his moral compass? He would still be as witty and charming but for different, and perhaps even nefarious goals. He would in effect be much the same as the 'One Hundred Years...' protagonist. Kohana is also a great character, and they play well off of each other, like the classic comedy duos or an even odder Odd Couple. But despite the wittiness it is also full of heart and is an emotional journey, and I challenge anyone not to be moved by its ending.
Due to the themes of the story, the writing style is quite different to 'Tobacco'. Floyd’s usual pharmaceutically-induced state often lead to periods of hyper reality, but 'One Hundred Years' is more of a dream-like world that is constantly shifting, and requires a different prose style to accommodate it, and Andrez delivers – mostly. Which brings me to my only negative with the book. The plot is quite complex and the interesting writing style is quite clever, but is a little too haphazard. It almost requires the reader be sequestered in a darkened room in order to concentrate on it, not on a packed train, which is where I do most of my reading. It took me 2 read-throughs to fully appreciate how brilliant this book is and that may annoy some readers. But that being said it is definitely worth the effort so if you are finding it a bit of a hard slog, my advice is to keep at it. You will be rewarded.
The word ‘vicissitude’ basically means ‘change’ and no book I have read personifies this more than One Hundred Years. As I said, it can be a challenge, but it is worth every second, and I guarantee it will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.
4.5/5 ~ Nerd Culture Podcast
- Some of the most rewarding books I read over the years proved to be the ones that didn’t come with too many recommendations or from the authors I picked in the whim of my reading caprices. One such novel was “Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat”, a wonderful novel for which I didn’t have any recommendation and implicitly with any expectations from my part.
Of course, after the initial encounter with an author it proves to be very difficult to read the writer’s next work without any expectation and only with the anticipation of opening a door to a new world. There is no wonder then that it was impossible for me not to set the bar of expectations high for Andrez Bergen after his debut novel, but if that changed the way I perceive his future works it also made me await them with eagerness.
The first in line, Andrez Bergen’s new novel, “One Hundred Years of Vicissitude”.
“First up, a disclaimer. I suspect I am a dead man.” What the main character only suspects in the beginning becomes obvious immediately after that. Wolram E. Deaps is dead and he finds himself in a limbo. A transitional situation for which he has no explanation or from which he has no escape yet. But the state Wolram E. Deaps is in it’s not completely cut off from the state of living Wolram is familiar with.
Along the story of “One Hundred Years of Vicissitude” Wolram learns on his own that the state of transition in which he is found comes with childhood dreams reflected on this limbo, with significant physical needs, for instance cold and hunger. But nb also is a place with new possibilities, such as meeting new people. And Wolram E. Deaps meets Kohana. Together they begin a journey through the memories of the former geisha, a pilgrimage to the significant moments of her life, the events that shape Kohana’s character and her former existence. Is the recounting of a life, with the good, the bad and in between, a flash of an existence before death exerts its final toll.
With the only two main characters on the scene “One Hundred Years of Vicissitude” is similar in many aspects with a play. Much of the story’s magic consists in the relationship between these two characters, but without neglecting the story in the least. Each act of the story takes place in a different setting, the props are changed from one moment in Kohana’s life to another, with the necessary revisiting of the most important ones.
The entire odyssey is made in the accompaniment of witty dialogues, delightful characters and captivating story. Or little stories, since the entire picture of “One Hundred Years of Vicissitude” is made by smaller parts that could easily make a tale on their own. But the characters do not make solely a voyage through Kohana’s life memories, it is also an expedition through a certain era of Japan’s history. It is a hymn brought to this wonderful country and to some of the elements that define its individuality. Customs, history, legends, literature, music and pop culture receive homage in Andrez Bergen’s novel. The ritual of drinking saké, geishas, kabuki, monster movies, yakuza or sumo are some of the things that find their way into the novel one way or another.
There are only two characters in “One Hundred Years of Vicissitude”, but one of them makes a connection between Andrez Bergen’s two published novels. Wolram E. Deaps is a character from the authors’ debut novel, “Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat”.
As a matter of fact, he is the antagonist of that book, ambitious and greedy. However, not in a single moment I could see Wolram E. Deaps as the character with an unsated appetite for power and money. He even becomes an agreeable character in “One Hundred Years of Vicissitude”. I would not register this aspect as complaint however, because until I experience a state of limbo or any other post-mortem situation first-hand I cannot rightfully affirm how such an instance affects the character of a human being. Wolram E. Deaps not only makes a connection with “Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat”, but he also gives both Andrez Bergen’s novels metafictional qualities. It is early on in “One Hundred Years of Vicissitude” when Wolram spots a book among others with certain characteristics: “On a small round table next to the sofa was a pile of books, at the top of which sat a hardback titled Dead Yellow Women. Peeking out beneath that was a cartoonish goat with a cigarette, on a dirty brown cover.”
I said that after reading an author for the first time it is almost impossible for me to start the writer’s other works without some expectations. Such was the case with Andrez Bergen too, but nothing I expected based on “Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat” could have prepared me for what I found in “One Hundred Years of Vicissitude”.
Yes, both novels have witty, intelligent and delightful dialogues, both show a mastering of language and an assured writing technique from Andrez Bergen, both with various odes brought to the things I can only guess that the author loves at personal level. But “One Hundred Years of Vicissitude” reveals new qualities of Andrez Bergen, in particular a warm and wonderful sensibility. The description of Asakusa 1945 firebombing and the reminder of the cruelties of Nanking massacre are touching and emotional. These would have been enough to show Andrez Bergen ability to create emotion, but there many more sensible moments. Distinctly, two scenes from the end of “One Hundred Years of Vicissitude” bring the reader close to tears.
Globalization is very far from the milk and honey heaven we are led to believe it brings, but I am thankful for the possibility it gives me to discover writers such as Andrez Bergen, an Australian, living in Japan and enchanting the readers across the globe, such as myself, with the stylish noir post-apocalyptic “Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat” or this little gem that is “One Hundred Years of Vicissitude”. ~ Mihai Adascalitei, Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews
- 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):
"Regular change or succession from one thing to another, or one part of a cycle to the next; alternation; mutual succession; interchange. (Often plural) a change, especially in one's life or fortunes."
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. Having been killed by Floyd at the end of that 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 1940s 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.
And remember how I said at the beginning this had a love story to it? ...well, you'll have to read the book to discover more as I won't give any spoilers away!
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.
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 realize 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, 'One Hundred 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.
~ Dan Wright, Pandragon Dan
- "Fantasy Book Review Book of the Month, December 2012. Vicissitude: A change of circumstances or fortune, typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant. Charles Dickens collides with Haruki Murakami in a pulsating tale of history, redemption and revenge.
I have always - ever since my teenage days - had a fascination with Japan. The rich history, the customs, the honour, just the way in which everything is so wonderfully different from life in the UK. And the 2 weeks I managed to spend there a few years ago only served to double my interest in the country and so I always find myself helplessly drawn towards works of fiction that have The Land of the Rising Sun as a direct influence (Haruki Murakami's works have been a most welcome companion on my daily commute thanks to the wonder of audio-books).
Unfortunately, I no longer have as much time to read as much I would like so I only offer to read and review books that there is a very, very good chance that I will love. One Hundred Years of Vicissitude appealed to me straight away and, despite already having too many books on the pending list, I just had to ask for a copy. You just can't let good books pass you by.
So what is the story about? Well, to explain the sentence on the third line of this review: The Charles Dickens part is courtesy of the way the book flips between important historical events in the life of the two major characters, Wolram and Kohana, as we are shown events in a way reminiscent of Scrooge and the three ghosts. The Murakami part is due to a) the book being set in Japan and b) the author's detailed and loving telling of the character's lives. For me, Murakami, and another favourite of mine, Stephen King, are the best writers at giving ordinary people extraordinary life stories, and in One Hundred Years of Vicissitude Bergen is able to achieve the same, channelling his influences into one seriously great book.
Did I just mention influences? Any who have read King and Murakami know that these authors load their books with references to the music, books, films and people that have impacted upon their lives and Bergen does exactly the same here. By the end of it I had probably been on Wikipedia a dozen times to look up specific events, such as the firebombing of Tokyo in 1945, and had a list as long as my arm containing books I must read and films I must see. And I think this is a great experience to have while reading and I found myself wiser in many ways after the last page turned.
But first back to the beginning, where the narrative is taken up by a man that has obviously ceased-to-be:
"First up, a disclaimer. I suspect I am a dead man. I have meagre proof, no framed- up certification, nothing to toss in a court of law as evidence of a rapid departure from the mortal coil. I recall a gun was involved, pressed up against my skull, and a loud explosion followed."
And from this point we journey into a kind of in-between-world, a limbo where restless spirits are able to reconcile themselves with their own memories, and thus begins a purgatorial tour through twentieth-century Japanese history with a ghostly geisha who has seen it all as a guide and a corrupt millionaire as her reluctant companion.
The phrase that remained with me long after finishing was "history is written by the victors". As a child growing up in the UK I was always given a very black and white history of the Second World War. Brits and Yanks = good, Germans and Japanese = bad. Nothing is ever quite this simple and I cherish books like this, and Markus Zusak's The Book Thief, for showing the hardships suffered by the ordinary people in Germany and Japan during World War II, showing them as being no different from those on the "good" side.
This book is by turns educational, inspiring, traumatic and humorous. It is also one of the best books I have read this year. So, if you are looking for an extremely alternate take on a Christmas Carol this festive period, then Andrez Bergen's One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is an absolute must." ~ Lee Sibbald, Fantasy Book Review
- Mr. Wolram E. Deaps mentions early in One Hundred Years of Vicissitude that “there is no neat beginning with which to start things.”
Since Wolram is the central character and narrator of the story, I wondered what was to come. As this mysterious, thoughtful, and occasionally horrific story unfolded, I realized that while a neat beginning was never promised, the sum of a life can be tidily bundled into packets of time, which provide a workable method to scrutinize one’s existence. We meet Wolram after his death. He’s understandably confused and having trouble putting everything into context. What he doesn’t yet know is that he’s about to start a journey through time and memory, pausing long enough at each scene to ponder what transpired and the effects that point in time had on the future.
Wolram is joined by a companion in what he assumes is his afterlife, named Kohana. She’s an intelligent, willful, beautiful, sassy, stubborn enigma of a woman who, we will learn, has lived an incredible life as she survived pivotal points in the history of Japan.
It is her life that Wolram explores, soundtracked by a breathtakingly detailed narrative provided by Kohana. Throughout the journey, changes of memory-locale arrive crisply and frequently, drawing protest, fear, anger, and a growing sense of curiosity from Wolram towards his companion. It’s not quite Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley, but one can’t help but recall that classic tale. Although, with old Scrooge and Marley, it was always clear who was calling the shots–not so with our deceased duo. While one definitely knows what is going on, we are left with just enough vagueness to question the ultimate goal of the Grand Tour. Was this a mutual benefit for two souls leaving this world? Was this an endurance test or an exercise in acceptance?
While the book delivers a satisfying ending, it leaves the reader wide open to questioning much about their own existence and place in history. I defy you to read this book and not think about your own past–as well as your present actions, which stack up like cordwood, defining your future. Will this book alter your future? I believe it may have already altered my own –why should I wait till the end of my lifespan to ponder the worth of my actions and choices? Why not truly live in my moments? And perhaps, one day, when I revisit my life on my final journey, I can take satisfaction from and comfort in the choices I’ve made. ~ Lori Holuta, Steampunk Magazine
- In his gritty debut novel, Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat , Melbournian pop-cultural heavyweight Andrez Bergen captured his hometown through the lens of dystopian noir fiction.
His second novel One Hundred Years of Vicissitude continues to pull no punches—if anything it’s equally accomplished and more ambitious in scope.
Shifting his gaze from a morally bankrupt futuristic Melbourne to 20th Century Japan, One Hundred Years is epic in its proportions. Bergen’s latest tale is a “dialogue-based action novel with a penchant for the surreal”, the ultimate success of the narrative and of the novel resting with Bergen’s two major players: a one-time geisha-turned-assassin called Kohana and the sparring, smoke-jacket-clad Wolram Deaps.
Bergen’s skill in pulling off a punter’s big-shot narrative is unquestionable. His vigilant character development and twists of creative indulgence in other areas of the novel serve as a refreshing means of exploring Japanese culture; that is, through the dry eyes of Deaps, a Westerner embedded in his ways—even in the afterlife. It is in this ‘grey’ and indeterminate realm of the afterlife that Bergen suspends any notion of law, logic, morality or reality, and hence where the complexity of One Hundred Years of Vicissitude rises to the murky surface.
Bergen’s revisiting of Japan pre-, mid-, and post-World War II, through the memory of femme fatale Kohana, brings to the fore the poignancy of such a significant and morally clouded tiem in history of the Asia-Pacific—including the often forgotten Australia. Themes of military failure, rampant globalisation and Westernisation are explored naturally through character and narrative—Bergen’s deceptive lightness in tone preventing any preachy pretenses. If politics isn’t your cup of tea, which would be a damn shame in this case, Bergen’s stylistic mastery of the noir genre alone is worth the read.
Having showcased a Raymond Chandler-esque neurosis in his previous novel, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude reaffirms a postmodern dexterity of Cirque de Soleil proportions.
The hopscotching cultural appropriation of Bergen’s novel sends plenty of Tarantino-sized volts to the system. Bergen’s aesthetic games tend to be disorientating for a few pages or so, leaving the less astute of us grappling on figurative hands and knees. However, the sensation of such a pop-cultural wave crashing overhead, like a manic Fedora-hatted Poseidon which only Bergen can conjure, satisfies a literary death wish most readers secretly harbour. I mean, c’mon, to combine Spaghetti Western, English sterling and Aussie vernacular within the one literary effort is a commendable objective in itself.
For those noir aficionados who have so far recoiled from the literary and cinematic pastiche described, have no fear; Bergen, with cynical bite, brings home the bacon. Themes of revenge and the abject are never far off and are, if anything, uncompromisingly integrated through the novel’s marginalised hero and heroine and their taboo past lives. It is exactly through Bergen’s fondness for the sordid that the truth of his novel is unveiled—that is, the surreal position that contemporary Tokyo occupies in the Western imagination.
For if Bergen, through etymological exploration of his Japanese lead, can successfully draw relevance between the arcade game Super Street Fighter II , an episode of South Park , a 1980s anime series and a C-grade torture-horror movie, all within the one schizophrenic ramble, than nothing is beyond belief. Now, drop that in your martini and drink it. ~ Zoe Kingsley, Farrago Magazine
- vi·cis·si·tude noun \və-ˈsi-sə-ˌtüd, vī-, -ˌtyüd\ 1. the quality or state of being changeable; 2. a favorable or unfavorable event or situation that occurs by chance.
December of 2011 brought me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received, but Santa wasn’t the one who delivered it. No, my personal Kris Kringle was author Andrez Bergen, who was kind enough to provide me with a copy of his book Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat. I thought the title and cover intriguing, and set about reading. Damn! Not only did TSMG end up being one of my Top Reads of 2011, it is one of my favorite reads ever.
Naturally, I wondered how he could ever possibly top it. Well hold on, ladies and gentlemen, because with One Hundred Years of Vicissitude Bergen is once again taking readers on a wildly enchanting journey down the rabbit hole to an ethereal world rich with Japanese and pop culture, one which seamlessly melds history and the hereafter.
Though not a sequel in the traditional sense, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is built around the character of Wolram E. Deaps, last seen in Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat. When we last saw him, however, things weren’t going too well for Deaps, so much so in fact that Vicissitude begins with the following observation on his part: “First up, a disclaimer. I suspect I am a dead man.” He suspects correctly.
Not the nicest man in life, Deaps finds himself wandering aimlessly in a sort of limbo world, endlessly walking but never actually getting anywhere. The landscape which greets him is remarkable only in its absence; no cities or towns, rain or sun, color or sound, only barren trees on the edge of a diminishing horizon. Deaps is on a road to nowhere, surrounded by nothing. Until one day, with no warning and no recollection of getting there, Deaps finds himself outside a cottage. Wondering if the cottage is meant to symbolize the end of his journey, Deaps approaches only to discover his journey is just beginning, as the cottage’s resident, a Geisha named Kohana, has many wondrous things, both beautiful and terrifying, to show him.
Though she initially appears to Deaps as a fifteen-year-old, Kohana informs him that she in fact lived for nearly a century, and is actually a fellow resident of the limbo world. They are Gaki, she explains, “hungry ghosts” whose lot is to suffer for eternity with an insatiable hunger for the things in life they once most coveted. Kohana proceeds to take Deaps on a spectral journey back through the one hundred years of vicissitude which made up not only her life, but that of the country of Japan as well. Jumping back and forth through time Deaps and Kohana revisit the tumultuous events, both large and small, which shaped a life and a nation.
Along the way author Andrez Bergan treats the reader to an enchanting melding of fact and fiction, one which magically weaves together a tapestry of history and pop culture with references to everything from Lewis Carroll and The Wizard of Oz, to the leveling of Asakusa during World War II and the legendary Graf Zeppelin’s only visit to Japan, to James Bond and noir cinema. In this regard, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is absolutely epic in scope and lushly cinematic in its settings. And yet, when boiled down to its essence One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is first and foremost an intimate look at the relationship between Deaps and Kohana.
It’s a strange one, one which initially makes little sense to either the reader or Deaps. There is a method to Bergen’s madness however, and the patience of both Deaps and the reader is richly rewarded with a deeply satisfying journey of self-discovery, one arrived at by traveling through humor and horror, joy and sorrow, enrichment and loss. One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is an achingly poetic reminder that life is about the journey, not the destination, and that with that journey necessarily comes change. Sometimes the change is for the better, other times for the worse, but to be alive is to embrace both, for it is only through the vicissitudes of life that one truly lives.
Andrez Bergen is unquestionably one of the most creative, original authors I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, and his ability to take such wildly disparate pieces as those which appear in Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat and One Hundred Years of Vicissitude and assemble them into a cohesive puzzle is simply awe-inspiring.
One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is available from Perfect Edge Books at Amazon US and Amazon UK. ~ Elizabeth A. White, Reviews by Elizabeth A. White
- ‘First up, a disclaimer. I suspect I am a dead man. I have meagre proof, no framed up certification, nothing to toss in a court of law as evidence of a rapid departure from the mortal coil. I recall a gun was involved, pressed up against my skull, and a loud explosion followed.’
So starts Andrez Bergen’s 100 Years of Vicissitude, the premise of which is this – a geisha guides a rather dodgy man through the spirit world. Piqued your interest yet?
Well, add into the mix some multi-layered writing, numerous pop culture references, the odd history lesson and a cracking great story and you just about start to scratch the surface of this highly original book.
Wolram Deaps has recently shrugged off his mortal coil and meets Kohana in the next realm. Is it limbo? Possibly, but it doesn’t really matter. What follows is a lot of her past rather than his, leading the reader to suspect that he has taken up the mantle of leading her into the light instead of the other way around as you might expect.
They are two highly likeable lead characters – no matter that one is certainly a murderer – he in a smoking jacket with a plummy accent, she resplendent in beautiful silks and sashes. In fact, it is very nearly a love story. I missed many of the Japanese references, picking up on the more Western ones, but again it doesn’t really matter as the writing style is so ornately captivating and the story so more-ish.
The shifts in periods were very well done, and at no point is the reader left scratching their head in bemusement as can happen with other time lapse stories. It was wonderful to read something a bit different, after all, how many books have you read centered around Japanese culture? Maybe you have, but for me it was a bit like taking a holiday somewhere I wouldn’t usually consider going. Perhaps this book pulled me out of a comfortable rut.
But there is so much more to 100 Years of Vicissitude, and I feel like I’ve only peeled back a tiny section of the marvels therein. I suspect I’ll read it again as it seems to me to be one of those books that will keep giving with each visit. ~ British Fantasy Society, British Fantasy Society
- When I first read Andrez Bergen's debut novel earlier this year I was quite excited as I found it to be a great read and I was even more stoked when I discovered that a second novel, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude would be coming out in October and I have been eagerly awaiting it's release since.
I certainly have not been disappointed, One Hundred Years is one of the more profound and moving books I have read in a very long time and combined with Mr Bergen's unique writing style this novel is really something special.
This novel could be viewed as a historical narrative, a love story or a journey through time and different cultures and is a stand alone novel despite the presence of characters from previous works (although reading his debut novel, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat may help add some clarity or perspective to the storyline).
The two main characters that feature in this novel are well developed and the author uses his unique sense of humour and wit to draw the readers in but it is not in-your-face styled humour, rather a subtle insertion that perfectly adds to the power of the tale being told.
The same can be said of Andrez Bergen's influences, he introduces us to numerous movies, books, comics, music and actual historic events and rather than this be overbearing it adds another layer to a novel that is so much better for being multi-layered and faceted.
I haven't written many reviews of books I have read before and found it somewhat difficult to write this one, I actually noticed that some of the other people who also have reviewed this novel found themselves in a similar position. This could perhaps be attributed to the fact that One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is the kind of novel that isn't pinned down to any particular genre and the author has taken the reader on a genuine journey with pain, laugh out loud moments, a sense of melancholy, happiness and even moments where I myself found myself getting a bit teary eyed (I cannot recall the last time that happened when I read a book!)
Overall I am so pleased that I have discovered this author and read this book, it was a genuine pleasure to read and I am sure to revisit it many times in the future. Would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a fantastic book and isn't compelled to read something that is pigeon-holed into a particular genre and is simply happy to be taken on a wonderful ride. ~ Travis Haydon, Goodreads
- "This story of the afterlife is like nothing else that has come before it. Bergen has set the standard for an intriguing, beautiful and terrible place that leaves most of the big questions up to the reader while still being a compelling and satisfying read. The settings are cinematic and amazing--the most visual novel I have read in some time. In patiently building up the relationship between his two main characters he effortlessly drops in gems of Japanese history and culture, popular culture, and heavy doses of both high and low brow humor. By the end of the book the reader will have fallen in love with both characters, Japan, and Andrez Bergen himself. This book is by far my favorite read of the year, I cannot recommend it enough. There is truly something for everyone, while remaining compelling, literary and important." ~ Renee Pickup, Amazon USA
- "Set in a vague, Dickensian hereafter, Andrez Bergen's second novel, 100 Years of Vicissitude, is a compelling read that shows a maturity in writing only hinted at in its predecessor, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat. Where the prior novel relied heavily on gimmicks and included so many coded references to great moments in pop culture that an appendix was provided to try to keep track of them all, the new novel is more dreamlike and manages to sustain an elegiac mood throughout its 268 pages.
Wolram E. Deaps, the corrupt millionaire/villain who was killed off at the end of Bergen's prior novel, is back, this time not fully understanding where (or when) he is, reluctantly going along for the ride of his afterlife with Kohana, a ghostly geisha. She is also dead, having lived through 100 years of turbulent Japanese history and determined to show the highlights to Deaps.
Along the way, we are treated to visits to pre- and post-World War Two Tokyo, as Kohana shows Deaps events from her life that coincide with major events in Japan. The firebombing of Nanking plays a role, but it's not all tragedy, as we also attend a Sumo wrestling match and even learn a little bit about Marvel comics of the 1960s and what it was like to be a boy in late 20th century Australia.
Sound interesting? It is! Once you start reading 100 Years of Vicissitude, I guarantee you'll have a hard time putting it down. My only complaint is that the beautiful Japanese characters sprinkled throughout are not translated for those of us who can't read the language!" ~ Jack Seabrook, Bare*Bones Ezine
- "Andrez Bergen has a special knack for storytelling. His education shines through his prose, strengthening the layers of his novels. Bergen being a movie journalist, his imagination is equipped with many tools that come into play in every step of the writing process. One Hundred Years... is a visual novel, saturated with rich descriptions and scenes.
Crime, geisha, time travel; this book masterfully balances these things, creating an exciting tale. Filled with high and low brow humor, the story turns its nose up at pretentious literature while being tasteful thus adding to its satirical tone.
One element of the novel is the self-discovery of the characters. This makes the novel raw, emotional, and above all: honest. These things keep a story alive through the years, entertaining the masses for generations. I would give this book 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to anyone with a brain. Or a heart for that matter." ~ Dakota Taylor, Insomnia Press
- After taking a bullet to the head, an Australian named Deaps has just been killed. Being dead means wandering an unknown landscape not unlike the world as he knew except the details are a little off. He gets a traveling partner, Kohana, a teen Japanese girl who was born before him. What follows are their encounters on both sides of life and death, this side and the Other Side in cinematic cuts to scenes of “reality on rewind” as they walk through the girl’s life in a time traveling tour of 20th century Japan.
Their tour covers everything from the world wars to post-WW2 Japan to video games to Godzilla. In a quest for the meaning of death, he tours his own life seeking to find out exactly what he is, a ghost or what?
With these two the reader goes on a witty voyage of ideas, history, pop culture, style, characters and scenes that are unforgettable, told by a writer of prodigiously creative originality. Ultimately this is an otherworldly love story—except it’s too unique to be anything like a love story.
This fascinating novel is one of a kind. ~ RAYMOND EMBRACK, RAYMOND EMBRACK FICTION
- One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is the second novel of author Andrez Bergen. It both is and isn’t a follow-up book to his first novel, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat. I say it both is and isn’t, because the novel takes a path less traveled as far as sequels go; it follows along what happens to TSMG’s protagonist, Wolram E. Deaps, after the end of that tale, rather than continuing on to tell more of the story of Floyd and Nina. It is difficult to review this book – or indeed, discuss it at all – without spoiling a bit of the end of TSMG, so if you have not yet read that book and plan to, I would suggest reading it before reading further about this book. That said …
Wolram E. Deaps is pretty sure he’s dead. He’s found himself wandering a silent, lonely road in some sort of purgatory, drifting aimlessly for time untold. Until he finds himself at the door of a beautiful Japanese geisha named Kohana. Kohana believes they are now ‘Gaki’ – “hungry ghosts” – “Spirits of jealous or greedy people, cursed with an insatiable desire for the good things in life.” Unable to help himself, Deaps finds himself following along behind Kohana as she revisits the events of her long life on Earth, eventually coming to revisit some of his own.
As I’ve mentioned, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude both is and is not a sequel. I would say Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat is perhaps not a necessary prerequisite read, but highly recommended, to understand little bits of conversation that mention past events. That said, readers of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat should not come to One Hundred Years of Vicissitude expecting more of the same. It is a completely different book, both in content and in feel. Whereas TSMG was narrated by and told from Floyd’s perspective, Floyd has only bit parts in 100 Years, barely glimpsed on the sidelines. Here, the story is told by and from the perspective of Deaps, complete with his own style and way of speaking. Whereas TSMG was decidedly post-apocalyptic science fiction, 100 Years crosses bridges between literary fiction and science fiction, bringing it into the realm of Slipstream, although perhaps maybe not as surreal in feel as that label would imply.
One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is not an action-packed adventure you can race through in a single evening (at least, not easily). The story reads slowly, like classic literary fiction. Much like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, readers follow along with what is basically a conversation between two people remembering long lives passed. In this book, though, Kohana plays something of a dual role, both the Ghost of Christmas Past and Scrooge at once, and Deaps is Scrooge as well. The characters themselves reference the tale a number of times, bringing a touch of humor to a dark story of war, murder and lost loves.
Bergen has taken the short time between his two novels to really hone his writing. The pace of One Hundred Years of Vicissitude may be slow, but it is consistent, and the writing is always clear and concise. Even when characters are jumping from one point in time to another, the flow of the story never falters, and readers are treated to a lot of little-known facts about Japanese history set in fictional tone. This, friends, is what good literary fiction reads like.
As in his previous novel, Bergen continues to drop little things for readers familiar with his life and work to find – a book here, a character there, an allusion to his recording company. Much like Stephen King’s many cameo appearances, discovering one of these little nuggets always adds a little fun to the story, even if it isn’t really part of the story itself.
The most important message One Hundred Years of Vicissitude delivers is one of change. No matter how much or how often we think our lives will never improve or change, change is the one thing that is inevitable. We are born, we grow, we experience the world around us as we age. We form and lose relationships. We experience joys and pains, and we die. Nothing ever stays the same. This is the very nature of being human, and being part of this world. Nothing lasts forever, and the longer you live, the more you go out and experience life, the more changes you will see in your lifetime. Here, too, lies the admonition to value our elders, not just for who they are in and of themselves, but for what they’ve experienced in their own lifetimes, the things they’ve seen and done that we may have never known about.
All in all, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is a wonderful tale of the lives of two people, intersecting and intertwining in unexpected places. It is a tale of the things they’ve seen and done in their lives, and their attempts at growth and understanding. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys literary fiction, particularly of the Dickensian slant; fans of A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities will find much to love here. ~ Jessica Nelson, Alwaysunmended
- "Reading 100 Years of Vicissitude by Andrez Bergen is like running headlong into a bar brawl between Flann O’Brien and James Joyce: you know you're going to get hurt and bloody, but you'll end up richer for the experience." ~ Craig Wallwork, Author
- Vicissitude - it's all about change, how your life can change, how your fortune can change. Change is a sloppy beast to hold onto, it slips through your fingers sometimes before you've even realised, you wake up at 3 am one morning and you suddenly wonder about your life, how you got to this point.
OK, so maybe this is something you do more as you get on in years, before that, you're just too busy living to even notice change as it segues so invisibly from one scene to another.
I finished 'One Hundred Years of Vicissitude' after midnight, didn't sleep much after that, my past flicking behind my eyelids like some old cine film, my mind trying to make sense of the choices I've made over the years, the changes that have occurred.
Would you, if you got the chance, like to revisit your life? Would you want to stand beside your younger self, invisible, and watch your key moments, your mistakes, your lost loves, your bereavements?
In 'One Hundred Years of Vicissitude', the life of Kohana, a geisha, now dead, leads Wolram E. Deaps (killed at the end of 'Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat'), through her long life. The pair make an odd couple with no obvious connection (that is discovered later), other than they are both dead whilst Deaps' confusion and irritation with the enigmatic Kohana, trailing after her as they flash from location to location, decade to decade, mirrored my increasing impatience to discover where Kohana was leading him to and for what reason.
The exquisite writing and structure produced by Bergen is alone an excellent reason to read this book but the developing relationship between the two main characters is incredibly touching and devastating in its beauty by the end. And it is only then that Wolram discovers the truth as he reaches the very end of the path with Kohana. Everything makes sense, the beginning comes into focus and the pieces fit together.
So I lay in bed as the images from my life passed before me, somewhere in there, there must be sense too. Hopefully the pieces will eventually fit together.
I now need and want to read 'One Hundred Years...' again, my tears are still wet but my heart is singing. ~ McDroll, I Meant to Read That...
- Last year, Andrez Bergen leaped onto the scene with Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, with a cover and title that thoroughly convinced me of the book's appeal before I'd ever read a page.
This summer, his second book, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, will be released, and I was lucky enough to get an early look.
In some ways, these are two very different books. TSMG is a sci-fi noir thriller set in post-apocalyptic Melbourne, while One Hundred Years is a more literary venture about one man's swim through purgatory with an obtuse, lovely Japanese guide.
Yet both books are smart, filled with dark (and light) humor, littered with cultural and media references both popular and obscure, and told from the perspective of cynical, sensitive, likable, alcohol-loving protagonists trying to navigate their way through confusing, morally questionable worlds. Both are told in the author's inimitable narrative style--Bergen relishes wacky tangents and dives head-first into philosophical dialogues that prove to be some of the most satisfying parts of his books.
Bottom line is that both of these are highly original, challenging yet thoroughly enjoyable novels. Bergen has a voice all his own and I'll be on the look out for wherever he pops up next. TSMG is published by Another Sky Press, a Portland organization that takes a very different (and welcome) approach to publishing.
One Hundred Years is published by Perfect Edge Books. ~ Chris Rhatigan, Death By Killing
- The premise is this – a geisha guides a man through the spirit world. Piqued your interest yet?
Well, add into the mix some excellent, multi-layered writing, numerous pop culture references, the odd history lesson and a cracking great story and you just about start to scratch the surface of this wonderful book.
Wolram Deaps has recently shrugged off his mortal coil and meets Kohana in the next realm. Is it limbo? Possibly, but it doesn’t really matter. What follows is a lot of her past rather than his, leading the reader to suspect that he has taken up the mantle of leading her into the light instead of the other way around as you might expect.
They are two highly likeable lead characters – no matter that one is certainly a murderer – he in a smoking jacket with a plummy accent, she resplendent in beautiful silks and sashes. In fact, it is very nearly a love story.
I missed many of the Japanese references, picking up on the more Western ones, but again it doesn’t really matter as the writing style is so ornately captivating and the story so more-ish. I was bereft when I finished it.
The shifts in periods were very well done, and at no point is the reader left scratching their head in bemusement as can happen with other time lapse stories.
It was wonderful to read something a bit different, after all, how many books have you read centering on Japanese culture? But there is so much more to One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, and I’ve honestly only peeled back a tiny section of the marvels therein here – I suspect I’ll read the book again.
5/5 ~ Reading, Writing and No Arithmetic, Katy O'Dowd
- This book is unique.
I think that’s where I need to start, it’s like nothing I have ever read before. I originally agreed to review this book per author request and I felt a little apprehensive about what would come because my knowledge of Japanese history is limited. However I found the book thrilling, exciting, tear jerking at moments and really bizarre! Bergen has a very unique style of writing and he adds a touch of humour into his work that I thoroughly appreciated. It was a rather dry, sarcastic tone which worked well with the tone of the book.
There is little to discern from the actual plot, but the story follows the footsteps of a man who meets a very strange Japanese woman, who crept into my heart along with him and I found myself flipping through the pages to find out where their journey would end. Ultimately this story has a sense of surrealism because it ventures into the realm beyond death and trips into ‘memories’ that is rather confounding at time and you may at times struggle to keep up. However we seem to develop into a full cycle and end on a rather poignant note and I’m glad to say it wasn’t the ending of pointlessness I almost expected from this type of book, but thoroughly rounded.
Bergen seems to enjoy discombobulating us by thrusting us into a new situation at every turn. The fact that he does this adds to the thrill of the story and is certainly enough to pique my interest.
The style of writing is unique, but it certainly adept and stretches my knowledge of vocabulary to its limits. To be truthful, I’d never heard of the word “vicissitude” before reading and the first thing I did was look through a dictionary before reading the book. For those of you who are unawares of the term like me, it means change or variation in the course of something or just change. It fits perfectly to the tale of the story and I find that this is ultimately one of those reads where the title actually integrates with the storyline.
Covers are certainly attractive to the eye and I think this one is interesting enough to make you stop and take a look. I don’t think until you begin to read do you understand the ultimate significance and along with the title, I loved the enlightenment I gained from that experience.
The narration is from the perspective of the man we meet with the most effective introduction of “First up, a disclaimer. I suspect I am a dead man.” after the prologue. The first person narrative is not a reason to avoid this story because it’s the core strength of the story with the idea of ‘memories’ and falling into them, we wouldn’t quite gain the confusion and upheaval if we were to view the tale from a third person narrative.
The characters are realistic people with secrets and problems that uncover across the tale of the story. I found myself falling just a little bit in love with Wolram and his nature. He seemed to gain a redemption throughout the story from his troubled life that was inferred and I enjoyed that experience. Kohana was a deceptive character until the very end. She was not somebody you could judge to act in a particular way and was rather a strange woman, although by the end of the story I came to feel rather sad for her.
Throughout reading I came across some interesting references to other pieces of literature and film which Bergen placed in, but my personal favourites had to be from Lewis Carroll. They did particularly make me smile along with The Wizard of Oz references as two children’s classics.
At times this story did confuse me with certain directions and I struggled to find my way, but I don’t think this took too much away from the overall experience of the book. It was largely in the set-up in the beginning and some of the constant changes in Kohana’s life which were rather fast that led to confusion.
Along with that, the books doesn’t seem to fall solidly into one particular genre because it covers a large range of things, from a tad science-fiction style to romance along with the history and mystery aspects. I enjoyed that aspect of the book whilst struggling to place an exact label on the genre, so definitely pick up this book for a little of everything!
Overall I feel like this book is a fantastic addition to the fiction genre and you’d be stupid to overlook it on the fact that it covers Japanese history. The real undercurrent of the story is the developing relation between Kohana and Wolram and the direction of their past life. Pick up this book when it comes out later this year because otherwise you’ll be missing out! ~ Olivia Wakey, Nerdy Book Reviews
- "What an unusual read. 'One Hundred Years of Vicissitude' is a hedonistic, delightfully drunken tour through purgatory and World War II-era Japan. A funny, erudite, and surreal exploration of Japanese culture, the life and afterlife of an ex-pat, and about a million other subjects. Bergen has constructed a dark and magical world you won't soon want to leave." ~ Chris Rhatigan, Pulp Ink
- "Fascinating, mind-bending and educational all at once, this is superb stuff from Bergen, the author of Impact favourite 'Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat'." ~ Impact Magazine, Impact Magazine (UK)
- "When Andrez Bergen burst onto the scene in 2011 with 'Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat', one of the most wonderfully creative and unique books I’ve had the pleasure to read, I wondered how he could ever possibly top it. Well hold on, ladies and gentlemen, because with 'One Hundred Years of Vicissitude' Bergen is once again taking readers on a wildly enchanting journey down the rabbit hole to an ethereal world rich with Japanese and pop culture, one which seamlessly melds history and the hereafter. Prepare to have your mind opened... then blown." ~ Elizabeth A. White, Book Reviews by Elizabeth A. White
- (LONG REVIEW):
I just finished reading an advance copy of Andrez Bergen's new novel, '100 Years of Vicissitude', and I had to share the experience. I don't review books very often here, but I couldn't resist in this case.
Some of you may recall my review of his first novel, the remarkable and amusing genre-buster 'Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat', published in 2010. Reread that review here. I confess that I had a sense, before even opening '100 Years...', that I knew what to expect from this author. How wrong I was.
While TSMG riffed on noir and classic sci-fi referents and popular culture, skating deliriously from gritty action to cinematic set pieces of dialogue, 100 Years is in a different class altogether. TSMG was fun, charged with high voltage, high calorie pop iconography forced through a genre framework.
100 Years is a far more nuanced piece, and in my opinion, it hits you harder as a consequence. A lesser author might have continued to mine the vein opened in TSMG: like I said, it was a fun ride. Bergen is obviously made of different stuff, and he has taken the bold decision to draw one thread from the earlier novel and weave from it a rich tapestry of a very different kind. If this was a risk, then it has paid off.
100 Years of Vicissitude is dreamlike, and bewitchingly evocative. The action starts in a strange landscape that made me think of Kurosawa's wild places from the film 'Ran', dream landscapes where there is furious movement and no progress. Our protagonist finds himself wandering beyond death, resenting the absence of a guiding Virgil to lead the way.
Of course, he is not alone for too long, and the subsequent tale is a weaving together of the lives of an unlikely couple - the irredeemable oligarch and the centenarian former Geisha - thrust together beyond the finitude of death. The majority of the action involves our pair revisiting the memories of Kohana, who, despite being a century old (and dead) appears as the 15 year old Geisha she once was. Kohana's memories take in a broad sweep of Japan's tempestuous passage through the Twentieth Century, and in this regard the novel is truly epic.
Bergen has succeeded in evoking the atmosphere of times and places both terrible and peaceful, and long gone. The reader feels like an eavesdropper, a strange traveller; much like the protagonist Wolram E. Deaps, we are taken from our comfort zone into far flung times and places.
For Deaps, it is through the agency of his death; for us, it is through the convention of reading and the page. To tell you any more seems unnecessary. I will only say that I grew very fond of these characters, and they have remained with me for days now, a glowing and spectral presence on the fringes of my consciousness.
And is that not what fiction is for? That strange alchemical process of introducing you to these people who are real, but not really, although they may touch our emotions in real ways. It's a kind of magic, and it's intoxicating.
Read One Hundred Years of Vicissitude. It is a delight. ~ Marcus Baumgart , The Flawed Mind
- "A terrific book! Bergen takes the reader on a purgatorial tour through twentieth-century Japanese history, with a ghostly geisha who has seen it all as a guide and a corrupt millionaire as her reluctant companion. I couldn't put it down! I put everything else aside and read the whole book. I loved it! I really liked Bergen's first book, but I liked this one so much more." ~ Jack Seabrook, bare*bones e-zine
- "A tale that combines the rich history of Japan with pop culture sensibilities into a unique, memorable story, One Hundred Years of Vicissitude both entertains and illuminates. Andrez Bergen's sophomore novel is another indescribable, exhilarating book that belongs in the library of any fan of contemporary post-modern literature." ~ Stefan Blitz (editor-in-chief), Forces Of Geek
- "Eclectic, compelling, and engaging from the first page—the most original novel I've read all year. If you took 'A Christmas Carol', introduce it to a cheerfully amoral protagonist and set it in the afterlife, you'd still be far away... but closer than most. Loved Deaps' narration—his rather cheerfully disinterested facade as well—and you kept me up all night, in fact. It's quirky, poignant, and utterly brilliant." ~ Jacob Topp-Mugglestone, Drying Ink
- "One Hundred Years of Vicissitude is like that interesting and imaginative conversation you always hoped you'd have with your best friend. Bergen has written it down for you—hard-boiled and entertaining." ~ Charles Pitter, ZOUCH Magazine
- "Dreamlike and bewitchingly evocative, 'One Hundred Years of Vicissitude' reads like an eye-witness account of one man’s personal Hereafter, and in the telling the novel gives a human face to Japan’s fraught progress through the Twentieth Century. Bergen deftly intertwines the lives of an unlikely pair beyond the finitude of death - one a seemingly irredeemable oligarch, the other a centenarian former Geisha - and in doing so immerses the reader in a rich cultural and personal milieu." ~ Marcus Baumgart, The Flawed Mind
- "A fantastic addition to the fiction genre, like nothing I have ever read before." ~ NERDY BOOK REVIEWS
- In a modern age of conspiracies and corporate agglomerates, I think Raymond Chandler would be pleased as to where Bergen has taken his legacy… ~ ZOUCH MAGAZINE
- “Flows effortlessly; smart, mesmerizingly dark and difficult to put down.” ~ VICE MAGAZINE
- "Innovative, quirky, at times hilarious... this is as challenging as it is a roller coaster ride." ~ BEAT MAGAZINE
- "Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat is an incredible novel, completely unexpected and with such a wonderfully rich and unique style that is simply mesmerizing, unmissable." ~ SF BOOK REVIEWS
- "A post-modern melange that is the most intriguing of novels... Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat is a novel that manages to be hardboiled
and playful at the same time." ~ AUSTRALIAN SPECULATIVE FICTION IN FOCU
- "Andrez Bergen put science fiction, noir, Australia and Japan into a literary hadron collider and Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat came out." ~ THE THOUSANDS MAGAZINE
- "I can say without qualification that not only is Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat one of my Top 5 reads of 2011, it is one of the most creative and engaging books I’ve ever read. Period... my mind is completely blown."
~ ELIZABETH A. WHITE (REVIEWER)