The latest addition to my website is Kōbō Abe‘s 他人の顔 (The Face of Another). Our hero, a plastics engineer, is badly injured in an industrial accident, leaving his face badly scarred. People – even his wife – are repelled by him. He decides to develop a plastic mask and considers wearing the mask while accosting or even assaulting his wife. What makes the novel are his complex studies on the topic – people’s reaction to him without and with the mask, what masks mean in our society, does the mask have a personality of its own and how it has changed him. Another superb novel from Abe.
The latest addition to my website is Eto Mori‘s カラフル (Colourful). Our unnamed hero has died but has been informed by his angel guide, Prapura, that he has won the lottery, and will be given another chance by entering the body of someone else. The someone else is Makoto Kobayashi, a fourteen year old boy who has just killed himself. Prapura dishes the dirt on the Kobayashi family – mother, father and older brother – and why Makoto killed himself. We learn Makoto was a loner but a talented artist. Gradually, our hero learns what is going on and struggles with his relationships with his family but also with Hiroka, his first love, and Shoko who seems to be attracted to him. However, if he does not recall the cardinal sin he committed in his previous life – and he struggles to do so – it is all going to end badly. While similar in subject to Mieko Kawakami‘s ヘヴン (Heaven), it is far more whimsical but also very much makes its point about the problems Japanese teenagers face.
The latest addition to my website is Kōbō Abe‘s 砂の女 (The Woman in the Dunes). A Japanese teacher is a keen collector of insects and is always hoping to find an unknown species. One day, without telling anyone where he is going, he sets off to a remote sea shore. He misses the last bus but the locals tell him he can stay there. Their houses are in deep holes in the sand so he descends a rope ladder to the house of a woman, who lost her husband and daughter to the sand. He learns that she has to spend most of the night shovelling the sand to protect not only her house but the entire village. He soon learns that they have trapped him there and he has to help her. The book is about his attempts to escape, his relationship with the woman, his thoughts about his life before the sand and how he has to adapt to a completely new life. We know from the very beginning that he will disappear for at leat seven years, as he is declared legally dead. This is a superb and justly famous psychological novel.
The latest addition to my website is Mieko Kawakami‘s ヘヴン (Heaven). This story is about bullying but it is no Tom Brown’s School Days. Our unnamed narrator is a fourteen year old boy at the start of the novel. He has a lazy eye, is not particularly bright and not good at sports. He is frequently and viciously bullied by a group of boys, led by a boy who is taller, athletic, very bright and very popular. One day he starts receiving anonymous notes and, eventually, an invitation to meet. Fearing the worst, he goes but finds Kojima, a fellow pupil, who is bullied because she is often scruffy. The two become close, but not too close, allies in their victimhood. However, both Kojima and one of the bullies, whom our narrator challenges, give an unconventional view of he bullying. Kojima sees it primarily as a way to bring the two together and feels they are morally stronger than the bullies. However it is does not end well… Kawakami gives a first-class story with an unconventional look at bullying.
The latest addition to my website is Minae Mizumura‘s 私小説 from left to right (An I-Novel). This book was written and published before her other two novels published in English and, unusually, contains lots of English words and is written horizontally (as the Japanese title tells us) and not vertically as is normal in Japanese. It is semi-autobiographical and tells of her family moving to the United States, when she was twelve. At the start of the novel, she and her sister note that they have been there twenty years. Minae, our narrator, is finishing her Ph.D. (in French) and plans to return to Japan after having done so, perhaps to write a novel. Much of the book is about exile. How you can you adapt to a foreign culture? Can you go home after so long away, as much will have changed? How can you maintain contact with your home culture when in a foreign culture? And how do you deal with the attitudes of the foreign culture to you and your culture? Like all exiles, the two sisters struggle with these issues and do not really resolve them.
The latest addition to my website is Tahi Saihate‘s 星か獣になる季節 (Astral Season Beastly Season). Two seventeen- year old boys are obsessed with a J-Pop star, attending all her concerts. When she is accused of murder, the two, who are in the same class but are polar opposites and have rarely spoken to one another before, get together to save her and they try to do this by one of them, Morishita, doing further killings so that the police will suspect him and not her while the other, Yamashiro, is reluctantly dragged in. The killing spree continues… The second part, set two years later, has three survivors reviewing the situation. It is a chilling and somewhat sinister book but superbly well told.
The latest addition to my website is Mario Bellatin‘s El jardín de la señora Murakami (Mrs. Murakami’s Garden). This is nominally a story about a Japanese woman who wants to make an academic career which, for various reasons, goes wrong and she ends up marrying a much older man, whose art collection she had earlier criticised in a a magazine article. The marriage is not a happy one. The books starts with his death and her anger at him. However, this a novel where all is not as it seems. It seems to be in Japan and apparently is not. The motives for the marriage of both our heroine and Mr. Murakami are decidedly unclear. In fact, at the end, the author states the true motivations of the story’s protagonists will never be known . In other words this is a novel that, on the face of it, seems straightforward but definitely is not. Bellatin toys with his readers and the novel is much more interesting for it.
The latest addition to my website is Sayaka Murata‘s 地球星人 (Earthlings). Eleven-year old Natsuki Sasamoto does not get on with her parents or her older sister. Her only escape is her cousin Yuu. He is an alien, awaiting the spaceship to take him back to the motherland, while Natsuki has magical powers through her stuffed toy. They only meet during the annual visit to the grandparents house in the mountains. They decide to get married. At school Natsuki is sexually assaulted by a teacher so next time she meets Yuu she asks to have sex with him. They are caught and she is locked up and future visits to Yuu are cancelled. Indeed, she is monitored well into adulthood. As an adult she marries Tomoya who, like her, wants no sex and only friendship, as a way to avoiding the Factory – the job>marriage>children routine that all are expected to follow. When Tomoya loses his job they decide to escape to the house in the mountains where the the only resident is the recently made redundant Yuu. The three decide to resist the Factory but the past and the Factory are not going to let go. This is a superb novel from Murata about how we are made to follow a pattern regardless of what we really want.
The latest addition to my website is Hiromi Kawakami‘s ニシノユキヒコの恋と冒険 (UK: The Ten Loves of Mr Nishino; US: The Ten Loves of Nishino). This is another clever novel from Kawakami about the complexity of love and relationships. Yukihiko Nishino has affairs with ten women in this book (though probably a lot more in actuality). Each one is slightly different but each has a few similarities. Firstly, the relationship does not last. For various reasons, usually because he finds someone else, he moves on, though sometimes not moving on till he is well into the relationship with the next woman. Secondly, he does seem devoted to each woman, proposing to several of them (they do not take his proposal seriously), even while, as we know and, in some cases, they know, there is another woman in the offing. Thirdly, even if their relationship is very brief, they do not forget him. He seems to have a profound effect on them, as is seen at his funeral. (We know, early on, that he is to die, as he appears as a ghost to one of his lovers.) Kawakami tells her tale her well, with each relationship different, despite the similarities, and each time we and the women ask, will this one last?
The latest addition to my website is Samir Naqqash‘s فراعراقية (Tenants and Cobwebs). Samir Naqqash was an Iraqi Jew whose family emigrated to Israel when conditions for Jews in Baghdad became very difficult in Iraq. He never really fit in while in Israel and, unlike, many Jewish émigrés, persisted in writing in Arabic rather than Hebrew, which meant he had less success than other Jewish writers in Israel. This book is set in a Baghdad neighbourhood in the 1940s, when the situation is getting bad for the Jews, following the Farhud (pogrom), as a result of Nazism, Zionism and Arab nationalism. We follow the stories of a host of colourful characters, Jewish and Arab, as they struggle with their own lives, all the while becoming increasingly aware that their stay in Iraq is drawing to a close after many hundreds of years and they will have to leave (By 2013, only five Jews remained in Baghdad, down from 50,000 in 1900). Naqqash tells a superb story of their own problems and disputes, against the background of rising tensions and the gradual realisation that they will have to leave Baghdad.
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