Category: Japan Page 1 of 6

Mieko Kawakami: ヘヴン (Heaven)

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.

Minae Mizumura: 私小説 from left to right (An I-Novel)

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.

Tahi Saihate: 星か獣になる季節 (Astral Season Beastly Season)

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.

Mario Bellatin: El jardín de la señora Murakami (Mrs. Murakami’s Garden)

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.

Sayaka Murata: 地球星人 (Earthlings)

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.

Hiromi Kawakami: 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)

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?

Samir Naqqash: فراعراقية (Tenants and Cobwebs)

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.

Haruki Murakami: 騎士団長殺し (Killing Commendatore)

The latest addition to my website is Haruki Murakami‘s 騎士団長殺し (Killing Commendatore). This is the usual Murakami, with a lone hero (a portrait painter by profession), trying to solve a mystery (or, in this case, several, possibly interrelated, mysteries), having to cope with the supernatural and helped by a strange but resilient girl (and, in this case, it it really is a girl, not a woman). The plot is complicated with pre-war Vienna, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the art of portrait painting, paternity issues and secret hideaways galore all coming into the mix. As always, with Murakami, the plot is complicated but it is all great fun and a really good read and while not of the quality of some of his earlier work, it is still a fine book.

Mariko Ōhara: ハイブリッド・チャイルド (Hybrid Child)

The latest additon to my website is Mariko Ōhara‘s ハイブリッド・チャイルド (Hybrid Child). This is a science fiction novel, the second in the University of Minnesota’s Parallel Futures series and tells the story of a rogue humanoid battle unit, #3, which is all-powerful, virtually indestructible and can assume the form of anything it eats. It hides in a house where a seven-year old girl is buried in a secure vault and assumes the identity of the child, Jonah. Though it becomes involved in intergalactic and local wars, this is a feminist novel and the creature is not hell-bent on destruction but shows sensitivity and even love. Indeed, it is more the AI units than the humans that show sensitivity in this book. Ohara is a leading Japanese sci-fi writer and this book clearly shows why. Even if you are not a sci-fi fan, you will find this book well worth reading.

Sayaka Murata: ンビニ人間 (Convenience Store Woman)

The latest addition to my website is Sayaka Murata‘s ンビニ人間 (Convenience Store Woman). Murata did and, apparently, still does work in a convenience store. Keiko Furukura has never quite understand social norms since she was a child. When starting university she sees a new convenience store opening up and applies for the job. At the beginning of this novel she has worked there for eighteen years. She has found her place, her life governed by the convenience store and its manual of behaviour. She is very happy, knows her job well and does not want to change. To her parents’ chagrin she has never had a boyfriend, let alone a husband. Then Shiraha turns up to work at the store, looking as much for a wife as for a job. Murata tells her story very sympathetically, showing that finding your niche, even if it as a lowly as convenience store worker, is what matters, particularly if you do not fit in with the way society thinks you should fit in.

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