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.

Yūko Tsushima: 光の領分 (Territory of Light)

The latest addition to my website is Yūko Tsushima‘s 光の領分 (Territory of Light). Tsushima was the daughter of the writer Osamu Dazai who killed himself when she was one. This novel tells the story of a woman, whom we know only by her married name, who, at the start of the novel has left her husband. She has found a flat on the fourth floor of a Tokyo former office building which gives her a lot of light and, during the course of the novel, she lives there with her two year old daughter. She has various problems, including her controlling husband who has no job, difficulties with the flat, difficulties with her daughter who is temperamental, attempts by friends to make her reconcile with her husband (who is living with another woman) and generally cooping with life as a single mother. It is not a happy novel.

Mieko Kawakami: ミス・アイスサンドイッチ (Ms Ice Sandwich)

The latest addition to my website is Mieko Kawakami‘s ミス・アイスサンドイッチ (Ms Ice Sandwich). This is a charming novel about a ten year old boy, an only child whose father died when he was four, who is struggling with growing up. He takes a fancy to a woman he nicknames Ms Ice Sandwich, who works at the sandwich bar in the local supermarket, though he is too shy to speak to her, except to order a sandwich (which he often does not eat). It is a girl of his own age – nicknamed Tutti Frutti – who does more to introduce him to the opposite sex, when she invites him to her house to watch her father’s DVD collection and, in particular, Heat, with its frequent shoot-outs, which appeal to Tutti Frutti. Haruki Murakami praised Kawakami but while I found this novel a pleasant read, I cannot share Murakami’s enthusiasm.

Jun’ichiro Tanizaki: 黒白 (In Black and White)

The latest addition to my website is Jun’ichiro Tanizaki‘s 黒白 (In Black and White). This is the sixteenth Tanizaki on my site. It was first published in 1928 in a newspaper but it has never been published separately before, either in Japanese or in any other language. It appeared in his collected works published in Japanese in 1957 and will appear in French ten days after appearing in English. It is a clever crime story about a dissolute crime writer who writes a story about the perfect murder, with the murdered being based on himself and the victim being based on a casual acquaintance. He then worries the model for the victim will really be murdered and he will blamed. He tries to make sure he has a continuous alibi in case the man is murdered but then forgets, as he is distracted by a German prostitute who occupies most of his attention. It is a clever story and it is surprising that it has never been published separately before.

Minae Mizumura: 母の遺産 (Inheritance of Mother)

The latest addition to my website is Minae Mizumura‘s 母の遺産 (Inheritance of Mother). This is a feminist novel, about the changing role of women in Japan. We follow three generations of Japanese women, who all have their own problems, caused or exacerbated by their sex. We mainly follow Mitsuki and her older sister Natsuki who are dealing with the illness and then death of their mother, Noriko. Mitsuki, in particular, feels the responsibility she has for looking after her ailing mother, even while she learns that her husband is having an affair and planning on leaving her. But we step back to Noriko and to Noriko’s mother, who both struggled against the contemporary mores regarding the role of women. Things may have improved, but it still is not easy for women in Japan. This is another first-class work by Mizumura.

Yoshio Aramaki: 神聖代 (The Sacred Era)

The latest addition to my website is Yoshio Aramaki‘s 神聖代 (The Sacred Era). This is a science fiction novel in the tradition of Robert Heinlein and Philip K Dick but it is a highly intelligent and serious work. Yoshio Aramaki has a reputation in Japan (but not elsewhere) as a first-class writer of speculative fiction (and, more recently, of virtual reality war novels). This is in the former category and considered his best work. It is set on an imaginary planet that has many features of Earth. The planet has a Christian-like religion but one that is Quadritarian rather than Trinitarian, with the Holy Igitur being the fourth divinity. It is facing serious climate change problems as a result of extraction of the hydrogen from the sea and has managed to travel great distances in space. Our hero is K. who, like his Kafkaesque namesake, is a solitary person who has been selected to take the special Sacred Service Examination. Successful candidates (there are fairly few) join a select group of people. He becomes the youngest to pass and is selected to study the Planet Bosch (named after the painter, who exists on their planet as well). However, he has to deal with the ghost of a famous heretic, Darko Dachilko, who was beheaded seven hundred years previously and who seems to like strangling people, an unusual career path, and travel to several exotic planets where he meets Lucifer (the devil), Darko Dachilko and a sex doll. While using conventional science fiction tropes and ideas, the book is ultimately a very serious examination of the nature of humanity, where humans are going a the relationship of humans with the divine.