Two books from Nihon: one odd and one that should be but isn’t

When you read a great and particular book, such as Lincoln in the Bardo, it’s kind of hard to figure out what to read next. While it may seem strange to go from the 1860s American civil war era to modern Japanese short stories, I successfully followed up all the sad and confused voices in Saunders’s book with a series of linked short stories about sad and confused people in Into the Pool by Hideo Okuda.

Each of the five stories features a character who suffers from some sort of psychosomatic illness. One guy has terrible diarrhea and stomach pains from work stress. Another has an unflagging and embarrassing erection due to suppressed anger. A woman suffers from panic attacks imagining someone is following her. And so on. In each story, the character is referred to the neurology department located, oddly, in the basement of the local hospital, where they find the equally odd Dr. Irabu and his sexy, bored nurse/assistant. All the characters are unsettled by Dr. Irabu’s  unorthodox manner, his grotesque appearance, and his treatment suggestions. They can’t tell if he’s serious or joking. Yet all persist, and at every meeting they all agree to receive injections administered by the nurse (usually while baring her thigh) while Dr. Irabu seems to get off on watching the needle slide into their skin. Yes, it’s weird. Irabu becomes personally involved with characters, and despite his decidedly unprofessional manners and approach, his treatments work. All five stories are set up and resolved in a similar way. Continue reading

How true is A True Novel?

a true novelI have never read Wuthering Heights. But after finishing A True Novel by Minae Mizumura and reading that it was a retelling of WH, I took a short cut and watched the Masterpiece Theater version of the classic to get an idea of how the two compared, at least plot-wise. A True Novel is a retelling of WH, albeit set in Japan and with a Japanese sensibility. However, the entire retelling is also framed within a uniquely Japanese literary genre of the I-novel and “plays” with the historical interest Japanese writers have had in distinguishing between a “true novel” or an “I-novel.” Continue reading

He Said She Said: 1Q84

1q84Earlier this summer my husband and I decided to both read 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. He read the book in Japanese, the language of its composition, and I read it in English translation. We were interested in comparing our impressions and seeing what, if anything, we could discover about how a book reads in the original vs. translation. Though he has declined to blog his impressions of the book himself (spoiling my best laid blogging plans), I will summarize his thoughts based on our conversations.

He said: Continue reading

Hawks, Cats, & Grief

Is there anything more frustrating than losing a draft? I had just finished a long post, inserted images and was set to hit “Publish” when some kind of demon overtook my computer and all seems to be lost. Oh the frustration! So here I go again…

H is for HawkI snagged the last copy of H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald from a local bookstore and began reading it immediately and had a hard time putting it down. Part memoir, part liteary analysis, part history, Macdonald writes about a period of intense grief after her father dies unexpectedly. During this period and as a way to process her emotions, she decides to train and fly a female goshawk that she names Mabel.

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Finishing Up the Year with a . and a !

I managed to tuck two more books into the end of the year’s reading.  The year started with one of my favorites — A Tale for the Time Being — and ends with another favorite as well, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of PilgrammageSince there are so many things Japanese in my life, people often expect me to have read all of Haruki Murakami’s books. The truth is, I have had an ambivalence for Murakami. I think the last book I read by him, prior to Colorless, was the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I loved that book enough to keep it on my shelves, but something about the way Murakami’s stories can dip into the surreal prevented me from picking up another. I think I’ve expressed in blogs that I am often mystified by dream sequences in books,  and Murakami seems to relish writing about weird dreams.

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RevengeRevenge by Yoko Ogawa is a spare collection of odd and macabre short stories. Ogawa’s writing is deceptively simple and straightforward, and then a twisted sentence falls like a cold dead fish on the page, startling and out of place.

I picked up the next coat, turned it inside out, and shake it. Something falls out of the pocket and rolls across the floor: a dried up plum. Looks like a testicle.

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Strange Weather in Tokyo

strange weather in tokyo“His full name was Mr Harutsuna Matsumoto, but I called him ‘Sensei’. Not ‘Mr’ or ‘Sir’, just ‘Sensei’.” — Strange Weather in Tokyo, Hiromi Kawakami

This slim novel is a quirky love story between a oddly immature woman in her late thirties and her much older former school teacher. The two meet up by chance in a local bar and enjoy drinking and eating together. Over the course of a couple of years and without planning, they run into each other over and over and develop a strange attachment, which eventually turns into a love that surprises them both.

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