Yei Theodora Ozaki’s translated compendium of Japanese fairy tales is a charming read. Published in 1903 and now out of copyright, I got mine from the Kindle store a while ago for free. It’s also available to download or read for free on Project Gutenberg.
In her introduction, Ozaki explains that she wanted to bring the world of Japanese fairy tales to a western audience and her selection of twenty-two stories is based on Sadanami Sanjin/Sazanami Iwaya’s Meiji era collection for children, with a few tales from other sources. Ozaki rewrote the stories into English with a younger audience in mind. While some are gentle in tone, the fact that they are for children is no guarantee that violence and brutality won’t make an appearance. Some of the stories are quite shocking and upsetting in their cruelty. I suppose an argument can be made that nature and the world are cruel and brutal things, and these stories are reflections of that. I don’t think it’s a collection that I would put in front of a child today, despite knowing what I was like as a child and how much I loved spooky stories.
I have been looking forward to reading Breasts and Eggs, Mieko Kawakami’s novel about writing that follows a working class woman in Tokyo and her battle to become an author, since I first saw it mentioned in a Must Read list. I treated myself to a copy at the start of the year and now its time has come, swapped into my 10 Books of Summer for Women in Translation Month.
Kōbō Abe is a writer I struggled with when I read his most famous book, The Woman in the Dunes. His dreamlike, psychological horror bent my brain. The Box Man promised a similar trip, as it follows a man who chooses to live inside a cardboard box, rejecting the normality of his previous existence in favour of the tenuous reality contained within his mind.
I’ve had the book on my To Read pile for almost 5 years, so I decided to add it to my 10 Books of Summer reading list. It turns out that its claustrophobic setting fitted well with the unusually oppressive sweltering heat of July in the UK.
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders is a new kind of crime novel for me, from a Japanese genre called ‘honkaku’. The story is split between a series of murders that took place in 1936 and the attempts of two young men in 1979 to solve the mystery when a new piece of evidence comes into their possession.
Cathy is running the summer reading challenge that aims to clear some books off your To Read pile again this year – hooray! I’m joining in with my usual ten book goal. As a target, it worked out well for me last year, despite being fooled by some tiny old books into thinking they were short reads. I only missed my goal by one. I’m confident that I’ll hit my goal this year, though, especially since I’ve averaged a book a week so far.
The challenge runs from 1 June to 1 September and you can find out more about what’s involved in Cathy’s introductory post on 746 Books. The main rule is that the rules aren’t tightly binding. So if you choose a book and then don’t fancy it, it’s more than okay to swap it for something else. Or if you have a bit of a reading slump and your target starts to feel like a stretch, then you should feel free to recalibrate to something more realistic. As long as something gets cleared off the To Read pile, you’re golden. Continue reading
Rating 4 stars
First published in Japan in two volumes in 2017 and issued in English translation in 2018, Killing Commendatore is the fourteenth of Haruki Murakami’s novels to be published in the English language.
In this instalment of his epic tale of men who don’t understand women and don’t fully understand themselves, Murakami has chosen to tell the story of an unnamed artist. The novel incorporates a trio of mysteries. Continue reading
Rating 4 stars
Tokyo Ueno Station is a ghost story, an alternative history of Japan and a critique of Japanese society. Beginning among the homeless community who live in and around the busy commuter station near Ueno Park, it reaches back through time to the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the post-war economic boom, the migration of workers to Tokyo to help build the Olympic park in 1964, and the devastating tsunami of 2011.
The narrator of the tale is called Kazu. Through him, we see a different Japan to the one portrayed in travel programmes and newspaper articles. It’s a harrowing story of loss and abandonment. Continue reading
Rating 3 stars
Read for Women in Translation Month and the 20 Books of Summer readathon.
Hiromi Kawakami’s second novel was a change of pace from my previous read this month. Set in a thrift shop that definitely isn’t an antique shop, it follows the lives of shop owner Mr Nakano, his sister Masayo and his two employees Takeo and Hitomi. Hitomi narrates the day to day happenings around the shop. Continue reading
Rating 5 stars
Kitchen is the first novel by Banana Yoshimoto. She’s written a few more since then, but so far I’ve only read The Lake. I enjoyed that one well enough, but I enjoyed Kitchen a whole lot more. Continue reading
Rating 4 stars
I went to a Japan Foundation event at my local Waterstone’s bookshop last week to hear Sayaka Murata interviewed about her novella Convenience Store Woman. Another author, Yuya Sato, was also interviewed about his novel Dendera.
Both are prize-winning authors in Japan with many titles to their names. As ever, though, few have been translated into English.
I found the event strange but enjoyable. The interviewer seemed more comfortable talking about Sato’s novel and his approach to writing and asking Sato more probing questions than he did engaging with Murata. There was an awkwardness about his interactions with her. Fortunately, the audience seemed more interested in her writing and ideas, so the Q&A made up for the interviewer’s deficiency.
There was also an inbuilt awkwardness about the interview being conducted through a translator, with all its attendant pauses and whispers. The translator did an incredible job, making me realise that my own Japanese skills are far from adequate, never mind good.
I came away wanting to read both books, but more intrigued by the premise of Murata’s.
As luck would have it, when I started to tell my husband about the event when I got home, he revealed that he owns a copy of Convenience Store Woman and it hopped straight to the top of my list of what to read next. Continue reading