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Author: Banana Yoshimoto

[Review] Read Real Japanese Fiction

[Review] Read Real Japanese Fiction

[Review] Read Real Japanese FictionRead Real Japanese Fiction: Short Stories by Contemporary Writers by Michael Emmerich, Hiromi Kawakami, Otsuichi, Shinji Ishii, Banana Yoshimoto, Kaoru Kitamura, Yoko Tawada
Published by Kodansha on July 15th 2013 (first published 2008)
Genres: Horror, Japanese literature, Magical realism
Pages: 256
ISBN: 9781568365299

Read Real Japanese Fiction presents short works by six of todays most daring and provocative Japanese writers. The spellbinding world of Hiromi Kawakami; the hair-raising horror of Otsuichi; the haunting, poignant prose of Banana Yoshimoto; even the poetic word-play of Yoko Tawada.

Earlier this year I already reviewed Read Real Japanese Essays. The Fiction version has the same set-up as that book, so I won’t get into that again (check the Essays review for that). The structure of the book just works, and it’s awesome for students of Japanese, the end.

Anyway! Let’s get into content. While I enjoyed Essays, Fiction was infinitely more interesting to me. It’s so enjoyable reading Japanese literature in Japanese (makes you feel like you actually accomplished something in your studies, haha), and Michael Emmerich’s (the editor) selection of short stories is spot on.

I am sure many J-lit enthusiasts are familiar with Banana Yoshimoto and Hiromi Kawakami, and possibly Otsuichi and Yoko Tawada. If you aren’t, check them out! And then this collection also has Shinji Ishii and Kaoru Kitamura, who are a great addition and authors I definitely want to check out in the future.

As for the level of Japanese, the stories in Fiction were more readable than the essays, in my honest opinion. I (N2) breezed through most of them without any problem.

Hiromi Kawakami – God
Typical Kawakami. After my disappointment with Manazuru, this was nice. Not my favourite, but I enjoyed it all right. It’s not the easiest story in the book, but Kawakami’s style is quite straightforward and if you feel you’re ready to read real literature, this shouldn’t be a big challenge.

Otsuichi – Long Ago, in the Park at Twilight
This story was a bit of a disappointment. I like Otsuichi, his style is properly creepy, but I do not think this was a masterpiece. Short and easy to read though.

Shinji Ishii – The Parrot Meat Market
Ohhh this one was weird. I have no idea what to think about it, but I think I enjoyed it?? I guess? It’s interesting enough. This was one of the more difficult stories in the book.

Banana Yoshimoto – Mummy
This story was really weird. Well done, Yoshimoto, well done. I can’t quite pinpoint if it’s what I expect of Yoshimoto or not. Anyway, I enjoyed it (more than most of Yoshimoto’s things I’ve read lately).

Kaoru Kitamura – One Hundred Stories
I realllly liked this story. The language is simply and straightforward, and a very easy read. The plot was fun! A better horror story than Otsuichi’s, tbh (sorry, Otsuichi). This story definitely made me want to check out more by Kitamura.

Yoko Tawada – To Pun
This story is literally everything that is wrong with the Japanese language (so I say, with love). It’s really short, not even two full pages, and it’s surprising. I really enjoyed it and it made for a perfect final story to end the book with. I’m also quite curious about Tawada’s other works now. I had only vaguely heard of her and had no idea she writes in both Japanese and German, which is just all the more reason for me to check her out.

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – Books Three and Four

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – Books Three and Four

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – Books Three and FourAsleep by Banana Yoshimoto
Published by Faber & Faber on 2001 (first published 1989)
Genres: Japanese literature, Contemporary
Pages: 177
ISBN: 9780571205370

Asleep tells the stories of three women, all bewitched into a spiritual sleep. One, mourning a lost love, finds herself sleepwalking at night. Another, embarking on a relationship with a man whose wife is in a coma, finds herself unable to stay awake. The third finds her sleep haunted.

I am slightly behind with the TBR Pile Challenge but I finished book number four last night and so it’s time for another two mini reviews! This means I have now finished four out of twelve books for this year, and I fully intend to continue with this challenge.

Book number three was Asleep and I must say I’m rather disappointed with this book. The thing is, I think I’m falling out of love with Banana Yoshimoto’s work. I absolutely adored two of her works, Kitchen and Hardboiled & Hard Luck, and I liked N.P. as well. But The Lake and Asleep were both disappointments. For some reason these two books did not touch me at all. They were tiresome and I was glad when I finished them. But I am not ready to give up on Yoshimoto yet. I have three books of her left to read, so we’ll see how I feel about those…

* * *

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – Books Three and FourThe Angel's Cut by Elizabeth Knox
Series: Vintner's Luck #2
Published by Vintage on June 11th 2009 (first published January 2009)
Genres: Fantasy, LGBT+
Pages: 464
ISBN: 9780099540045

It's Hollywood, 1929. While Conrad Cole is working late on elaborate plans for his aeroplanes and his films, a mysterious stranger appears at his door. Xas soon finds himself caught up in the glamorous and treacherous world of movie-making and entangled with both Cole and a young woman who owes her life to the eccentric director. Both of them are drawn to Xas without knowing his secret - that under his shirt he hides the remnants of great snowy wings that set him apart from humankind, and that he is destined to wander the earth forever, always hearing the beating of feathers behind him, threatening him that his dark brother has found him again.

This is the sequel to The Vintner’s Luck, which, as you may or may not know, is one of my all time favourite books. It took me 1.5 years to read The Angel’s Cut simply because I loved it’s predecessor so much I was afraid this sequel was going to be a disappointment.
I admit, it wasn’t quite as good as the first in the series, but I still think it was beautiful (and pretty darn emotional at times). The ending of the book was a surprise but it worked, and it worked well.

Anyway, if you haven’t read it yet, definitely do pick up The Vintner’s Luck, but I think you can get away not having read the sequel…

2015 TBR Pile Challenge

[Review] Read Real Japanese Essays

[Review] Read Real Japanese Essays

[Review] Read Real Japanese EssaysRead Real Japanese Essays: Contemporary Writings by Popular Authors by Banana Yoshimoto, Haruki Murakami, Hideo Levy, Janet Ashby, Junko Sakai, Keiichiro Hirano, Kou Machida, Mitsuyo Kakuta, Yōko Ogawa
Published by Kodansha on 2008
Genres: Japanese literature, Non-fiction
Pages: 240

There is a dramatic difference between reading Japanese that is tailored to students, and reading real Japanese that has been written for native speakers. The concocted variety tends to be insipid, flat, stiff, standardized, completely lacking in exciting and imaginative use of language. Read Real Japanese Essays allows readers to experience the work of several of today's foremost writers as if they were lifelong Japanese speakers.

Among Japanese learning material aimed at foreigners, this book is definitely one of the better ones. The book contains eight essays by (relatively) popular authors, such as Haruki Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto and Yoko Ogawa.

The set-up of this book works perfectly. Each essay contains a short introduction in English with some background information on the author. Then after that, on the right page we get the essay, with furigana the first time you encounter the more difficult kanji. The left side has, not exactly translations but rather, interpretations of the more difficult sentences. Finally in the back of the book we get a dictionary of the words found in the essays, followed by grammatical and contextual notes on each essay.

Clearly someone has thought long and hard on the structure of the book and it works (unlike a lot of bilingual parallel texts). The dictionary in the back may sound inconvenient – I for one do not like going back and forth in a book to look up things. However, I found I rarely needed the dictionary thanks to the translations on the left page. This can also be a bit of a disadvantage. The book is set up in such a way that you can choose to focus only on the essays on the right side pages, but the reader might have to restrain themselves from glancing at the translations on the left page.

Read Real Japanese

The Japanese level of the essays is quite high. Being at N2, some of the essays were relatively easy to read, while others (mostly due to the vocabulary) really challenged me. In that sense the level was perfect for me. I like texts that are readable, but I also want to challenge myself to level-up! It’s refreshing to read texts that were not written with foreign learners in mind, but are, well, real Japanese.

Honestly, I am quite enthusiastic about this book. And best of all, there is a companion to this book: Read Real Japanese Fiction (which in retrospect I wish I had started with).

Now, as for the content of the essays, I did not enjoy them all equally. This is the only reason I gave the book 4 instead of 5 stars. Click through for my (quick) opinion on each of the essays.

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