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Genre: Magical realism

[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
Goodreads
four-half-stars

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.

[Review] ふしぎな図書館 by Haruki Murakami

[Review] ふしぎな図書館 by Haruki Murakami

[Review] ふしぎな図書館 by Haruki Murakamiふしぎな図書館 (The Strange Library) by Haruki Murakami
Published by Kodansha on February 8, 2005
Genres: Japanese literature, Magical realism
Pages: 92
Goodreads
four-stars

All 'boku' wanted was to borrow some books.

Against all odds I managed to finish my last book for the Language Freak Summer Challenge! Like planned, I read ふしぎな図書館 (Fushigi na toshokan, “The Strange Library“) by Haruki Murakami.

And I loved it! I won’t spoil the plot, but: All the narrator wanted was to borrow a book from the library, and then it goes odd Murakami-style, including Sheepman and donuts. If you like Murakami and magical realism and general silliness, you’ll enjoy this one. Also the overall tone of the book is quite funny and I found myself chuckling regularly. Despite that, the ending is saaaad 🙁

The Strange Library is illustrated by Maki Sasaki. I bought it at the same time as 羊男のクリスマス (Hitsujiotoko no Kurisumasu, “Sheepman’s Christmas“), which is also illustrated by Sasaki. I absolutely adore these illustrations!

The Strange Library has not yet been translated to English (although I’ve heard rumours.. *cough*ISBN 9781846559211*cough*), but there is a German translation with new illustrations, by Kat Menschik who also illustrated The Bakery Attacks and Sleep. I must admit I am slightly disappointed they didn’t stick with Sasaki’s illustrations, but alas.

As for the Japanese: The Strange Library was a relatively easy read. The book has some unusual words (although not as many as Sheepman’s Christmas) that I had to look up, and both the old man and Sheepman don’t talk standard Japanese, but this wasn’t a problem. One thing I noticed again is that Murakami uses relatively little kanji (Japanese characters), stringing together long parts of just hiragana (Japanese syllabary).
A beautiful example: ぼくはなにかをきっぱりとことわるのがにがてなのだ。
Which actually (approximately) reads as: ぼく・は・なにか・を・きっぱり・と・ことわる・の・が・にがて・な・の・だ。
Or even better: ぼくは何かをきっぱりと断るのが苦手なのだ。
(And translates as “I’m not very good at flatly declining something.”)
Alas. Murakamism.

Fushigi na toshokan Fushigi na toshokan Fushigi na toshokan

After having studied Japanese for four years and having lived in Nagasaki for a year, I’ve mildly neglected the language for 3+ years. But thankfully I was fine reading The Strange Library. I admit it’s really easy Japanese, but I definitely plan to pick up some more difficult books again in the future. Anyway, I’m so glad I read this book because it has got me motivated to finally work on my Japanese again. It’s gotten so rusty after all those years! So I have decided three things:

  1. I will always read a Japanese book alongside whatever other book I’m reading (at least for the upcoming year). It’s fine if it takes a long time to finish.
  2. I am going to retake the Japanese Language Proficiency Test level N2 in December. I actually got N2 in 2010 back when I was living in Nagasaki but I’ve forgotten a lot.
  3. Then when I’ve done N2 in December, I am going to aim for N1 next summer /ambitious
[Review] The Woman in the Dunes, by Kōbō Abe

[Review] The Woman in the Dunes, by Kōbō Abe

[Review] The Woman in the Dunes, by Kōbō AbeThe Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe
Published by Charles E. Tuttle on 1982 (first published 1962)
Genres: Classic, Japanese literature, Magical realism
Pages: 239
Goodreads
four-stars

An amateur entomologist takes a holiday in order to find a rare beetle. He ends up in a seaside village, and after supposedly missing the last bus back, he is offered a place to stay in this village that is being swallowed up by the dunes. It soon dawns upon him that he is held prisoner, condemned to shovel sand to prevent the village from disappearing.

The Woman in the Dunes was a book I had intended to read for a long time… and then it ended up being the winner of the The Classics Club Spin. Perfect!

I had no idea what to expect. I knew the book was a classic, that many people thought it was a masterpiece, and that I would be reading it sometime in the future. The plot? No clue. ‘Something with magical-realism,’ I’d heard, so I would probably like it, right?

The Woman in the Dunes ill. by Machi AbeWell, was I in for a surprise. This book gave me the creeps. For one, I don’t like sand. I won’t say I hate it, but I can do without the beach and sand between my sandwich. And this book has a lot of sand. Add to that being locked up, sad undertones, and a nice kafka-esque plot, and you’ve got the ingredients to freak me out. It’s not horror, but I was wholly expecting nightmares (thankfully that didn’t happen).

The book is brilliantly written. The style starts out very plain and straightforward. Near the end, it becomes more philosophical, which really is what you want from this story at that point. The ending is what you will begin to expect.

Additionally, my edition has illustrations by Machi Abe, Kōbō’s wife. It is amazing how well they fit the atmosphere of the book (in other words: simple but ominous).

The Classics club Japanese Literature Challenge 8Can’t stand kafka-esque plots? Stay away. Although I wasn’t aware of this plot and I’m overall not a fan of books that frustrate me. I might not have picked it up had I known. But in the end I loved how this book made me feel (although I was really quite happy to finish it).

[Review] 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

[Review] 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

[Review] 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Published by Harvill Secker on October 2011 (first published 2009)
Genres: Japanese literature, Magical realism
Pages: 925
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads
four-half-stars

The year is 1984. The fates of Aomame and Tengo are intertwined.

I first picked up this book in late December 2011. Yes, it nearly took me a year to finish. And often enough I was extremely frustrated with this book. Mostly because this book was a deceivingly slow read. As a friend suggested, even the fastest reader could probably not finish this book very quickly. At the same time, I’ve read far longer books that took me less time and that were more engaging. Plenty of times I had to put 1Q84 down because I just got tired of it.

1Q84 consists of three books. Book ONE probably took me longest to read. The story was slow, there was too much repitition within the book (like: do we really have to read 20 times what Tengo’s memory of his mother is?), and everything seemed to go nowhere. I would go as far as describing it as a very long introduction. Book TWO picked up on speed and, unlike what I read in reviews, I didn’t think there was as much repetition. Many aspects of the story were finally coming together and, as I remember phrasing on Twitter while reading: ‘shit goes down’. This definitely made the story more interesting to read and I finally felt eager to continue. But it was annoying that it took more than 300 pages for this to happen! While reading book THREE, what I was most afraid of was that the whole book was going to have a typical, unsatisfying, Murakami-ish ending. I can live with the endings he gave to his other books (like Sputnik Sweetheart, which worked really well), but I didn’t think I could stand such an ending after going through so many frustrations. Thankfully, the story was closed off in a satisfying enough way. There were plenty of loose ends, but nothing that will keep nagging me.

After finishing the book I had to take my time to think it over and give it a rating. For all the frustration I felt while reading, I feel oddly lost now that I’ve finished it. I can’t decide if reading it was worth the ‘trouble’, but at the same time I was satisfied with the ending. And many aspects of the story, particularly in book THREE, were genius in my opinion. I really have a love-hate relationship with this book. Despite everything, I was close to giving it five stars, but book ONE made me decide on four instead (actually, probably three-and-a-half, but closer to four).

Is this book worth reading? Is it worth the trouble? If you’re a patient reader and if you can fight your way through book ONE (and keep your patience during the other two books), then yes. If you expect a work of perfection, you will absolutely be disappointed. If this is your first Murakami book: please put it down!