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Tag: Japanese Literature Challenge 8

[Review] Genocide of One, by Kazuaki Takano

[Review] Genocide of One, by Kazuaki Takano

[Review] Genocide of One, by Kazuaki Takano

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Genocide of One by Kazuaki Takano
Published by Mulholland Books on December 2, 2014 (first published 2011)
Genres: Japanese literature, Science fiction, Thriller
Pages: 512
Source: Netgalley

What if one day, the next - hyperintelligent - step in human evolution is born?

What if more than three decades earlier, the existence of precisely such a new human evolution was predicted as a potential scenario for the end of the human race as we know it?

Without spoiling too much: this book simultaneously takes place in the US, Japan and the Congo. We’ve got the US President and those directly surrounding him. We’ve got four mercenaries sent on a mission. We’ve got children born with a deathly illness. We’ve got a Japanese student whose father just passed away. And most of all, we’ve got a three-year-old child named Akili: the next step in human evolution.

This book is pretty damn brilliant. When I just started reading, I was afraid this was not going to be my type of book. It starts out sounding a lot like a military thriller, but it is in fact a dareIsayit perfect piece of science fiction.

The plot of the book is extremely intricate and it all fits and works. By the end we’ve got not a single loose end, and yet it never feels forced. Again without spoiling too much: to me the plot was extremely satisfying, from the beginning to the end.

And the plot is also extremely realistic. You can imagine every aspect of it becoming reality. In fact, much of this book is either describing actual events or heavily based on actual events. The book is so convincing that you will even believe in the portrayed consequences of the birth of this evolved hyperintelligent human being.
(To illustrate: Only near the end there was one tiny thing that made me go “oh really” View Spoiler » but guess what. I Googled it and it actually exists. So I hereby take back my “oh really”. Also other parts that sounded very random ended up being 100% real or based on 100% real events.)

The book really is three things: both thrilling and unpredictable, and also very philosophical. The first two will make you want to keep reading. The last one will creep you out. Because just like the plot, the philosophy is real. The book is full of what-ifs, and Takano manages to hand them to you without it ever becoming tiresome.

Now, this book also uses a lot of jargon. I’m convinced Takano is a genius, not just because he convinces me with the science, the military and the political aspects, but also because he still manages to write it down in such a way that my poor Humanities-oriented brain understands (sort of). Again without it ever becoming tiresome.

So yes. Read this.

[Review] Manazuru, by Hiromi Kawakami

[Review] Manazuru, by Hiromi Kawakami

[Review] Manazuru, by Hiromi KawakamiManazuru by Hiromi Kawakami
Published by Atlas Contact on 2012 (first published: 2006)
Genres: Contemporary, Japanese literature
Pages: 207

Twelve years have passed since Kei's husband, Rei, disappeared and she was left alone with her three-year-old daughter. Then she begins making repeated trips to the seaside town of Manazuru.

Two years ago for January in Japan we already read The Briefcase (also known as Strange Weather in Tokyo) by Hiromi Kawakami. I really enjoyed that book! So I was hopeful I’d feel the same about Manazuru… Alas.

I just did not care about anything in this book. The story was one that doesn’t really interest me in the first place, to be quite honest – a husband who disappears one day, a mother left behind with her child, trying to figure out the reason her husband left – but if done well it will even touch my cold cold heart. No, I am just kidding about that cold heart; while I am not the most sensitive person, it’s not difficult for me to relate to or at least feel sympathy for characters in books. So imagine how bland this book was to me, that I just didn’t care at all about the story. And that while it has at least some aspects that could be so interesting if done well: spirituality, perhaps even a supernaturalness? They played an important role in the story, but somehow they still felt almost meaningless.

But not just the story was bland. The characters felt exactly the same to me. They didn’t do anything that interested me, they didn’t say anything that interested me. They didn’t relate to other characters in a way that interested me. I just did. not. care. If anything, the daughter was perhaps my favourite character but she does not appear often enough to… uhm… make me care? I did not even feel at all curious about the location, Manazuru, that the book was named after.

And that was the downfall of this novel for me. I didn’t care. When I don’t connect to anything in a book, I get bored. And that’s just about the worst for me. Manazuru was a quick read, but even so I felt relieved when I ‘finally’ finished it.

I always seem extra harsh about books I don’t like, don’t I? This book wasn’t absolutely terrible, it just wasn’t for me. I’m sure there are people out there who will feel more connected to the story and its characters. Anyway, I rated this 3 stars on Goodreads but reviewing how I feel about this book, I must admit I can’t give it any more than 2.5 stars. Just based on personal feeling.

I do not think we should compare Manazuru to The Briefcase. The only thing they seem to share is that they describe events in daily life, but that’s where the comparison ends for me. Take this from me: You will enjoy The Briefcase. And then, if you read Manazuru, you will enjoy The Briefcase even more 😉

[Review] Revenge, by Yoko Ogawa

[Review] Revenge, by Yoko Ogawa

[Review] Revenge, by Yoko OgawaRevenge by Yōko Ogawa
Published by Vintage on January 2nd, 2014 (first published 1998)
Genres: Horror, Japanese literature
Pages: 168

A woman goes into a bakery to buy a strawberry cream tart. The place is immaculate but there is no one serving so she waits. Another customer comes in. The woman tells the new arrival that she is buying her son a treat for his birthday. Every year she buys him his favourite cake; even though he died in an accident when he was six years old.

Let me begin by saying that I absolutely love it when books do ‘the Thing’.

“The Thing”, you ask? Yes, the Thing. That Thing where authors skilfully weave together different narratives.

Revenge is one such book. Also subtitled Eleven Dark Tales, this book consists of eleven different stories with a seemingly different cast. The way Ogawa has linked these stories, however, is subtle, small and often barely noticeable. But by the time you get to the end of the book, to the very last page, you wonder what the hell you’ve been reading and how it all fits together.

The book is usually categorised as horror, however if you expect blatant horror you might be disappointed. Also, the title Revenge has very little to do with the actual stories, so don’t let that mislead you either.

Those who are familiar with Ogawa’s work know that her stories are subtle but dark and often twisted. I don’t think these eleven tales will keep you awake at night, but they might make you… suspicious. I felt the same when reading Ogawa’s The Diving Pool and I think, after reading Revenge, I would now probably appreciate The Diving Pool more for its creepiness. So yes, in Revenge the creepiness is definitely there, and mix that with these interwoven tales and you get an absolutely genius book.

I loved Revenge and once I started – especially after the third story – I just couldn’t put it down. It’s my fourth book by Yōko Ogawa and by far my favourite. Sadly, that also means I have now worked my way through all English translations. Thankfully her work seems alive and recent. Revenge was the last title to be translated to English in January 2013, and Ogawa seems to fare well outside Japan (translations to English, German, French, Polish, Greek and Italian, among others), so I hope we can expect more translations in the near future!

[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

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] Last Winter We Parted, by Fuminori Nakamura

[Review] Last Winter We Parted, by Fuminori Nakamura

[Review] Last Winter We Parted, by Fuminori Nakamura

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Last Winter We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura
Published by Soho Press on October 21, 2014
Genres: Japanese literature, Mystery
Pages: 224
Source: Netgalley

Famous photographer Kiharazaka stands accused of murdering two women - by burning them alive. A young writer is commissioned to write a book on the case. It doesn't take long for those involved in the case to tell him straight out: There's no way you are capable of writing a book about us.

There’s a few aspects to this book and how I feel about them differs strongly.

Story? Good. Twisted, but good.

Characters? What can I say.

Style? Eh. Gets better throughout the book.

Structure? Confusing. Excellent.

So yes. Overall, I don’t feel negative towards this book. I really enjoyed the story, with its twists and turns. The story unfolds at a nice pace – but never quite the way you expect it to – yet there’s a feeling of suspense. It is pretty sick, dark, twisted…. but that’s how I like my crime /confession

The book is made up mostly of a combination of the young writer’s point of view, and pieces from an ‘archive’: most of them letters the photographer has sent while in prison. This gets a bit confusing, but by the end of the book the structure makes sense. I’m not the biggest fan of the final revelation, but that’s not what made this book so enjoyable anyway. The structure however..! The structure is the winner in this book, it works.

As for the characters… You’d expect to learn more about them, from those different perspectives. I was disappointed to find we don’t really get to know anyone, and while there are motives enough (motives for everything, basically) they seem shallow. Overall… I mostly wish this book was a bit longer. It’s too short to go any deeper into the story, the motives, and the characters, which is a pity. It could have been twice as long and much better. There’s great potential but something is lacking.

Now, I read an eARC of this book and the book isn’t published until October, meaning many things can still change. I’m still not sure if some things in this book, some of the edits, were on purpose or honest mistakes. And some of the conversations were confusing and it was unclear who was talking. The style felt a bit weak at some moments, was good for most of the book, and awesome for the middle part.

So yes. Mixed feelings, but I did enjoy the book and I don’t regret reading it for a second.