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[Review] きまぐれロボット by Shin’ichi Hoshi

[Review] きまぐれロボット by Shin’ichi Hoshi

[Review] きまぐれロボット by Shin’ichi Hoshiきまぐれロボット (The Whimsical Robot) by Shin'ichi Hoshi
Published by Kadokawa on 2006 (first published 1972)
Genres: Science fiction
Pages: 215

Shin’ichi Hoshi (1926-1997) is considered to be one of Japan’s most influential science fiction writers of all time… but he’s not very well known among western readers, I think. A few of his works have been translated and are available as e-book, including this little book. You can find out more about Hoshi here.

Kimagure Robotto, or, The Whimsical Robot, is a fun little book containing ‘short shorts’: short stories of no more than 5 pages each. Each of the stories is about an invention, whether it’s a device to tame wild animals, a potion that enables you to distinguish good from bad people, or a robot that has everyone wondering about its use. There are some characters that appear in many of the stories, like professor R who makes medicine, the rich Mr. N., and professor K who specialises in animals. Then there are a few stories about interaction with aliens. The stories are aimed at children but are quite enjoyable for adults too. Some of the stories are really funny, some leave you wondering, some leave you shaking your head, and some are (I have to admit) a bit boring.

I do have a few favourite stories. Coincidentally the stories I most enjoyed were near the back of the book: ネコ(The cat), 花とひみつ(Flowers and secrets), and とりひき(The deal). It’s hard to say something about stories that are this short, so I won’t say anything to avoid spoiling.

As for its readability, this book was a really easy read. This is the first Japanese book I’ve ever read that felt like I was reading English or Dutch, which essentially means that the level of Japanese was probably too low for me. I finished most of the stories in 5-10 minutes (during commercial breaks when I was watching television haha) and I only had a to look up a few recurring words such as ‘telescope’. I think this book is very suitable as practice material for those at JLPT N3 level.

Would I recommend this book? If you want to gain some confidence in your Japanese skills: hell yes. But if you’re looking for a captivating read, probably not. I personally really enjoy short stories in Japanese, mostly because I tend to find full books a bit hard to swallow, but the stories in this collection got a bit repetitive. There simply wasn’t much incentive to keep reading, which is the main reason this book took me such a long time. On the other hand, if you decide to read one or two stories now and then (with decent breaks in between), it’s certainly a fun read.

[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 – Halfway there

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – Halfway there

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – Halfway thereMarina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on September 26th, 2013 (first published 1999)
Genres: Young Adult, Historical fiction
Pages: 299
ISBN: 9780297856474

In May 1980, fifteen-year-old Oscar Drai suddenly vanishes from his boarding school in the old quarter of Barcelona. For seven days and nights no one knows his whereabouts...

Against all odds, I’m halfway there with the TBR Pile Challenge! I’ve read 6 books out of 12, and I’m almost starting to believe I will make it this year haha.

Book number five for the challenge was Zafón’s Marina. This was actually the last of Zafón’s translated books that I hadn’t read yet, so in a way I feel a bit sad about having finished it. It’s not my favourite of his YA books (that honour still goes to the brilliantly creepy The Midnight Palace) but really enjoyed it, and on the whole it was a steady 4 stars for me… until the ending, which was a killer 5 stars. Very, very good.

If you enjoy Zafón’s writing and especially his descriptions of Barcelona, you have to read this. This book (like the others) has pushed Barcelona higher up my travel wishlist.

* * *

TBR Pile Challenge 2015 – Halfway thereBattle Royale by Koushun Takami
Published by Gollancz on May 2007 (first published 1999)
Genres: Dystopian, Science fiction
Pages: 617
ISBN: 9780575080492

A class of 42 junior high school students are taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided with weapons and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing.

Book six was Battle Royale, a book that has also been on my TBR for a really long time. Well, I finally read it and I have strong feelings about it. Before I start this review: Battle Royale the movie is one of my favourite movies ever. But I am also one of the first to say ‘the book is better than the movie!’

Well, I was looking forward to reading this book for a long time and I hate disappointments.

/start rant
The English translation of this book is cringeworthy. Easily one of the worst professionally published translations I’ve ever read. I am a Japanese major and had you asked us to translate this book during our second university year, this is what you would’ve gotten to a T. Which is not a good thing. Things that work in Japanese do not necessarily work in English. The translation is too literal, which makes it ugly and downright childish at many points.

The translation nearly ruined the book for me, but I kept reading. The concept is awesome and I love the structure of the book. We follow the game through the
2015 TBR Pile Challengeeyes of different characters, some with more background story than others. Some of the personal stories are a bit meh, but on the whole the book is awesome. Would have given it more than three stars (probably even five) if it weren’t for the awful translation.

So… want to read a book with a good story? Read this. Want to read a well written book? … Curse the translator and watch the movie.

Does this book even exist..?

Does this book even exist..?

InOr will it even come into existence at some point in time? The English translation, I mean. It sure as hell exists in Japanese.

As a fan of Natsuo Kirino’s work, preordered this latest translation of her book In on Amazon back in 2013. I can’t remember what the listed publication date was back then, but the date has been pushed forward again and again. My order was cancelled once because the book was ‘unavailable’ (that was last year), but German Amazon still has it listed.

R is the other woman. Labelled simply with one initial, her identity in the famous 1940s novel that recounts the damage she did to her lover’s family remains shrouded in mystery. The novelist who had an illicit relationship with her, and then used her as material for his work, became a celebrated writer. But R never had the chance to give her side of the story.

Tamaki is determined to find out who R really was. A writer herself, she is working on a book about R and begins to uncover clues about the real story behind the novel – and the great tragedy of the novelist’s life. While she throws herself into her research she’s aware that her own imperfect relationships are also up for scrutiny. Her ex-lover, Seiji, is gravely ill in hospital and her reminiscences about their long affair strike echoes with the subject of her work.

In this compelling and illuminating novel, prize-winning author, Natsuo Kirino explores the themes of love and death, and the significance of fiction.

After writing my post on the Japanese Literature Challenge 9, I decided to take another look. My order for the book has been in a dark and dusty corner of my Amazon account for such a long time that I sometimes forget it exists.

Apparently its date of publication was May 7th, with a delivery time of 1-4 months (hahaha).

You can now place your bets: does this book exist or not? Will it ever be published?

One mysterious Goodreads review suggests yes, everywhere else suggests no… Nothing on her website, nothing on Harvill Secker’s (the supposed publisher) website.

I guess it adds to the mystery..!

Japanese Literature Challenge 9 TBR

Japanese Literature Challenge 9 TBR

Japanese Literature Challenge 9Bellezza’s latest post reminded me of the Japanese Literature Challenge. I also participated last year (and sort-of-participated three times before that) and I’m looking forward to joining everyone again this year! The challenge runs from June to January (so there is some overlap with the annual January in Japan reading event. Link-up for Japanese Literature Challenge 9 can be found here.

Bellezza made herself a TBR for the event and that sounded like an excellent idea. I haven’t been reading as much Japanese literature this year as I wanted (a meagre 9 books) so it’s time to catch up. These are the books I will hopefully read:

  • Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto
  • Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
  • The Cage of Zeus by Sayuri Ueda
  • Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
  • Ico: Castle in the Mist by Miyuki Miyabe
  • In by Natsuo Kirino (if it is ever actually published)
  • Oh, Tama! by Mieko Kanai
  • The Stories of Ibis by Hiroshi Yamamoto
  • Strangers by Taichi Yamada
  • Zoo by Otsuichi

J-Lit Challenge 9

Also a shout out to all my followers: I really want to read more amazing books by women. I have far too few Japanese women on my TBR. If you’ve got recommendations (preferably modern fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, etc.), please let me know!