Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Japanese Literature Challenge No 8 - Summary

 I just love this challenge and every year I find myself feeling quite proud of myself for achieving what I do. Before I started blogging, I was a very poor reader. Dyslexia. I had a wonderful friend who invited me to a book club in those early days. I really enjoyed that experience, but like with many small groups like that, things change and people move on. So I was introduced to book blogging, and enter Japanese Literature. My first love in Japanese Literature is Murakami. Every year in the challenge, I read another Murakami - this year I read Colourless Tzukuru Tazaki. My review here.
My second love in literature is Crime and Forensics - and in the Japanese literature I have really enjoyed these two this year. 
My review of Salvation of a Saint is here....

  • Devotion of Suspect X, Keigo Higashina, was an easy and capturing story. 
Yasuko Hanaoka is a divorced, single mother who thought she had finally escaped her abusive ex-husband Togashi. When he shows up one day to extort money from her, threatening both her and her teenaged daughter Misato, the situation quickly escalates into violence and Togashi ends up dead on her apartment floor. Overhearing the commotion, Yasuko’s next door neighbor, middle-aged high school mathematics teacher Ishigami, offers his help, disposing not only of the body but plotting the cover-up step-by-step.

This book was so good - It sold more than two million copies in Keigo Higashino's native Japan, becoming what the English translation blurbs as a "national obsession".
  •   In the Miso Soup - was another crime/bizare book
This one was challenging for me.....
It is just before New Year's. Frank, an overweight American tourist, has hired Kenji to take him on a guided tour of Tokyo's sleazy nightlife on three successive evenings. But Frank's behavior is so strange that Kenji begins to entertain a horrible suspicion: that his new client is in fact the serial killer currently terrorizing the city. It isn't until the second night, however, in a scene that will shock you and make you laugh and make you hate yourself for laughing, that Kenji learns exactly how much he has to fear and how irrevocably his encounter with this great white whale of an American will change his life.

Kenji's intimate knowledge of Tokyo's sex industry, his thoughtful observations and wisecracks about the emptiness and hypocrisy of contemporary Japan, and his insights into the shockingly widespread phenomena of "compensated dating" and "selling it" among Japanese schoolgirls, give us plenty to think about on every page. Kenji is our likable, if far from innocent, guide to the inferno of violence and evil into which he unwillingly descends-and from which only Jun, his sixteen-year-old girlfriend, can possibly save him. . . .

I found this book crossed some boundaries for me - violence, murder - pretty grotesque scenes - but again, the author kept me interested - what was Kenji going to do with all the informaiton he had? 

Following my first two loves in literature, I like to challenge myself to read something different, a new author, an award winning novel or something noted for it's style. This year I read
  • After the Banquet by Yukio Mishima

NYTimes reports: Twelve novels and fourteen years ago Yukio Mishima was a boy wonder in the Japanese literary world. Now, at the age of 38, he counts as an established international genius. Few writers boast so intense a readership--near-idolatrous in the home country and ardent and zealous, if smaller, abroad. With "After the Banquet," in master-translator Donald Keene's translucent English, Mishima cinches his champion's belt. 

Kazu, the flawed heroine, owns a fashionable restaurant frequented by high-ranking officials of the government. She is 50 and sworn to a voluntary and uneasy lovelessness. Her strength and efficiency carry her. Noguchi, an ex-cabinet minister, full of quiet and intelligence, attends a banquet of older men where ambassadors and gentlemen of politics recall the past. When Noguchi finally speaks, it is only this: "Why don't we drop all this talk about the old days? We're still young after all." Kazu is caught by the statement, for Noguchi can express difficult sentiments with grace. 

In this world of elegance and quality, where a touch of the hand between man and woman can seem "shallow in a lover and profanatory in a friend," Kazu and Noguchi reach depths in each other. Kazu and Noguchi marry for reasons which sew seeds of inner and inter-destruction.

My thoughts - loved this story - it was a great insight into the older Japanese women, experienced politicians, Japanese culture and it's influence on decisions. Kazu was primarily motivated to marry Noguchi for a grave site. It was a great study into relationships, decisions, and motivations.

  • Hotel Iris - another bizarre Japanese read... 

"Hotel Iris" is a short but very compelling first person novel. I think that its distinctive voice makes it so good - lonely, overworked and generally neglected teenager Mari whose widow mother uses as unpaid labor to run their hotel Iris in a Japanese holiday resort by the sea. [Good Reads]

So not only was Mari forced to drop out of school a few years back, but she basically has very little time or money for herself and while her mother likes to groom her - after all an attractive face behind the counter brings is better for business than an ugly or unkempt one - she otherwise treats Mari mostly as "property". 

In a crumbling seaside hotel on the coast of Japan, quiet seventeen-year-old Mari works the front desk as her mother tends to the off-season customers.  When one night they are forced to expel a middle-aged man and a prostitute from their room, Mari finds herself drawn to the man's voice, in what will become the first gesture of a single long seduction. In spite of her provincial surroundings, and her cool but controlling mother, Mari is a sophisticated observer of human desire, and she sees in this man something she has long been looking for. The man is a proud if threadbare translator living on an island off the coast. A widower, there are whispers around town that he may have murdered his wife.  Mari begins to visit him on his island, and he soon initiates her into a dark realm of both pain and pleasure, a place in which she finds herself more at ease even than the translator. [another blogger wrote this]

My thoughts - difficult to read coming from my past social workers eyes... child protection policies are very much challenged here. This was also a bit more 'risque' than my usual read - so I had to close my eyes as I moved through this story. Still, the author wrote the personalities in a captivating style that kept me intrigued. I was brave to continue reading this, and I'm glad I did.

My unfinished read this year was 'The Sound of the Mountain' by Kawabata. I choose this one because Kawabata won a Nobel Prize. I didn't finish this book because I didn't want to rush it - not because I couldn't stand it. In fact I love it. It's poetic, and again, a wonderful study of human character, and..... it provides insight into Japanese Culture.

Our Japanese Literature Challenge Host, Dolce Bellezza also read this one - her review is here. I thought DB's quote was quite telling....
In a way I have come to expect from Japanese novels, there is no resolution at the last page. We come into his life in the middle of his 60’s, we leave many years later, not seeing anything change in Shingo’s family. We are left with the impression that life will carry on as it always has for them: troubled, ineffective, ungrounded.
So that's it from me for Japanese Literature Challenge no 8! I am again, proud to have read all these books in the past few months, and I'm more aware of the Japanese culture, and how it embues in the stories Japanese Authors write. Thanks DB for hosting this great experience again! 



TracyK said...

What a lovely wrap up post. After the Banquet sounds especially interesting.

Bellezza said...

Oh, dear Tamara, I have been an abysmal hostess this year, almost completely abandoning the challenge although that was never my intention. Like you, I love Murakami, like you I have a passion for Japanese thrillers, too. There is a definite beauty in the likes of Kawabata, but I have to be in the right mood for something so slow. I'm not surprised you abandoned it, still, to overcome your dyslexia? Wow, I'm amazed at your strength and perseverance. Thank you for journeying with me down the Japanese challenge trails, and as always, I love your lthoughts on literature.