Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Japanese Literature Challenge 12

My gratitude to Bellezza for hosting the JLC 12 - a bit of an annual event for me - one that encourages me to venture into a genre I do enjoy. Here's the welcome post, which states the challenge runs from Jan to March 2019. My post is a bit late due to my recent travels.. But I did join in, and here's my three reviews.. my apologies that ive borrowed from others for these reviews.... 
The narrator of “Killing Commendatore” is a 36-year-old painter. His wife has just left him. Having sacrificed his early ambitions as an artist to become a master portraitist, he leaves his Tokyo apartment bewildered, before coming to a realization: “I . . . wanted to try painting whatever I wanted.” A friend from art school lends him a remote house in the mountains, and he begins to search anew for the meaning he once found in pure creation. 
This stuff is very Murakami. “Killing Commendatore” repeats almost exactly, for example, the descent through a well to a magical world that occurs in his earlier novel “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.” Odd creatures constantly come to life in his writing, perhaps most memorably the human-size frog calmly preparing tea in the short story “Super-Frog Saves Tokyo.”
        This very apt description comes from the guardian... 
Paul Klee once described the act of drawing as “taking a line for a walk”. No doubt Murakami views his writing in much the same fashion, as a creative ramble, as illuminating for himself as it is for his reader. His line zigzags, takes tangents and doubles back on itself. The view changes so often it’s hard not to feel turned around. Sometimes, reassuringly, Killing Commendatore runs across ground the author has mapped out before. Its gallery of spirits, for instance, can be compared to the “Little People” he deployed in IQ84, while a mystical descent into a dry stone pit is a familiar Murakami trope, most conspicuously showcased in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
For me, Killing Commendatore was reminiscent of other story lines and themes, but was a bit different. I dont think I've read anything of Murakami that has used painting as the medium of art - it's usually writing or music. What I did enjoy about this one was the influence and impact of the little girl in the story. She was a nice reminder of connection with others, and she allowed the narrator to take us on the journey of observation.  
  • Out, by Natsuo Kirino. 
Four Japanese women - Masako, Yayoi, Yoshie and Kuniko - work the night shift together at a factory making boxed lunches. Yayoi's husband, Yamamoto, is drunk and violent, and obsessed with an escort girl named Anna, who works at a club run by psychopathic gangster Satake. Yamamoto has also lost all the couple's savings playing baccarat at Satake's club. One night Satake beats Yamamoto up and throws him out. When Yamamoto gets home, his wife strangles him with his own belt. She confides in her friends, and they, led by Masako, agree to take Yamamoto's body, cut it up and dispose of it in garbage bags dispersed around Tokyo.  (the Guardian
        A gruesome storyline, but somewhat engaging.  I was quite interested in the character of the main lead. As goodreads notes 
Kirino has mastered a Thelma and Louise kind of graveyard humor that illuminates her stunning evocation of the pressures and prejudices that drive women to extreme deeds and the friendship that bolsters them in the aftermath.
  • Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kowakami
Shortlisted for the 2013 Man Asian Literary Prize, Strange Weather in Tokyo is a story of loneliness and love that defies age.
Tsukiko, thirty-eight, works in an office and lives alone. One night, she happens to meet one of her former high school teachers, "Sensei," in a local bar. Tsukiko had only ever called him "Sensei" ("Teacher"). He is thirty years her senior, retired, and presumably a widower. Their relationship develops from a perfunctory acknowledgment of each other as they eat and drink alone at the bar, to a hesitant intimacy which tilts awkwardly and poignantly into love (Amazon
         One review describes the japaneseness really well - 
 "Each chapter of the book is like a haiku, incorporating seasonal references to the moon, mushroom picking and cherry blossoms. The chapters are whimsical and often melancholy, but humor is never far away.... It is a celebration of friendship, the ordinary and individuality and a rumination on intimacy, love and loneliness. I cannot recommend Strange Weather in Tokyo enough, which is also a testament to the translator who has skillfully retained the poetry and beauty of the original." --The Japan Society 
While all three of my books were completely different in style and character, I feel I gained new insights into life in Japan, connection to japanese themes, and something new about Japanese art.


Bellezza said...

You have read three of my favorites, Tamara, and you did a beautiful job explaining each! I loved the quotes you added regarding Killing Commendatore; as much as I love Murakami, every thought about his writing enriches my own. Personally, I was quite intrigued about the Idea being a character in that novel, but I was reassured that my comparisons to 1Q84 and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle were not far off. Out was one of the first Japanese novels I ever read, and I think they "do" crime better than anyone. (Especially Keigo Hiroshino.) And the beauty and gentleness of Strange Weather in Tokyo (known as The Briefcase on America) is quite lovely. Thank you for reading with me again, and think January 2020 for the next time it comes around. xo

Jeanie said...

I have tried more than once with Japanese lit and I just can't connect with it. I admire your challenge participation! (Is it fun to read things that aren't schoolwork again?!)

Anonymous said...

I was discharged from hospital last Monday - hernia, ouch!- and during my days there I read a Japanese novel that I really enjoyed; leaving the title here in case you wish to add it to your challenge: "The Housekeeper and the Professor" by Yoko Ogawa.
Just found out about your blog and it certainly looks very interesting!