The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami

the briefcase

The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami

Japanese fiction

Original title – Sensei no Kaban

Translator Alison Martin Powell

Source – personnel copy

Well the last of the Japanese books for this month and it is one from this years Man Asian prize shortlist .Tony asked us all to post at the end of the month thankfully my copy arrived yesterday ,so I managed to read it overnight .Hiromi Kawakami is a graduate of Ochanomizu women’s college ,she published her first book in 1980 ,with her previous books she has won a number of prizes .This book won the prestigious Tanizaki prize in 2001 previous winners include Ryu Murakami ,Yoko Ogawa and Kenzaburo Oe .

His full name was Mr Harutsuna Matsumoto ,but I called him “Sensei “not “Mr ” or “Sir ” just ” Sensei ”

He was my Japanese teacher in High school .He wasn’t my homeroom teacher ,and Japanese class didn’t interest me much ,so I didn’t really remember him .Since graduation ,I hadn’t seen him for quite a while

Tsukiko saying why she calls him Sensei at the start of the book

The Briefcase or bag of Sensei is a love story .It was published in its native Japan as a serial so its chapters are short and tend to leave you wanting to read the next chapter .The story is the story of The sensei (Japanese for teacher ) and Tsukiko a former pupil of the Sensei who is now in her thirties ,the sensei is retired .The pair meet in a traditional Japanese bar .As the relation ship develops you see them doing many things such as watching the cherry blossom falling of the trees ,picking mushrooms and visiting an Island for a weekend away .This being Japan this very unusual relationship isn’t all about your full-blown passion, no it is more two lonely souls in the sea that is Tokyo that have end up being drawn together ,The sensei is like you would expect a very quiet man but he has the air of some one deep in thought and serious with it .Tsukiko is hard to read but he admiration and love for this older man seems unwavering and maybe you feel she has had her heart-broken in the past by a younger man .

“Sensei ,your is the special ,right ? ”

“that’s what they call it ”

“how is it different from the regular ”

We both bent our heads and examined the two boxed lunches .

“There doesn’t seem to be much difference at all” the Sensei said Amiably

They have lunch and compare lunches a humorousness moment .

 

This is a book that has been made into a Japanese tv series and a stage show A quick search of the internet ,I found a clip showing pics from the stage show .I was reminded of a UK TV series called may to December that was shown in the uk when I was growing up it involved a couple of similar age gap to the couple in the briefcase and actually similar characters to this book .The action was the same on the surface we seem different cultures but as may to December showed it was all about the being together more than the sex and the way the relationship develop was so well done by Kawakami like a time elapse picture capture the relationship stage by stage .Some wonderful moments of humur Tsukiko buying a grater for sensei when it appeared they’d fallen out or compare her normal packed lunch brought from the shop to his special of the same dish and deciding they were actually the same .The fact it was as a serial works well for this story I felt and didn’t feel uneven as sometimes novels made up of serial parts can.

Have you read this book ?

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

revenge by Yoko Ogawa

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

Japanese fiction

Original title – collected from various stories she has written .

Translator – Stephen Snyder

Source – Review Copy

I ve often seen Yoko Ogawa name mention and her books reviewed around the internet and had ordered Hotel Iris from the library for Tony’s January in Japan ,when this fell through my letter box so I decide to read this as I don’t get through many short story collections so this being described as dark and like classic poetry collections I decide to give it a whirl .Yoko Ogawa  grew up in a japanese christian family her grandfather was a teacher ,she grew ,loving literature in particular The diary of Anne Frank ,she then began working  and at 26 published her first book .She has written over twenty books over the last twenty five years .

He died twelve years ago .Suffocated in an abandoned refrigerator left in a vacant lot .When I first saw him ,I didn’t think he was dead.I thought he was just ashamed to look me in the eye because he had stayed away from home for three days .

The two women talk in the bakers in the story Afternoon at the bakery

So to revenge when I opened and read through the title poison plants ,welcome to the museum of torture ,I knew I was on to a strange collection so we open on the first story a mother is at a baker’s shop we meet two women and it turns out one is buying a cake for a son that had died many years ago as the chat away about what they’re doing in the bakery  .As you go through the stories we  start to see links through out ,elsewhere we have a pair of staff whose job is  collecting lab coats at a hospital then ,we see some at the same hospital  someone doing heart surgery in one of  the said  lab coat .The man who works at the strange Museum of torture happens to turn up in the next story doing a completely different job .

she rubbed her cheek against the bundle ;

“Do they have any of your books here ?” I asked .

“They do ” she said ,standing up and going to one of the  shelves .

” This is mine – one that managed to escape the burglar ” she said handing it to me .

Afternoon at the bakery .The book was slender ,and as tattered as her bundle .

The title of another story appears as a book in the story Tomatoes and the full moon

This collection is rather well done .The stories all tend to be  on the strange and unusual  side ,the collection , I was reminded me most of were the stories of Roald Dahl ,the ones that got made into tales of unexpected because a lot of these stories had that feel of weird glances into people’s lives and meeting  odd characters such as  the landlady that grows strange human hand shaped carrots in her garden for example .Another collection of short stories  I was reminded of was the collection by Dan Rhodes Timoleon Vieta come home ,which had a recurring motif through out its stories is that of the dog Timoloen vieta  appearing at some point during the story .Here the motif isn’t so clear but is there and is almost like the Japanese puzzle box my grandparents had where you had push this panel ,move this bit to finally open the box ,here there is a little bit of the previous story that appears in the next story and as you go along you see some other you have to go back and discover .Each story would make a great stand alone this is one of those collections where there is no weak link .The book comes out tomorrow in the uk .

Do you have a favourite collection of short stories from Asia ?

 

Holocaust Memorial day some suggested reading

Here in the UK it is Holocaust Memorial day .The 27th January was picked as it was the day that Auschwitz was liberated by the soviets .The day is a chance for us all to remember those who have suffered at the hands of Tyranny ,ethnic cleansing or unfair regimes .Here at winstonsdad I have read a number of books set before during and after the Holocaust both fiction and non-fiction .So thought be a good idea to suggest a few books you could try that are all about the Holocaust.

Blooms of darkness 2

Blooms of Darkness by Aharon Appelfeld – Last years IFFP winner follows a young boy coming to manhood ,as he tries to escape the Nazis .Hidden in a house of ill repute .Aharon Appelfeld novels have mostly been set and about the Holocaust .

treblinka 1

Treblinka A survivor’s memory by Chil Rajchman When I reviewed this I just start with the words”just read this book .I stand by that Chil takes you through his time in The Treblinka camp and the horrors he saw whilst there .

the emperor of lies

The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg The story of King Chaim that was the Jewish head of the Ghetto in Lodz and how by being himself and make sure he kept in line with the germans saved many lives of people in the Ghetto .

Lanzmann  the patagonian hare

The Patagonian Hare – Claude Lanzmann The memoir of the French editor and film maker .He made Shoah the most definitive view of the holocaust with numerous interviews people involved .We found out how he made it .

trieste dasa drndic

Trieste by Dasa Drndic A story of a women meeting here son that was part of the Nazis Lebensborn programme ,but also mention and has a list of all the Italian Jews that died during world war two .

the last brother

The last brother by Nathacha Appanah A young boy after the Holocaust trying for a new life in the promised land and he  end up in Mauritius after  he was expelled from Palenstine .

sarajevo marlboro

Sarajevo Malboro by Miljenko Jergovic  A collection stories set in and around the Balkan conflict ,which show the horror of this recent war on the people of Bosnia .

That’s just a few of course there is  many other books out there  by the likes of Primo Levi ,Anne Frank ,Etty Hilesum and many others .The next book to be covered here on Holocaust will be Train to Budapest by Dacia Maaini an Italian novel about a friend trying to find out what happened to her friend after she went to a concentration camp set during fifties as she travels to Budapest .

This years theme for Holocaust memorial day is to build a bridge 

Also visit the main site for Holocaust memorial day 

Have you a favourite read about the holocaust ?

The Human Part by Kari Hotakainen

untitled

The Human Part by Kari Hotakainen

Finnish Fiction

Original title – Ihmisen osa

Translator – Owen F Witesman

Source – review copy

Well day two of Maclehose press celebration here on Winstonsdad .I now move north from Italy to Finland and one of the most acclaimed writers Kari Hotakinen .He is a multi talented writer .He started as both a poet and Journalist,he is a columnist for the finnish newspaper   Helsingin Sanomat. He started writing novels in the mid nineties  this is his tenth novel,and his latest and the first I’ve read by him .It won the Runeberg prize Sofi Oksanen has also previously won this prize which awarded every year . .

My name is Salme Sinikka Malmikunnas ,and everything that I say will be printed word for word in this book .The author promised me this .In alarm he even suggested that my words be printed in italics ,which apparently emphasizes the importance of the words .

The opening lines of the novel .

So the premise of The human part is a sort off retelling of the old story of some one selling their life to someone else .In this case it is Salame an elderly lady who ran a button shop ,the cover is rather clever a red thread flows through the city and back to Salame at the bottom , she happens to  meets a writer he has writers block and is looking for a story ,so after much persuading and a wad of money she agrees to sell him her life story she had four but only three are still alive and they all have their own problems but their ,mother tends to view their lives with rose-tinted specs .So she starts her story  to the writer ,tell the story of herself ,husband  and her childrens lives .But what is the writer putting down in  writing as she speaks  and is her vision of the family the same as his vision of her family ? What will he write about her kids lives ? ,What will he make of the dark secret that lies at the back of the family ? All this and more is revealed as you move through her life and that of her kids as well  .

The author interrupted to say that he didn’t intend to turn the Dictaphone on for the whole time we were meeting .As he said this he took a notepad and pencil out of  his pocket .I said he needed to put those away while I was speaking as well .The author shock his head and reminded me that he had paid for goods that he would be taking with him in some form ,

The telling of her tale begins .

So its easy to see Salame and the writers pact to sell her story  to him .As a twist on the old Faustian tale of selling your soul to the devil of course the writer isn’t the devil but he does  makes Salame  begin of view her life in a darker way than she did  .the book is also a clever critic on modern Life in Finland but not just Finland ,we all see the world our own ways and we all see our families one way , because they are our family .This book yet again shows we live in an age of changing values of  the general public  and how much  people willing to reveal all about themselves if the  money  is right .Via this story we see pain and suffering with in the family unit in modern Finland  .This is a book that even thou it is set in Finland  , can ring true to every one in this modern world  .

Have you a favourite Finnish writer ?

 

Memory of the abyss by Marcello Fois

Memory_Abyss_HB

Memory of the Abyss by Marcello Fois

Italian Fiction

Translator –  Patrick Creagh

Original title – Memoria del vuoto

Source – review copy

Well he we go its been five-year since Maclehose press started publishing their wonderful  books. I’ve been reviewing their books since the blog started ,so I came up with the idea of Maclehose press week ,to highlight the wonderful books they publish ,it also helping clear the backlog of books I ve read and not reviewed .So here we go with Marcello Fois  this is his second book to reach us in english .He is Italian writer ,playwright and screenwriter he studied Italian at the university of Bologna ,he then published his first book in 1992 aged 32 and has since published 25 books in Italian ,he has also written a libretto for an opera ,also episodes for an Italian TV series .

That he would be called Samuele was decided by Father Marci :

“Samuele was one of god’s knight .The fact is that every time the children of isarel failed to keep the covenant which they made with god which was honour him above all things.

Even his name has a mythical beginning

Memory of the Abyss is set in Sardinia  like an earlier book I read by Maclehose also set in Sardinia  from a female perspective  that was Accabadoa by Michela Murgia this book is told from a male perspective and roughly at the same time  ,So the book is set in Sardinia just as Il Duce has come to power and the main character is returning to  Italy after being in North Africa .This Guy  Samuele Stocchino is a well know Italian gangster ,what Fois has done is taken his return to Italy and his battle with the fascist forces and reimagined him as an almost mythical figure .We see him as a youngster enlist in the army go to North Africa to fight for the italian army against the natives .He returns disliking the empire italy has built ,but also still very proud of being Italian .He also hates what Il Duce and his fascist followers are doing to his homeland .Thus we see how this man takes on the authorities ,killing and genrally causing trouble as he does so the price on his head  grows as he ends up battling with just one figure from the regime who really want to get Samuele  ,but  his legend grows .So we see a mythical figure appearing from the pages a man of legend .

I saw Stocchino when everyone was saying he was dead ,and the Manai and Bardi clans and all their friends had paid for a mass and a new processional rob for the madonna ,embroidered by the nuns ,as well as jewels and a crown of solid silver .

Near the end his myth is huge he almost becomes a myth .

This book fits in the field of lack comedies dealing with war ,So the real life gangster Stocchino becomes like an Italian robin hood or kray twins where the fact he is a killer is overshadow by the fact he is fighting Fascism and trying to keep hold of an older vision of Italy he loved .The language of this book is very rich one imagines Patrick Creagh had a real task trying to get the beauty of Fois writing into English and I think he has succeed ,Fois imagery at times reminds you the richness you find in the Italian masters where you look and keep seeing more and more detail ,this is like that I kept finding myself turn back and rereading passages to get full beauty of the words .Yet again the feel of Sardinia is a world of old values and traditions fighting the changing world rather similar to the world of  Michela Murgia painted in the earlier Maclehose book I’d read also set in Sardinia .

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