Some Prefer Nettles by Junchirō Tanizaki

Some Prefer Nettles by Junchirō Tanizaki

Japanese fiction

Original title – 蓼喰う蟲 – Tade kuu mushi

Translator – Edward G. Seidensticker

Source – personal copy

I’m back and the strange thing is I had covid last week so the break was a good idea as I wouldn’t have blogged last week it also means I’m probably only going review two books for this weeks 1929 Club but here I am with the first book for this week and it is a book from Japan. I always get the list of books published on the year for the club and try and find the ones in translation first that I may like to review. This title jumped out at me as I had featured a later book by Tanizaki in the 1956 edition of the club. Tanizaki is one of the best regarded and considered one of the founding figures of Modern Japanese fiction in the 20th century as his books follow both the working of the family and the changing times around him.

‘YOU THINK YOU might go, then?’ Misako asked several times during the morning.

Kaname as usual was evasive, however, and Misako found it impossible to make up her own mind. The morning passed.

At about one o’clock she took a bath and dressed, and, ready for either eventuality, sat down inquiringly beside her husband. He said nothing. The morning newspaper was still spread open in front of him.

‘Anyway, your bath is ready?

Oh.’ Kaname lay sprawled on a couple of cushions, his chin in his hand. He pulled his head a little to the side as he caught a suggestion of Misako’s perfume. Careful not to meet her eyes, he glanced at her – more accurately he glanced at her clothes – in an effort to catch some hint of a purpose that might make his decision for him. Unfortunately, he had not been paying much attention to her clothes lately. He knew vaguely that she gave a great deal of attention to them and was always buying something new, but he was never consulted and never knew what she had bought. He could make out nothing more revealing than the figure of an attractive and stylish matron dressed to go out.

the opening of the book we see the problem at the heart of the marriage.

This is described as his most personal book it focuses on the collapse of a marriage as we see what has caused the breakup. The couple Kaname and Misako are trying to navigate splitting up even on the first page there is a sense of distance when Kaname says he hadn’t noticed what Mistake had been wearing lately. He also early on laments the potential loss of his father I law which he feels he may miss more than his wife. He let his wife take a lover. The father-in-law is a very traditional man even his wife is like a doll ( in a very traditional dress and style even down to blacken teeth) This is part of the pull of the book is how the traditional world of Japan is disappearing as the book shows these two views modern western ideas versus tradition. The father-in-law is in the traditional world he loves traditional puppet theatre. The juxtaposed problems and themes in the book are how women are viewed and how the modern Misako maybe just wants her lover and not marriage and her son, as unlike her father’s view of a woman. It follows what happens when neither person in the marriage is brave or strong enough to say not is over. which creates a sense of inertia and causes tension also the fact they have a young son the status quo isn’t ideal as you sense the simmering tension but lack of wanting to end this marriage.

The images of the dolls, Koharu and O-san, were still vivid in Kaname’s mind. He was on edge, however, lest the old man begins his discourse on the serpent, the demon in a wife’s breast, and he found it difficult to stay politely through the lunch.

The doll as the object is part of the values and image of a woman dealt with in the book

I have reviewed three other books by Junichirō Tanizaki over the years it is hard to describe I am a fan but not a fan his books are slow-moving art times and aren’t the quickest to read but then the themes he deals with the clash of cultures the traditional world and modern world is something that I have always loved in fiction.I was reminded of those great books from Africa that followed a similar theme or even Pyre I reviewed recently that had marriage and traditional values at their heart. He is very good at the inside views of marriages. the inner workings of families. The things pulling at this couple from every side but also why divorce is really needed to solve the problems we see in this couple. I like way he describes how cultures clashes. Have you read any books from Him, what books have you chosen for this week’s 1929 club?

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Pyre by Perumal Murugan

Pyre by Perumal Murugan

Indian fiction

Original title – Pūkkul̲i, Tamil –  பூக்குழி

Translator – Aniruddhan Vasudevan

Source – review copy

I draw to a close this month with one of the major Indian writers Perumal Murugan this is the first book I have read by him it is the third book to be translated by Pushkin press from him. He has written 11 novels and five collections of short stories, which means we have a lot more books to come from the book. Murugan has been writing from an early age he was featured on Indian radio as a kid he grew small holding and his father ran a soda shop which is also what Kumaresan is doing as he saves to escape with his new wife Saroja. so some of the settings has some of his own backgrounds.

As they neared the rock, she could see the faces of the women sitting there. Their voices rose in a cacophony. As soon as they saw the couple, they all got up. Everyone was silent for a minute. Saroja stood with her head bowed, while Kumaresan set the bag on the ground and looked at them.

No one said anything. There were five or six men in the crowd too.

Suddenly, from within one of the huts, there came a wail, and an aggrieved voice lashed out at them: ‘You have ruined me!’

The rock is like the island in a sea hatred.

The book was longlist for the south Asian prize and is set in the village of Kattuppati a remote village. A young man has brought home a bride after spending some time in the city. when he returns to his village and to his house on the rock ( I always feel this maybe add to the story the rock is like an island in the sea of hatred they face) with his new bride Saroja is from a different caste to her husband they return n to sure what will happen the minute they get back you get a sense that they maybe hadn’t gathered how bad the reaction Kumaresan marrying this girl from a lower caste. His mother curse her and from the get-go there is a real sense that Saroja doesn’t want and the locals will do their best to get rid of her. Meanwhile Kumaresan  is trying to build a soda business as the plan was to get the money to move this becomes more of the plan when Saroja falls pregnant but this comes as Kumaresan has to go away maybe for a few days Saroja worries about what will happen.

Then appucchi spoke again. ‘Run away from here before your uncles return. They want to hack you to pieces.

They are very upset that the boy whom they raised has done something like this. Your uncles had plans to build you a tiled house on the rock and get you married to a nice girl Couldn’t you find a girl in our village, from within our caste? We can’t even face our people. You have shamed us all. If your uncles see you now, they will hack you to death.

Hey, you! Give them something to eat if you want and send them on their way. If our boys ask, we will tell them that we were feeding some workers’

Later on the tension and what may happen becomes clearer.

This for me has so many things I love in literature the clash of cultures here is almost like a car crash as the new couple from different castes The village is a typical insular village I was reminded of the book  Stones in the landslide (as you may know one of my favourite books) where some one from the next village down moves to the village and seems like an alien to the locals this is the same feeling but tenfold. Another feeling I had was a Dickensian feel with the bottle shop reminding me of David Copperfield but dickens also tackled marriage and relationships across the class divide. It also has that feeling of cranking up the tension as the full extent of the relationship and the outfall of this marriage on the village and his family and the locals as you feel the dark and tension grow. It if Satyajit Ray had ever done an Indian version of Emmerdale this would have been it has the feeling of tension that soap operas do well at building slow tension over time you as a reader can see it coming Ray also captures the Indian village so well in his films. this is one of those books that shows us why we need more Indian books in translation the only thing we miss is as the translator says is the subtle sense of language between the village and city folks those subtle dialects that is always hard to convey in translation but it doesn’t lose anything for not having it.

Winstons score – +A I am always a fan of books set in villages and clashes of classes (Well caste her as well)

 

The woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura

The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura

Japanese fiction

Original title – Murasaki no sukaato no onna むらさきのスカートの女

Translator – Lucy North

Source – Library

I always love when you pop to the library and find a book you’ve seen online or somewhere that you think oh that sounds interesting and I know a title shouldn’t be a reason for reading a book but the title of this grabbed me and remind me of a silly evening with a friend when I was still at school with a top that may have been blue may have been purple anyway back to the book Natsuko Imamura has won the Dazai Osamu Prize and has been nominated for one of the biggest prizes in Japanese fiction The Akutagawa Prize on three occasions. So she is a respected writer this seems to be her first book to be translated into English but is actually her fourth novel. She is from Hiroshima and studying in Osaka. where she still lives.

The Woman in the Purple Skirt carried a single paper bag from the bakery. After seating herself on
her Exclusively Reserved Seat, which had just this minute been vacated, she opened up the bag and
drew out her purchase. The usual cream bun. It’s the kind of thing that is typically the subject of TV
street interviews. “What did you buy today?” the interviewer asks, stopping shoppers who are carrying bags with the bakery logo and thrusting the microphone in their faces. The soft white loaf and the cream bun are the most common answers. And my answer too would be “A cream bun!” if anyone were to ask me. The distinctive features? Well, I’d say the custard filling, which has to have just the right degree of stiffness, and the delicately thin surrounding dough. Then there’s the sprinkling of sliced almonds on top. That’s what makes that satisfyingly crisp sound when you take a bite.

She does this every day there is a sense of simmering anger or something in this I felt

This is a book about Obsession and also in a way stalking at the heart of the book is two women one watches the other the woman in the Yellow cardigan is watching the other woman as she watches the woman in the purple skirt we see a woman that seems to squeeze through the crowd streets. A woman of habit forms doing the same thing every day in her purple skirt. Observing her and noting her day as she seems to want to be in her world we are not told how in a way is it romantic or just the other woman seems more visible than her in the workplace.  but is only there for now as an observer of her stalker. There is an air around this habit of the woman in the yellow cardigan watching her isn’t at first explained leading you as a reader to put your own spin on it. it is an insight into a mundane world but why? why is this other woman watching her?

IT WAS THE WOMAN IN THE PURPLE SKIRT’S second day at work. Today she took the 8:02 bus, the one after the bus she took the day before. During the week, the bus comes every twenty minutes. The earlier bus gets you in with too much time to spare before the morning meeting. But the later one means you end up arriving late for work. The Woman in the Purple Skirt took the middle one, and punched in at 8:52.
This morning the Woman in the Purple Skirt delivered her greetings in a ringing voice. “Ohayo
gozaimasu!” she called out when she entered the office. And again, when she opened the door to the locker room: “Ohayo gozaimasul”

They seem to work together or in the same building as she watches her at work.

This book is unsettling at times it you are drawn into a voyeuristic enter the life of a voyeur watching the character. I was reminded of an episode of Lewis where the was a woman that had been watched her entire life. The woman in the purple skirt is on the surface an ordinary character in fact if anything very boring with the same habits day in and day out cream bun bench in the park. But this is what she enters us into so well in that mundane world of her life. The book has little to let you into what is happening you follow the woman and it isn’t too much later that events may be clear but this is one that will stick after you have read it dark in a way but also captures the creepiness of being stalked being watched every habit. But there is a sort of juxtaposing in between the two characters the child-like woman in the yellow cardigan seems to think she is invisible in the world she is in. this is why she has the connection to the woman in the purple skirts whom she sees as highly visible in her world everyone seems to see her and she sees how she moves through her life. Unsettling at times. This is part thriller, part obsessive fan and part just someone seeing into some else life and adding a narrative to it. Have you read this book? Lucy north has kept watch must have been the rhythm in the original book as you as a reader are drawn in bit by bit. A great choice for women in Translation month.

Winstons score – B would make a very creepy film at some point one would imagine.

Scattered all over the world by Yoko Tawada

 

Scattered all over the world by Yoko Tawada

Japanese fiction

original title – Kentoshi, Kodansha

Translator – Margaret Mitsutani

Source – personal copy

I  have been away it was a couple of days then we had a spell of hot weather which seems to zap my energy I am a real spring autumn fan mild weather is my favourite. Anyway, I return with a writer I have featured before on the blog. I reviewed the last children of Tokyo which like this was written in Japanese by Yoko Tawada lives in Germany and also writes in German she has a connection with how languages are seen and used and also about words and reality. This is a book that deals with language identity and place like the last children of Tokyo it uses the dying out of Japan her `Japan as gone completely.

While I was thinking about how I could tell stories to children in Panska at the Marchen centre, I hit on the Idea of showing them Kamishibai, or picture dramas. Showing them a picture for each scene in the drama would be much better than just telling them a story in words. I wrote something to this effect in my note with the CV I sent to the centre, and immediately got a letter back telling me to come to Odense for an interview, Of course, I spoke Panska, and it didn’t take even five minutes for the words ” You’re hired” to start blinking on and off in the interviewers eyes

Panska a mix of languages she uses and others and love that we see the power of pictures to tell a story.

The book follows a group of characters that we meet via our main Character Hiruko she is living in Denmark working and telling stories in a community centre she has been around a number of countries and has made her own language pop this was strange as it reminds me of a couple of Turkish guys I worked with in Germany at the Jugendwerkstatt(youth workshop it was a while ago) and they were caught between German and Turkish so had used there own speak in a way. Her homeland is distant in the book and is now mainly remembered as the land of Sushi. She meets a linguist Knut as she wants to learn about her and has heard of a note Japanese speaker. This revelation leads to a road trip. With an Inuit (who says he is from Japan to people) Nanook is from Greenland this brings another angle to the story with his lover add too that an Indian Akash she is a trans woman ( strange I had read two books with Trans characters from India in this year this is a refreshing and great direction to see books going in) They all set on a quest to connect with this other Japanese s[peaker the book follows the group as they cross into Germany it has a lot about place and identity also perceptions people have.  Will she get to meet a fellow speaker as people from Japan were scattered all over the world?

Ever since I decided to live as a woman I’ve been wearing Saris of varying shades of red when I go out. Not that I’m intentionally dressing Indian, but as German woman of my generation hardly ever wears skirts I didn’t want to wear one myself. And if I wore trousers as they do, I’d simply look like a man. Furthermore have always felt somehow that my heart must be made of red silk embroiled in gold. If I could only read the story woven in that it, of course, but just gazing at the sheen of red silk is enough to satisfy me

I love the line about a red silk heart with gold embroidery.

this is meant to be the first of a projected trilogy it seems. It had connections to the other book I had read by her about what makes indemnity and language which seem to loom large given she lives in Germany I get the feeling of being out of one world but then not in another my year and a half in German had the same effect on me I never felt in place in one country or the other for a time. I could imagine this would make a great Wim Wenders film ( I am a huge fan of his ) as it is a road trip and he also had a lot about feeling displaced at times in Until the end of the world which saw an event displace people. There is also a nod to the environment which is shared with Wenders film the loss of Japan was to rising sea levels. But we also see how we can mould ourselves and adapt who we are to place and nationality at times. This is a book with Language at its heart our own, those we make up, those we may lose and what happens when your language is lost?  So for me it has a little of Wim weeders passion for road trips, Burgess love of language and made-up languages and a pinch of Greta Thunberg just for good measure. Have you read this book?

Winstons score – A an interesting look at what could happen and how it affects language place and one person

Chinatown by Thuan

Chinatown by Thuan

Vietnamese fiction

Original title – Chinatown

Translator – Nguyễn An Lý

Source – subscription edition

I now move to a book from Vietnam that in some ways seems to mirror part of the own writer’s life. She grew up in North Vietnam where she grew up with a love of Vietnamese literature and the greats of French literature like Balzac, Hugo and Flaubert. Then she got the chance to study in Russia which expand her reading more. Then lead to her moving to France to live Paris. This is the latest from my Tilted axis subscription and as they did so well last year in the booker international prize I decided this year `I would get to the books when they arrived and this was a perch choice for this month as it is from a female writer from Vietnam and also it is the first book from Vietnam I will have reviewed on the blog.

During my ten years at school, I came to understand that the pig brains for which my father queued from morning till afternoon were not a reward for my ten in literature, but to guarantee that I
would bring home another ten, in history or military exercises. That was why his pig brains needed no dill, pepper, or MSG, and no attempt to enliven their presentation. Even now I can still see
them, aluminum bowls in the steaming rice pot, and taste the metallic tang of blood which no amount of salt could mask, and which I always had to down in one gulp. I didn’t care for steamed
pig brains, I had no disease to be cured by them, but every other day I closed my eyes and my nostrils and downed them in one, because they were most nutritious, especially for the brain, and
most of all for a child’s. It was my duty to turn catjang soup and steamed pig brains into tens and praise

This is an evocative passage that caught me when I was reading.

The book has a framing device and that is the narrator is waiting on a platform on the metro for a train when a package is discovered and the police are coming to have a look at what it is. Our narrator is caught in her thoughts and this takes us through her life from her early years in Vietnam but then we see how she met the man she would marry Thuy a Chinese man from Vietnam this is set as there is a war between the two countries and she meets him in class this leads to trouble;e with her family the book isn’t linear more it is wonderfully evocative as it seems like how we would remember love or the way you look back on a past love that one Thuy reminds me of an earlier girlfriend I had for a number of years and lived with that first big love and that when I look back event aren’t in a linear narrative more it jumps at times and her it is similar we see how they meet then spend time apart. but then meet and married and it showed how hard this was at the time in Vietnam which it is the 80s there is a huge Chinese feeling in the country and this is one of the things that highlights the deep divide in the two cultures at the time as the two falls in love and the knock out effect on the tow na their families then we find her later in France and how she andThuy drifted apart and eventually she hadn’t seen him in years. Add to this is her studying in the Soviet Union at this time and then moving to France this is a globetrotting book.

 

my Sino-Vietnamese wedding that actually took place, they opted not to attend. Neither did Thuy’s parents. The day went by in a flurry. The only guests were my few friends from
Leningrad. They came with their children. Their children born in the USSR, who’d had just a taste of butter and milk before boarding the plane to the homeland. The wedding was their first time
meeting Thuy. They asked me in Russian, so this is your architect beau. He didn’t understand. He just smiled awkwardly. He stood there embarrassed. Then they asked him, in Vietnamese, where are
you working, which office, which department. This time he was even more embarrassed. His smile grew fixed.

Another about getting married.

Thuran is a translator and a huge fan of French literature and I can see part of some of my favourite writers for me it has a pick off Modiano (maybe cause been talking about him a bit recently ) there is a flip in the sex of the character usually it is a male character in his book looking back on memories here Madame Au is looking back on her love the bare bones of the story is similar to the writer’s life but she then said in an interview she hadn’t wanted to duo memoir this is deeper more mediative around love across a divide exile and looking back at times that love affair. I was reminded in a small way of the English patient the love affair in that novel se t against war and Ondaatje is another writer heavy on memory, love, war and division. The book is dense in it style but worth the effort and is a great book from a new writer. It has part of the new novel movement, Proust and a love story all in one. Have you a favourite book from Vietnam ?(I had a nam le on my shelves but want something translated as my first book from Vietnam ) . My third book of this month and the first new country for a while on the blog.

Winstons score – B is a solid book from a new voice her first book to be translated into English she has more so hopefully we will get more from her.

Ninth Building by Zou Jingzhi

Ninth Building by Zou Jingzhi

Chinese Memoir

Original title – 九栋

Translator – Jeremy Tiang

Source – review copy

It was great when Hanford star got listed for the Booker prizes this year. I have been sent books by them since they started and it is great to see them get some more recognition as they are a smaller publisher and one of those like Istros and Nordisk that focuses on one area to publish works from. They have brought books from all over Asia in the last few years I have reviewed most of them here. This is one from a Chinese writer  I have often said I have a feeling I want a writer from China I can really connect with and I think in Jingzhi I may have he has written both fiction, poetry, scripts and here is what is a memoir but it is more an Episodic Memoir than a linear memoir but a work of fiction so Chinese Auto-fiction.

Ninth building was the building I lived as a child. It’s been demolished now, and on the same plot, they built a bigger, taller Ninth Building. My words concern the previous incarnation.

Before the block disappeared, I went back to take some pictures of it. A place I spent my early years. With its vanishing, there’d be no traces left of my childhood.

The loss of the building made him write this to remember the times and events in the Ninth building !!

I said this is a book that is a fictional memoir but it is more the writer sat and remember little episodes of his life and it follows him and his family in two times the first was his time in Beijing as a young boy the book is set in Beijing just as Mao and this cultural revolution is taking place and we see it through the eyes of aa young boy the young Zou as he is caught up in the fever of the times where they are told to tell on anyone that seems to not be the thing the party line. They want to be red guards as they seem heroes to the young kids buying armbands to be like them. Now we see this how he saw out at the time and that is as a kid sees things he wants to be accepted by his peers and telling on those around him in the ninth building is the way it is. The book captures this but also what it is to be a child in the midst of chaos and not see it as he said the building as he wrote this looking back had gone and there was now a larger building it captures China just as it is entering the dark times and we see this in the second two-thirds of the book which follows a now teen You as he and his family has been sent to the northern hinterlands of China in Exile like many people were from Beijing. So we see him in 1960 arrive in the village of Yangfangdian where they are expected to return to the land and have to toil and grow things the vignettes here are sparked by items events those little rascals he met twins he could never tell who was who. As they all toil in what they called a  return to the land but is actually really a labour camp for them as his father is here considered dangerous as he fails to comply we see a young man awaken in the horror of the wastelands of china working hard and trying to be a young man at the same time.

My family moved to Yangfangdian in 1960. All around our building were vegetable fields, and in the midst of this greenery were white stone tablets(commonly known as “Turtleback stones”) on which were inscribed huge characters, most of which we couldn’t recognise as we stared up at them. It didn’t help there wasn’t any punctuation at all. Nonetheless, we persisted in reading them out to demonstrate the joy of learning. several children would stand in a group and chant in unison. Something something memorial. some lines had not a single comprehensible word, and still we’d something-something-something-something our way through, no shortcuts. I get nostalgic now thinking of a gaggle of kids chorusing “Something”

His new home in the wastelands of China feeling out of place

 

I loved this captures his life and that is a tale that isn’t told in a Rosie way this is warts and all it shows how as a kid we can be swayed to do things one thing of how the Stasi in Soviet times influenced kids to think it was normal to watch and report own this around them. It shows how the red guard was made to seem like hers to the kids. One of my main problems with a lot of Chinese lit we get is it has never seemed to be very personal and this does this is Zou’s voice and his world we are dragged into as a reader from those days as a young boy as the craziness of the red guard and the cultural revolution are just taking hold of the country the way the young kids want the armbands and to be part of there own gang. Then the sheer tedium of life and backbreaking work alongside a coming of age work as he starts to see the woman around him among all this. Have you a favourite book from China or a book about the cultural revolution.

Winstons score – A -a writer I want to read more from !!

The Blue Bedspread by Raj Kamal Jha

The Blue Bedspread by Raj Kamal Jha

Indian fiction

Source personal – copy

As it is Jubilee weekend here in the Uk I decided to try and read a couple of the books from the Jubilee list and this is the first one I choose to read as I just love the title of this book that is the only reason I had to on my TBR pile it was in the small shop in Bakewell that sells second-hand books and it just caught my eye with the title and then being described as an Indian coming of age novel on the front cover(which I think is maybe deceiving ) The writer Raj Kamal Jha has written five novels and is editor in chief of The Indian express. This was his debut novel he has won a number of prizes and his literature has been said to take its lead from the news he works on as an editor in a newsroom.

I could begin with my name but forgot it, why waste time, it doesn’t matter in this city of twelve million names. I could begin with the way I look but what do I say, I am not a young manny more, I wear glasses, my stomach droops over the belt of my trousers.

There’s something wrong with my trousers. The waist, where the loops for the belt are, folds over every time, so if you look at me carefully while I am walking by, on the street or at the bus stop, you will see a flash of white, the cloth they use as lining, running above my belt, peeping out

The opening lines of the book as he sits to write to the baby that is to be adopted tomorrow

The blue bedspread is a bedspread from a family and this night it has a small newborn baby on it and we are in a house in Calcutta as we see a man writing a long note to this babe the babe is the daughter of his dead sister and is due to be adopted in the morning and what he is writing here is a description of the events that lead up to that moment. In the story of a lower-middle-class Indian family. As the brother recalls the events of the past the blue spread iOS is a sort of recurring motif in the book. As the past and what has happened within the family are slowly revealed. the book is formed of chapters around each family member but starts with the narrator’s visit. the police station after a call telling him of his sister’s fate that she has died. What happens is we see what lies behind those curtains and here in this family it is a broken twist and as the book moves on becomes more so to its shocking last story of the last eight words of the narrator!

Blue bedspread

The bedspread was ten feet by nine feet, dark blue, almost purple, but her the years it had faded until it was blueish white, like our breakfast of milk and cornflakes. When we returned from school in the afternoon, we would lie on the bed, sister and I, our cheeks pressed against the thick fabric, our eyes fixed along the surface, imaging we were looking at the sky. And that the discoloured patches were clouds

The Blue bedspread I also think the fact they are on the bed together is maybe more than it seems!

This is a slow-burning book that sees what has happened in the family and between this brother and sister and their parents to get to that night as our unnamed narrator sits and writes this note to this newly born babe. As he puts it He could begin Wirth his name but he has forgotten it. This is a book that lingers with the reader long after you put the book down it is lifting the curtain into a family broken and twisted. The last book I remember hitting me so hard was Besides the sea although on a totally different subject it has the same impact and this book has an ending which is horrific. The book iS at times here and there in how the story is told,  but for me, this was the style it was meant to be as our narrator is a drinker and to me, this was how his mind was remembering events not in order in a linear way but as he thought of one person then he connected it to the next and as he kept longing at the babe and the blue bedspread it was as thou was the Proustian Madeleine as it was part of the family home and like the memories, it is worn and old. I was reminded in part of the Beautiful south song “The table” where a table is almost a character and this is the same the bedspread keeps cropping up and recurring in the stories this is a style I have also seen in the story collection Timoleon Vita come home where a dog is a recurring motif in the stories. Have you read any book like this that lifts the lid on a dysfunctional family?

Winstons score – B is an interlinking collection of stories told over the course of a night a family history that is horrific in parts.

Solo Dance by Li Kokomi

Solo Dance by Li Kotomi

Taiwanese/Japanese lit

Original title – 独り舞, Hitorimai

Translator – Arthur Reiji Morris

Source – Review copy

Over the years World editions have sent me some wonderful books and this is the latest from them and it is a gem it is written by Li Kotomi a Taiwanese writer that lives in Japan she has written in both her native Mandarin and Japanese which she started to study when she was 15 and went to university in Japan to study and has lived there since this was her debut novel in Japanese . She is known for addressing LGBT issues in her fiction and has won a number of prize last year she was the first writer to win the Akutagawa prize(aOne of the largest Japanese book prizes previous winners include most of the best writers from Japan like Endo and Oe and more recently Sayaka Murata. The main Character in this book is also a Taiwanese woman living in Tokyo.

She was drawn to Danchen the moment she saw those eyes. Though she was to young to understand the meaning of eve in even its most basic sense, she knew that squirming, rolling wave of emotion in her chest was the same one felt between those fairy tale princes and princesses.

She spent her days watching Danchen but never managed to exchange a word with her.

To Young to see what this meant it haunts her still in her twenties this and other events in here years in Taiwan.

Cho has end up living in Japan and working in an Office but this Taiwanese woman has a number of events in her past that we find out as the book unfolds.She is just at them moment trying to blend in as she tries to hide her sexuality at work where the talk is all of marriage and kids, She is a woman that is walking a tightrope and is always looking into the abyss of death as we she what in her previous life made her leave her life in Tawian. To set up a new life in Japan a loss in her past of a girl she loved a girl she never told how she felt. which we see the after math of this event  in the middle of the book where the book shifts from the observance of her life to her inner most thoughts and diary of the time and the event that lead to her going to Japan the loss of a close friend that she was in love with. this and another event which locks her off just as she should bloom as she goes to university This is a book that has many threads office life trying to be yourself in a world where people are expected to conform. A look at grief , mental health and how death can lie round every corner.  It is about trying to escape but do we every really escape what has happened in our Past ?

Her solitary nature made a lot of the fellow students on her course uncomfortable around her. Unlike most of her classmates, she had been studying Japanese since Junior high school and had already progressed to reading a lot of Japanese literature in the original, making her top of the class. This only served to worsen her solitude. Tachung Girl’s Senior High School was prestigious, and so a lot of its students went on to study at National Taiwan University, which meant that news of the assault a few months ago had spread among the students in her degree course.

We what has happened  to Cho sets her apart that event just before University

The turning point as Javier Cercas put in his essay collection The blind spot he says a lot of great books have that point from has with the whale for ahab our waiting for Godot there is that event never seen that is the turning point here it is the death of a girl Danchen the aftermath of which with another even more horrific event  is the whole kernel of the book and how Cho ended up as the Cho we meet. But it is a look at grief unspoken grief. The pressure of hiding ones sexuality and also a novel about growing up it packs a punch in its 250 pages as we wind up this year booker international maybe I have read the first book from next years list ? I was also remind of the main event in this book the loss of the girl she was in love with at a young age is a similar story to that we find in Tarjei Vesaas The ice palace where we see a girl coping with the loss of a friend she was in love with. For me the book is like the Art piece Shedboatshed (where a shed was made into a boat then back to a shed ) The image of a person taken apart as this even has done and then like in the piece sailed across the water and then rebuilt on the other side not quite the shed to was !! this is about how we can never quite come back to what we were when that event happens like the death in this book it is always there ! Have you read this book or any other book set in Japan by a writer not from Japan ?

Winstons score – -A a book that sees how grief and hiding our true selves can eat us up !

Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree

Edited in Prisma app with Thota Vaikuntam

Tomb of Sand by Geertanjali Shree

Indian fiction

Original title – Ret Samadhi

Translator – Daisy Rockwell

Source – personal copy via subscription

Well I have finally got round to reviewing this book as I just struggled how to get across how wonderful Tomb of sand is I have read it twice and still struggling with how to put it across. It is the fifth novel from the Geetanjali shree her earlier books have also been translated into English but not by Daisy. Geetanjali was brought up in Uttar Bradesh and she said the lack of available children books in English made her write in Hindi and her rich connection in Hindi( I was lucky with my shadow Jurors to have a zoom chat with daisy where she said Geetanjali loved word play and sometimes just put pieces in the book for the word play ). This is the first novel translated from Hindi to be translated into English to be longlisted and now shortlisted on The booker shortlist. I agree with daisy when she said there is a real blind spot in the UK for translated works from India and South Asia, The lose of a couple of prizes although I now know there is a new Prize in India The JCB prize Which I will now be watching for books to read from India.

Serious son got up and left. The world, wrecked by destructive humans, rematerialised all about him. The sand, defiled beer cans and plastic bags, the earth, colonised with white people, the flabby Indian bandar log, the cacophony that fancies itself music and makes nature weep, the laughing screaming stupid people, laugh, they told him; what’s there to laugh about- look at all you’ve done to this Nation! Fume fume fume. Serious Son went back to his room , fuming. And fell asleep.

The older son was said to not laugh or smile a serious young man.

Well to the book well first the title Samadhi which is a Hindi word with a multitude of means and the English title was suggest by Daisy as it has part of what the word means but also makes you think about it (For meI felt it was in a way about the sand of time running out but that was my view when first reading the title). The book allows an 80 woman she has lost her Husband at the start of the book and has gone into a slump the first hundred odd pages is her at her daughters just in her bed with Grief or I do wonder is the grief the loss of her husband or the loss of time in her life ? maybe that is just me what is captured we’ll her is the household the coming and goings around Ma as she gets to life together, there is also a lot about how her being on with her daughter which I didn’t know isn’t very common. As she  comes out of her room and starts to live again. This involves reconnecting with Rosie a Hirja( a trans woman) on the cover it says they meet after the husbands  but at times in the book there is reference to them, spend time as kids as Ma visits Lahore this is the later part of the book and is about the loss of identity when partition happened and how it had a knock on effect on Ma as Her and her daughter Beti visit. That is just part of the book add a lot of sidetracks about the locals , birds and Hindi religion and myth you see how hard this book was to get over.

A coolness descends into her heat which is pleasant, calm, not the kind of numbing chill from outside .The peace of the wall, not the carrying-on occurring behind her back. That painting behind her that makes her wonder how the breathing of the whole world has caused her own to collapse.

Ma closes her eyes, finesses her silence, stops her breathing so that no one will know  there’s one breath left: one tiny life form. Let it slip into the wall, let it slowly glide forward, let nothing get in its way to ruin its rhythm, let nothing break its stride, suppress it, make it fall off the edge

Early on Ma still in her bed viewed by Beti

I loved how this was put over in English when it dropped through the letterbox I went oh no a 700 page novel but it is actually maybe 500 page novel what they did between the Hindi version of the book and the English is add chapter breaks also the fact that in Hindi the books fill the pages this was 300 pages of tightly packed text. This is a story that was hard to get into English as it had the Untranslatable tag Daisy said the wordplay at times is hard to convey but what she found at times is that if she had to cut something another wordplay would appear in the same passaged. The book has a number of controversial stories the first is Rosie there is very few books written in India with Hijra portray or even mentioned. I did feel that Rosie was a real person that the writer may have meet the mannerism and speech it just jumps off the page. This is one of those books that is hard to put across it dislike doing into a world outside your own for a time it is Ma’s world we see the world through her eyes , add to this some great wordplay and a mix of myths this is a blend that maybe for me deserves to win the Booker prize. I felt that after the first reading earlier in the year and even more after this reading this is a book I will read again and again over time which for me is something I never think of doing. Have you read this book or any books Translated from other Indian languages into English ?

Winstons score – +A just breathtaking in the world we enter but also in the translation which draws t=you into that world.

Heaven by Mieko kawakami

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

Japanese fiction

original title – Hevun ヘヴン

Translators – Sam Bett and David Boyd

Source – personal copy

I move on with my booker longlist reading, I still want to call it the man booker anyway I’ve been trying to read as much as I can so I can get through the list asap anyway it means I”ve not blogged much this week but I have got through two books still a number to read but this is the first one I finished it is from the Japanese writer Mieko Kawakami it is the first book I have read by her. The other book that came out before by her Breast and Eggs was one of the buzz translations when it came out and as you know I tend to try and avoid them or leave to a later date my reading of the book. Anyway, Mieko Kawakami was a bar hostess and a well-known singer before she became a writer she had brought out three albums before turning to become a writer full-time n 2006. She has written a number of books and won a lot of Prizes in Japan. This is a harrowing account of being bullied at school ( I think we all in some way experience bullying in school or out of school).

One day towards the end of April, between classes, I unzipped my pencil case and found a folded triange of between the pencils.

I unfolded it to see what was inside.

“We should be Friends”

That’s all it said. Thin letters that looked like little fishbones, written in mechanical pencil

The opening lines and the first note from Kojima to our narrator

Our narrator is unnamed and is 14 when writing this book it follows a year in his life as ever the is a target for bullies because of a lazy eye. I remember for me it was just I was tall very slim (what went wrong !!) and ungainly it doesń take much at this age. anyway, he has an imagination and imagines how the bullies might get him to do this and that Iḿ not sure if this is a way to make the actual bullying seem less as if he pictures the most unimaginable acts the actual acts areń as bad but they are every time it brings him down a little more. The only solace in the book is when he starts to get notes from what seems to be someone that is experiencing bullying as well this is how the book opens. The notes lead to him meeting and becoming friends the one part of light in this book is the relationship and the initial hope it brings to him with Kojima. But then the bullying increase and we also see when our narrator tries to talk and reason with one of the bullies. ut his point of view when the bullies reply. Shows how much has changed over the years he had what would maybe be a Japanese view(not just Japanese maybe that traditional male role of breadwinner fighting man etc ) from years ago about the weak well not weak it takes real strength and courage to face bullying and carry on. His views are just outdated and but is maybe the centre of the book two views and paths in life and with human nature.

“Not so fast,Eyes.”

Class was over, butI turned around, becauser I had no choice, as rotten as I felt. One of Ninomiya’s friends grabbed me by the neck and dragged me back into the classroom. This happened all the time. Ninomiya was in the middle of the roo,, sittingon a desk. That was his style. When he noticed me, he laughe, then said, “Hey buddy.” He told me to hove a stick of chalk up my nose and draw smoething hilarious on the blackboard with it, something that would make them shit their pants. His firends all cracked up. One of them dragged me to the blackboard and the rest of them circled around to watch.

One of the numerous cases of him getting bullied in the book.

I wasn’t looking forward to this book I am just not into books that are maybe aimed at YA  audience which this looked like when I read the blurb. But when I read it it has an insight into the human character and also human suffering we all experience bullying on some level that is life life is a hierarchy whether it is violence, abuse, in your job or in the family. but the scars of it can last a lifetime or long into adulthood our narrator Eyes as they call him will probably have these events for most of his life playing in his head like movies in this case horror movies (sorry stole that from counting crows). Anyway it is a horrific bildungsroman that maybe is right for the target audience which is kids around 14 I feel it shows the horrors of bullying also the outdated nature of the bullies view although with recent events some adults are still bullies like Mr Putin the world has moved on but has it will bullying ever go no it is part of life which is sad people are more aware of it but as in Eyes case and mine it doesń take a lot even my young niece about this age who is rather like My brother Duncan and I in her build has struggled with bullying it is so sad. It is fair to say the book hit an old nerve and I related to our narrator’s woes transported back to the 80s. how did you interact with reading the book?

Winstons score – B a solid YA novel about how it feels to be bullied

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