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

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

Men without Women By Haruki Murakami

Men without women by Haruki Murakami

Japanese short stories

Original title – 女のいない男たち

Translators- Philip Gabriel and Ted Goosen

Source – Personal copy

I reviewed a non-fiction book By Mjurakami earlier this month and decided it was time to read this as since I was gift this book there has been another short story collection come out which I must get. I got this as a leaving gift for my last job which was nearly five years ago. I hadn’t plan to read ot but one afternoon after finishing one book and looking around my Library I decided it was time to get to this as it had been seven years before that when I had last reviewed a book by him so I felt a short gap was needed anyway he has always been a favourite and yes the last couple of novels hadn’t quite lived up to what I had wanted from Murakami there is always a feeling he has that true Opus Magnus to write still that defining book maybe that is just my view of him he is a great writer but would love that epic book he has yet to write that I’m sure he has in him, anyone else feels this about him? Anyway, let’s get to this collection of seven stories by him.

The first time I heard Kitaru sing “Yesterday” with those crazy lyrics he was in the bath at his house in Denenchofu (which, despite his description, was not a shabby house in ashabby neighbourhood but an ordinary house in an ordinary neighbourhood, an older house, but bigger than my house in Ashiya, not stand out in any way – and, incidentally , the car in the driveway was a navy-blue Golf, a recent model). Whenever Kitaru came home.he immediately dropped everything and jumped in the bat, and , once he was in the tub, he stayed there forever.

I was rtemind of the bath her of Douglas Adams love of Baths somethig that cfrept into his fiction I wonder if Murakami is the same!!

The collection opens with the tale of Kafuku in the story Drive my car he is an actor that has lost his license show hires a young woman to be his chauffeur in her mid-twenties to drive him around as she does he start to unload his life his wife that had affairs. A typical Murakami character is the lonely man older but so is the writer a world-weary soul with more life lived and ahead ! Then  Yesterday is a story about a trio of restaurant workers Tanimura and then a couple Kitaru and Erika the two split in the story just because he isn’t paying the attention she wants and she has then gone on a date with another man. He then moves on just a few days after this event.the story then jumps year later and Tanimura bumps into Erika now in the thirties she is married she asks Erika about the man she dated she hadn’t slept with him but still sees Kitaru and both are single and now lives apart the title is a hook on the Beatles song that is misunderstood and sung by Kitaru this reminds me of a friend many years ago that had misunderstood the meaning of a song by U2. I will just mention one more story leave the rest for you readers that haven’t read the book to discover the last story is Kino a middle-aged man who opens a bar called Kino’s his name the only name he could think of encouraged to open the bar this after his wife cheats a recurring motif in some of these stories. He has few customers one may be a Yakuza he sees of some wrong customers Kino also meets a woman also scared by her own life they talk Jazz. For me, this was classic Murakami a bar Jazz hark right back to his first two books dark alleys and men with no future all traits in his works over the years, The story also has a few surreal moments  when events in the bar change another of his traits.

kino couldn’t remember now what had led him to sleep with the woman that night. Kino felt, from the first, that there was something out of the ordinary about her. Something had triggered an instinctive response, warning him not to get involved. ANd now this cigarette burns on her back, He was basically a cautious person. If he really needed to sleep with a woman, he could always make do with a professional, he felt. Just take care of things by paying for it, And it wasn’t as it he were even attracted to this woman.

Kino sleep with this woman but why ? are they just two damaged souls ?

 

Do you ever get that feeling when you read a book that had been on your shelves for years why did I wait so long and wish you would have got to it sooner? I had like the other collections I had read by him other the years for me this has a lot of his traits cheating wives, single men now aging like the writer himself. This is like the Espresso shot of his work a little Amuse Bouche of the writer you hit with every story of echoes reminds of his earlier works he is a writer that uses similar characters and always has he use a sort every man of Japan how many of the male characters in this book are there wandering around Tokyo middle single men either single for a long time or widowed separate. Also things like Jazz, late-night bars western music all motifs that have cropped up before. The first story Drive my car has been made into a film I hope I can see it sometime? Have you read this collection what were your thoughts about it?

Winstons Score – A , well worth the journey for any fan or anyone maybe wanting an into to him this has so many of his traits in this collection in small chunks!

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

Japanese fiction

Original title –  猫の客

Translator – Eric Selland

Source – personal copy

I now head back to Japan for the third book for this years January inJapan event and I decided to look at my TBR pile of books and one I had brought just because I liked the Cat on the cover I worried the book was going to be one that I wouldn’t enjoy but I decided as I had just brought another Japanese bestseller about a cat it was time to read this cat book. The book was written by the Japanese Poet Takashi Hirade he was born in Moji and lives in Tokyo with his wife who is also a poet. He was described by Kenzaburo Oe as a poet who creates new prose from poetry. He has published over twenty books and edited a series of books in Japan.

Another one pf Chibi’s characteristics was that she changed the direction of her cautious attention frequently. This active behaviour wasn’t limited to her kittenhood. Perhaps because she played alone most of the time in the expansive garden, seh reacted strongly to insects and reptiles. And there were times when I could only conclude that she must be reacting to subtle changes in the wind and light, not detectable by humans. It may be that most cats share the same quickness, but even so, in Chibi’s case, it was acute – she was after all, the cat of Lightning Alley. My wife got into the habit of pointing to the cat whenever it went by, extolling its virtues.

Early on in his time with the couple.

The book in some ways is autobiographical to the writer’s own life as he was a writer. The story follows a couple in the mid-thirties in the mid-1980s as they move into a small house that is part of a larger estate within the grounds just of an alley in a quieter part of Tokyo. When they rent they are told early on that they can have no children or pets. They are a writer and proofreader so spend their days at home. So when a cat appears a white cat with patches of brown(I thought of my parent’s cat truffles she was pure white but in that coat, you could see what was a tabby pattern in white anyway back to the book) The cat they invite in as a guest to there home and Call him Chibi’s and his independent nature and his skill when he plays with a ping pong ball. He initially bits the wife but she gets to like him. The cat gives this couple that is in the same house but may be caught up in themselves something to focus on. The cat comes and goes as we view them interacting with him and what he meant to them as they see the world starting to change due to events around them.

We made a door to the rooom that only Chibi could get through, not any other cats.Below the lagrge window on the south wall, there was a floor-level window of frosted glass about sixteen inches tall running the full length of ones above it, for sweeping out dust. By opening this window just three inches , a gap was leftnwhich allowed only Chibi to squeeze through. In order to prevent cold air and insects from getting in, we hung a thick cotton curtain of royal blue over it.

On the wooden floorbardfs in a corner of the Japanese style room, we placed a cardboard box, which had orginally contained mandarin oranges, to act as Chibi’s own special room. we put a  towel in the box and a dish for her food. Then we set a bowl for milk beside  the box.

They make him feel welcome as their guest with his own door and box !!

This is one of those gentle books that are a pleasure to sit and read at its heart is maybe the loneliness of city life even a couple can be a part in the same small cottage til Chibi’s appearance. Also, another thread in the book is the garden is so well described with the bird’s trees etc described the garden is almost like an oasis in the city. This is like those films I love and Myamanda happens and that is where nothing happens but the world we see and are drawn into is the beauty of the journey. The time in their house gives them a breathing gap in the chaotic world of Tokyo this oasis and that stray white cat that has come into their lives is may be a way for them to move on in their own lives anyway that is what I felt this is one of those books that was a bestseller because it is one of those books that grab the imagination of the reader and gives you a couple of hours in the company of a couple and their guest cats. Have you read this book or any of his other books?

Winstons scores – B The tale of a cat that likes to visit families as a guest.

People from my Neighbourhood by Hiromi Kawakami

People from my Neighbourhood by Hiromi Kawakami

Japanese microfiction

Original title – 大きな鳥にさらわれないよう

Translator – Ted Gossen

Source – Library copy

I decided to go to the library for the first time in a long time as I thought I had a fine left from pre-Covoid as I had tried to order some books the other week but when I went in I must have paid the fine at the time it was just the card needed an update it was fun to browse again it had been to long and with the Booker international longlist coming up I will be trying to find some books I haven’t read before. One of the first \i found was this very short collection of micro-stories from Hiromi Kawakami who is one of those writers who I had read when she had her debut book out here 9 years ago but haven’t got back to even though I like the Briefcase when I reviewed it so it felt like it was time to try her books again and this was the perfect afternoon read and the second book for this years January in Japan reads. The book is narrated by an unnamed narrator.

A white cloth was lying at the foot of zelkova tree, When I walked over and picked it up, I saw a child underneath.

“What’s the big idea?” Thwe child glared at me, It had narrow eyes but thick eyebrows. I couldn’t tell if it was a girl or a boy.

Ooops. Sporry! I apologized. But the child kept glaring at me. Are you playing hide and seek or something? It shook its head vigorousily from side to side.

“I live her,” it said

The child in the story the secret lives under a cloth under a tree

The book is a collection of very short stories of a neighbourhood very odd one thou, with a collage made of sweets a town full of odd characters and time has a fluid nature as some stories are immediate other last decades. Oh, people changing to pigeons in their habits. I knew this was an odd collection when the first story is about a child that lives on a cloth under a tree that then adopt and stay young and has a weird dance after showers. This is followed by a description of chicken Hell in the second story. Other stories describe a dog let loose they call black that dies. The Dog is a recurring theme as is a girl called Kanae first crops up in a tale about her clever sister then we see her become a model after going off the rails in her younger year a look at how peoples perceptions can change over time.

Blackie was vicious.

Blackie was the name we gave the black dog that belonged to Kiyoshi Akai. He called it John, but there was nothing John-like about it. No a common black Japanese mutt like that could only be called Blackie

Blackie was a barker. Not only did he bark, he nit – and not playful little nips. His bites were serious the kind that draw blood we often saw his victims in the front of Akais house complaining. “Look at the blood!”they’d bellow. “What are you going to do about it?” Yet the boy and his mother always appeared quite unpertubered.

The Black dog Blackie is a dog left to room and bite the locals til something happens !!

This is an odd collection of stories. They are very funny and surreal in nature they have a fun feel to them and you can tell she must enjoy using the voice of this narrator and the town she describes. I loved the way she lays in recurring characters like Kanae and her family the black dog and its own a man that no one seems to like and dogs, Birds chickens and pigeons. I was reminded of studio Ghibli films at times with humans becoming like Pigeons was like something out of those films also the neighbourhood with its mix of real and fantasy I have seen in a film like Totoro by them were the modr=ern japan mix with an ancient spiritual past. This book mix real life and surreal things happening like win a wish lottery and how different winners use their three wishes which one man changes his wife which is very funny as it backfires on him. That is one of the things I felt there is a fable-like feel to these stories a warning behind the fun nature of these stories. This is a collection hard to pigeonhole as the stories are very interlinked with the recurring themes and all being set in the same neighbourhood as she builds up the layers it is almost a novella with short chapters or a micro-fiction collection it is 90 pages and read within a couple of hours. Have you read this collection or any of her other books?

Winstons score – B solid fun collection ideal for a commute or an evening read

 

Bullet Train By Kotaro Isaka

Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka

Japanese crime fiction

Original title – Maria Bītoru (Maria Beetle) (マリアビートル)

Translator – Sam Malissa

Source – Personal copy

I don’t buy many crime novels but when I  this book caught my eye and I saw it was set on the Bullet train.  Which is on my bucket list of things to try at some point I just love the speed and whole look of the trains . Plus I have a soft spot for crime books set on Trains. This Kotaro won a prize for his debut novel and a lot of his subsequent novels have been shortlisted for Naoki Prize is a sister prize to the Akutagawa prize both run by the same people it highlights rising stars of Japanese fiction. This book has been translated into a number of languages and has seen it been made into an Ensemble film that will star Brad Pitt.

Tokyo station is packed. It’s been a while since Yuichi Kimura was here last, so he isn’t sure if it’s always this crowded. He’d believe it if someone told him therewas a special event going on. The throngs of people coming and going press in him, reminding him of a tv show he and Watura had watched togeth the one about penguins, all jammed in tight together. At least the penguins have an excuse, thinks Kimura. it’s freezing where they live.

Kimura thinks of his son and is on the train to get his killer !!

The book follows a bullet train journey from Tokyo to Morika that has seen the train leave Tokyo with a number of assains onboard train the first is a young man  Satoshi a young man that seems from the outside just like a normal teen and that is his beauty as he really is a deadly assassin and he is being tracked by the Kimura whose young son was caught up in his last job so he has come to kill the young assassin then we have the Nanao or Lady bird another assassin that has had a run of bad luck then we have two assains just known as Tangerine and Lemon, they spend a lot of the trip discussing Thomas the Tank engine which made me laugh. They all have various jobs to do some of them have the cash that is in a case to recover their revenge to sort other a target to kill. But as the journey moves and they move through the train we see that a lot of what has happened and brought this many assains together is interconnect as what has happened to get them as the action unwinds,  so we see in to the past events of them and why they are there and present of each person as we head to the end. The action is shown in each chapter as to where they are on the train or in over in other cases events off the train.  Who will survive the journey and who will complete the jobs they have been sent to do!

“Who’s Edward ?”

“One of thomas the tank Engine’s friends. Engine numer two”. Lemon launches automatically into the character description he’d memorised. ” A very friendly engine, kind to everyone. He once helped push Gordon up a hill and another time saved trevor from almost being scrapped. Everyone on the island of odor knows they can count on Edward”

“wow did youlearn all that by Heart?”

“If Thomas was on the college entrance exams. I’d have got into Tokyo U! “with that lemon walks on, exiting car number four.

I loved this little bit of Thomas the tank engine elsewhere they talk about under siege2  film set on a train as well .

I like this I am as many of you know not a huge crime fiction reader but over the last few years I am liking more crime novels from Japan now this has a nod towards being a film I felt it was one of those novels you could see would be a great film there is a nod to the classic train crime novel but what he has done here is throw in a lot of plots and twists and some unique characters. At times it is maybe a bit daft but I liked the silly chatting about Thomas the Tank engine and things like that the two characters Tangerine and Lemon are very Tarantino to me I was reminded of the round the table discussions in reservoir dog and also the names remind of Mr brown etc from that film with the two just called after some fruit. Are there other fruit assassins out there like an apple and pear somewhere etc. Dark with comic parts as the characters interact with each other and we find out what has brought them all to be on this train at the same time. If Agathe Christie had written a yakuza novel set on a train,  then given it Tarantino to make into a film this would be the novel of that film. Have you a favorite Japanese crime Novel ?

Winstons score – B a steady crime novel that has a cinematic sense to it.

The Last Children of Tokyo by Yoko Tawada

The last children of Tokyo by Yoko Tawada

Japanese fiction

Original title – Kentoshi (献灯使)

Translator – Margaret Mitsutani

Source – Personel copy

I popped into the Waterstones in Morpeth on Holidfay and brought two books this was one of the two books I brought. Yoko Tawada has been on my radar  since her book Memoirs of a Polar bear was on the radar for the Booker international prize although she has had a lot of books translated over the years she has written in both German and Japanese and has won prizes in both countries.. Known for her connection between words and reality and also how language works she was asked to work on her germna translations which has lead to her comparing the two languages and cultures and even writing in German. This was originally written in Japanese and is the latest of her books to be tranalsted into English.

Every morning, Ypshiro rented a dog from the rent a dog place on the corner to run along the riverbank for about half an hour. Wehn the water level was low, the river looked like silver ribbons that stretched out much further than you’d expect. Long ago, this sort of purposeless running had been referred to as jogging, but with foreign words falling out of use now called loping down, an expression that had started out as a joke meaning “if you lope your blood pressure goes down” but everybody called it that these dats. And kids mumei’s age would never have dreamt that adding just an e in front of it the word lope could cunjure up visions of a young woman climbing down a ladder in the middle of the night to run away with her lover.

Running is a rare thing in this new world !

The last children focus on a greatr Grandfather a man over a hundred as most of those that are still alive at this time Yoshiro is living on the very edge of a no empty Tokyo where the centre is now a no go area and disaster zone. even running is rare as shown early on when the old man hires a dog to walk as the children struggle to do even this now. All this is after a huge catastrophe whoch has wiped out most of the humans and lead to wide spread pollution so those youngster living are growing up with huge problems with  the world changed this sees the areas countries closing themselves off as they tried to deal with the unnamed problems that were caused by the catastrophe this means that his grandson Mumei is growing with out the esential vitamins and minerals that we all need to grow things like Calicum  are in short supply so they are growing up with problems like poor teeeth  and bones so grow crooked and this has leads to people like Yoshiro to become a underground emissary to help the kids out. where they sneak out children on ships as the Japan they live in has gon back to the feudal state of isolation they try to get the kids to other places to find out what is causing the issues..will Yopshiro get his great grandosn out or will he end up worse off ?

On his front doorsteo, Yoshiro unrolled the paper. He hadn’t paid much attention to the newspaper as a young man, but ever since this mediahad been revivied after its disappearence, reading it carefully all the way through had become a daily ritual. As he let his eyes fly low over the poltics section, words such as regulation, standard, adaptation, policy, investigation, and caution stuck out like ttalks in a flattened field. actually reading this section was like slogging through a swamp. He musn’t spend his mornings this way; first, he had to get to Mumei off to school. The word school still carried a faint whiff of hope

School isn’t what it was as the kids die so young.

I loved this tale as given the world we have seen in the last year or two how quckly the world can change around us. what Tawada does so wellnhere is use the hostroy of Japan the isolate era the 200 plus years of the Edo peroid which saw Japan cut itself of from the world. The storyline of supplies running out remind of how we would deal with this and films like soylent green and how the world would have do what happen here and keep supplies for them selves. The other side to this story is the connection between the young and the old and the way Yoshiro regrets the waythe world has change as he relives his youth and how the children are unable to do what he did in his youth. A glinmpse into a world of children growing up with grave issues is told with a tender touches as we see a world flip as the old carry on living and the young are dying. A kafka view of a pandemic and the aftrermath where the world becomes a series of small boxes and if you are in the wrong box your fate is sealed !! Have you read any book by her ?

Winstons score – +A one of my favourite read this year !

 

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Japanese fiction

Original title – Chikyu Seijin

Translator – Ginny Tapley Takemori

Source – personal copy

I got this book last week for my birthday i had given Amanda a list of books that I thought maybe on Tuesday’s booker longlist and this was one of two Japanese novels this was one the other was Breast and Eggs which if it is on the list Tuesday i will get otherwise it will be a while before I get to that one anyway back to this the second book by Sayaka Muruta to be translated into English the first Convenience store women was a hit and one of those books I didn’t read due to the hype but this had been on my radar mainly because I loved the cover art which in fact relates to the book. Sayaka Murata grew up reading sci-fi and mystery novels from her family see even started to write a novel when she was 14. Finally publishing a novel when she was 24 she has published 11 books so far winning one of Japan’s biggest book prizes Akutagawa prize for her book convenience store women. Her books deal with Family, sex, celibacy, asexual relationships, and sci-fi elements.

I took Piyyut out of my bag. He loked like a white hedgehog plush toy, but actually he was an emissary sent by the magic police on Planet Popinpobopia. Piyyut had given me the magic wand and mirror to help meuse my maigical powers, I explained.

“Wow, Natuski, thats amazing” YUu said, his face serious. “It’s thank to you protecting the earth that we’re living in peace”

“Right”

“HEy. What sort of place is that Planet Popinpo- What’s it called again?”

“Popinpobopia. I don’t know really. Piyyut said it was secret.

“OH”

She is given magic powers to help save the earth by the plush to that is an emissary from another planet.

The novel is told from the point of view Natsuki she grows up spending her summers with her family in the remote mountains with their grandparents in the WIld Nagano Mountains and also there is her Family her Aunt and Uncle and her cousin Yuu. it is during these summers she buys what Piyyut which she thinks at the time is a white hedgehog toy but he is really an alien from the planet Popinpobia to give Natuski magic powers to save the earthlings. What follows is an account of her youth which has two events that shape her future and that of her family the first is abuse from a teacher that sexual abuses her and the other is a sexual awakening alongside her cousin Yuuwhich they are caught meaning the family unit is split and they stop talking to the aunt and Uncle. So when many years later when she is trapped in the city she describes it as a baby-producing factory and she is stuck in a sexless marriage. As she is driven to go back to the mountains this leads to a reunion with her cousin and also the secrets of her youth breaking through the loss of family she missed the after ripples of the kissing and sex with her cousin in her youth. This leads to a shocking end to the journey through the book.

I once asked my husband why he’d registered at Surinuke dot.cpm. “I thought it was written into our contract not to pry into that”, he said, clearly uncomfortable.

“I’m sorry, that was out of order. I didn’t mean to infringe on our contract>”

“No it’s okay. I feel suprisinglu relaxed talking with you. Natsuki.”

It wasn’t that my husband had no interest in sex. Instead he thought it wasn’t something to do rather something to observe. He enjoyed watching, but he was apparantly disgusted by the notion of touching and being touched by someone else who was discharging fluid. Another problem my husband had was that he hated working. This was obvious in his behacviour at work, so he found it hard to hold a job down.

Her advert and contract husband isn’t all she had hoped for at times.

I am not a huge sci-fi fan as you may know but this uses the sci-fi to drive the narrative and also to point things out. This is studio Ghibli if they let the writers from Law and order special victims unit had written it this uses the sci-fi element as a sugar coating to the horrors of sexual abuse from a teacher which then leads her fumblings with Yuu which then leads to suicide and a family break up these events then lead to her marriage and the events at the end of the book. Murata manages to tackle the subjects subtle and with a uniquely Japanese take on events Piyyut is like a Pokmon character manga creation, then things like advertising for her husband in a very Japanese way the loneliness of the city, and being friendless as a teen the knock-on effect of abuse is seen. A powerful work Natsuki is the flip of those lonely males of Murakami’s novels a female perspective on modern Japanese life. Have you read this book or her first book ?

Winstons score  -A an unusual book

Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura

Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura

Japanese Fiction

Original title –  Hasen (破船)

Translator – Mark Ealey

Source – personal copy

I will try a couple of books for this year’s January in Japan here is my first book one I have had sat on the shelves a good while ago. Akira Yoshimura was president of the Japanese writers union for over twenty years and a member of Pen. He was married to a fellow Japanese writer Setsuko Tsumura. He wrote over twenty novels and also a number of non-fiction books including one that was about a Tsunami that sold well after the 2011 tsunami his wife donated the profits to a village affected by the Tsunami. This book is one of two he is best known for.

His mother chatted with the old women as they trudged along the path. Isaku was happy; for the first time he had helped the men carry the firewood up to the crematory for a funeral. He was being treated as an adult; before long he would be carrying the coffin with the men. But he was small for his age and slight of build. His father was due to return in two and half years, and like other teenage boys and girls in the village Isaku would no doubt be sent into biondage in his fathers place, pretending to be two or three years older than he actually was.  At such time, if he was small, the broker would either refuse to barter for him or would take himon for a paltry amount

He has to grow beyond his years and beyond his frame in the book

The book is narrated and seen through the eyes of Nine-year-old Isaku. The setting is a small fishing village in Medieval Japan where his father has had to go and spend three years at sea as an indentured sailor to help the family thrive. Life for this nine-year-old is tough as he becomes the man of the house trying to help his mum as much as possible. Struggling learning to catch driftwood this is a tough world but he gets on there are moments where we see him growing when he notices a girl a year older than him that also lives in the same poor village as him Tami he worries she will be sent away as a servant as they never return to the village the life is tough the things they do the fishing follows the seasons and when things are hard to catch they suffer. like the lack of octopuses. They also make salt from the seawater in large cauldrons this is a day and night job on the beach when the chief appoints Isaku in charge of keeping the fire going overnight in the cauldrons his mother is honored but this act as a lure to get sink ships that are lured onto the rocks in the winter or as the village calls it O-fune-sama its been a while since a ship has done this so when one does and then the agents for the owners start sniffing around the village panics but what happens when later a second ship with no real bounty just the red outfits of the dead sailors arrives what happens to the village after this event. Will Isaku’s father make it home?

It was agony tending the salt cauldrons on snowy nights. Again and agian Isaku would carry firewood throughthe driving snow and throw it under the cauldrons. The snow appeared to dance wildly, glimmering red from the colour of the flames. Once in Febury, they were hit by a blizzard. The houses were snowed in; it was almost dark inside. Isaku and his mother cleared the snow from the roof and outside the windows, making a space for the sunlight to shine in

A harsh world for the ten year old Isaku looking after the fire every night through the winter.

This is a beautifully written book of a harsh world the village is a dive the only way out is through indentured work for those living there and that is via the man in the next village that gets them the jobs. Like Isaku’s father or his observance of all the young girls that are sold off to be servents and never return which means either they die from overwork or just never see freedom again. Stark world of the village is governed by the seasons from the capturing of the small fish then, they move on the go for octopuses or look to the mountain and rabbits to eat. a tough world that is dotted with funerals but also a hard observation at times like when food is scarce the rice running low and a dying relative is taking too long to die and is still eating his share. I am always a fan of books set in the village and here we see a village caught in its time the lack of options is hard to accept through modern eyes so you feel for this ten-year-old and his be=leak future and no wonder his mother seems so distant at times she is broken by the loose of her husband and having to bring up three children. Have you read this book?

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