The sea and poison by Shusaku Endo

the sea and poison

The sea and poison by Shusaku Endo

Japanese fiction

Orginal title 海と毒薬

Translator – Michael Gallagher

Source – personnel copy

I’m so happy that I have got round this years Japanese reading month by Tony ,I have finally got to cross of off some of the big names in Japanese fiction ,that I haven’t already read .Shusaku Endo is one of what is known as the third generation of writer from Japan that followed world war two .He is noted for being a catholic writer in Japan ,he worked in a munition factory during world war two .He published his first novel in 1955 ,this was the third book he wrote .

I soon found the wing containing the first surgical department ,where the vivisection had been performed pretending to be someone visiting a patient I climber to the third floor up to the third floor the wig consisted entirely of wards .In the corridors the smell of grime mingled with the permeating odour of disinfectant .

Visiting where the horrors had taken place .

The sea and poison is the story of one doctor  and two other people as he faces the horror of the after effects of what he had done in the war years in a small hospital he worked in .The doctor had been involved in an experiments on the prisoners in his care in particular one american that they do some horrific things to and offer no pain relief .and taking bits out and messing with other bits of the airmen he was meant  to be treating .Haunted by this post war we see it effect on three of the people involved at the time for them unfortunately none of the men they treated this way survived  the treatment .We see the three struggle to deal with the moral dilemmas  this act brought to each of them in civilian life .

“now ,don’t take it like that .this is for your country ‘s sake .They’ve all been condemned to death anyway .This way they can do some good for the advancement of medical science ” Dr Asai gave me all the reasons he didn’t believe himself .

How many people have done acts for just what was said here ?

Well I wish I had reach Endo earlier ,I loved the way this book confronted the past so openly ,to say it was written just twelve years after the war .I also hadn’t fully gather this had happen on the Japanese side in the war ,I knew the Germans did things like this during the war in fact many years ago ,I  worked with a Latvian man who I cared for that had procedures done  similar to the ones in the book ,so at times I did struggle to read the book at times remembering what had happened to the man I looked after ,but I also want the insight into what made people do acts like this .I loved the way he confront Peoples guilt and moral upheavals .Also how refreshing to see it done so soon after the war I struggle to thing of European based books that tackled the subjects so soon after the war .As I said I found the experience describe in the book hard as I kept remember someone I knew but it all so made me gather how lucky he was and also how brave as he made it seem everyday when he once in passing mention what had happened and it wasn’t .

Has a book ever effect you because of some you have known ?

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Naomi by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

naomi1

Naomi by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

Japanese fiction

Original title -痴人の愛( a fools love?)

Translator – Anthony H Chambers

source – personnel copy

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki according to his Wiki entry is the second most well-known of the writers that took Japanese fiction into the modern age behind Natsume Sōseki .His books were known for the sexual and erotic content .His family were printers but after a huge earthquake in the mid 1890 he had to become a tutor in a house he went to university in Tokyo to study literature but left to become a full-time writer .A number of his books have been turned into film in fact one Quicksand has had four different versions made of it .Naomi this book has twice been made into a film .As you can tell Tanizaki is a major writer in the Japanese Canon .Also fitting to be my second book for January in Japan .

I’m going to try and relate the facts of our relationship as man and wife just as they happened ,as honestly and frankly as I can ,It’s probably a relationship with out precedent .My account of it will provide me with a precious record of something I never want to forget .At the same time .I’m sure my reader will find it instructive too .As Japan grows increasingly cosmopolitan .

Open lines show what I mean about Culture clash in this book .

 

Naomi is a love story ,story of a marriage ,story of a women coming of age and story of culture clashing .The story focus on a couple Naomi of the title in english is a bar girl but with a western yearning she likes all things western .She is saved from her life as a bar girl by  Jōji who marries  .He is in love with her as she seems so different to all the other women he knows ,he loves the western touches she has .But the relation ship has many twist and turns and it is a lot about who is in control of the Marriage as it ends up Naomi is 15 when she meets and starts the relationship with Jōji he is 28 so there is an age gap there and initially he use his superior position to control Naomi but over the course of the story you see Naomi is actually clever and very good at getting here own way and making Jōji tow the line .A lot of sexual power games in here and also fun of manners at times .

At first Naomi had looked after the house and done the cooking ,but this didn’t go on for more than six months or a year .An even bigger problem than the laundry was the house : it got messier and dirtier every day .

Naomi is never going to be the perfect housewife .

I loved this book it centred on a theme that I love in fiction and that is what I call culture clash here it is the western culture and traditional Japanese culture and of course the two of these in some ways represent the sides of this but there is also a sense the even thou Jōji is quite traditional at his heart ,even he likes the western things and maybe that is a metaphor for what happen to Japan post world war two ? This book was published in 1947 .Also the relationship and the way that Jōji help Naomi move on from being a bargirl actual remind me of The Pygmalion by George Bernhard shaw the way Jōji took Naomi and made her a lot more than she was ,but also the way Naomi saw what she could be as well .

Have you read this or any other novel by Tanizaki ?

The diving pool by Yoko Ogawa

the-diving-pool1

The diving pool by Yoko Ogawa

Japanese fiction

Translator – Stephen Snyder

Orginial titles – Dailbingu puru ,dormitori and Nishin Karenda

Source – Library

Well earlier in the year I read Yoko Ogawa latest collection revenge a collection of dark interlinking stories and feel in love with her style so knowing Tony was bound to do January in Japan again I decide to read another of her books and found this one in the library ,which was the first of her books to be translated into English .The bio on the rear cover tells me she has written more than 20 works of fiction and non-fiction so it means we will hopefully get some more of her books in English .It also said she had won every major prize in Japan and after this book one can see why .

SOmetimes I wish I could describe how wonderful I feel in those few seconds from the time he spreads his arms above his head , as if trying to grab something , to the instant he vanishes into the water .But I can never find the right words .Perhaps it’s because he’s falling through time ,to a place where words can never reach .

Aya describes the feeling as her adoptive brother Jun waits to dive .

The diving pool is a collection of three novellas that are all about fifty pages in length ,unconnected barring the fact the lead character in each story is a female and at that a seemingly unhappy female in different ways and for different reasons .The title story involves an adopted daughter and the actual son of the family she lives with ,she sits watch him in the diving pool .She falls in love with this Boy Jun ,but this leads her life in an unusual direction .Then we have a story about a women how may or may not be pregnant and her sister .There is a feel of more behind this story than there seems at first and also a wanting to know more of the sister who is recording here pregnancy in a diary .The last story involves two women that are related the older women is waiting to leave Japan but is drawn back to a college dorm by her younger cousin and a strange collection of people who are living there .All these novellas show how fragile humans can be .

May 16 (Saturday), 25 weeks + 5 days

Sometimes I think about my sister’s relation ship with her husband – particularly about his role in her pregnancy if he ever had one .

When she’s having on of her crises , he looks at her timidly and stammers meaningless little phrases meant to comfort her , but in the end all he can do is put his arm around her .The he gets the sweet expression as though he’s sure that’s all she really wanted anyway .

A sister record her sister pregnancy day by day but is there more to this than seems ?

I love the way Ogawa makes the world seem so dark ,without being depressing her prose are readable but tinge with the worst of human nature ,but also encompass the big moments in life here we have first love that is tinged with being wrong ,a women struggling having a baby .Two women face changes in the lives .I felt these were more unsettling after I had read them and sat back and thought of each one and what happened .There is something so simple in Ogawa prose style something so Japanese like the art of a bonsai or origami each sentence has been chosen and trimmed down to make each novella be perfect not to flabby so the point she is wanting to make shines through .

Have you read Ogawa ?

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

revenge by Yoko Ogawa

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

Japanese fiction

Original title – collected from various stories she has written .

Translator – Stephen Snyder

Source – Review Copy

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

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

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

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

she rubbed her cheek against the bundle ;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino

grotesque natsuo kirino

Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino

Japanese thriller fiction

Original title Gurotesuku

Translator – Rebecca Copeland

Source  Personnel copy

I tend to buy most books I see second-hand in translation ,that appeal on some level this was the case with this book I saw it in a charity shop last summer and put up on the shelf so when tony announced that he was doing January in Japan it seemed a perfect time to read this crime thriller .Natsuo Kirino is female Japanese writer .she is a leading figure in the current boom in female detective fiction this is the second of three crime novels she has had translated into English .She also writes romance novel in Japan under a different name .So to Grotesque the title is maybe a comment on the world that is involved in the book ..

It was the kind of navy-blue knee sock most everyone wore .Only this one had a Ralph Lauren logo on top

Everyone was completely nonchalant .No one seemed to care if they’d lost something because unlike me ,they could go out and buy another one .That is why I found it odd that this girl was making such a fuss over a lousy sock .She held it out to show her friends.

The school where it starts is rather posh .

Well I was a bit nervous about this book as I’m not a huge Genre reader at best of times .But as I started I was slowly drawn into this world of women with secrets ,those secrets selling their body to men for money and  two women that end up dead but have different journey into prostitution but did start at the same school growing up .these two women Yuriko and Kauze had problems at school but both end on the streets now they’ve been murder Yuriko younger sister is trying to find out what happened and is delving into the dark underground world that her sister ended up living in .She sees how via her Journal she start with rich business men but like a footballer that stays on playing to long she started to slid and ended on the street corner rather like seeing a once great player plying their trade for a lower league club .The world we are drawn into is very seedy her sister went to an expensive school and gets dazzled by the labels and life that she see this is how she ends up in the game so to speak .We see how these girls fall and how the police and the sister try to find the killer .

When I met Yuriko ,it spelled misfortune for us both .I heard from detective Takashi that Ms Hirata had once been beautiful and had worked as a model .Detective Takashi went on to say that as she grew old and ugly she became a cheap street-walker ” But I thought she was beautiful .

One of the men that her sister used to meet .

Well I wasn’t looking forward to much to the subject matter in this book but Kirino handles it with a careful hand not making the early life in prostitution with the rich business men  for the sister and her school friend seem to glamorous, she also makes the gritty descent  to street walker and the working and perverse men she meets on street corners seem real and Yuirko in particular is a character that in the end I felt really sorry for because she had it all and threw it away  and the way  she was murdered and how this one beautiful women had fallen .The lives are fleshed out by the fact a couple of chapter are written as if they are the girls journal .I felt this book had quite a feminist feel to it and about how women are viewed in Japan and how wrong this is sometime .  This isn’t so much a crime novel as a study into the underworld of prostitution and the men that use them the murders are only a sideline in the narrative .

Have you read this book or any books by Kirino ?

Snow country by Yasunari Kawabata

SNOW COUNTRY YASUNARI kAWABATA

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

original title 雪国

Translator – Edward G Seidensticker

Source personnel copy

Well It time for Tony’s Japanese lit month January in Japan and I’m kicking mine of with a short novella from the Poet and Novelist Yasunari Kawabata .Born in 1899 in the early to mid twentieth century he was one of the best known Japanese writers .Orphaned at two he start writing soon after he finished his studies ,this his best known work was published in 1937 and added to ten years later .He was also well-known for writing Haiku poem .He also won the Nobel prize for literature in 1968 .

A girl had been sitting on the other side of the carriage came over and opened the window in front of Shimamura .The snowy cold poured in .Leaning far out of the window , the girl called to the station master as though he were a great distance away .

Shimamura on the train meet ?

 

Well Snow country is a love story but it is very Japanese story .The book opens with a business man  Shimamura on a train of to the Snow Country a mountain village that has a lot of snow in the winter .He gets off at the station and so do two women the first a traditional Geisha from the village called Komako and the second a younger women coming to car for a sick family member these three form the bases of the book .The Geisha   Komako becomes the women that Shiamura seeks and wants to be with ,but as the story unfolds you see the gaping gap between the village and the way Komako grew up she is very traditional following the old ways and Shimamura has been in Tokyo  is very into western things with an idealized view of traditional Japanese culture  .So he starts to notice the younger women Yoko  the daughter of an innkeeper when with Komako  you see all this unfold from the winter through the spring and summer . This is how the story starts and to see how it goes on is up to you will need to  read it .

See out at the back,

Three pears ,three cedars,

Six trees in all ,

Crows nest below ,

sparrows nest above

And what if they are singing ?

“harkarmairi itcho itcho ya ” *

*means a hundred yards ,a hundred yards again

A song sung later in the novella

 

The book was published initially as a short story and then as a number of extra stories / chapters afterwards, so you do get a somewhat episodic feel to the tale as we see the romance move on and the pair then … . The other big theme in this book is one of my favourite themes in literature and that is the clashing of changing cultures ,from the urbane Tokyo to the old Japanese values and customs of the village and the Geisha girls in the village .Kawabata language is sparse at times,he has honed his writing craft writing haiku’s so you feel that every word had been thought over and worked to the last drop thus produce something that just works perfectly on the page ,the scene is set but not over set and the character just sketched enough to make you know who they are .Komako is based on a real Geisha that Kawabata  knew from the region the book is set  .So  he is  a great new writer to me as this is the first book by him I have read .Many  thanks for Tony as this may have sat on my shelf for a couple of years otherwise .

Have you read this book ?

Well

Hear the wind sing by Haruki Murakami

Source – library

Translator – Alfred Birnbaum

 

Haruki Murakami’s debut novel like pinball 1973 which i read earlier ,it is quite hard to get hold of ,only being published in Japan in english translation ,this is also the first of the rat trilogy ,which includes pinball 1973 and wild sheep chase .

well this book focus on the meeting of the narrator and the rat ,the narrator is a young man who is stuck in limbo between adulthood and teen years meet the “rat” the nickname of  Nezumi in j’s bar ,he is slightly older than the narrator and is a drop out  ,the bar is focus of most of the book it is run by j a chinese man and is what might be called a spit and sawdust pub in the uk ,a place’s full of the dregs and drifters of life .So these to start a friendship that carries on through the other books in the series .there is also a thread about a fictional american writer called Derek Heartfield ,this is writer seems a mix of some sixties writers a sci-fi writer another thread is the narrators relationship with a women this from in a triangle of relationships like in some of his later books .the book covers a period of about three weeks .

I first meet the rat three years before in the spring .We’d both entered university that year , and the two of us had gotten pretty bombed .So I have absolutely no recollection what could have possibly thrown us together for that ride after four in the morning , in the rats shiny black Fiat 600 .I guess we had a friend in common .

The narrator remembering first meeting with the Rat .

Well what to say about this book I so wanted to read the first two books of Murakami not sure why ,to complete his books maybe ,or to see why they are not available in english .I m still not sure why there both available more widely in English .Well I m still not sure ,ok there not top-notch Murakami ,but on the other hand there not as bad as Murakami thinks they are ,this is a little more over the place than pinball 1973 was ,the fact names are missing and you tend to jump from situation to situation can be a bit jarring at time ,the fact you know how these two meet and a bit more info about the rat is handy as he crops up in the other two in the series and also in dance .dance ,dance .If you want to see how Murakami started on his path as a writer I would read this, if like me you want to complete his works read it .Like a number of earlier books Birnbaum is the translator he is a good translator ,whether his later translator Jay Rubin would be able to work his magic on this I don’t know if it is needed .the book is only a 120 pages and in full size print would maybe be 80 pages so an evening s read .I will be reading wild sheep chase next to complete the trilogy of the rat .

Have you read this book ?

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