Saturday, November 25, 2017

Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa



Amongst the burgeoning number of international titles put out by One World comes Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa translated by Alison Watts, the novel has also garnered attention due to it being adapted in a film version directed by Naomi Kawase. Related in simple prose the story is an engaging and moving human drama that throws together two characters who at first appear to have little in common, one being Sentaro who works at Doraharu where he makes dorayaki, the second being Tokue, an elderly woman who applies to work for him who at first is refused but then after Sentaro samples her delicious dorayaki is taken on. As she begins to teach Sentaro the secrets of how to cook dorayaki her way the past of each character begins to be explained. Sentaro is working at Doraharu paying off debts and has spent time in prison. Tokue carries the enigma of her misshapen hands which begins to arouse the suspicions of some of the customers, one of them Wakana whose character begins to feature more centrally in the second half of the book.

The plot sees the popularity of Doraharu rise and fall, it's future precariously balanced as the two work away to make the perfect dorayaki and make a success of the business which is always under the scrutinous eye of the owner's wife who stops by to check the books, things come to a head when pressure is brought on for Tokue to quit, after her departure it becomes apparent that she was suffering from Hansen's disease and that Tokue was living in a hospice for sufferer's of the disease. Sentaro comes to realize the stigma that has dogged Tokue's life through misguided comprehensions, pointlessly being confined way beyond the possible risk of contagion has long past. Through this coming together Sentaro begins to face up to the things in his own past and Tokue develops a renewed perspective of her life, after eventually quitting Doraharu the pair stay in contact, Sentaro and Wakana visit Tokue at the hospice where more of her past is related. Sweet Bean Paste is both a moving and provoking book with a number of lines of enquiry, both reassuring and elegiac with a broad sense of humanity.                  


Sweet Bean Paste at One World 



Thursday, November 16, 2017

books for the reading diary - 2018


As we enter the last months of 2017 it's time to look forward to some books due for 2018, obviously big news that a newly translated novel from Mishima will garner a lot of attention, rumours are abound that there maybe another from him appearing later in the year too. Another I'm much looking forward to reading is Go by Kazuki Kaneshiro due in March, a book that was/is massive in Japan. Looking at the list for 2017 it looks like it needs a few updates and no doubt, hopefully as we go on this one too will see more additions.



January


The Bear and the Paving Stone - Toshiyuki Horie trans. Geraint Howells - Pushkin Press
In Black and White : A Novel - Jun'Ichiro Tanizaki - trans. Phyllis I. Lyons - CUP

February

Of Dogs and Walls - Yuko Tsushima - Penguin Books
Three Japanese Short Stories - Uno/Nagai/Akutagawa - Penguin Classics
The Red and White Ghost:Selected Essays and Stories - Kita Morio trans. Masako Inamoto - CEAS
Seventeen - Hideo Yokoyama - trans. Louise Heal Kawai - Quercus

March

The End of the Moment We Had - Toshiki Okada trans. Samuel Malissa - Pushkin Press
The Beast Player - Nahoko Uehashi trans. Cathy Hirano - Pushkin Press
Hideyoshi and Rikyu - Nogami Yaeko - trans. Mariko Nishi LaFleur - UHP
Go - Kazuki Kaneshiro trans. Takami Nieda - Amazon Crossing

April

Territory of Light - Yuko Tsushima trans. Geraldine Harcourt - Penguin Classics
Sisyphean - Dempow Torishima trans. Daniel Huddleston - Haikasoru

May

Cult X - Fuminori Nakamura trans. Kalau Almony - Soho Press
One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each - trans. Peter MacMillan - Penguin Classics
Slum Wolf - Tadao Tsuge - trans. Ryan Holmberg - nyrb

June

The Memory Police - Yoko Ogawa trans? - Harvill Secker
Convenience Store Woman - Sayaka Murata - trans. Ginny Tapley Takemori - Grove Press
The Thousand Year Beach - Tobi Hirotaka trans. Matt Treyvaud - Haikasoru

July

Frolic of the Beasts - Yukio Mishima trans.? - Vintage International

September

Newcomer - Keigo Higashino trans. Alexander O. Smith - Minotaur Books
The Samurai - Shusaku Endo trans. Van C. Gessel - W.W Norton & Co


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Territory of Light - The Magic Words


September's chapter of Territory of Light is entitled The Magic Words, perhaps the briefest installment so far to the book which is published in full in April 2018. An aspect that is prominent in the chapter is of the introspectiveness of the narrator as she cross examines her feelings about finding herself a mother, this cross examination is provoked when her daughter has a bout of nocturnal crying and a period of bed wetting, reading her feelings, any mother, (and no doubt any father), who has experienced parental fatigue will associate with the narrator's thoughts and self doubts. The narrator's endurance is pushed to the limits which see's her resorting to drink in an attempt to get a full night's sleep, her feelings for her daughter spin through a whole 360 degrees, from dangerous resentment back to love again, for a moment she observes the similarities between her daughter and her husband Fujino.

Throughout the book there's been a sense of the narrator making attempts to get on top of her thoughts and feelings and rein things under control, in The Magic Words the borders between work and motherhood blur when she has to leave abruptly to return home as her daughter is unexpectedly picked up from school by Fujino, which brings an underlying struggle throughout the book to the fore, the vexed problem of custody of their daughter, something that hangs over the book that will probably remain unsolved by it's end. The Magic Words is a chapter again that stands on it's own, feeling self contained, a little piece from the previous chapter continues on into this, the goldfish from the August festival dies, which feels like a symbolic addition to some of the themes that hover in this chapter.

Although brief The Magic Words continues to keep balance between both being able to disturb and reassure, perhaps there's something of a mantra at the heart of this chapter which is the phrase 'Itaino, itaino tondeke' which is told to Japanese children at hurtful moments which roughly translates as pain, pain go away, and we wonder as the narrator tells it to her daughter the phrase carries a certain reverberation, is she saying it solely to her daughter, or herself?, or perhaps to us, the moment echoes.


Territory of Light at Penguin Classics

  
    


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Slow Boat by Hideo Furukawa




As mention of another batch of titles in Pushkin's Japanese novellas begins to appear on the horizon time remains to catch up with another of the initial books, Hideo Furukawa's Slow Boat, translated by David Boyd. In the books Linear Notes Furukawa explains that the story is essentially a remix, or a cover version of the Murakami Haruki story, there are displays of the usual Murakami motifs, the jazz track - On a Slow Boat to China by Sonny Rollins, the boku narrator, and also the inclusion of multiple narrative voices. The story has the feel of a Bildungsroman, in places it also resembles  Murakami Ryu's 69. Aside from being sent to a summer camp for wayward kids at the story's opening, a lot of the story plays out in Tokyo's Suginami Ward, and as Furukawa's narrator circumnavigates the possible peripheries of the city, (who knows where they begin and end?), and it's potential escape routes the narrative moves amongst an anonymous hotel room, descriptions of the details of furnishings and contents, Furukawa's narrative questions visual spaces alongside emotional progress and the two merge convincingly. These hotel scenes and the Sonny Rollins track gain greater clarity and poignancy in the closing scenes, the book is made up of rather than chapters but boats, Boat 1, Boat 2, etc.

Despite it's brevity the pace of the prose is pitch perfect, for a while we skip between episodes of recounting past girlfriends and additional narrative interludes, or chronicles, provided by Kaku Nohara, glimpsing into the events of lost years, 1994, Y2K giving the main narrative a broader context and perspective, the two overlap, a memorable scene of the narrator loosing it on a packed commuter train after being given an ultimatum from a departing girlfriend in pursuit of her destiny, that is one of many here, the name of his restaurant being decided after a misreading is another. At the end of the book you're left contemplating differences, Furukawa's prose here is faster paced, feels more edgier, more in your face, although remaining a homage with a lot of respect and originality.


Slow Boat at Pushkin Press 
     

Monday, September 18, 2017

Territory of Light - The Sound of a Voice




The Sound of a Voice takes us into August, within a few pages it feels that the narrator is being immersed into potential schemes by her estranged husband, Fujino, into not going through with the separation, through two people, an old female acquaintance, who herself has been through a divorce and also a professor friend both trying to persuade her into not going through with the separation, but to what extent the powers of their persuasion will make maybe seen to develop in the next chapters.

Through the book's chapters so far it's apparent through the prose of the narrator's observations of her state of fragility through this point of dramatic transition in her and her daughter's life, perhaps in this chapter this is felt in the scene of them attending an August festival at their local shrine, presumably for the obon festival, this fragility is felt when they are joined by a friend of her daughter's from the day care centre she attends in playing with fireworks, the observations of her daughter's disappointed reactions as the fireworks fizzle out, and through other scenes throughout the chapters where it's felt that for the narrator life is filled and consumed with the coping of constantly spinning plates, through work and caring for her daughter, and of course the trials of the separation.

Another observation of this chapter is Tsushima's ability of building correlations within her writing, even amongst the brevity of these chapters, in economic prose she bridges deeply emotional and engaging scenes between the reader and the themes her narrators face. Although the over arching theme of the book is light, in The Sound of a Voice it feels briefly that the motif switches to being that of falling, throughout the chapter scenes of falling are perused upon, an uncertain memory from  school days is recounted, the potential of her daughter falling from the apartment window, as the narrator spies her daughter's origami papers that have been dispatched from their window and have landed on their neighbour's roof, to an actual fatal event that occurs to a boy from the daycare centre, these incidents, although separate feel they have an underlying connecting element. In addition, as seen in previous chapters there's the impression that the narrator has a sixth sense in perceiving these episodes which lends the scope of the narrative a broader, perhaps ethereal panorama.

Finishing The Sound of a Voice it feels there's been a slight digress to the ongoing central plot of the separation, but it paints a portrait of the narrator caught again in the ongoing emotional flux of her situation, voices of persuasion and of the narrator's clairvoyant sense of the flow of the undercurrents of surrounding events and the detection of nuances of societal pressures are adding to the atmosphere to the book's progress and the enigma of it's conclusion.


Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima is published in April 2018 by Penguin Classics

   

    
    

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Territory of Light - A Dream of Birds


July's chapter of Territory of Light feels shot through with disarming vagueness and the sense that things being unformed hangs over the chapter, what with two dream sequences and a drunken scene it's none too surprising. Entitled A Dream of Birds the chapter opens with the recollections of a dream, where the narrator is being reprimanded for shoddy work in a calligraphy class, in the dream the man appears drunk and overheated, the narrator takes some relief from being able to cool him down with a dampened towel, making sure the dabbing is not too hard, not too soft, there's an erotic undercurrent to this action, which feels in a way out of place. The man represents a composite of numerous male figures that the narrator fails to ascertain any tangible connection with, this figure of the male is enough to hint at forming a multifaceted impression of male identities in general. In as much as the chapter feels slightly directionless this adds to the impression that the narrator is caught in a state of limbo of her life being up in the air and unsettled, again there are references to the social stigma of being a divorcee or that of being on the cusp of becoming one.

Another central scene of the chapter is that after ensuring her daughter is tucked in bed asleep she has to escape the confines of the apartment to find some release, going for a drink, in a nearby bar she half recognises a woman whose paths they have shared, before she knows it too many drinks are consumed and in a state she heads back to the apartment, where she is accosted by her estranged husband Fujino outraged by her behaviour, the scene is explosive and it feels that the ramifications of it may resurface later. Although in this chapter it feels things are up in the air for the narrator, in some of the chapters scenes appear sometimes non sequential within the larger unfolding story being referenced again later, the undercurrent remaining theme of women's suffrage is a unifying one, towards the end of the chapter it's seen skipping across the three generations of the story's protagonists, the narrator, her mother and her daughter, briefly arising, or envisioned through the figure of an old woman.

As were heading towards the halfway mark of the novel, each of the chapters are more or less 10 pages, in this chapter, as in the previous ones, Geraldine Harcourt's translation feels pitch perfect, the nuances and concerns in the narrator's voice are conveyed in lucid prose and the deeper concerns of the novel are held at a comparative distance for contemplative reflection, which will continue on in August's chapter - The Sound of a Voice. Repeated thanks go to Penguin for providing advanced reading chapters of this book which is published in it's entirety in 2018.    

Territory of Light at Penguin Classics
 



Friday, July 28, 2017

Tanizaki in translation

Through recent internet searches it was hard not to stumble upon the news of a number of books relating to Tanizaki Jun'ichiro that are either recently published, re-issued or remain forthcoming. After searching a little more deeply it seems that the number of books number quite a few, so by means of taking stock I thought I'd compile a quick list, back pedalling slightly to begin with -


Red Roofs and Other Stories - trans. Anthony H. Chambers & Paul McCarthy - UMP 
The Maids - trans. Michael P. Cronin - NDP
Devils in Daylight - trans. J. Keith Vincent - NDP
The Gourmet Club - A Sextet - trans. Anthony H. Chambers & Paul McCarthy - UMP
In Praise of Shadows - trans. Gregory Starr - Bento Books
Childhood Years - trans. Paul McCarthy - UMP
A Cat, a Man and Two Women - trans. Paul McCarthy - Daunt Books
Remembering Tanizaki Jun'ichiro and Matsuko - Anthony H. Chambers - UMP
In Black and White - a novel - trans. Phyllis I. Lyons - CUP


Of a few of these hopefully reviews will be forthcoming, although I think that's an impressive list of titles, maybe, hopefully, I've missed more, but for the mean time that'll make for interesting reading.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Territory of Light - Sunday in the Trees




















The chapter Sunday in the Trees takes us into June as Territory of Light continues and although brief, being about ten pages the prose has such a vividness to it that in a way makes it stand out a little more prominently from the previous ones, it's events seem to slip out from the narrator's continuing story, and similar to the preceding chapters the thought arises that we're receiving a snapshot of each month, a day at a time nearly, as the book progresses we begin to wonder a little at the events occurring between these presented chapters. In a way Sunday in the Trees strongly displays the themes that Tsushima explores in her writing, namely the alienation, marginalization and loneliness of single motherhood, through prose which is pitch perfect the reader's concerns rise with her character and in a few deftly constructed sentences are movingly dashed.

The setting of most of Sunday in the Trees takes place in Bois de Boulogne, a nearby park and garden to the narrator's apartment, with high zelkova elm trees that the narrator is surprised she hadn't noticed before. Through a number of scenes we read examples familiar with single motherhood, her daughter uncooperative and unruly, a slap that resonates from mother to daughter producing corresponding memories of her receiving one from Fujino, her husband, this is not the only instance to the chapter where the past is mirrored in events occurring in the related present, after her daughter runs off in a temper a memory from school of a boy running away is recalled, through these scenes, and throughout the chapter Tsushima's prose has an economy where a word appears not to be missed in evoking a scene or provoking poignancy as is seen toward the end of the chapter. Throughout there are moments of the turbulence of the narrator coming to terms with the relentlessness of single motherhood, having to give piggyback to her daughter, taking on both mother and father roles, added to this in dealing with a tantrum in which her daughter confesses that being with her father Fujino is best.

Reading Sunday in the Trees we're reminded again that the novel has both the continuous storyline of a separation and also of being that a collection of vignettes with the theme of light occurring through their course, in this chapter whilst exploring the emotional landscape of her narrator this leads to it's powerfully illustrative conclusion. Whilst at the park the narrator spies a lone woman with a child who appears to her to be in a similar circumstance, through the narrator's imagined conversations with the woman and of her picturing their children playing together the reader is tempted into visualizing the beginning of further characters being introduced to the storyline. The narrator learns of the details of the woman's background, the child leading a kind of latchkey kid existence, residing in a six mat room while it's hinted that the woman has turned to prostitution to get by, in all a disarming portrait that further provokes consideration of the plights of single motherhood.  Towards the end the attentive reader's might begin to wonder - when the light?, and whilst on their way back from the park with her daughter carried piggyback the narrator feels a sensation of heat and light momentarily erupt behind them although turning to check they see nothing, how Tsushima links this scene with the plight of the woman seen at the park is a galvanising one, and in a sentence we return to the narrator's progress of picking up papers to file for divorce.
        

Territory of Light at Penguin Classics   



Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A quick post to mention that there's now a Facebook page for my blog where hopefully I'll be linking into further book news and sharing reviews, please stop by and like - 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Territory of Light - The Water's Edge




May's chapter of Territory of Light is entitled The Water's Edge and opens with the narrator hearing the sound of water during the night, interestingly with this initial vagueness of description the reader is drawn into contemplating further detail, what is the source of this sound?, is it a dripping sound?, a tidal sea like swooshing?, the prose continues to provoke further enquiry through it's poetical suggestions. The narrator remains unnamed, and in terms of appearance and contact with the characters from the previous chapter not a lot is added to in The Water's Edge. Instead we are introduced to a new character - the narrator's superior at work, Kobayashi, a bachelor, a sense of slight detached eccentricity, the narrator describes their relationship, at this stage it feels that on his part he resembles a paternal like figure for her, she buys his sandwiches at break times, visualizing addressing questions to him for imagined  reassurance toward the end of the chapter, will he turn a potential intervening saviour later?. A call comes through from Fujino in Kobayashi's presence, and we learn that she had initiated the split with him, there's another call again later, potentially him, has he something pressing to tell her?. 

Another character making an appearance, although potentially only for this chapter is a man who has a business on the floor beneath the narrator's apartment who complains about water leaking through spoiling documents, initially there's the enigma arising surrounding the narrator hearing the water during the night that drifts dream like in out of both sleeping and waking consciousness but after investigating she can't detect any leak, how are the complaint of the water and her hearing it linked?, the prose toys with these slight enigmas of daily life that appear to resemble and have a connection to each other but then again turn to come full circle.

The Water's Edge has the quality of a vignette to it, the appearance of the water on the roof, a sense of distant metaphor, the subtle theme of light continues, the luminance shimmering off it's surface and then the blindingness of the newly replaced  waterproof coating of the roof striking the narrator and her daughter, through the prose light equally obscures and brings new developments into focus, the narrator visualizes her life beginning to continue independently from her husband, the differing paths starting to open up. The sequence of events to The Water's Edge appear to be located and unfold in one point of time, it feels like there is less referencing scenes from the past, although there is a retrospective introspection to her, slightly self recriminating at her eagerness to delve into marriage and pregnancy, the fraughtness of her relationship with Fujino bubbles again to the surface, but details of the circumstance of the separation are still held back for the time being, as with the title of the chapter there's a sense of being at the periphery of events. Although brief the chapter expands on exploring how the separation and it's circumstance provoke a transformative power for the narrator, polarities and positions are beginning to shift, to what extent and their affects may take more shape in next months chapter.   

Thanks again go to Penguin, as mentioned in the previous post I've not a read a novel in this way before and very much appreciate being involved in this innovative approach. 

Territory of Light at Penguin Classics