Another Contemporary Japanese Literary Piece: Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto
Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto
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After my last review on a Japanese classic, today I switch my gear and want to write about the novel titled Amrita. This novel is written by one of the well-known Japanese contemporary writers, Banana Yoshimoto. Many Japanese literature enthusiasts perhaps know Yoshimoto through her famous short novel, Kitchen. Although Amrita is among Yoshimoto’s less-known works, she received the 5th Murasaki Shikibu prize for literature with this work. If you go to a bookstore and check the shelf where Yoshimoto’s works are lined, Amrita stands out because it is the most voluminous work she has ever written. Except for Amrita, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Yoshimoto usually writes very short pieces. It is not really significant, but still an interesting point as I could not help wondering why she chose to write a lengthy work like Amrita after all her short novels 🙂 Of course, after reading the novel from beginning to the end, I tried to come up with an answer. However, I will not share it here. I am leaving the judgement to you and your experience with her works 🙂
Despite its length, Amrita is a novel about the never-ending cycle of life including major events as well as very trivial things that it encompasses. The theme is blended with the elements of magical realism through the protagonist’s memory loss and some supernatural occurrences. And for those readers, who got familiar with the works of Haruki Murakami first, elements of magical realism would certainly remind them of Murakami whose characters are also swayed from one place to another by life. However, the similarity between them does not go beyond that. Continue reading
Botchan by Natsume Soseki
Publisher: Penguin Classics
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Natsume Soseki’s Botchan was among the set of novels that I read during the last semester. I have already written about two of the novels from that time, now it is Botchan’s turn 🙂 Undoubtedly, any literature enthusiast, familiar with Japanese history and literature, remembers terms such as Westernization and Meiji restoration as soon as they hear the name of the Japanese writer, Natsume Soseki. The issue of Westernization is usually problematized in Soseki’s works either as in the unfortunate and heartbreaking story, Kokoro or humorous and entertaining one such as Botchan.
In this review, however, I want to dwell on the character of Botchan rather than the West and East problem, already discussed in detail by many scholars and reviewers. Rather than a critical analysis, I want to focus on Botchan the character himself because the way Soseki portrays him establishes this work as a universal and enjoyable work for many readers with different cultural backgrounds. Continue reading
Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
Published by Portobello Books
This very short novel is the very first literary writing I have read from Hiromi Kawakami. Therefore, I am not entirely familiar with her style, but I could not help reading this very short piece like a bookworm whenever little time I had, which means I read it mostly on the trains while commuting to the university. Okay, let’s get down to the story!
The entire story revolves around two characters, Tsukiko and Sensei. As soon as I saw the name, sensei, it immediately reminded me of Soseki’s Kokoro. However, unlike Soseki’s story, Kawakami tells a romantic story of two lonely people. Tsukiko meets Sensei so many years after her graduation one day at a bar and then the story begins… First, she cannot recognize her teacher at all. It is Sensei, who first approaches her to talk. After their initial talk, it becomes a habit of theirs to drink together. Whenever they meet by chance at their usual bar, they drink and eat together. Like in any romance, they gradually start to have feelings for one another… Continue reading
The Guest Cat Review
The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
Published by Picador
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It has been awfully long time since I last managed to write in this blog. Although I was able to finish quite a number of books within the last two months thanks to my amazingly long commuting hours to go to the university, somehow I could not write about any of them. It is not because I was extremely busy. I was as busy as I had been before. Yet, with the new semester starting in April, the amount of miscellaneous things I had to do made me feel exhausted at the end of the day and I found myself a bit reluctant to do any sort of writing so long as I did not have to. And on top of petty stuff I had to take care of, there was the nicest sort of distraction at the beginning of May, that is, Golden Week. Golden Week is one of these rare holidays you can have in Japan. Now wanting to miss the chance, I went to Okinawa, yes that famous beautiful tropical island. After spending a week in Okinawa, it was not that easy to go back to reality as you might imagine 🙂
Talking about going back to reality, which can be also regarded as some sort of change of pace and re-adjusting the self to the former conditions, today I want to introduce a less known Japanese poet and writer called Takashi Hiraide. I particularly chose this writer because Hiraide’s novel titled The Guest Cat is also about change or transition the Japanese went through triggered by the new economic conditions while the bubble economy was coming to an end in 1990s. When I came across Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat in Maruzen (a well-known bookstore in Japan) back in early April, in all honesty I first thought it must be one of the cliché cat-craze products. Still intrigued by the cat figure with sparkling green eyes on the cover, I found myself reaching out to the shelf. As soon as I managed to take my eyes off the bewitching eyes, I learned, to my surprise, novel became a The New York Times bestseller. In addition to its fame abroad, I also figured that Takashi Hirade won the Kiyama Shohei Literary award with this very short novel in Japan, so I decided to give it a try and bought the book. Continue reading
A Very Useful Guidance to the Harukist World
Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up
Bird Chronicle by Matthew Strecher
Published by Continuum Contemporaries
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I have been long working on a paper for the upcoming conference, Librasia 2015, which will be held in Osaka next week, so I could not manage to find the time to sit down and write a review here. The other day, while I was in a bookshop, I came across a very good source for my dissertation. I also thought that it might be an excellent guidance for those who are not so familiar with the Haruki Murakami world and want to make a better sense of his characters and use of surreal etc. This critical work written by Matthew Strecher, one of the major Murakami critics in the West, is titled Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It is a very short critical work composed of only 96 pages and, as the title suggests itself, it mainly focuses on one of the major Murakami works, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
Divided into five main chapters, Strecher first starts with a brief biography of Haruki Murakami and informs his readers into what sort of age Murakami was born in terms of both literary writing and political events. By drawing a parallel line between the political uprisings such as the student movement of 1960s, Strecher points out the particularities from which Murakami’s writing style and character portrayal arise. Strecher, who describes the transition from a politically active period to a period reigned by a sense of loss and confusion as one of the reasons concerning the change in the Japanese literary scene, continues with the analysis of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in the second chapter. He explores themes such as sexuality and the ‘other’, the function of oracle, the significance of the well and mark on the face of the protagonist as well as the war memories of the characters and so on. In the third chapter, Strecher in a sense replies the questions of many readers who are confused about Murakami’s endings in his novels in general by referring to both Western and Japanese critics and their ideas on The Wind-Up Bird. Strecher who, touches upon the performance of the novel in the fourth chapter, concludes this brief critical work with a chapter focusing on possible further reading materials and questions as well as useful websites for those who want to discover the Harukist world more. Continue reading
Favourite Quotes from Sputnik Sweetheart
Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
Published by Vintage
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It has been such a long time since I read this novel. Back then, I read it within couple of hours and it is among my favourite Murakami works. Here are some parts I love and still remember :))
“I think it was the right move, but if I can be allowed a mediocre generalization, don’t pointless things have a place, too, in this far-from-perfect world? Remove everything pointless from an imperfect life and it’d lose even its imperfection.” (Murakami 4).
“”My head is like some ridiculous barn packed full of stuff I want to write about,” she said. “Images, scenes, snatches of words . . . in my mind they’re all glowing, all alive. Write! they shout at me. A great new story is about to be born – I can feel it. It’ll transport me to some brand-new place. Problem is, once I sit at my desk and put them all down on paper, I realize something vital is missing. It doesn’t crystallize – no crystals, just pebbles. And I’m not transported anywhere.”” (Murakami 16). Continue reading
Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and
His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Published by Harvill Secker
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On August 24, 2014 in the Guardian’s book blog, Marta Bausell wrote about the questions of Murakami’s readers and how the writer responded those questions in the Edinburgh Book Festival. Among those questions, there is one that particularly attracted my attention. Bausell noted down that Murakami was asked why most of his characters are so sad. According to Bausell’s account, Murakami, who was indeed astounded by the question, answered, “I have no intention to write about sad characters” (Murakami qtd. in Bausell). As a matter of fact, unlike this reader mentioned by Bausell, I have also never thought that Murakami’s characters are sad. On the contrary, I have always felt that they are usually so passive – in the sense that they would not take any action so long as they are not pushed for it – that his characters cannot be so sad. Or, even if they are ready to take an action as in the case Toru Okada, the protagonist of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle to restore his marriage, his sadness does not amount to a level, which would render him as a depressed or gloomy man. Therefore, I would not necessarily consider his characters to be sad in general.
While this may hold true for most of his novels and short-fiction, Tsukuru Tazaki of Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, if I am not mistaken, is his first protagonist, who genuinely wishes to die. Whether it is mere sadness or just emptiness he feels inside triggers his wish to die it is upon readers to decide. Yet, as the very opening of the novel demonstrates it clearly, Tsukuru has a very strong desire to die: “If there had been a door within reach that led straight to death, he wouldn’t have hesitated to push it open, without a second thought, as if it were just a part of ordinary life” (Murakami 1). Despite the fact that death has such a strong hold on Tsukuru, he does not commit suicide. This is “… because he couldn’t conceive of a method that fit the pure and intense feelings he had toward death” (Murakami 1). Continue reading