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Category Archive for 'J – K – L'

One thing a reader can often count on in a book by Hiromi Kawakami is that her main characters will be independent, but deliberately “ordinary,” and that her plot lines will also be unpretentious and solidly realistic. In this story collection, however, the author blurs the lines between reality and imagination in new ways, drawing the reader further into her plots, themes, and characters. In ten stories about the loves of Nishino, a man whose primary purpose in life is to seduce and “love” the women he meets, author Kawakami introduces his lovers, women who appear to be in charge of their lives, living independently. Their meetings with Nishino, sometimes by accident, are usually the catalysts for change, at least temporarily, and it is usually the women who end the relationships. Though this sounds as if it might be a feminist theme, Kawakami, a witty and insightful author, also fills her stories with ironies, since the women also become willing victims of a man who does not have to do much to win their approval or even their love. Nishino’s primary talent is in tailoring his behavior to whatever each woman wants in order to get whatever he needs. As a result, Nishino is a cipher – someone the reader never really gets to know – though he provides whatever the women seem to want for however long they want it – as long as he is not otherwise occupied. A strange and elusive collection of love stories on many levels, The Ten Loves of Nishino also raises questions about memory, commitment, and the different environments in which love is possible.

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Fans of Yukio Mishima (1925 – 1970) will celebrate this first-ever English translation of STAR, one of the thirty-four novels written by Mishima before his death by ritual suicide at age forty-five. Written in 1961, Star tells the story of actor Rikio Mizuno, a twenty-three-year-old film star whose whole life is fraught with intense anxiety, alleviated only by his opportunities to become someone else in films. The author himself was well familiar with the joys of acting and producing theatrical works, writing approximately fifty plays, working as an actor, and even as a film writer, when he was not writing his thirty-four novels. His insights into acting and the actor’s feeling of becoming another “person” are obvious here in this novella, which is filled with insights into drama and its fine line between imagination and reality.

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In her first novel to be translated into English, Yuko Tsushima (1947 – 2016), an author who has won every prize imaginable in her native Japan, shows the spirit which has made her work so honored in her own country. Independent and determined, Tsushima challenged the social norms and achieved great renown for her writing, often using her own experiences as starting points for her stories and novels. This novel, published originally in 1978 – 1979, focuses on a married mother seeking a divorce. The unnamed main character and her daughter, only two years old as the novel opens, face very real problems with day-to-day life, in addition to agonizing emotional problems which the woman ignorantly creates for herself and her child. Focused on her own emotional needs, she has shared so little one-on-one time with her child that she does not recognize that the child, who, at age two, is not much older than a baby, has very real and important needs, too. Seeming to believe that if she herself gets what she wants and finds some happiness that her attitude will spill over and make her two-year-old happy, she is, throughout the novel, closed off from a child whose whole life is spent with her grandmother (the speaker’s mother), in daycare, or with her own mother on Sundays her mother’s one day of “time off” from her full-time job.

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On March 11, 2011, the most powerful earthquake in Japanese history, registering 9.0 on the Richter scale, hit northeast Japan, killing sixteen thousand people and creating massive devastation. The powerful tsunami that resulted from this earthquake obliterated towns along the coast, and was so powerful it would go on to affect even the coasts of North and South America. Most frighteningly, the rush of sea water had the immediate effect of creating meltdowns at all three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which then released terrifying amounts of radioactivity into the atmosphere and precipitated the evacuation of over three hundred thousand people. With a succession of disasters like these – a powerful earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear disaster – and all the cleanup and social management involving the population of the area, life in the Fukushima area was frantic – people displaced, many deaths, families torn apart, livelihoods gone, and the earth itself contaminated. In the eight years since then, life has been in “emergency mode,” with so much of immediate importance being faced every day by the people of the area that few former residents, service organizations, or concerned citizens have been able to go there, stand back, and see the results of this emergency in any kind of universal perspective. Until now. These two novellas, recently translated into English, provide the first real glimpses of life in this area of Japan in the aftermath of the disasters.

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I am especially fond of Japanese novels for their quiet power, restraint, and careful structure, and I was looking forward to this one, written by a Japanese woman but focusing on characters who have immigrated to Australia, with its totally different culture and completely different language. Iwaki Kei, the Japanese author, knows all about this, having first gone to Australia herself twenty years ago when she was a recent college graduate. She has stayed there with her expatriate Japanese husband ever since, an eventuality which I expected would give much added insight into cultural adaptation, perhaps also including an overlay of analysis into how the differences between cultures affect every aspect of the lives of immigrants. What I found was completely different – surprising, even shocking at first, but which made this, ultimately one of the most intriguing and original debut novels I have read in years, as a Nigerian war refugee and a Japanese scholar both find themselves together in an ESL class in Australia, where they both learn more about life than pronunciation and grammar.

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