Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto

Forthcoming from Counterpoint Press, (many thanks to them for an arc), in a translation from Asa Yoneda is Banana Yoshimoto's Moshi Moshi which was originally published in Japan in 2010 as Moshi Moshi Shimokitazawa, and although quite a slim volume it's always a marvel how Yoshimoto can conjure up portraits that are both moving and engaging in such short space. Moshi Moshi is narrated by a young woman, Yoshie, whose father has recently committed suicide with a lover who by turns maybe a distant relative. After moving to Shimo-kitazawa, an area known for the diversity of it's eateries and shops, Yoshie finds her mother moves in to her small flat with her, after the loss of her husband she finds herself estranged from life as a 'Meguro madam'. Portions of the book bare similarities with Kawakami Hiromi's The Suitcase, as Yoshie works in nearby Les Liens, many scenes play out as she works at the restaurant,Yoshimoto's portrait of the characters of the lives of those working and living in the neighbourhood are vivid and there are descriptions of food and drink which may induce the reader to take pause and indulge. Reading as Yoshie and her mother look up and down the comings and goings from their apartment window of Chazawa-dori is evocative at all times.

At the center of the book is the mystery of the suicide of Yoshie's father and the woman who may have lead him to commit the act, and an additional flipside to the narrative is of Yoshie and her mother coming to terms with their loss. During this process they re-examine and re-address their relationship with one another and sift through family memories, all of this engagingly conveyed in Yoshimoto's simplistic, unassuming  prose which seems to offer new insights at each turn of the plot and each realization and renewed observation that Yoshie comes to understand. Through this plot of a suicide in the family Yoshimoto presents a subtle examination on the nature of self destruction and it's affect on those that are left behind in it's wake, but interestingly here it remains unclear how determined her father was in his actions, was he too a victim to another's desire for suicide?. Human fallibility is a theme that appears frequently in Yoshimoto's writing as it does here in it's subtle multi-layeredness which seems to surface in her characters as they encounter and open themselves up to each other before us.

As Yoshie pursues her thoughts and premonitions about her father's death it brings her into relationships with two men who had connections with him whilst he was alive which she hopes may give some insight into her father's motives or indeed to discover how much of a willing participant he was to his own death. Nestled into this narrative Yoshimoto adds a supernatural element, (another re-occurring aspect in her writing), with Yoshie's mother relating how she see's her father's ghost when she returns to the family home and of Yoshie's dream of the ringtone of her father's phone and of his wanting to contact her, what is it he wants to tell her?, all of these add impetus to Yoshie's pursuit for answers and some form of closure. In Moshi Moshi through it's jarring circumstance and the characters it involves we see Yoshimoto grappling the larger questions of what occurs when life derails and gives once again an affecting portrait of those left behind as they learn to pick up the pieces and carry on.

Moshi Moshi at Counterpoint Press

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

books for the reading diary - 2017

Apologies for the lack of posts lately, travels and life off line have prevented me from reaching my blog, I have kept an eye on some new titles however and have updated the list of books for the reading diary for 2016, and as we head into the closing months of the year it's difficult not to notice a number of titles now appearing to be scheduled for publication for next year, so in anticipation I thought I'd start compiling a tentative list of titles of interest, early days though, dates no doubt subject to change, but obviously would be great to see all of these make it to publication.


The Book of the Dead - Orikuchi Shinobu trans. Jeffrey Angles MUP 
Spring Garden - Tomoka Shibasaki trans. Polly Barton - Pushkin Press
Record of a Night Too Brief - Hiromi Kawakami - trans. Lucy North - Pushkin Press


The Maids - Junichiro Tanizaki trans. Michael P. Cronin NDP
Devils in Daylight - Junichiro Tanizaki trans. J. Keith Vincent NDP


Slow Boat - Hideo Furukawa - Pushkin Press


The Boy in the Earth - Fuminori Nakamura trans. Alison Markin Powell - Soho Crime
Penance - Kanae Minato - Mulholland Books


Men Without Women: Stories - Haruki Murakami trans. Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen - Knopf
Inheritance from Mother - Minae Mizumura  - Other Press


Ms Ice Sandwich - Mieko Kawakami - Pushkin Press
Me - Tomoyuki Hoshino trans. Charles de Wolf, with afterword - Oe Kenzaburo Akashic Books
In the Woods of Memory - Shun Medoruma trans. Takuma Sminkey - Stone Bridge Press
Beasts Head for Home: A Novel - Abe Kobo trans. Richard Calichman - Weatherhead Books


Sea, Land, Shadow - Kazuko Shiraishi trans. Yumiko Tsumura - New Directions

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui

The Secret of the Blue Glass was published originally in Japan in 1967 and has been recently published by Pushkin Children's in a translation from Ginny Tapley Takemori. Although for the younger reader the book makes for a deceptively layered read even for the adult reader, with it's setting covering the end years of the war the book sees it's characters facing it's harsh and tragic realities, it's main protagonist, Yuri being evacuated out of Tokyo. The book in many places is being mentioned in the same breath as of The Borrowers, as similar to that novel the book features the appearance of little people who are initially hidden away in the book room of the Moriyama family, whose various members secretly deliver milk to them in a miniature blue glass cup, the appearance of the Little People is connected to a Miss MacLachlan, an English educator who had come to Japan years previous. The narrative opens up more questions than it answers and full disclosure to some of the plotlines here remain unanswered, leaving many of the circumstances of character details left open at the end of the book, which is an interesting aspect that leaves the reader perched somewhere amongst the lives of a number of them.

An interesting juxtaposition to the book is that of the historical and the fantastical elements, over all the feeling that the novel conveys an anti war message can be felt, the novel also sees the father of the Moriyama's, Tatsuo, being imprisoned for having unapproved books on his shelves, which feels is a reference to occurrences of tenko for the younger reader. As well as observing the hardships facing the family, the narrative explores the world of the Little People and sees their perspective of the events unfolding around them, and also of the two children, Robin and Iris as they explore the possibilities of escaping the confines and boundaries of the book room with the aide of Yahei the pigeon. Visualizing the Little People in places is interesting, one might not help picturing them as stepping out from the movie La Planete Sauvage, the added detail that time worked more slowly on them, provoked the question how human are they?, what other dissimilarities do they possess?. Another subtle detail which arises at the beginning of the book but slips off  subtly and disappears is that it is a narrative within narrative, and also at the beginning there are references to other classics of children's literature.

As conditions worsen, the Little People evacuate with Yuri to Nojiri, to Aunt Toyo and Granny Oto's up in the mountains and into a rural isolation, food and milk become scarcer, Yuri is faced with ostracization when rumour circulates over the circumstance of her father's imprisonment, it could be seen that one of the central elements to the novel is that of the balancing of allegiances and commitments, (the bringing of the milk is proof and the sign of the Little People accepting or allowing themselves to be seen by the larger people), and of course the outcome and aftermath of war. Whilst in Nojiri, the juxtaposition of the harshness and extremities of the war is countered with further fantasy and the feeling that we are venturing deeper into folklore territory with the befriending of the Little People with Amanejakki, an imp who lives hidden away in a shrine. As an adult reader of The Secret of the Blue Glass it's tempting to start looking out for deeper allegories and symbolism within the narrative, but this aside The Secret of the Blue Glass presents also a fascinating diversion into the realm of alternate realities, a unique and valuable read.

The Secret of the Blue Glass at Pushkin Children's


Friday, May 20, 2016

Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure

Perhaps on a first reading of Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure, what first remains is a sense of distance imparted to the reader, although written and published in the immediate months after the disaster that hit Fukushima and the North East in 2011, Furukawa's blend of fiction and non-fiction, travelogue and memoir creates a space for contemplation and presents various perspectives of narrative, early on in the book the phrase 'use imagination for the good' reaches out and stays with the reader. With it's blend of voices Horses, Horses searches out for the narratives not found in official history books in an attempt to reclaim and present the authentic, there is a fascinating use of allegory within Furukawa's telling of the history of the horses associated with the area of the North East, in particular with Soma City which carries within it's name the word horse, reading this allegory and the way Furukawa has structured this element of the book brought to mind Julian Barnes's A History of the World in Ten and 1/2 Chapters, which similarly presents an alternate allegorical perspective of history. Furukawa pinpoints two figures from medieval Japan, Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Oda Nobunaga in his observations of historical paths.

The main branch of narrative of Horses, Horses is of Furukawa caught between writing projects and of the sequence of the events of the disaster unfolding, his personal history of this period is examined and then returned to when being both in and outside of Japan. This proceeds with him and colleagues from his publishers hiring a car to travel to the area to see how close they can go, (the slowly enlarging red circles of the exclusion zones feature), Furukawa toys with the notion of exposing himself to the radiation, and confronts suicidal feelings unexpectedly arising that he assumed he had over come in his youth. There's a measured economy to the prose, the reader very much gets the sense that although with the literary experimentation, the dipping into fiction and non-fiction, (in places in a talking direct to the camera type of way, with the appearance of a character from one of his novels in the car that they are travelling in), Furukawa is not attempting to place words where they cannot be placed, it very much feels that apprehension is never too distant from the surface.

Along the way there are number of names referenced, one of the first being The Beatles in particular their songs Strawberry Fields and Tomorrow Never Knows, with it's screeching sound at it's beginning which sounds similar to that of the squawk of a gull, poetically evocative of being at the coast and in a way a warning cry. A number of Japanese writers are mentioned, in particular Miyazawa Kenji and Nakagami Kenji, both writers Furukawa obviously has an affinity and strongly identifies with, similar themes and motifs appear in their works, animals, and the sense of alternate histories being written and born out of alternative myth. Another aspect that appears whilst reading the book is a rather pensive sense of apprehension and fear, this is highlighted in the quote that Furukawa borrows from Nakagami, and Furukawa later examines this fascination of dates - 3.11 - 9.11, and of how these events cannot be confined to a single day, although the book has the subtitle - A Tale That Begins With Fukushima, it also feels that it resembles a memoir of an approach. Throughout these narratives there are incidences of subtle poetical examinations of the second part of it's title - that of light and in one place the prose arrives at a stop and Furukawa turns to poetry to express himself. Throughout it's various modes of narrative Horses, Horses moves and posits questions in equal measure.

Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure, translated by Doug Slaymaker and Akiko Takenaka is available via Columbia University Press

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Nakagin Capsule Tower - a book prompt

Another book prompt post about a title that came out at the end of last year about a building that I've known about for a long time but not know much about perhaps when I get a copy of this book that'll change. When I was young I remember watching a science programme that featured the building, which was presented at the time as being the way of the future, as far as I understand the building has recently been under the threat of demolition, due to it becoming unsafe and also of the asbestos used in it's construction, a sad thing as the building is unique and very much deserves saving. In spite of this the building is in the throes of being rescued, restored and open again to the public to stay in, which one day I'd love to do, but in the meantime there's the book.

more info on the building at Wikipedia.

the book at Amazon

Nakagin Capsule Tower Facebook page

the building's webpage

Monday, February 22, 2016

a cat, a man & two women by Tanizaki Junichiro

Reissued by New Directions, a cat, a man and two women was originally published by Kodansha International, translated by Paul McCarthy, this new edition also includes his original Preface, this translation received the Japan - U.S Friendship Commission Prize. New Directions have done a great job with this edition with a striking new jacket including art from Tsuguhara Foujita, and also of note is the mention on the reverse that two more novels yet to have been translated into English are on the way, which is news to look forward to. Recently they've also given attractive new covers to Mishima's Confessions of a Mask and also Death in Midsummer.

a cat, a man and two women collects three of Tanizaki's short fictions, the last Professor Rado is in two parts as it was originally published in two installments, as was the title story. The second story is The Little Kingdom/Chiisana okoku, which when you discover that it first appeared in 1918, the same year as Akutagawa's Hell Screen, makes you wonder agape again at the span of Tanizaki's writing career, which takes in three era's of modern Japanese history. The Little Kingdom follows the fortunes or misfortunes of a provincial teacher caught in a power game within the children of his class which he himself becomes entangled with. As Paul McCarthy mentions in his informative Preface themes of domination and submission appear in the story, themes that preoccupied Tanizaki throughout his writing.

It's been sometime since I've read Tanizaki, but reading a cat, a man and two women brought the realization of how Tanizaki incorporates the epistolary into his writing as all though I've not checked, a number of his pieces seem to either open or feature letters written by or between his central characters, it seems that this is a perfect vehicle to open scenarios and windows into his character's consciousness and psyches. In the title story this is done to great affect in Shinako whose letter at the opening of the story requesting the handing over of the cat that Shozo is so enamoured with sets the shifting of the story. Essentially the story is a menagerie a trois with the additional central character of Lily, the cat, who becomes the pivotal factor in the relationships between Shozo and the two women in his life, his divorced wife, Shinako and new wife, Fukuko. Tanizaki's usage of Lily in Shinako's care and the shifting of her empowerment within affairs is masterly conveyed. Another aspect of the story of note is that of it being set firmly in the Kansai area, rather than that of Tokyo, Tanizaki famously moved to the area. Envisioning the stories here, it's quite easy to picture them as early black and white films, it comes as little surprise to know that early in his career Tanizaki was a script writer for Taishō Katsuei, or literary consultant as it's Wikipedia page mentions. Although coming from a background of reasonable comfort, Shozo appears as a rather feckless character who eventual succumbs to the encroaching web of conflicting affections between the three.

The last story out of the three is Professor Rado which seems to display the hallmarks usually associated with Tanizaki - masochism and off beat sexualities, the story was originally published in two parts, the first in Kaizo in 1925 and the second in Shincho in 1928. In a way it could be said that it displays some early aspects of the Ero guro. The story is conveyed by a journalist assigned to interview the Professor who when they meet displays an affected appearance and strange mannerisms and conversational manner, question marks and rumours emerge over the Professor's household. In the second part the journalist catches up with the Professor again at a variety performance where the Professor begins to show an extra special interest in one particular performer who is rumoured to suffer from the symptoms of syphilis, the journalist agrees to gain more information about the performer who appears to always remain quizzically silent during performances and has a mysterious past. The story has a certain voyeuristic quality to it as the revealing scenarios of the plot are relayed by the journalist in a clandestine manner. a cat, a man and two women offers an interesting showcase of Tanizaki's styles and themes, and it's great that New Directions have rescued it from lapsing into being out of print, very much looking forward to the two forthcoming novels.

a cat, a man and two women at ndp  


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Provoke: Between Protest and Performance

A book that I'm very much looking forward to, due in March from Steidl, Provoke: Between Protest and Performance accompanies the first exhibition dedicated to the magazine of the late 1960's. The exhibition, which began in Vienna at the end of last month and continues on to four locations, ending at The Art Institute of Chicago in May 2017. Sadly be unable to see this exhibition in person, be the book is very much looking like an essential substitute, the book is edited by Diane Dufour and Matthew Witkovsky.

Provoke: Between Protest and Performance at Steidl Verlag

and at Amazon

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Fruit of My Woman by Han Kang

The January edition of Granta continues the momentum of translations of Han Kang into
English with the short story The Fruit of My Woman from 1997, in her translator's note at the end of the story, Deborah Smith notes that it can be seen as a precursor, with some of it's themes similar to those that can be seen in The Vegetarian.  

The Fruit of My Woman at Granta

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura

Although Nakamura's first novel, first published in 2003, and awarded the Shincho Prize, The Gun is the fourth novel of his to appear in English translation, this time by Allison Markin Powell, it's also great to see that the momentum of translations continues with another of Nakamura's novels on the way in 2016 also from Soho Crime, The Kingdom is set to be published in July. The Gun/Jū displays Nakamura's foray into dark psychologies with his central character Nishikawa who stumbles across a crime scene and procures from it a gun, listening to Nishikawa's inner ruminations can feel that we are taking a few steps into the realm of a character from Dostoyevsky, as step by step we begin to venture further and further into the world of a young man so disenchanted with life that the centre of his world begins to revolve around the found gun.

This obsession being essentially at the centre of the novel Nakamura's narrative inhabits a few other patches of distraction, firstly Nishikawa's relationships with two women in the novel, Yuko Yoshikawa, whom Nishikawa has the more deeper relationship and fascination with and also another woman whom Nishikawa eventually refers to as the 'toast girl' which is a more casual relationship, the pair seem to use each other solely to satisfy their own lusts. Out of the two women Yuko displays the more complexity as we see she and Nishikawa get closer then further away from each other, the reasons for this on her part never seem to become too obvious, a troubled past?. Secondly is the discovery that Nishikawa's biological father is dying of cancer, which seems to be an event that will shake Nishikawa off his obsession from the gun, and posits another possible opportunity to gain a differing perspective on his transfixation with it. Another similarity The Gun has with The Thief is the appearance of a child, a young boy, caught in an abusive situation with his single parent, similar also is the empathy the main character has towards the boy, and his desire to rescue him from his predicament. The Gun could be described as noir, and in many places it is, but there remains a deeper portrait of drab morality in all quarters of the novel which again could be described as resembling aspects from a Russian novel, this darkness Nakamura captures and conveys very well.

That said, the prose has a lightness to it making it highly readable and in places it makes for quick reading, at times it's unfolding events might be visualized in the form of a dark manga, when Nishikawa contemplates the gun and it's wider philosophy sometimes the images of thought bubbles appearing on the pages come to mind, and the ending bears the possibility as being visualized as filmic, in it's sudden and unpredicted way of turning the tables around over it's last pages. Through this though we see the beginnings of Nakamura's writing being drawn to the examination of one man's attraction to violence and follows him through his compulsion to act upon it, it's consequences for him remain on the pages beyond the end of this book, as deftly as the borderlines his characters find themselves drifting over.

The Gun at Soho Press     

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

books for the reading diary - 2016

The start of a new year brings the beginning of a new list of books marked for the reading diary -


Tokyo Decadence - Ryu Murakami, trans. Ralph McCarthy  - Kurodahan
The Gun - Fuminori Nakamura, trans. Allison Markin Powell - Soho Press
A Girl on the Shore - Inio Asano - Vertical Inc


A Midsummer's Equation - Keigo Higashino,  Minotaur Books
A Poem for a Book - Yoko Tawada - The Chinese University Press
Poem in Blue - Noriko Mizuta - The Chinese University Press
Shield of Straw - Kazuhiro Kiuchi trans. Asumi Shibata - Vertical Inc - details here.
Red Red Rock and Other Stories - Seiichi Hayashi - Breakdown Press


Six Four - Hideo Yokoyama, trans. Jonathan Lloyd Davis  - Quercus
Legend of the Galactic Heroes vol 1 - Yoshiki Tanaka, trans. Daniel Huddleston - Haikasoru
Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure - Hideo Furukawa, trans. Doug Slaymaker with Akiko Takenaka, Columbia University Press
Fukushima Devil Fish: Anti-Nuclear Manga - Katsumata Susumu - Breakdown Press


I Am a Hero - Kengo Hanazawa - Dark Horse


The Silent Dead - Tetsuya Honda - St.Martins Press info at J'Lit
Cop's Eyes - Gaku Yakumaru - Vertical Inc


A Quiet Place - Seicho Matsumoto, trans. Louise Heal Kawai - Bitter Lemon Press
Poems of Hiromi Ito, Toshiko Hirata and Takako Arai trans. Jeffrey Angles - Vagabond
Puppet Master vol 4 - Miyuki Miyabe trans. Ginny Tapley Takemori - Creek & River Co Ltd
Puppet Master vol 5 - Miyuki Miyabe trans. Ginny Tapley Takemori - Creek & River Co Ltd
Black Fairy Tale - Otsuichi trans. Nathan Collins - Shueisha English Edition


The Kingdom - Fuminori Nakamura, trans. Kalau Almony - Soho Press
Legend of the Galactic Heroes vol 2 - Yoshiki Tanaka trans. Daniel Huddleston - Haikasoru
Mr Turtle - Yusaku Kitano trans. Tyran Grillo - Kurodahan Press


The Nakano Thrift Shop - Hiromi Kawakami trans. Allison Markin Powell - Portobello Books
Me Against the World - Kazufumi Shiraishi trans. Raj Mahtani - Dalkey Archive Press
Nocturne of Remembrance - Shichiri Nakayama Vertical Inc
Long Belts and Thin Men: The Postwar Stories of Kojima Nobuo trans. Lawrence Rogers Kurodahan


Alice, Iris, Red Horse: Selected Poems of Gozo Yoshimasu - edited by Forrest Gander ndp
The Tales of Ise trans. Peter MacMillan - Penguin Classics
The Gate of Sorrows - Miyuki Miyabe trans. Jim Hubbert - Haikasoru


The Graveyard Apartment - Mariko Koike - trans. Deborah Boliver Boehm - Thomas Dunne
Deep Red - Hisashi Nozawa trans. Asumi Shibata - Vertical Inc
The Name of the Game is Kidnapping - Keigo Higashino - Vertical Inc
Red Roofs and Other Stories - Tanizaki Junichiro trans. Chambers & McCarthy - U.M. Press


Are You An Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko - various trans. - Chin Music Press
Absolutely on Music - Haruki Murakami/Seiji Ozawa trans. Jay Rubin - Knopf/Random
White Elephant - Mako Idemitsu trans. Julie Winters Carpenter - Chin Music Press


Moshi Moshi - Banana Yoshimoto trans. Asa Yoneda - Counterpoint Press