Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Book of the Dead by Orikuchi Shinobu





















Recently published by University of Minnesota Press The Book of the Dead/Shisha no sho is an immersive read which was originally serialized in 1939 and then the text was revised by Orikuchi for it's publication into book form in 1943. Although in itself the text spans a hundred pages or so, The Book of the Dead comes armour plated with an extensive introduction from Jeffrey Angles, (translator), entitled Bringing the Dead to Life in which he examines the text and gives a biographical glimpse into Orikuchi's life and writing and their relation to the book. Along with this is included three translated essays from Ando Reiji's study of Orikuchi, The Mandala of Light, (which itself was awarded the Oe Kenzaburo Prize), translator's notes, a glossary and a bibliographic section, being the first translation of the book into English, this will, no doubt remain the definitive edition of this fascinating and enigmatic book for years to come. Shisha no sho, also to note was made into a film by master animator Kihachiro Kawamoto.

Set in eighth-century Japan, so interestingly to us the book offers a retrospective view within multiple historical frames and interpretations, the book contains three primary plot lines and characters - the Fujiwara maiden's pilgrimage, based on Chujo-hime, Shiga Tsuhiko, whose dead spirit is re-awoken in search of the love he last saw before his execution as the result of a power struggle, Tsuhiko is inspired from Prince Otsu and lastly, Yakamochi, a statesman who could be seen as an orbiting character, but whose perspectives add another dimension and distance to the main progress of the story. Orikuchi, as well as a writer of fiction and poetry, was also an authoritative ethnologist, folklorist, linguist, and a disciple of Kunio Yanagita, author of the famed Tono monogatari, for his academic writings, Orikuchi wrote under the name of Chōkū Shaku, throughout The Book of the Dead Orikuchi incorporated the subjects of his non-fiction, with this in mind it's interesting to contemplate the character of the storyteller who accompanies the maiden when she arrives at the temple, she appears to embody the notion of the oral storytelling tradition as she informs and fills in details for the maiden upon her arrival of her enigmatic pilgrimage.

Reading Ando Reiji's opening essay it's some way reassuring to discover that he had initially struggled with grappling the text of this enigmatic book, although with it's mysteries Reiji's observations offer some illuminating answers, interpretations and observations, in particular of the way that Orikuchi re-sequenced the text when it came to it's book form, which possibly seems to be a precursor 'cut up technique' of Gysin and Burroughs and of the need to play literary detective when reading, Reiji makes comparisons to Edogawa Rampo, Orikuchi had alluded that the book was an eulogy to a dead lover of a same sex relationship - Fuji Musen, in some places when reading it feels as if Orikuchi had climbed a mountain in Shisha no sho and then turned and swept away his own footsteps. The prose style of The Book of the Dead is similar in some ways to entering the explorative narrative landscape of another modernist - Hyakken Uchida, both appear to pursue and describe their subjects and themes to the point of abstraction and beyond and to read The Book of the Dead in it's serialized form, pre-reorganisation, would be an interesting exercise.

In his introduction Jeffrey Angles examines how the book related to the times of it's conception and unearths a number of embedded allegories within the text that offer up potential critiques or anomalies to the dictates of it's times, which adds another aspect of the book when reading. Despite it's brief length the book has a compactness to it, perhaps not in plot but in it's symbolism and themes, the discussions here explore Orikuchi's use of Egyptian imagery and theme, the story comes described as being 'loosely inspired by the tale of Isis and Osiris', as well as this much time is given over to religious speculation which arises through the text in the commentaries. In some ways the book feels very much as being one of vying visitations, Tsuhiko whose vision awakens from beyond and is in search of the realization of earthly pursuits and desires, and also of the Fujiwara maiden who begins to envision her unearthly enlightenment approaching over the mountain, the book reads as if entering a portal between the two, the cycle of relinquishing and begetting. Along with the accompanying texts The Book of the Dead is a landmark translation that proves to be both an enigmatic and revelatory read, tectonic in it's implications.   

The Book of the Dead at University of Minnesota Press                  

to read an excerpt at Granta   

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Record of a Night Too Brief by Hiromi Kawakami


After The Nakano Thrift Shop it seemed natural to continue on with the recently published Record of A Night Too Brief, by Pushkin Press as part of their interesting mini series of translated Japanese novellas, in a translation by Lucy North, the collection was awarded the Akutagawa Prize back in 1996.

The opening story - Record of a Night Too Brief is the story that consumes the most pages, just under seventy, and through those it perhaps represents a change in the way some English readers might perceive Kawakami, here Kawakami is in much more of an experimental mode, the story is broken down across nineteen chapters which in places induce within the reader the impression that they are reading a short story collection within the one. Feeling sequential, although they feel like they can be read individually, the story sprawls the subject, or concept of night, which in one chapter transforms from an itching sensation on a narrator's back, in another, from a swirling cup of coffee, the story in places breaks it's own supposed sequence, a dancing couple begin to notice mushrooms sprouting from themselves as they age, a girl who seems to be in various stages of disintegration remains the fragmentary clue, or narrative landmark linking the pieces together, the question arises perhaps - is the narrator the same one across the chapters?. The story incorporates surrealistic episodes and instances and an attempt at replay and repair for the broken girl. Record of a Night Too Brief is a mini sprawl of refreshingly imaginative chapters, full of minutiae of all sizes, recalling perhaps in places Landolfi, some incorporating concepts of theoretical physics, another a vivid scene from a strange formal dinner, but the surrealism and allegory don't let up even as dawn approaches, and the reader is given a moment to recollect themselves briefly before moving on to the next story.

The second story, Missing feels much in the same vein, although being more subdued with more space for the explorative, the central plot line is narrated by a sister of two brothers, who are named through the story as brother no. 1 and brother no. 2, brother no. 1 through an intermediary, named Ten, is set to marry Hiroko in what appears to be an arranged marriage, although the dilemma is that he has gone missing, the family, the narrator relates has a history of members going missing, a great - grandmother in the past. At random though, brother no. 1 it seems appears to the narrator at various points like a visitation, in his place in the marriage brother no. 2 steps in, as much of the marriage arrangements are conducted over the phone. Entwined to this main plot line a number of surrealistic episodes and diversions occur, the incident with the jar containing the spirit of Goshiki, (an older ancestor), there's also the balancing of the family numbers being equal, Hiroko moves in, but doesn't settle well with the family and begins to shrink, each family has it's own ways - as another member observes. Underneath the strangeness, there's some interesting observations and allegories occurring in Missing, the presence of it's characters fading in and out, diminishing literally in size, is telling, a cryptic critique, and it's occurrences of strange rituals make it fascinating reading.

As mentioned the last story A Snake Stepped On was awarded the Akutagawa Prize, as with The Nakano Thrift Shop there are not that many characters to the story, narrated by Hiwako who works at a small shop producing prayer beads and supplies for local temples, finds life irrevocably transformed after stepping on a snake, there's a mist, and Hiwako hears a voice saying 'It's all over' and sees a woman walk away in the direction of her apartment. An impression of the story, and Kawakami's writing as a whole, is her ability to mix the ambiguities and unkowns of modern life and blend them with the sense of older myth and folklore, in the three stories of the collection the frontiers of each erode away and intercede, creating fascinating narratives that bring the two worlds into forming exacting allegories. The woman reappears in Hiwako's apartment posing as her mother, although Hiwako's mother lives miles away, she calls to make certain she's there, who is the snake woman?, an imposter making absurd claims, a mother figure of a different sense?. As the story proceeds the revelation comes that Hiwako is not alone in having to live with a snake/human, as her boss's wife Nishiko reveals that she is in the same circumstance, with the snakes calling for them to submit and join them and make the transformation. In places the story shares the same claustrophobic fervor of Abe Kobo's 1949 short story Dendrocacalia and at moments visually it brings to mind Junji Ito's terrifying Uzumaki with spiralling snakes. Underneath this there remains the allegorical study of the transformative power of mankind's darker nature, a fascinating culmination to an engrossing collection.

Record of a Night Too Brief at Pushkin Press

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Keshiki - New Voices From Japan - Strangers Press

February appears to be a busy month, alongside some interesting novellas appearing from Pushkin Press, maybe not so many might be aware that Strangers Press also launch Keshiki - New Voices From Japan, a highly desirable series of chapbooks of translations of some of the most prominent authors from contemporary Japan. They've created a great page and website shop, so hopefully reviews of titles from both of the series will be forthcoming here soon.

Keshiki - New Voices From Japan at Strangers Press  

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami






Somewhere amongst the pages of The Nakano Thrift Shop it's lead character, Hitomi, surmises her observations of her on/off relationship with her colleague, Takeo, with the phrase 'the scrutiny of love', it could be said that this forms the central plot of contention and theme of the novel that was published by Portobello Books last year in a translation from Allison Markin Powell. The novel is made up of chapters which at times resemble installments, giving the impression of being diary entries, perhaps. Hitomi's observations carry a certain fragility to them, and there's some slight uses of poetical imagery, when kissing Takeo, perhaps for the first time?, Hitomi hears in the distance the sound of an engine start and then stop, which seems to mirror the progress of their relationship. It's refreshing to read Kawakami, she has her characters break and question conventional thought in subtle ways, Takeo feels quite a feminine character, for an initial portion of the book you wonder if he is asexual, the notion of sexual desire and relationships is a subject brokered again later in the novel by Masayo, (Mr Nakano's unmarried sister), who Hitomi confides her  inner most thoughts to through various points in the novel.

Being set in the confines of a thrift store, sometimes the novel has the feel of being a play, there are not that many characters to the book, perhaps the reader might imagine a stage, despite the women Mr Nakano is having affairs with. There are a number of subplots that arise through the characters that frequent the shop and through the objects they peruse, perhaps rather subtly, did one of these other story lines spill across a couple of chapters?. Kawakami's prose has a pensive quality to it, incidences can sometimes feel subdued however eventful they are, in one chapter Mr Nakano is stabbed, but things seem to carry rather glacially on to all degrees unaffected, maybe the prompt for his potential exit in his attempt to extrapolate himself from the escalating predicament of his affairs.

The prose of The Nakano Thrift Shop has a softly quintessential feel, an engaging episode of the drama of an encounter of the heart, like the customers of the shop who drift in and out we too, as does it's central protagonists, drift in and out of their lives and loves, tinted with their subtle eccentricities, alienations and lives subtly, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently, knocked out of joint by modern life and it's pulling, the drama plays out combining both introspective reflection and an ending coda.  


The Nakano Thrift Shop at Portobello Books




Thursday, January 5, 2017

readings in 2016


Another year ticks passed, an apt moment to jot down last year's reading history, this list doesn't include books already posted on, obvious resolutions apply, to read more ! -


1.Portrait of A Man - Georges Perec - MacLehose Press
2.Syrian Notebooks - Jonathan Littell - Verso
3.Ancient Tillage - Raduan Nassar - Penguin Classics
4.Rendezvous In Venice - Phillippe Beaussant - Pushkin Press
5.The Man Who Fell To Earth - Walter Tevis - Penguin Classics
6.Fat City - Leonard Gardner - NYRB Classics
7.The Trumpets of Jericho - Unica Zurn - Wakefield Press
8.A Cup of Rage - Raduan Nassar - Penguin Classics
9.But You Did Not Come Back - Marceline Loridan-Ivens - Faber and Faber
10.The Driver's Seat - Muriel Spark - Penguin Classics
11.A Dream of Wessex - Christopher Priest - Faber
12.Journey Into the Past - Stefan Zweig - Pushkin Press
13.The Man In The High Castle - Philip K. Dick - Penguin Classics
14.High Rise - J.G Ballard - Fourth Estate
15.Madonna In a Fur Coat - Sabahattin Ali - Penguin Classics
16.Solaris - Stanislaw Lem - Faber and Faber
17.The Image of A Drawn Sword - Jocelyn Brooke - King Penguin - now Faber
18.Quiet Days in Clichy - Henry Miller - Penguin Classics
19.Radish - Mo Yan - Penguin Specials
20.The Café of Lost Youth - Patrick Modiano - MacLehose Press
21.Beast - Paul Kingsnorth - Faber and Faber
22.The Black Notebook - Patrick Modiano - MacLehose Press
23.Nutshell - Ian McEwan - Jonathan Cape
24.Confabulations - John Berger - Penguin
25.Dark Tales - Shirley Jackson - Penguin Classics
26.Echoland - Per Petterson - Harvill Secker
27.The Evenings - Gerard Reve - Pushkin Press 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Nocturne of Remembrance by Shichiri Nakayama




















Amongst some interesting novels recently published from Vertical Inc. comes Nocturne of Remembrance, translated by Paul Rubin, a subtly dense and solid novel that dispenses with the usual sequential narratives seen in most crime novels, although opening with a gruesome murder, which is reminiscent of a scenario from one of Otsuichi's novels, the narrative reverts to the more formulaic when the main murder of the novel occurs in the Tsuda family, the character initially bridging these two story lines is Mikoshiba, who in the first is the guilty party, but in the second has progressed to a lawyer of renown with slightly maverick tendencies who takes up the case, although a big mystery hangs over his motives for taking on the case as he stands not to profit greatly, perhaps it's for free publicity, purposively the enigma remains throughout the novel until it's final pages.

After the initial description of the murder, on the surface a simple case - Akiko confesses to murdering her husband, Shingo, in the shower, the novel is largely taken up in describing Mikoshiba's day to day, and exploring his reputation and standing within his profession, eventually we see him beginning to re-investigate the case which he is taking up after the previous defence it appears was lacklustre in it's efforts. The narrative of the novel begins to find it's footing and adopts a more familiar gear after a hundred pages or so when beginning to explore Shingo and Akiko's relationship and circumstance leading up to his murder, describing Shingo being laid off from his job and falling into debt after becoming a 'shut in' and dabbling with online investing. In turn Akiko becomes estranged from her husband and his abusive and violent behaviour and his unwillingness to improve his situation, she turns her affections to a male colleague at work, but is the depth of this relationship imaginary and exists purely in her head on her part?. Over a number of pages the reader becomes embroiled with the setting up of what appears to be an obvious motive on Akiko's part, through Mikoshiba's repeated musings aspects of the case are gone over and the portrait of a familial disintegration emerges, but perhaps motives are seen only in half light, Nakayama's control of the direction of his prose and of what we see is watertight.

Without wanting to include spoilers, the full progress of Nocturne of Remembrance is a difficult one to relate in it's entirety, it repulses and fascinates in equal measure but at it's end you have to admire Nakayama's ability at diverting your attention and of hiding, perhaps you could say burying  the significant details that connects the various strands of this deftly constructed novel, the book does include one of the lead characters suffering a rare phobia - Aichmophobia, which stretches the boundaries of belief to a certain degree, but it's necessary, and before you know it you're reading a disturbing and bleak story of strange redemption stemming from a very dark starting point, where most of the participants shoulder various degrees and differing strains of guilt and which has journeyed, unflinchingly, through a whole trope of domestic dysfunction(s), Nakayama, it feels like is holding a mirror up to the darkest side of humanity.


Nocturne of Remembrance at Vertical Inc


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.


January

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

February

Spiral Staircase: Collected Poems - Hirato Renkichi - trans. Sho Sugita - Ugly Duckling Presse
The Maids - Junichiro Tanizaki - trans. Michael P. Cronin NDP
Devils in Daylight - Junichiro Tanizaki - trans. J. Keith Vincent NDP
The Name of the Game is a Kidnapping - Keigo Higashino trans Jan Mitsuko Cash - Vertical Inc
The Transparent Labyrinth - Keiichiro Hirano - trans. Kerim Yasar - Strangers Press
Time Differences - Yoko Tawada - trans. Jeffrey Angles - Strangers Press
Spring Sleepers - Kyoko Yoshida - Strangers Press
The Girl Who Is Getting Married - Aoko Matsuda - trans. Angus Turvill - Strangers Press
Mariko/Mariquita - Natsuki Ikezawa - trans. Alfred Birnbaum - Strangers Press
At the Edge of the Wood - Masatsugu Ono - trans. Juliet Winters Carpenter - Strangers Press
Friendship For Grown-Ups - Nao-Cola Yamazaki - trans. Polly Barton - Strangers Press
Mikumari - Misumi Kubo - trans. Polly Barton - Strangers Press

March

Slow Boat - Hideo Furukawa - Pushkin Press
Orbital Cloud - Taiyo Fujii - Haikasoru

April

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

May

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

June

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
The Great Passage - Shion Miura - trans. Juliet Winters Carpenter - Amazon Crossing

July

Territory of Light - Yūko Tsushima - Penguin Modern Classics

August

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

September

A Small Charred Face - Kazuki Sakuraba - trans. Jocelyne Allen - Haikasoru

November

Newcomer - Keigo Higashino - trans. Alexander O'Smith  Minotaur Books


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