Lilisin in 2018
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Hello 2018 Club Readers!
I'm starting my 4th year in Japan and have been living 6 months now in my new apartment. I have yet to acquire a sofa and a dining table and my reading has been as slow as my furniture acquisition (although a bookshelf was obviously one of my first purchases) so my goal this year is to finally be able to invite people to my home and read more than last year. For those who continue to read my increasingly sparse threads, I greatly appreciate your support and encouragement. Here is to a more interesting thread in 2018!
So far in 2018:
1) John Steinbeck : The Grapes of Wrath
2) Emily St. John Mandel : Station Eleven
3) Ray Bradbury : Fahrenheit 451
4) Margaret Atwood : The Handmaid's Tale
5) Barbara Demick : Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
6) Abe Kobo : The Ark Sakura
7) Sawako Ariyoshi : The Twilight Years
Books read in 2017 - 2016 - 2015 - 2014 - 2013 - 2012 - 2011 - 2010 - 2009
It took me more than a year to get around to buying a sofa when I moved to the States. So you are not alone in that!
Good luck with your reading this year - I am constantly baffled when some of your French or Japanese books are not yet translated into a language I can read but I love following your reading.
I'm looking forward to more of your "adventures" in Japan, as well as, your reading.
I never mentioned the last of the reading I did in 2017 and since I'm bored at work with nothing to do I thought maybe I'd make a brief mention. I was particularly happy because I ended the year with three books in Japanese in a row. My goal in 2018 -- never really declared but floating always in my mind -- is to read one book in Japanese per month for 12 total this year. I think this is doable as I have been reading my Japanese books at work while I sit in front of the instrument I work on. I will read a page here and there and end up with 20 pages per day, depending on the level of the book, which, at the typical length of 200 pages per book means I can read the book as quickly as two weeks. I justify my reading at work with the attitude of look! it's in Japanese so technically I'm studying! Here are the three aforementioned books I read in reverse order from which I actually read them.
Ryu Murakami : オーディション (Audition)
Maiko Seo : 天国はまだ遠く (Heaven is still far*)
Hiroko Oyamada : 穴 (The Hole*)
* works not translated into English
Audition brought me back to an author I enjoy, Ryu Murakami, and this book is quite famous in Japan due to its gruesomeness. It's described as psychothriller love story where a documentary maker, Aoyama, decides to go remarry and uses an audition to find his next wife. He is immediately attracted to Asami, a woman he can't stop thinking about, despite everyone around him telling him to be careful 'cause something seems off about the girl. I really enjoyed this. You know what is coming the entire book so it's not the end that is as interesting as much as it is the psychology behind the characters and the sense of voyeurism you have on the situation throughout the book. I was entranced and even forgot I was work at times until someone would ask me a question at which point I would have to raise my head out of the pages. I can't wait to watch the movie now.
The second book was a bit of a palate cleanser as it was an entirely unknown author to me but I was attracted to the title, the cover, the short length and the fact that there was a lot of dialogue in the book so it seemed like it would be an easy read to get through and it certainly was. But surprisingly enough I quite enjoyed the book and it has stuck with me every since. It is about a woman who goes off to an inn in the middle of nowhere to finally end her life as she is unhappy with her life back in the city. She takes a bunch of sleeping pills but wakes up three days letter in her futon having failed at suicide. Instead, she wakes up refreshed and rejuvenated, and decides instead to stay at the inn for a while to reflect no her life. She befriends the young innkeeper, a man who also left the city a while ago to help his aging parents before they passed away. Only the two remain in the inn and at seeing this woman just endlessly roaming around the fields over and over again, the innkeeper decides to take her along on errands, a fishing trip, and a drinking party with other town folk.
I think I enjoyed the book because I saw a lot of my friend in the main character: a good looking woman who enslaves herself to job and despite knowing that her job is preventing her from living life, continues to do so. (And complains about it. A lot. My friend, not the main character.) While the main character doesn't really find the answer to her questions, I applaud her resolution in not allowing herself to stay in this tiny town to live a quiet life in the middle of nowhere and (possibly) starting a relationship with the innkeeper. Instead she's realistic and realizes that such an escape, although easy, would just be another version of her being influenced by her surroundings to lead a life that her surroundings dictate but that she might not actually truly desire herself.
The last book is the one I want to talk about the most but unfortunately I can't remember all the little details I originally wanted to discuss upon immediately finishing the book. This is also something I resolve to change on LT: actually write my thoughts down immediately upon finishing a book instead of months later!
This book was a winner of the Akutagawa Prize, a prize I quite like and follow.
It is about a woman who moves to her husband's hometown from the city due to his job transfer. They end up living in the secondary house behind his parent's home. As her husband spends his days at work, and comes home merely to eat and sleep while spending his waking moments mostly staring at his cellphone, she goes about trying to fill her day as a housewife, wondering if she could let herself be just a housewife instead of going back to work like she did in the city.
One day she is walking along the river when she spots a strange animal and upon deciding to follow it she falls into a large hole in the ground. The hole is taller and larger than her and she has trouble coming out of it but when she finally does she ends up meeting a man who turns out to be the elder brother of her husband!; a brother she never knew her husband had. As the brother enlightens her on certain aspects of the family she has married into, events unfold and we are left questioning if the this man even existed at all.
This book had a wonderful surreal feeling to it that was just heavenly to read and there were so many aspects of Japanese society that were so interestingly written about. There was a scene in the women's bathroom during her last days at work, where she gets into a conversation with her female coworkers about possibly becoming a housewife. Some women are envious of her as they would also like to become housewives, while others say no way, they need to have something for themselves instead of just devoting their lives to a husband and child.
Much is talked about in terms of familial roles and duty: duty to our parents, duty to our husbands, duty to our husband's family; family versus neighbors, large city versus countryside life; loss of tradition, etc.
It was a wonderful little book that throughout I couldn't stop thinking about how much I would like to translate this little gem but unfortunately I have neither the experience nor the connections to go through with such a project. Plus at my deepest, I'm actually quite lazy and could never foresee myself actually finishing the project.
But if I really wanted to talk about the last book, it's because I'm currently reading another (untranslated) Akutagawa prize winner, 終の住処, whose title I'll only be able to translate once I finish the book to know whether is more along the lines of "the last home we live in" or "the last home on the block".
(OMG: minor heart attack as I accidentally pressed the refresh button on this page and though I might have lost everything I've written here. Gasp gasp gasp as I recover.)
This book, although at a short 88 pages, is actually kicking my butt as the reading level is quite a bit above my current level as it has very weird sentence structure, a strange use of words, and an interesting command of language. It takes me a while to parse each sentence but at the end of a paragraph there are moments where I find myself highly rewarded but his skill in writing. But still kicking my butt. In any case this book, although I struggle with asking myself if I should abandon it to read further along in my Japanese life when my Japanese will be even stronger, is quite interesting because it also talks about the wife/husband social structure but this time from a man's point of view. It's almost as if I'm reading from the point of view of the husband from the previous book. In any case, once I do conquer this book I look forward to sharing my thoughts and seeing what I come to finally think of it.
And I just managed to pass the final 30 minutes I needed so that I can now go home. Happy weekend everyone!
Thank you Annie! I baffle myself sometimes with the idea that I'm now (fairly) comfortably reading books in Japanese and I love that I can read things that haven't even been translated yet. I count myself very fortunate to have such access to such a wonderful literary world by reading in so many other languages.
I hope to have more in this thread to keep you interested!
Thank you as well Nana! I'm looking forward to my reading as well this year. I'm feeling quite motivated as long as I can keep social media and Netflix at bay.
Lovely reviews of the Japanese novels -- what a treat for you to be able to read them in Japanese.
>4 lilisin: Thank you for these reviews!
The parallel between the book you're currently reading and the last one you talked about seems really interesting. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts once you've fin the current one!
Also, your goal seems completely reachable at the rate that you're at, and even if you don't completely achieve it I'm sure you'll make significant progress!
Your second and third books both sound interesting. Look forward to vicariously enjoying others this year.
I love Japanese novels, although I'm unfortunately limited to those that have been translated into English. I'm looking forward to following your reading, Japanese and otherwise.
>4 lilisin: I guess Audition will be the second Ryu book for the year! Hope the others get translated someday.
Thanks everyone for the feedback. I'm glad I was finally able to put out some sort of thoughts on these books especially since re-reading through what I wrote the other day I see lots of typing mistakes and incoherent thinking. :)
Audition was a fun thriller read so should serve as a good palate cleanser between other more serious works. As for the Heaven is Still Far book, that one will never get translated. It isn't outstanding enough in prose nor story to get translated even if I managed to get a little bit out of it. But I do have high hopes for The Hole as I'm not the only person (including people in the actual translation industry) who thinks it should get translated and it has a higher chance as it won the Akutagawa Prize, which has seen quite a few of its prize winners translated.
I'm thinking my next in Japanese book I read will be a book that actually has been picked up for translation so that will be fun to introduce you guys as something to look forward to.
While I was on holiday in the states I bought the following to add to my TBR pile.
Margaret Atwood : The Handmaid's Tale
Robert S. Boynton : The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea's Abduction Project
Barbara Demick : Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
Matthew Lewis : The Monk
Ray Bradbury : Fahrenheit 451
Emily St. John Mandel : Station Eleven
So, two books about North Korea as over the years I've discovered a little passion for reading nonfiction about Asian history and war. Atwood is on the list as I've seen her name too much on LT over the years and I really would like to read my first of her books after reading such glowing reviews. I think I'll really like her books. The Monk and its plot has intrigued me for years and I'd like to see where I fall on the love/hate scale. Bradbury is a book that is often required reading for middle school and high school students but it was never included in my syllabus so I've been meaning to read it. And Station Eleven is a book because every once in a while I like to jump on the hype train even if it is several years after the train has passed and often I'm disappointed (as I was with The Vegetarian) although I think I'll like this one.
Very nice haul! I had never heard of The Monk but it seems interesting.
I've read and liked a lot The Handmaid's Tale and Fahrenheit 451 (but then I'm a sucker for dystopia).
Almost all the others are on my wishlist!
>13 lilisin: Nice list! The monk is interesting, though some aspects are a little annoying. But I quite enjoy the old Gothic novels, they're fun, in a crazy goofy over-the-top way, lol. I also recently got Handmaid (last year), but it'll probably be a while before I get to it. I read Alias Grace several years ago though and thought it was great. Fahrenheit is excellent, and horrific; I also never wound up having it in school so read it several years ago from the library, it's good stuff. Oddly there's a lot of "standard reading" from high school that I never wound up having, so have gone reading them myself, lol. There's still a handful I've not gotten to yet!
The vegetarian never appealed to me at all, but Human acts I requested (and won) from ER because it did sound appealing and I thought it was brilliant. I steer clear of the hype train too, and I can't say I've had cause to regret it, haha.
>12 lilisin: I'm thinking my next in Japanese book I read will be a book that actually has been picked up for translation so that will be fun to introduce you guys as something to look forward to.
I'll be waiting!
When you read The Monk you *must* follow the tutored read I did of that book with lyzard as my tutor. That was such a fun experience...and you will get *so much more* out of that book by doing so.
Here's the link:
>13 lilisin: That's a great selection of books. I really liked Nothing to Envy but haven't come across The Invitation-Only Zone so I'm curious about that now. The Handmaid's Tale, Fahrenheit 451 and Station Eleven are also all books I really enjoyed.
I haven't read a dystopia in a long time so it should be fun to dip back into the genre again.
I was recommended Human Acts as well so I'll probably give that one a go before abandoning the author just yet. But I do follow the translator on Twitter and she often retweets the reactions of others to The Vegetarian and it's just the most melodramatic overreactions as how it "changed their life!". Considering the topic of the book it makes me wonder what is so off about their lives that this book could change. This is where I'll just shrug my shoulders.
Thanks for that link. I'll definitely follow it as I read the book!
Thanks for the validation in my choices!
1) John Steinbeck : The Grapes of Wrath
Just finished my first book of the year and my second Steinbeck. I had only read Of Mice and Men which was only so-so to me, so I was happy to finally get a real feel for the beauty of Steinbeck's writing. I actually started this book three years ago on the plane to Japan -- yes, the one-way ticket when I first moved here. I put it down when I was just too excited with my new lifestyle to bother reading, let alone read about the US, which I had just left. Funny enough I picked this back up for the plane ride back to the States when I went home for the holidays and once I picked it up I couldn't put it back down.
I loved the slowness of the book as we really pitter-pattered ourselves across the US with the Joad family. I really liked Steinbeck alternating the chapters, one a general view of the era and its happenings as a whole, and then following that with the Joad family again. The key word to this book can really be found on the back cover of the book: "human dignity". To see the contrast between the nastiness towards the Okies despite the Okies working hard and showing good to those they love and the strangers (although of course they are only human and they also have their faults and might show similar attitudes if they were to gain position) around them was really wonderful.
I'm so glad you liked it! It's one of the books that left the strongest impression with me (then I read it when I was younger than you are now, I must have been around 20, so the social aspect was much more striking for me then than now).
One more trivial thing that stayed with me from this book is the fact that pigs can eat babies (no spoiler here for those who haven't read it, the mother of the family is just very careful for this not to happen). I had no idea this could happen and somehow think about it from time to time.
>21 lilisin: It was years and years ago that I read this but remember it being very powerful. Perhaps a reread is in order.
2) Emily St. John Mandel : Station Eleven
I've been wanting to read this one since it was first getting hyped a few years ago and I wasn't disappointed. It's been a while since I've read a dystopian and such a "simple" read. By simple I mean a book that you can sit down and find yourself a 100 pages in without noticing you've been reading; no rereading passages, no need to reflect on anything; just enjoying the story.
Normally I don't think I would enjoy a book where every person and event and place is linked so conveniently to one another but I actually liked this part of the book quite a bit. There were no coincidences and no tangents and every piece had its place. It made it interesting because you knew where the plot was going to go the entire time so you could just focus on the journey.
The general sense of hope throughout the book was lovely as well. While the characters and their relationship to each other revolve around a single person Arthur, who is hardly a saint of a character and has a tendency to bring out the negative out of most he touches, the characters around him are able to find love and light and a sense of being. Just like the book's plot revolving a negative, the Georgian flu that has caused the majority of the world's population to perish with hours, the characters are able to find love, light and a sense of being.
Interestingly enough there were times where I wanted the book to go darker because when it comes to humanity, it can always go darker, but it all ties together quite remarkably and I quite enjoyed this breath of fresh air in a dystopian world.
>25 lilisin: Breath of fresh air in a dystopian world: That does seem interesting! Thanks for the review.
And it does seem as if you were hooked and finished this book in almost no time!
3) Ray Bradbury : Fahrenheit 451
Just turned the last page on this short little book that I devoured in just two reading sessions.
This was not one of the books assigned to me in middle or high school so this is my first time reading it. And I think if I had read it back then it wouldn't have been as poignant as it is reading it now, in this current time. I was raised in a fairly prosperous area and so the schools were excellent, the teachers were excellent, the students were excellent. We excelled at everything so I think it would have been difficult to imagine a world so buried in the sand as the one Bradbury paints. As an adult, however, it makes sense. I've seen it, I've experienced it, I'm surrounded by it, and every day with the media screaming at us from the wall, it is forced on me.
Having never read the book before but knowing its reputation I was made to believe the story was about the censure of literature, and while that is included in the book, it's not about that at all. I had imagined a 1984 situation where the government would have been the source of the censure. Instead it was the people. We, the common people, brought this censure of books upon ourselves and that is what I found so interesting, so shocking, and it made so much sense.
It turns out that it is at the request of the common person that the censure of books happens. And not really the censure of books in so much as the censure of knowledge. When knowledge and the hunt for knowledge can lead to so many difference paths that certainly can lead to confusion when you don't know how to wield that knowledge, it certainly makes sense that removing yourself from knowledge and letting yourself be more amused by simple entertainment, sports, and car rides, would provide a greater sense of joy and happiness in your life.
And that was what was so fascinating especially as it is so pervasive in our society now.
- The common people left knowledge behind and pursued ignorance.
(People are going to college but are they really learning? Does everyone just want to be a Youtube star or a reality star?)
- Ignorance led to intolerance of emotion.
(Trigger warnings are emblematic of this. You can't roam the internet without someone complaining about how a lack of a trigger warning has led them "scarred for life!!!!")
- Intolerance of emotion leads to a deeper sinking into nothingness and the void and simple entertainment of a parlor media system.
(Some relate more to people on a television screen or through a smartphone than they do the people right next to them. Can anyone have a conversation anymore without a smartphone being inches away from your fingertips ready to be picked up at any electronic signal.)
- Parlor media systems leads to an easy way to manipulate the public.
(FOX news, CNN, local news, any news show. No matter your leaning, people watch only what agrees with their beliefs and no one is allowed to challenge that. The rest of the world is happening and yet -- from an American point of view -- you would think that football, beer and the Survivor were the most important things in this world.)
And ending with that great image of the phoenix. That we are made to repeat our mistakes continuously but unlike the phoenix, we can remember our past faults and someday, maybe someday, we'll be able to piece all of those past lives together to create a harmonious world together, because through the grim of the story, there is hope at the end.
Really enjoyed this one.
>27 lilisin: Great review of Fahrenheit 451!
I read it in high-school (or just before that: I was in 3e in the French system) and you're right that reading it as an adult and at the current times probably is more relevant than what it was at the time.
I also did not remember that it was the common people who banned books (as always, I have a very dim memory of it, though I do remember the ending which is very rare), and you're right that it's an important point.
>27 lilisin: I like your review of Fahrenheit. I read it shortly after I had finished high school and I do agree that it is just as relevant to day if not more. I enjoyed the novel as much as you did.
4) Margaret Atwood : The Handmaid's Tale
Not so much a review as a sputtering of random thoughts as I was utterly transfixed by this novel. So transfixed that I've pretty much come to a loss of words.
I came into the book not knowing much. I had read reviews on LT and since I tend to skim reviews of books I haven't read to not be spoiled, I only really remembered the impression that the review had on me and certainly continued praise and admiration for Atwood as a writer was also noteworthy. Looking up a brief synopsis I was told it is the story of a world where sterility is in danger and thus the elite class of men, Commanders, can have handmaidens whose sole duty is to provide their body as a vessel for a child. But the story is much more than that, and even more than just the genre of "dystopia".
I say this mostly because of one scene towards the beginning of the book that shocked me almost out of the narrative.
We are being introduced to the handmaiden's world as she has walks us through the town to go on her shopping, where she is, and must be accompanied by another handmaiden as they must always travel in pairs. Not for their safety, but so they can actually act as spies on each other, ready to denounce each other if one does anything against the rules. After having followed the descriptions of her dress and having been introduced to a story that sounds very much like you've been planted in the middle of Salem, Oregon during the Salem witch trials, you are suddenly brought to reality when the two run into an awkward crowd.
An interpreter for the tourists asking to take their picture, and when they say "no", the interpreter tells the tourists "that to stare at them through the lens of a camera is, for them, an experience of violation".
And this was the reality that hit me. This story takes place not on the prairie lands of old America, but present day! This was a new government, an attempt at utopia, that has been placed at a time when Japanese tourists are wearing short skirts, heels and nail polish, and are trying to catch a glimpse at these new geisha of the western world. Are the handmaidens happy? Do they love their commanders? Are they allowed anything from the modern world?
Now, I'm interested in Japanese studies so this tiny little scene made a huge impact on me what with the flipping of orientalism and westernization but obviously this is not really what the book is about.
The rest of the book continues its story as we deal with the handmaiden interacting with her surroundings and trying to decide if she will submit to this new utopia or if she will let herself submit to temptation. And all of this with Atwood's superb writing. I didn't skip a word in this world she created.
Truly a fantastic read.
>31 lilisin: It seems you're on a roll of good books, I hope it continues that way!
Glad you liked The Handmaid's Tale, which I liked a lot also.
I had completely forgotten about the tourists, thanks for reminding me of that scene.
>31 lilisin: I just ordered this and cannot wait for it to arrive! Your review certainly is pushing me to start it right away.
5) Barbara Demick : Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
I'm not quite sure what to say about this nonfiction work about the lives of 6 North Koreans before and after their defection (but mostly about their lives in North Korea). All I can say is that the book was excellent: excellently presented, thoroughly researched, well written allowing for an overall engrossing read. Of great interest was reading about their ability to believe in their Dear Leader for so long despite the obvious evidence of inefficiency in his government, as well as the sheer tenacity and willpower in finding methods for survival.
It was also an interesting experience to read this after having just read three dystopian books that were practically utopias compared to Kim Il-Sung's and Kim Jong-Il's government.
I highly hope that Barbara Demick will someday write a sequel to this book after a years now that Kim Jong-Un is in power.
In any case, a highly recommended read to anyone who has any interest in the topic as well as highly recommended read for Kim Jong-Un to read himself.
Yes! A roll of good books!
I'm finding that reading books right after you purchase them does wonders to your reading motivation! It's because you were super excited about the books that you purchased them so reading them soon after purchasing means reading the books at the height of your excitement for them. Definitely something to take into consideration.
My only problem is that since I live in Japan buying books in English and French is prohibitively expensive so if I do buy books here I usually only buy when they are on super sale so I'm less picky about what I buy meaning since I can only buy from what is available so there is a greater tendency to allow these books to sit on the TBR pile for a while. Or I buy a bunch of books at once to restock my book pile when I'm either in the US or France which means buying more than I can read at that current moment. Last time I was in France I bought the entirety of Zola's Rougon-Marquart series despite knowing that I definitely won't be reading the entire series one after the other.
But also I must say that since coming to Japan I was forcing myself to NOT read in English to make sure I was properly immersing myself in Japanese and I guess this is showing that I need to let my English-speaking self out sometimes. :)
Oh yay, I'm glad! I look forward to seeing your eventual review!
Reading Nothing to Envy made me realize a gap in my Asian history as I know less about the Koreas outside of modern times. I'm particularly interested in reading more about Japan's takeover of Korea. So I looked up possible followup books I can read and I found two trends: 1) a surprising lack of writing on Japan's takeover of Korea (that isn't a focus on comfort women), 2) no books translated from Korean historians. Typically when I read about a point in history involving different countries I want to read the perspective of all sides. Granted my search was limited to just a brief Amazon search but those two things were my initial reaction. But here is a list of books that I did find and seem interesting:
Bandi : The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea
Masaji Ishikawa : A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea
George Hicks : The Comfort Women: Japan's Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the Second World War
Yoshiaki Yoshimi : Comfort Women
Alexis Dudden : Japan's Colonization of Korea: Discourse and Power
Jun Uchida : Brokers of Empire: Japanese Settler Colonialism in Korea, 1876–1945
And one book slipped in about Nanking because I haven't read a Japanese perspective on the event yet:
Ishikawa Tatsuzo : Soldiers Alive
And of course I can always check out the thorough list of resources that Barbara Demick used to research her book.
Goodness, there is suddenly so much I want to read. I never would have imagined I would become such a history/nonfiction lover. It's interesting becoming an adult, isn't it?
>35 lilisin: I completely agree with you about the advantages of reading a book right after you buy it. This is one of the main reasons I try to have a wishlist rather than a TBR pile.
>34 lilisin: Great review of Nothing to Envy. It's going on my wishlist.
>36 lilisin: I'm looking forward to your thoughts on any or all of these books if/when you get to them! I'm not a nonfiction reader myself (and at 40 I think it's sage to say that I have become an adult already, though of course you can evolve at any age :) but I try to read at least a few books each year.
It's funny because every single person I've spoken to about this book has immediately recommended Pachinko to me. I actually already own the book but I left it in the US because it was bigger than I could carry back with me especially considering the mixed reviews I've been hearing about it. I'll be interested to see what you end up thinking about the book since I tend to agree with many of your opinions.
>39 lilisin: It's definitely well-written, I can say that much about it already. Otherwise, I'll see what I think when I've finished it!
>25 lilisin: I thought Station Eleven was a fantastic book and a better twist on the typical dystopia genre right up until the last chapter or two. Everything just got tied up too neatly, and like you said could have been darker. I tend to think dystopia novels are too dark and too negative towards humanity. I may be to optimistic but I find people on the aggregate aren't the most terrible things going. Dystopian novels seem to go straight for the darkest outliers and make them the focal points so Station Eleven was an oddly refreshing read.
>36 lilisin: Nothing to Envy was such an eye opening book. I still think about some of the things she describes to this day. I wonder now that more North Koreans have access to "limited" smart phones and with the black market for information being what it is, what functional changes are occurring at the most common level in N. Korea?
6) Abe Kobo : The Ark Sakura
This was my last book of February and I didn't like it. I've already forgotten I've read it, in fact.
The Mole has created a bunker out of an abandoned mining cave and is on the search for fellow crewmen for his "ark". Upon an outing he decides to invite The Insect Dealer he meets at a mixed brick-a-brack sale. The Insect Dealer is actually a conman and is associated with two other conmen that end up getting swept up into the invitation back to the ark despite The Mole's objection. As the four return to the ark, it is a struggle for The Mole to keep his position of authority as he can't read into these new guests.
As per the typical Abe, the story starts simply and accelerates into a whirlpool of absurd characters and events that surprisingly enough doesn't end up too bad for The Mole. But despite Abe being one of my favorite authors, this book lacked a more intelligent insight into his general theme of individual vs. society that is usually present in his books.
At the end, I was left with a void.
7) Sawako Ariyoshi : The Twilight Years
To become senile is terrifying.
This is one of the most remarkable, and strangely disturbing, books I've read in a long time. There are so many things I want to discuss and remark upon that I'm afraid this is going to turn into a huge jumble without any focus, or that, I'll have no words at all and just leave with an uninspiring mess.
Just to have a book not only so deftly describe what it is to be female in Japanese society, but perfectly capture the problems dealing with aging in Japan, and the expectations of women in the household and in society all while instilling in you this most disturbing fear of aging was just fascinating. I was entranced and disturbed, enraged and supportive, hopeful and yet at the same time, desperate to flee Japan.
It's a book I want to thrust into the hands of all my female coworkers to scream don't let yourselves become slaves to men! It's a book I want to force men here to read, pleading them to realize what they are demanding of their wives simply due to "it's our culture". I also want them to see that in life, yes, we have responsibilities, but having responsibilities doesn't have to mean having burdens. Bring joy and laughter into your home, remember life is about living, not working. Call me a typical foreigner for trying to push my western ideals on Japanese culture but I don't care! When you have lunch with your Japanese coworkers who ask you about your childhood and once upon you describe your wonderful childhood jumping into lakes, swimming till the sun sets at 9pm, playing street hockey with the neighborhood kids and catching fireflies at night; once you hear them say with a frown on their face that they never knew a childhood like that could exist; once you hear that you can't help but feel pity and to see that this society they've created for themselves is not welcoming to joy. Ah, yes, typical foreigner. Well pardon me for wanting my friends and coworkers to experience happiness every day. It doesn't have to be my version of happiness but it has to be a version that allows them to experience freedom from their
Because it's not a book about feminism, nor about getting old; it's a book about humanity. We are individuals and we are wives, and mothers, and husbands, and we are young but we get old and every part of our lives should have meaning, should have purpose, and we should be so lucky to have people we love and love us, and support us. Because despite the frustration and disparity in the book it is basically about how we all need a purpose in life. That doesn't necessarily mean a job; it means we need to know that someone needs us, that we serve a purpose in providing love and happiness and shelter and comfort for someone else.
But in this book, until we get to this happy message we are faced with the horrors of the reality of a Japanese household.
Akiko is a typical Japanese wife (with the exception that she is not just a housewife; she has a full time job) who comes home one day to a strange scene: her father-in-law running away from home and her mother-in-law dead of a heart attack in the cottage attached to the house. From that day, Akiko becomes the keeper of her increasingly senile father-in-law without any support from her husband who uses any excuse to retreat from the responsibility towards his father. As her father-in-law becomes increasingly childlike in his mannerisms, no longer able to sleep at night, no longer able to retain his bodily functions, only aware of his desire to eat, Akiko struggles playing the role of wife, mother, and dutiful daughter-in-law. Akiko's husband becomes petrified that he will become senile like his father and Akiko herself starts to question whether it is worth getting old. Is it not best to just die while you still have your senses. What is the point of getting old if this is what you are to become?
And as Akiko's family deals with their first encounter with "getting old" they discover upon talking to neighbors and coworkers that every family seems to have an elderly family member in need of constant care and attention: "It'd probably be best if she died!" "He's such a nuisance I don't know what to do with them." The book gives us hard facts about the state of welfare towards the elderly in Japan as well as the conditions and perceptions of nursing homes.
In the end, there is just too much to this book -- I just want to discuss it more and more; I regret not jotting down notes as I read it. But there is one quote I can leave with:
There's really no solution to this problem. It tears many families apart. The wife simply has to cope as courageously as she can.
Enjoyed reading your thoughts provoked by reading your excellent review of The Twilight Years
How successful will you be in getting your co-workers to read it?
Very unsuccessful. None of them are readers, some might read a crime fiction novel or two per year. I've recommended it to one coworker who is my best friend here and I'll try to get it into her hands despite being one of the aforementioned crime fiction readers.
>43 lilisin: I found The Twilight Years phenomenally depressing. I also think that while some of the elements are very specific to Japan, those kinds of family responsibilities usually end up with the women in almost every culture.
See for example this article by one of my favourite columnists:
But some stereotypes remain all too true. My partner and I are both journalists and the only way we could be more professionally equal is if we were the same person. And yet I’m still seen by others as the caretaker: I’m the one the doctor calls if something is wrong and I’m the one who other parents contact to make playdates (and by “other parents” I inevitably mean “other working mothers”). If my boys ever skip school, Ferris Bueller-style, I’ll be the one the headmaster calls, even though I work in an office and my partner works from home.
Just catching up on all your interesting reading. As someone who has learned enough of several languages to be ashamed that I can no longer do anything with almost any of them, I'm super jealous of your ability to read actual literature in Japanese.
All too true.
Ha, thanks! I had forgotten my Japanese at one point but got it back and my Spanish has been placed on hold before and that also came back (although it's now on hold again) so perhaps there is still a chance for you! Just so you know, I write the titles according to the language I read them in, so these last two Japanese books I actually read in English. So if The Twilight Years sounds interesting I definitely recommend it as it is available in translation! :)
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