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Oh, Tama! by Mieko Kanai

Oh, Tama!

by Mieko Kanai

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
What a pity. I, like other Early Reviewers, was really looking forward to reading this as the description sounded fun, interesting and just my kind of thing. Sadly a far too literal translation has resulted in a disjointed, difficult to read and consequently unenjoyable text. I was about a third of the way through when I put it aside as it was so unpleasant a read as to not be worth the struggle. That was something like six months ago and I have to admit to myself that I'm not going to make it to the end. ( )
  Vivl | Sep 12, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Oh, Tama! took me a while to read, even though I really enjoyed it. It's not that it's difficult or anything, it's just that it's sort of slow and contemplative without a lot of urgency to it. I would pick it up and read a little bit, and thoroughly love that bit, then find that when I walked away, I didn't really have a feeling of Must Finish ASAP, even as I kept it in my thoughts and looked forward to picking it up again.

That might be a good or bad thing for other readers, but for me - sometimes a quiet slice-of-life story that meanders along is exactly what I'm in the mood for, and I enjoyed this one.

I liked the narrator, Natsuyuki, quite a bit. He's an interesting guy who can't exactly be trusted - he takes pains to avoid bothersome things when possible (or so he claims), and has a rather haphazard, lackadaisical way of narrating the story, as though it's all a bit too much effort sometimes.

The story itself is about Tama, a pregnant cat foisted upon him by the brother of a woman he slept with once. Or maybe it isn't really about Tama, but she's the linchpin that pulls it all together - explorations of motherhood and family, about sex and relationships and desire. There's also an element of obligation - of what one owes to others for one reason or another.

I'm not sure I'm the best reviewer for Oh, Tama!, but I liked it a lot. The language and imagery are strongly evocative, and I love Natsuyuki's narration - he is a vivid character at least in part because of his contradictions. ( )
1 vote keristars | Jun 6, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Oh, Tama!! Oh my!! Definitely a very quirky read, which at times I found hilarious and at other times utterly baffling!! I don't think I "got it" at all..and couldn't help thinking that perhaps being Japanese or familiar with Japanese culture would've helped, as there were lots of "pop culture" references and, I think, nuances that I was unfamiliar with. It just seemed like a bunch of not particularly endearing Japanese characters in various states of employment living their more-or-less interconnected lives, with this cat Tama and her kittens as a bit of a centrepiece. It was a short read, thankfully, and a fairly easy one at that. But, yeah, definitely not my kind of read. ( )
  tsaj | May 4, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Oh, Tama is a somewhat quirky book about a group of somewhat dysfunctional people in Japan. Quite a bit of the story hinges on a pregnant cat (Tama) and a possibly pregnant woman, two of her lovers (who turn out to be related), her brother, two mothers, briefly an assortment of fathers, and various landladies, neighbours etc. However, from this lot the author has produced a fairly readable book with quite a bit of humour, which I am glad to have read, though I probably would not reread it. ( )
  fancett | Feb 22, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Oh, Tama! is the third volume of Mieko Kanai's work to be translated into English. The first was The Word Book, a collection of her short stories from the 1970s, while the second was a short novel called Indian Summer. Both Oh, Tama! and Indian Summer are a part of Kanai's Mejiro series--a group of novels tied together more by location and characters than by an overarching plot (though some events do cross over from one novel to another.) Indian Summer is actually the third volume in that series while Oh, Tama!, even though it was translated later, is the second. Oh, Tama! was originally serialized between 1986 and 1987 before being collected and released as a single volume which went on to win Kanai the Women's Literature Prize in 1988. The English-language translation by Tomoko Aoyama and Paul McCarthy, released by Kurodahan Press in 2014, is based on the 1999 Japanese edition of the novel. I was very pleased to receive a copy of Oh, Tama! through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

Tsuneko is pregnant. No one except for her and maybe her half-brother Alexandre (if he really is her half-brother) is entirely sure who the father is. Natsuyuki was one of the candidates, but for various reasons instead of being given the role of "father" he has had the responsibility of caring for Tama--Tusnkeo's pet cat, also pregnant--thrust upon him by Alexandre. It's a rather strange turn of events, especially when Tusneko leaves the country and Tama becomes one of the only remaining links to her left in Tokyo. The other potential fathers-to-be are trying to find or at least contact Tsuneko, which eventually leads them to Natsuyuki and Tama. In yet another bizarre twist of fate, one of them, Fuyuhiko, actually turns out to be Natsuyuki's very own long-lost half-brother, making for a rather odd meeting.

There's actually not much of a driving plot to Oh, Tama!. Instead, Kanai focuses on the mundane lives of the characters. Even the novel's setting is unremarkable--almost the entire story takes place within the confines of Natsuyuki's small apartment. Tama provides a focal point from which Kanai explores the interpersonal relationships between Natsuyuki, his friends, family members, and neighbors. The characters in Oh, Tama! aren't particularly exceptional people although they're all slightly quirky, eccentric, and offbeat. Their relationships also follow that same pattern of being just a little peculiar and unusual. I actually quite like Natsuyuki and the others and find their interactions, though fairly low-key, to be delightfully amusing as well as realistic. According to one of Kanai's afterwords, the characters in Oh, Tama! are actually based on real people, so perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising that their relationships, in all of their strangeness, should also feel so natural.

The translators' introduction to Oh, Tama! describes the novel as "a treasure chest of rich and varied parody, allusion and intertextuality." Since I haven't actually read many of the works being alluded to, many of the references (even when pointed out) were a little lost on me. However, I could appreciate what Kanai was doing. Personally, what appealed to me most about Oh, Tama! were the characters themselves. Natsuyuki is a fairly laid back sort of guy, but this tendency (mostly because complaining or actually trying to change things would take too much effort) puts him into some odd situations. Alexandre, who seems to delight in messing with people, is often more concerned about Tama and the kittens than any of the people around him. I found their slightly antagonistic friendship and their interactions with Fuyuhiko and the others to be highly entertaining. I greatly enjoyed Oh, Tama! and its quirky, understated humor. So much so that I plan on reading the next novel in the Mejiro series, Indian Summer, in the very near future.

Experiments in Manga ( )
1 vote PhoenixTerran | Feb 9, 2014 |
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Book description
This is the second book in the author's Mejiro Series to be published in English.
It is currently in production, expected to be published in November.
For more information, see the book catalog page at:
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Oh, Tama! takes the reader deep into the haphazard lives of Natsuyuki, the protagonist, and his loosely connected circle of dysfunctional acquaintances and family. Trying to keep some semblance of order and decency in his life, working as an occasional freelance photographer, Natsuyuki is visited by his delinquent friend Alexandre, who unexpectedly entrusts him with his sister's pregnant cat, Tama. Despite his initial protests, Natsuyuki accepts his new responsibility and cares compassionately for Tama and her kittens. Half-sister Tsuneko, meanwhile, is herself pregnant by one of several lovers, all patrons of the bar she runs. She contacts three of them, claiming each to be the father, and demands money. One of these is Fuyuhiko, the older half-brother of Natsuyuki, although he is not aware of this fact. When Fuyuhiko comes to Tokyo in search of Tsuneko, he gravitates to Natsuyuki's apartment, where he and Alexandre move in with the weak-willed Natsuyuki. Awarded the Women's Literature Prize in Japan, Oh, Tama! is the second book in the Mejiro Series, named after the area of Tokyo between the mega-towns of Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. The main characters (not to mention the author and her artist sister Kanai Kumiko) all live in this area. Most of the main characters in one book appear as side characters in the others. Natsuyuki and Alexandre, for example, appear in the third work in the series, Indian Summer. The protagonists of that book-Momoko, Hanako and Momoko's writer-aunt-all appear first in Oh, Tama!. These Mejiro texts are full of humor and irony. While earlier works of Kanai are noted for their surrealistic, sensuous and poetic style and arresting, at times violent themes, the Mejiro novels focus on the human comedy in the seemingly mundane, actual world. The protagonists of the series are, however, in one way or another engaged in creative or intellectual activities, even though they are often unemployed or at loose ends. While a few of the author's short stories, poems, and excerpts from her longer works were translated into English beginning in the late 1970's, and attracted some attention among feminist literary scholars, this is only the third book-length English translation of her work, following The Word Book and Indian Summer.… (more)

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