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Character of Rain by Amelie Nothomb
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Character of Rain (original 2000; edition 2004)

by Amelie Nothomb

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Title:Character of Rain
Authors:Amelie Nothomb
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The Character of Rain: A Novel by Amélie Nothomb (2000)

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English (15)  Spanish (3)  French (2)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (23)
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Not quite as good as the other Am̩lie Nothomb books I have read, but The Character of Rain is still excellent. It is a memoir of Nothomb's first three years of life, in Kobe Japan, with the conceit that she is a "god" which is what she says the Japanese treat all children as through the age of three. It begins with her as an essentially inanimate tube but then at two she becomes animate and quickly teaches herself to speak both French and Japanese fluently and to read, all by around two and a half. The novel is narrated through her young eyes and is a combination of sophistication (e.g., her thoughts about suicide at age three) and humorous ignorance (e.g., not understanding what her father's job as Belgian consul was, and mistakenly seeing him fall into a storm drain and confuse that with his actual job). As usual, the short novella has some very humorous riffs, a lot of perceptive observations, and a bunch that you cannot quite figure out whether it is true or imagined or somewhere in between--but depicting a two year old with this sophistication certainly feels like towards the imagined end of the spectrum. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
What is it like to be treated like a god? According to this novel the Japanese treat newborn children like gods until about their third year of life. The newborn in this story is certainly more precocious than I would expect most of these babies, but in spite of her extraordinary intelligence, or perhaps because of it, she is careful in how and to whom she demonstrates her true nature.
With that brief introduction I must say that this short novel is very different from almost anything I have ever read. The story is primarily told in the first person, but that person being a newborn there are necessarily exceptions to this narrative mode. For example, early on the following occurs:

"The cradle became too small. The tube was transplanted to a crib, the same one used previously by its older brother and sister.
“Maybe moving the Plant will wake it up,” said the mother, sighing.
It didn't.
From the beginning of the universe, God had slept in the same room as its parents. This didn't pose problems for them, of course. They could forget it was even there."

The perspective of this very young girl is one of the most interesting aspects of the story. Everything is new for her thus her reactions are different than her parents or the reader. She takes delight in her senses , but is preternaturally judicious in the use of them. For a long time she did not speak and when she did decide to speak she chose her words very carefully. She started by naming things, in a very philosophic way sort of like a miniature Plato. Or Heraclitus, whom the narrator quotes using his famous observation that "nothing endures but change" early in the story when the little god appeared to be exceptionally unchanging. That being only her outward appearance she, when the narrative shifts to her point of view we realize that she is taking in everything that is happening around her and is truly changing on the inside. She was seeing and in doing so making choices.
Eventually she begins to speak and makes a great discovery:
"Careful examination of what other people said led me to the conclusion that speaking was as much a creative as a destructive act. I decided I would need to be careful about what to do with this discovery."

Thus her life progresses slowly, but carefully, and this occurs under the tutelage of two nannies. They are exact opposites of each other nullifying each other out in a sense, at least they would be doing so except the little god had her say and she preferred the nice nanny, Nishio-san, who thought she was beautiful and treated her like a god, to the unlikable nanny, Kashima-san, who refused her, denied her, and did not adore the little god; all this in spite of a "charm" offensive that with few exceptions had no effect.
The story is odd in its perspective, but gradually a rationale of a sort begins to emerge. I would call that rationale discovery; the child's discovery of the world around her and both her delight and dislike of the experience and consequences of that discovery. Her experiences are fascinating, like the experience of a rain storm:
"Sometimes I left the shelter of the roof and lay on top of the victim to participate in the onslaught. I chose the most exciting moment, the final pounding downpour, the moment in the bout when the clouds delivered a punishing, relentless hail of blows, in a booming fracas of exploding bones."
"THE RAIN SOMETIMES WON, and when it did it was called a flood."

This short novel only chronicles the first three years of the child's life, enough time for her to decide to become Japanese, to discover people and nature, and ultimately to make a choice about whether she would continue to live and grow. As for that last choice you will have to read the book yourself to find out her answer. ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Dec 20, 2013 |
This is a book about babyhood and childhood told as if an adult could interpret how a very small child actually thinks, but also giving the child the adult abilities of talking and reading.

I loved the book, not least because it was suitably short, but it turns out that her one, not quite phobia, but absolute real dislike, is also mine, and for the same reason too. I intensely dislike koi, or carp, waiting to be fed with their mouths open and being able to see their disgusting rubbery lips and the smooth pink tube that is their mouth cavity and digestive tract tube.

I think both the protagonist and myself had the same feeling on feeding them for the first time where they crowd up, pushing pushing, to the side of the pond and in their mindless, greedy way open their maws for the crumbs thrown at them. Intimations of our own mortality indeed, wide open mouths and a tube of throat and gullet straight to our stomachs.

Good book though. Worth reading because its nothing like any other book I've ever read and the writing is sensitive and lovely and never belabours a point. Unlike me. So enough. ( )
  Petra.Xs | Apr 2, 2013 |
The Nothombs, Belgian citizens who reside in Osaka, Japan in the late 1960s, give birth to their third child. From all appearances she appears to be a healthy girl. However, unlike her older siblings, she is only a Tube: she eats, digests and excretes, but doesn't move a muscle or interact in any meaningful way with her family or environment. Her parents call her "the Plant", as she requires no more care than a fern. She maintains this vegetative state until she turns two years of age, when suddenly and for no apparent reason she sits up and begins to scream. Her parents are initially overjoyed that "the Plant" has come to life, but are dismayed when she howls uncontrollably and unceasingly for the next six months. The spell is broken by her paternal grandmother during her visit from Belgium; she offers the child a stick of white chocolate, and Amélie comes to life as a sentient being, whose existence is validated by her first experience of pure pleasure.

My full review is in issue 10 of Belletrista: http://www.belletrista.com/2011/Issue10/reviews_11.php ( )
2 vote kidzdoc | Mar 17, 2011 |
Witty, clever, entertaining and very well written, but it was a mistake to read Biographie de la faim before this: there's simply too much overlap between the two, even though Biographie de la faim technically only starts where this one leaves off, shortly after the narrator's third birthday. You start to wonder whether she is really saying something profound, or just having fun playing with paradoxes.

Obviously, the great advantage of writing very short books like this (apart from making more money than you would if you just wrote one long book) is that you can stop while the reader is still gasping in amazement at the cleverness of your technique. The author gets the benefit of the doubt in a way she wouldn't if we had half a metre of A la recherche des Amélies perdues to struggle through. Probably all to the good... ( )
  thorold | Apr 21, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Ms. Nothomb has attempted, with some success, to perform an amalgam of memory and a devised artistic heightening of it.
 
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In the beginning was nothing, and this nothing had neither form nor substance - it was nothing other than what it was.
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They already had two children who were full-fledged members of the human race. Having a third who was a vegetable wasn't so bad. It even elicited tender feelings on their part.
Eating or not eating, drinking or not drinking, it was all the same. To be or not to be was not the question.
God's parents were of Belgain nationality, meaning that it, too, was Belgian. This may help explain not a few of the disasters that have occurred since biblical days; centuries ago, a priest from the Low Countries proved scientifically that Adam and Eve spoke Flemish.
Seeing involves choice. Whoever looks at something has decide to fix his attention on that one thing, to the exclusion of other things. That is why sight, the very essence of life, first and foremost constitutes a rejection.
Therefore, to live means to reject. Anyone who looks at everything at once is as alive as a toilet bowl.
I knew myself, and I soon discovered that life was a vale of tears in which one was forced to eat pureed carrots with small bits of meat.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312302487, Paperback)

The Japanese believe that until the age of three children, whether Japanese or not, are gods, each one an okosama, or "lord child." On their third birthday they fall from grace and join the rest of the human race. In Amélie Nothomb's new novel The Character of Rain, we learn that divinity is a difficult thing from which to recover.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:50:31 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"The Japanese believe that until the age of three, children, whether Japanese or not, are gods, each one an okosama, or "lord child." On their third birthday they fall from grace and join the rest of the human race. In Amelie Nothomb's new novel, The Character of Rain, we learn that divinity is a difficult thing from which to recover, particularly if, like the child in this story, you have spent the first two and a half years of life in a nearly vegetative state."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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