The Japanese Literature Challenge 15: January through March, 2022 (Sticky post)

Uemura Shōen, Fragrance of Spring.

Welcome to the Japanese Literature Challenge, now in its fifteenth year. What a joy it is to share our affection for Japanese literature together!

The term ”challenge” comes from the early days of blogging, when reading challenges were set forth by so many of my blogging friends. But, this is not really a challenge; it is more of an opportunity to read and share works written by Japanese authors.

Here are a few guidelines:

  • Read as many books as you like from January through March. (Even if that is ”only” one.)
  • Make sure the work was originally written in Japanese.
  • Choose from classic to contemporary works, whatever appeals to you.
  • Leave a link here to your review so that we can visit you.
Here is a button in case you would like to use it.

Finally, there will be prizes. I have several books I would like to give as prizes during the three months of the Japanese Literature Challenge 15. So, do stay tuned for those announcements. I will leave this post as a sticky post at the top of my blog. Hopefully, that will help you access it easily to leave the links to your reviews. I am so looking forward to what it is that you read!

(Just click on the widget below to add the link to your review.)

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama (translated from the Japanese by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies) and Give-away

It isn’t a new copy, I bought if for myself from Book Depository, yet I am giving away one of the best pieces of crime fiction I have ever read. Six Four is an international best seller; it is the winner of the best Japanese Crime Fiction of the Year Award, but it is not just about crime by any means. It is about the Japanese: police, media, families, pride, shame, and perseverance.

But, that might sound boring. And Six Four is anything but boring. Gradually, the layers of the case are lifted, delicately, as though by a surgeon’s hand. The reader wonders, along with Mikami (once in the department of Criminal Investigation now transferred to Administrative Affairs) where his daughter is, and why did the case of Six Four go so wrong so long ago?

Six Four. The term for a fourteen year old case, the kidnapping and murder of a young girl named Shoko…It went without saying that Six Four was the Prefectural HQ’s greatest failure.

p. 33

Parallel to this case is the fact that his own daughter, Ayumi, has run away from home. Her parents have had no word from her, they do not know if she is alive or dead, only why it is that she has run away. One day, Mikami’s wife answers the phone while he is away, and hears nothing but silence. This happens two more times, and she is convinced that it is their daughter silently reaching out to them. Mikami is not so sure, as he learns of two other households also receiving these silent calls.

I dare not tell you the conclusion to the novel, of particularly the case, or even of Ayumi. I would not dream of spoiling one of the best pieces of crime fiction I have ever read. But, I do highly recommend this book with all my heart, and I will send it to one winner. Simply leave a comment below indicating your wish to be entered, and I will declare a winner at the end of January.

The Woman In The Purple Skirt, by Natsuko Imamura (for the Japanese Literature Challenge 15)

I am often deceived by the apparent simplicity of the Japanese. One stem can make a flower arrangement. A book of 224 pages can win the Akutagawa Prize. ”This isn’t a very dramatic story,” I tell myself as I read, and then I find myself unable to think of much else for a very long time.

The Woman In The Purple Skirt has been labelled a mystery. It has been compared to a thriller, such as Hitchcock’s Rear Window. But to me, it is more sorrowful than anything else. It is hard to imagine the depth of loneliness that this novel so “effortlessly” depicts.

The Woman in the Purple Skirt sits in the park every day, in her Exclusively Reserved Seat, eating a cream bun. The children come up to her from behind, and tap her shoulder, then run away laughing. But, The Woman in the Yellow Cardigan watches her.

She knows The Woman in The Purple Skirt’s every move, every detail, from the way she is able to skillfully maneuver through a crowd without being touched, to her stiff, dry hair. The Woman in The Yellow Cardigan gives her ’fresh floral’ shampoo, handing out the sample packets she has saved to passers-by until she can hand one to The Woman in The Purple Skirt. She also finds the Woman in The Purple Skirt a job as a housekeeper, so that they both are working in the same hotel.

It is an obsessive, stalking situation, which The Woman in The Purple Skirt seems not to notice. Not once do we see them interacting on a personal level; we only see one through the other’s eyes. The Woman in The Yellow Cardigan tells us of the affair The Woman in The Purple Skirt is having with the hotel’s director, and then the fight they have in which he falls from her balcony.

The Woman in The Yellow Cardigan happens to be wherever The Woman in The Purple Skirt is, somehow, such that no detail is too small for her to notice. When The Woman in The Purple Skirt is terrified at the supposed death of her lover, The Woman in The Yellow Cardigan devises an escape plan, hoping they can catch up with each other later.

But, she never sees The Woman in The Purple Skirt again and sorrowfully tells us, ”I’m still looking for her, even now.” (p. 198)

It is heartbreaking, really, how neither one has a friend. Neither one has someone who will really love her. Their isolation seems to reflect the way many people feel: living in a big city, surrounded by people, and yet utterly alone. Even their names are unknown.

Books Read in 2021

January~

  1. Breasts and Eggs by Meiko Kawakami (Japanese Literature Challenge 14)
  2. Before The Ruins by Victoria Gosling (psychological fiction)
  3. The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
  4. Before The Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (Japanese Literature Challenge 14)
  5. The Wild Geese by Ogai Mori (Japanese Literature Challenge 14)

~February~

  1. A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight (psychological fiction)
  2. Lady Joker by Kaoru Takamura (Japanese Literature Challenge 14)
  3. The High-Rise Diver by Julia von Lucadou (translated from the German)
  4. The Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel)

~March~

  1. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (Japanese Literature Challenge 14/Booker Prize 2021 long list)
  2. The Phonebooth at The Edge of The World by Laura Imai Messina (Japanese Literature Challenge 14)
  3. The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearce
  4. Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson (Dark Iceland series #1)
  5. The Perfect Nine by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, translated from Gikuyu by the author (2021 International Booker Prize)

~April~

  1. Minor Detail by Adania Shibli, translated from the Arabic by Elizabeth Jaquette (2021 International Booker Prize Longlist)
  2. An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky, translated from the German by Jackie Smith (2021 International Booker Prize Longlist)
  3. At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop, translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis (2021 International Booker Prize shortlist)
  4. The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili, translated from the Georgian by Elizabeth Heighway (2021 International Booker Prize Longlist)
  5. In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova, translated from the Russian by Sasha Dugdale (2021 International Booker Prize)
  6. War of the Poor by Éric Vuillard, translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti (2021 International Booker Prize shortlist)
  7. Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichy, translated from the Swedish by Nichola Smalley (2021 International Booker Prize Longlist)
  8. The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enriquez, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell (2021 International Booker Prize Longlist)
  9. The Employees by Olga Ravn, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken (2021 International Booker Prize shortlist)
  10. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne DuMaurier (reread)

~May~

  1. The Housekeeper by Natalie Barelli
  2. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (book club)
  3. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated from the Russian by Pevear and Volokhonsky
  4. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (reread)
  5. Ripley Under Ground by Patricia Highsmith
  6. When We Cease to Understand The World by Benjamin Labatut, translated from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West (International Booker Prize Shortlist 2021)

~June~

  1. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (reread)
  2. The Bullet Train by Kōtarō Isaka (translated from Japanese by Sam Malissa)
  3. The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
  4. Madam by Phoebe Wynne

~July~

  1. The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz
  2. Family Record by Patrick Modiani (Paris in July 2021)
  3. Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly (reread)
  4. The Foreign Girls by Sergio Olguin (Spanish Lit Month 2021)
  5. Double Blind by Edward St. Aubyn
  6. The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain (Paris in July 2021)

~August~

  1. Falling by T. J. Newman
  2. Sleep of Memory by Patrick Modiano (translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti)
  3. The Promise by Damon Galgut (Booker Prize 2021 long list)
  4. The Cipher by Isabella Maldonado
  5. second place by Rachel Cusk (Booker Prize 2021 long list)
  6. China Room by Sunjeer Sahota (Booker Prize 2021 long list)
  7. Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford (Booker Prize 2021 long list)

~September~

  1. The Second Women by Louise Mey (translated from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie) R.I.P. XVI
  2. Hour of The Witch by Chris Bohjalian (DNF)
  3. The Duchess by Wendy Holden

~October~

  1. Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice (the 1976 club and R.I.P. XVI (for #1976 Club and R.I.P. XVI)
  2. Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok (Book club)
  3. The Perfect Family by Robyn Harding
  4. The Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas (translated from the French by Frank Wynne)

~November~

  1. The Golden Cage by Camilla Lackberg (translated from the Swedish)
  2. Apeirogon by Colum McCann
  3. Silver Tears by Camilla Lackberg (translated from the Swedish)
  4. Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

~December~

  1. The Eye of The World by Robert Jordan
  2. Verity by Colleen Hoover
  3. The Perfect Marriage by Jeneva Rose
  4. The New Testament
  5. The Woman In The Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura (translated from the Japanese by Lucy North)
  6. The Collective by Alison Gaylin

2021: My Year in Books

If we read to expand our world, to understand another perspective, or to grow in cultural awareness, I could not be more pleased with the books that comprise my top ten for 2021. From thinking about fertility and parental roles with Breasts and Eggs by Meiko Kawakami, to running with no place to hide in The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, I could feel the despair in each character’s position. I cried when I finished the Edgar Award winning novel, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara, so distraught was I by the alternating hope and horror found in a poverty stricken section of India. I discovered a new-to-me detective series which I loved, and will continue in 2022, with Ragnar Jonassan’s first book of The Dark Iceland series: Snowblind. And, the longlist for the International Booker Prize rarely disappoints (even though the choice for the winning book often does). Both Minor Detail by Adania Shibli, and Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichy brought me face to face with situations I couldn’t even imagine, so beyond my experiences were they. The Second Woman by Louise Mey showed me the helplessness of a woman abused by her husband, while Verity by Colleen Hoover took a whole new spin on truth: which was the correct explanation of behavior from this misunderstood and manipulative wife? It is up to the reader to decide.

Here are my ten favorite books of 2021:

  1. Breasts and Eggs by Meiko KawakamI
  2. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 2021)
  3. Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson (Dark Iceland series, book one)
  4. Minor Detail by Adania Shibli
  5. Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichy
  6. The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz
  7. Double Blind by Edward St. Aubyn
  8. The Second Woman by Louise Mey (translated from the French by Louise Rogers)
  9. The Mad Women’s Ball by Victoria Mass (translated from the French by Frank Wynne
  10. Verity by Colleen Hoover

And here is a breakdown of the languages I read in translation this year, although these statistics are probably for my own interest more than anyone else’s:

  • Japanese
  • German
  • Gikuyu
  • Russian
  • Arabic
  • French
  • Georgian
  • Swedish
  • Spanish
  • Danish
  • Icelandic
  • Hebrew

I read for the Japanese Literature Challenge 14, and am preparing to begin the Japanese Literature Challenge 15 on January 1, 2022. Don’t forget that in the blog-o-sphere, and social media, there is also #JanuaryinJapan begun by Tony.

I read with the Shadow Panel for the 2021 International Booker Prize, which is always a highlight of my reading year. I also read for the R.I.P. XVI (@PerilReaders on Twitter), Spanish Lit Month, and Paris in July. Finally, it is so fun to read books for the clubs hosted by Kaggsy and Simon. This year, I read for the #1976 Club with them.

While 2021 brought the end of my private domain (dolcebellezza.net), I am finding more freedom in residing here (dolcebellezza2.wordpress.com). Fifteen years is a long time to write a blog, although some of my blogging friends have been doing it for that amount of time or longer. But, I find myself less likely to join memes, to read American best sellers, or to divulge much of my personal life anymore. And so, I wander in and out of the blogs on my list, and take pleasure in reading events that were born a decade or so ago.

As ever, I am grateful to those of you who still visit, leave comments, and participate in reading events with me. I am really looking forward to the Japanese Literature Challenge 15, having already lined up my selection which you can peruse in my sidebar.

Please accept my hopes for the best new year ever, and a continuation of our reading pleasures!

Sunday Salon: Origami Ornaments and Two Japanese Literature Books

“When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”

Matthew 2: 9-10

Bible Study Fellowship International has been studying the book of Matthew this year. How perfect it is, then, that I can fold each member of my group a star in remembrance of that which appeared before the Wise Men.

These are only seven of the sixteen I folded yesterday. While my hands are a little sore, there is nothing I like quite so much as origami ornaments on my tree.

Here is a geometrical one, of many, which hangs on a miniature tree in our dining room. I don’t even recall how to fold it, as I made it many years ago with paper my parents brought back from one of their trips. True Japanese paper is very forgiving, almost like cloth; perhaps that is one of the reasons I like it for Christmas…

Ever since I put up the announcement for the Japanese Literature Challenge 15, I have been thrilled to see the response. There is a desire to continue with it, and #January in Japan, even after a decade and a half. So, I am compiling a list of my own, too, and I was thrilled to discover these two books at our local library:

There’s No Such Thing As An Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura was published November 26, 2020. Bloomsbury Publishing says, “This is the first time Kikuko Tsumura–winner of Japan’s most prestigious literary award–has been translated into English. There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job is as witty as it is unsettling–a jolting look at the maladies of late capitalist life through the unique and fascinating lens of modern Japanese culture.”

The Woman In The Purple Skirt by Natsukawa Imamura. Penguin Random House says, “A bestselling, prizewinning novel by one of Japan’s most acclaimed young writers, for fans of Convenience Store Woman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, and the movies Parasite and Rear Window.”

So, I will definitely begin with these before moving on to others such as Haruki Murakami’s latest, Murakami T: The T-Shirts I Love.

And you? Are you planning to make anything to decorate your tree? Or, something to read for the Japanese Literature Challenge 15?

Any interest?

Photo of Tokyo taken from our hotel window, 2018

I am beginning to receive inquiries about hosting the Japanese Literature Challenge. When I notice the many venues for reading Japanese literature, such as are on Instagram for example, I wonder if there is interest in reading here as we have done?

Do let me know if you would like to read for the Japanese Literature Challenge 15 this year (from January through February). I have several books awaiting me, and I am certainly glad to sponsor some prizes of a literary nature.

If there is interest, I will begin setting up a review site and spreading the word.

Domo arigato!

(Thank you!)

Hello Again (and a few thoughts on Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout)

I haven’t been writing in my blog very much; well, not at all this November. But, I have been writing in the Onion Skin Journal. I began keeping a book journal this month because I miss the analogue ways I used for most of my life. I miss the tangible quality of paper which doesn’t have any glare or require any outlets.

The pages of this journal are so thin that I only write on one side of them. Otherwise, the ghosting would be so severe it would be hard to read either side with ease. The ink of my fountain pen makes the pages crinkle lusciously, and it is quite satisfying to flip through them as I reread the quotes I have written down to remember.

Such as the quotes from my latest book: Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout. She writes in such an intimate, and authoritative, way that I can’t help but wonder if it is somewhat autobiographical. It even feels biographical for me. How could she know me? She can’t, of course, and yet her thoughts seem so similar to some of my own, such as this:

Grief is such a – oh, it is such a solitary thing; this is the terror of it, I think. It is like sliding down the outside of a really long glass building while nobody sees you.

p. 3

and:

I have always thought that if there was a big corkboard and on that board was a pin for every person who ever lived, there would be no pin for me.

I feel invisible is what I mean.

p. 62

and:

People are lonely, is my point here. Many people can’t say to those they know well what it is they feel they might want to say.

p. 119

These are only a few examples, of course, from pages of lines I have written down. Her words are so piercing, so beautiful, as she tells about her life and her relationship with William. They once were married, but now they are friends. I love that they have found peace with one another.

Loneliness. Peace with one another. These are some of the themes I am contemplating in anticipation of Thanksgiving this week. I have invited a woman I know who is alone; I can’t bear people to be alone especially on such a holiday as this one, where one’s blessings are celebrated.

I don’t want anyone to slide down a glass building with no one noticing.

the 1976 club and R.I.P. XVI: Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice

The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel

If I liked Interview With The Vampire at all, it is only for the way that it emphasized all that I believe to be true.

Not vampires, of course. I don’t believe vampires to be true. And, the more I heard Louis tell his story in an interview conducted by a boy with a reel-to-reel tape recorder (this was published in 1976, remember?), the more I saw his distress as that which would belong to anyone who doesn’t believe in God.

When Louis is not convinced by his brother’s visions that they must sell the family plantation “to do God’s work in France,” his brother falls from the head of the brick stairs and breaks his neck. Louis is overcome with guilt and turns to drink…and then one night he is attacked by the vampire, Lestat.

After becoming a vampire himself, Louis and Lestat stage a fire and flee, embarking on a life which involves sleeping in coffins, drinking blood from living creatures or humans, and as far as I can see, general discontent.

Louis is never happy being a vampire. He sees a young girl crying over her dead mother in a poverty-stricken area of New Orleans, and takes her to be his own child. He turns her into a vampire, for which she can never forgive him, and they have this bizarre parent-child, love relationship. Claudia can never grow to be a woman in bodily form, nor can she outgrow her resentment to Louis although it seems that at some level she does love him.

They leave their town house in New Orleans, and Lestat, for Paris. Eventually they meet Armand, a vampire who invites them to the Theatre, and there they witness a most erotic play in which a woman is taken by a vampire to the thrill of all the vampires in the audience.

Through the course of the interview, as Louis is disclosing the details of his story, I was struck by passages which I recorded in my reading journal. These, I think, are the essence of what matters in this novel. For if anything can be considered horrific in Louis’ life, it is the despair he feels at all he has seen and done, the despair at who he has become.

Favorite quotes:

I sold my soul for a many-colored and luminescent thing, thinking that a highly reflective surface conveyed the power to walk on water.

~Louis (page 276)

and…

“I wanted love and goodness in this which is living death,” I said. “It was impossible from the beginning, because you cannot have love and goodness when you do what you know to be evil, what you know to be wrong.”

~Louis (page 336)

and…

“Whether a man would have died tomorrow or the day after or eventually…it doesn’t matter. Because if God does not exist, this life…every second of it…is all we have.”

~Louis (page 237)

It brought to my mind this verse from the New Testament:

If our hope in Christ is for this life alone, we are to be pitied more than all men.

1 Corinthians 15:19

Mailbox Monday

These are the books which came into my mailbox last week:

Translated from the Arabic by Leri Price

Planet of Clay by Samar Yazbek came to me from World Editions. It is longlisted for the 2022 National Book Award for Translated Literature.

An ode to fantasy and beauty in the midst of war-torn Damascus

Rima, a young girl from Damascus, longs to walk, to be free to follow the will of her feet, but instead is perpetually constrained. She finds refuge in a fantasy world full of colored crayons, secret planets, and The Little Prince, reciting passages of the Qur’an like a mantra as everything and everyone around her is blown to bits. Since Rima hardly ever speaks, people think she’s crazy, but she is no fool—the madness is in the battered city around her. One day while taking a bus through Damascus, a soldier opens fire and her mother is killed. Rima, wounded, is taken to a military hospital before her brother leads her to the besieged area of Ghouta—where, between bombings, she writes her story. In Planet of Clay, Samar Yazbek offers a surreal depiction of the horrors taking place in Syria, in vivid and poetic language and with a sharp eye for detail and beauty.

Planet of Clay will be published October 5, 2021.)

Translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett

My Annihilation is the latest thriller from Fuminori Nakamura, who is a Japanese literary sensation.

What transforms a person into a killer? Can it be something as small as a suggestion?

Turn this page, and you may forfeit your entire life.

With My Annihilation, Fuminori Nakamura, master of literary noir, has constructed a puzzle box of a narrative in the form of a confessional diary that implicates its reader in a heinous crime. 

Delving relentlessly into the darkest corners of human consciousness, My Annihilation reveals with disturbing honesty the psychological motives of a killer. While all humans have unspeakable thoughts, only monsters act on them.

(My Annihilation will be published on January 11, 2022.)

Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter

Whenever a new book is published by Peirene Press, I am quite eager to get my hands on it. Their books have often been included with the contenders for the International Booker Award, and they have never disappointed me. Winter Flowers by Angelique Villeneuve is Peirene Title No. 36, about how “one small family must learn to live together again.” ~Claire Fuller

It’s October 1918 and the war is drawing to a close.

Toussaint Caillet returns home to his wife, Jeanne, and the young daughter he hasn’t seen growing up. He is not coming back from the front line but from the department for facial injuries at Val-de-Grâce military hospital, where he has spent the last two years.

For Jeanne, who has struggled to endure his absence and the hardships of wartime, her husband’s return marks the beginning of a new battle. With the promise of peace now in sight, the family must try to stitch together a new life from the tatters of what they had before.

(Winter Flowers is available for preorder, and will be published October 7, 2021.)

You can find more books which have lately entered readers’ homes at Mailbox Monday, here.