The Japanese Literature Challenge 15: January through March, 2022

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.)

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!)

Sunday Salon…It’s October!

Sculpture by Yayoi Kusama installed on the pier of Naoshima Island

Last year I was so eager for autumn that I put up the few decorations I like at the end of August. It was a little lot too soon. By the time Halloween rolled around, I was thoroughly tired of the glass pumpkins we bought at the Morton Arboretum, the dried chestnuts we found at the dog park, and even the candy we’d purchased in preparation for Trick-or-treaters.

But, this year I waited until yesterday. Now I am sitting with gold velvet pillows, and a few small, paper bats from my classroom days, and pine cones from our front yard; it all feels very autumnal. These days hold great joy for me, largely in anticipation of cooler temperatures!

I have such exciting reads awaiting me. For both the R.I.P. XVI (@PerilReaders) and the 1976 club, I am planning to read Interview With the Vampire. Published May 5, 1976, when I was a mere sophomore in high school, this famous book is yet unread by me.

And, looking on to November I find myself greatly anticipating German Lit Month XI. There will be a read-along of The Passenger, which is an incredible read; I will be looking forward to that discussion. But, in perusing the selection of German literature from various prize lists, I came across In Times of Fading Light by Eugen Ruge (translated from the German by Anthea Bell).

An inter-generational family saga mirroring the rise and fall of the GDR, Eugen Ruge’s autobiographical debut novel tells of an imagined East German utopia and the ultimate failure of communism.

~Deutsche Welle

I am always so interested in Germany, ever since living there for several years while the wall was still up. Our landlord’s father was from East Germany; while he was visiting friends in West Germany the wall was erected. He never saw his family again. The buildings in our little town were riddled with bullet holes from WWII, and there seemed to be no men my father’s age. It was the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing war on a personal level.

Perhaps the stories from those who survived a communist or socialist government are suitable for the R.I.P. Challenge as well.

And you? Will you be reading for any of these challenges this October or November?

(Find more thoughts for the Sunday Salon here.)

Happy International Translation Day!

Today, September 30, marks a special day in my reading life. Before I began blogging, I was only aware of the most obvious books in translation, book such as: Anne Frank, The Diary of A Young Girl; Pippi Longstocking; Anna Karenina; Madame Bovary. I was largely unaware that an enormously broad world was waiting for me to discover, thanks to the work of skilled translators.

It is because of them that we are introduced to attitudes, cultures, and ideas far beyond our own. How greatly the world is enriched because we have access to writers through the skills of their translators. 

I am so grateful for their talent, their ability to bring such meaningful fiction to my life. Thank you, translators, for your gifts.

Pictured above, from the bottom up, a few of my newest additions:

The Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki T’sujimura (translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel)

Waiting for the Waters To Rise by Maryse Conde (translated from the French by Richard Philcox) longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature

Planet of Clay by Samar Yazbek (translated from the Arabic by Leri Price) longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature

The Movement by Petra Hulova (translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker)

Winter Flowers by Angelique Villanueve (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter)

The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse (translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls)

I Is Another: Septology III-V by Jon Fosse (translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls)

A New Name: Septology VI-VIII  by Jon Fosse (translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls)

Spotlight on The Duchess by Wendy Holden

As I read The Duchess, a novel about Wallis Simpson, I could not keep from discussing it with my mother on our weekly walks. Perhaps the author, Wendy Holden, did not mean to draw comparisons to Meghan Markle, and yet the more we talked about the novel, the more similar the two women seem to be.

Consider the photos below. Both women are dressed in light clothing, with their husbands practically cowering behind them. It makes one wonder what kind of power they wield.

Meghan Markle and Harry

Wallis Simpson did not come from a stable background. Her mother fought for their survival the best she could, but that did little to assuage the better life that Wallis yearned for.

First, she married a man from the Navy, who belittled and abused her. Then, she married a man who seemed content with a simple life while she hungered for a better apartment, a better place among the social elite. After much effort, Wallis gains an introduction to those who know Prince Edward. Subsequently, she is invited for a weekend at David’s (Prince Edward) castle, and there begins the hold that she establishes over him.

Wendy Holden gives us the impression of an athletic, almost casual man in the characterization of Prince Edward. His older brother, George, drinks; his younger brother, Bertie, stutters. But, Edward cuts the bracken and bramble from his property, and seems most content to live in the background. One wonders if he ever wanted to be king, or even felt he could with his father’s harsh derision.

For those who wish to know more about history, or are simply interested in an historical love affair with echoes reaching into today, The Duchess is a fascinating read. It is published today, September 28, 2021, by Penguin Random House.

(Listen to a sample here.)

Sunday Salon

“All at once, summer collapsed into fall.” ~ Oscar Wilde

We have been glued to the television for the past two nights, watching and rewatching the footage from 9-11. Somehow, I can never tear myself away. How clearly I remember my husband calling me from Zurich, as I stopped at the end of our driveway with the brick of a Nokia in my hand. “They think someone has attacked the Trade Center in New York,” he said, as this was well before it was clear that we were, indeed, attacked. All day long, the teachers stuck their heads in the lounge to catch a glimpse of the news; no one had smartphones then, or laptops, or computers on our desks. It was probably a good thing because we were better able to keep the children calm throughout the day.

Now twenty years later, I am watching the adults who were children when one or more of their parents were taken from them. I am listening to the people whose partner was taken from them that day. So much was taken from us; my husband’s department with Zurich Insurance was closed down six months later, due to all the claims, but the loss of a job is nothing compared to the loss of a life.

I enjoyed finding new pumpkins in the garden yesterday, as they showed me how life carries on. Some rogue creature must have planted the seeds from last year’s autumnal display. Unbeknownst to us, they are growing of their own accord. And thankfully, Illinois has a respite from the dreadful humidity. I can’t tell you how miserable it’s been to be so hot for so long…at least for me.

This week is the beginning of Bible Study Fellowship, where I will lead a group of women as we study the book of Matthew. How wonderful it is to be teaching again, although this time I will be with adults, and it will be more of a facilitating job than a teaching job. The theme is Unexpected, and I love that, for so much that comes to us is, after all, unexpected.

I have finished Pushkin Vertigo’s The Second Woman by Louise Mey for their first ever digital readalong beginning on the 20th, and I have picked up Hour of The Witch by Chris Bohjalian for the R.I.P. XVI. It’s so interesting to me that both of these novels center around women who are “misunderstood” (abused) by their husbands. Although one is a thriller, and the other is historical fiction, they are both quite excellent.

Finally, I am greatly anticipating the announcement of the Booker Prize longlist for 2021. From my Booker Prize email: ”This coming Tuesday, our fabulous Booker dozen of thirteen longlisted novels is being reduced to a shortlist of six. At 4pm BST on Tuesday September 14, you can watch the 2021 shortlist announcement live on our Facebook page and YouTube channel.” I have not had a chance to read all thirteen books of the longlist, but I do hope The China Room by Sunjeev Sahota is included in the shortlist.

I wish a most happy Sunday to all of you, and a joyful week ahead.

R.I.P. XVI and a list of eight books from New Directions

Halloween candy is in the grocery stores, Pumpkin Spice scents are everywhere, and I saw the announcement for the R.I.P. XVI yesterday. While it may be a little early for autumnal things now, it is always fun to anticipate cooler weather and an eerie atmosphere to be lightened with candlelight and hot beverages.

I saw this list of “spooky reads” put out by New Directions publishing last year, and saved it for this one. So, here they are, a few books I’d like to dip into between September 1 and October 31:

The She-Devil in the Mirror by Horacio Castellanos Moya

Love Hotel by Jane Unrue

Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

Dinner by César Aira

The Hall of the Singing Caryatids by Victor Pelevin

Professor Andersen’s Night by Dag Solstad

Mazurka for Two Dead Men by Camilo José Acela

Have you read any of them? Any particular recommendations?

Preparing to read these two books for WIT Month this August


The Easy Life in Kamusari is by Shion Miura, whom you may remember from her earlier work, The Great Passage. (I loved Andrew Blackman’s review of it here.)

Amazon Crossing, which publishes translated literature from around the world, describes The Easy Life in Kamusari this way:

From Shion Miura, the award-winning author of The Great Passage, comes a rapturous novel where the contemporary and the traditional meet amid the splendor of Japan’s mountain way of life.

In this warm and lively coming-of-age story, Miura transports us from the trappings of city life to the trials, mysteries, and delights of a mythical mountain forest.

(back cover)

Japan…mountains…mythical forests. I can’t wait to begin this book which will be on sale November, 2021.

I’m also eager to begin Waiting for the Waters to Rise by Maryse Conde, translated from the French by Richard Philcox. It was sent to me by World Editions, who describes it as thus:

A mesmerizing novel from the winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize in Literature.

Babakar is a doctor living alone, with only the memories of his childhood in Mali. In his dreams, he receives visits from his blue-eyed mother and his ex-lover Azelia, both now gone, as are the hopes and aspirations he’s carried with him since his arrival in Guadeloupe. Until, one day, the child Anaïs comes into his life, forcing him to abandon his solitude. Anaïs’s Haitian mother died in childbirth, leaving her daughter destitute—now Babakar is all she has, and he wants to offer this little girl a future. Together they fly to Haiti, a beautiful, mysterious island plagued by violence, government corruption, and rebellion. Once there, Babakar and his two friends, the Haitian Movar and the Palestinian Fouad, three different identities looking for a more compassionate world, begin a desperate search for Anaïs’s family.

(back cover)

It would hardly feel like August, now that I am no longer preparing my classroom, if it wasn’t for Women in Translation Month. How I love these blogging traditions which enrich my world view so much. Do you have anything planned for WIT Month?

Falling by T. J. Newman

“You’re a smart man, Captain Hoffman. Or, can I call you Bill?”

Bill stared at the screen…

“”You see, Bill, you probably already get the obvious. Here’s the rest. You will crash your plane or I will kill your family.”

(p. 29)

I was sent Falling from NetGalley, but I far prefer to read from real paper rather than digital text. So, I grabbed it from the library when I saw it on the Popular Picks shelf last week. This novel is a “guilty pleasure,” which I am reading not necessarily for the content as much as the thrill.

I think it would have become tiresome if it hadn’t been written with such authority. Clearly, the author knows exactly of what she speaks, and that makes this novel work. Her experience, of being a flight attendant for ten years, reveals aspects of the airline business which I have never known, despite flying even international flights many times.

We are given one terrifying scene after another, alternating between the pilot’s family held hostage in their home, and the 144 passengers onboard the aircraft in his charge. We have the angle of the flight attendants and the FBI as well, giving a train wreck from which I could not pull myself away.

It’s such a relief not to be reading a somewhat typical thriller about The Girl/Woman In/Under/By The Fill-in-the-blank. I really enjoyed the pure entertainment of this book.

Sunday Salon: What July Was; What August Will Bring

So many lovely things happened in July. First, there was the discussion of The Brothers Karamazov which I read with Arti of Ripple Effects.

Then, there was Tamara’s Paris in July 2021, during which I read Patrick Modiano for the first time. I also read Antoine Laurain for the first time, and I bought a new perfume created by the house of Molinard. Habanita made its debut in 1921, and it smells divine.

There was Stu’s Spanish Lit Month, for which I read The Foreign Girls by Sergio Olguin, sent to me by Bitter Lemon Press. I am hoping to get to Jose Saramago’s book, Cain, by the end of August.

I have read a bit more than half of my list for Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer, which has changed many times since I originally created it. One of those reasons is that the Booker Prize Longlist was released July 27.

This year’s ‘Booker Dozen’, of 13 novels, is:

Of course, I searched our library for any titles which they might own, and put the ones I found on hold. Quite possibly I will review them, briefly, once they are read.

On August 10 this domain (dolcebellezza.net) will expire, and I am hoping to continue on WordPress’ free site with dolcebellezza2.wordpress.com. Of course, if I open up my blog on August 11 and find nothing, I may have to start over. At any rate, you may begin using dolcebellezza2.wordpress.com right now if you wish; it takes you here anyway.

I have a terrible thirst to reread old favorites. One of my dear friends once asked me, “Why would you spend time rereading when there are so many books yet unread?” But, the thing is, I have so many favorite books that I love so much and I miss them. I also have all five of The Cazalet Chronicles, which are certainly calling from the shelf on which they currently sit.

And so, I begin August with a post for The Sunday Salon hosted by Readerbuzz, joining many others who highlight their reading lives for us. August appears to hold many promises as we enjoy the final days of Summer.