The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Book Three: The Birdcatcher (October 1984-December 1985)

Book Two ended with Toru having a blue-black mark on his cheek, the size and shape of a baby’s palm. He does not know how he got it any more than he knows how to get rid of it, and like everything else in these strange series of events, he seems quite accepting. In fact, other than his pursuit for Kumiko, I find him to be a terribly passive person.

When his uncle told him to “stand on a street corner somewhere day after day and look at people who come by there,” (p. 328) Toru does just that, although he ends up at the Shinjuku city center. He looks for hours at people’s faces, and only one person connects with him. A woman comes to sit by him who is well dressed, meticulously, in fact, and at their second meeting she asks him to come with her. She purchases him new clothes, new shoes, a new watch, and gets him a haircut. She introduces herself as Nutmeg Akasaka, as Toru insists on having her name; her equally meticulous son she calls “Cinnamon.”

As a young boy, Cinnamon witnessed two men outside of his window, in the middle of the night, digging around a tree. And then one put something inside it, which Cinnamon discovered to be a heart. Since then, he does not speak. He moves his lips, and his fingers convey messages, but he has no voice.

And then one evening, a total stranger is sitting in Tori’s darkened living room. He introduces himself as Ushikawa, but “everybody calls me Ushi.” As he works for Noboru Wataya, he promises to find a way for Kumiko and Toru to be reunited, if Toru will “cut all connections with this ‘hanging house.’ Which means the house with the well that Toru sits within, thinking.

When Cinnamon comes to visit Toru, bringing groceries and cleaning his home, it becomes clear that Toru works for Cinnamon and his mother in some capacity. She has clients, who wish to remain anonymous, and for that purpose Cinnamon has set up an impenetrable wall of security, both digitally and in the physical world.

Nutmeg and her mother had escaped from Manchuria to Japan. On the way, an American submarine surfaced next to the transporter they were on, and it seemed that all the passengers would be killed. Much like what happened to the animals at the zoo, where Nutmeg’s father, who was the chief veterinarian with a blue-black mark on his cheek, worked.

The themes of war, in Asia, are clear and horrific. They are almost unbearable to read and write about. Yet, it is about Kumiko and Toru which I am most interested. When the cat comes back, unexpectedly, the reader senses that Kumiko, too, will come back. But, this is the quest which Toru is on: bringing his wife back no matter what. And to me, the mysterious characters sprinkled throughout the novel, serve to point him in the right direction towards accomplishing this feat.

By infiltrating the complex computer system which Cinnamon has set up, Toru and Kumiko are able to converse. Briefly. And then, while in the bottom of the well, Toru is able to get through the wall into Room 208, the one with the heavy scent of flowers and a woman in bed who will not let him shine the light on her face. (I believe this woman to be the one who called Toru on page one, asking him how well one knows anyone. I believe it is also Kumiko; they are one and the same.)

Eventually, Kumiko explains the hateful, evil person that is brother, Noboru. He ruins everything he comes in contact with, from their sister, to the “imaginary” Creta whom he violated. Kumiko will not rest until she kills him, then turns herself in. “I am calm with the thought that I will have to obliterate his life from this world. I have to do it for his sake too. And, to give my own life meaning.” (p. 603)

So, here are some thoughts I hold about each character:

  • Toru’s purpose is to bring back Kumiko.
  • Kumiko’s purpose is to vanquish her brother, Noboru.
  • Noboru’s purpose is to destroy everything in his path, in order to gain power.
  • Nutmeg’s purpose is to overcome the terrible poverty and sorrow in her life by becoming involved in fashion, and making those around her “heal” in her “fitting room.”
  • Cinnamon’s purpose is to support his mother, while dealing with the image of the heart he found, buried in the ground, which I believe to be his father’s.
  • May’s purpose is to challenge Toru in his search, sometimes deliberately blocking him so that he will persevere, sometimes standing by his side in friendship.
  • Mr. Honda’s purpose is to tell Toru to think hard, and long, and maybe getting his wife back was a more important job than being a lawyer for right now.
  • Lieutenant Mamiya’s purpose was to shed light on the atrocities of war.

What do you think? Do you agree with any of my suppositions? It seems to me that Murakami has written an incredible labyrinth of lives intertwined, perhaps encouraging us to go into some “well” of our own to consider what it is that has been done to us; what it is that we must overcome, or discover, or fight for.

The Shadow Panel for the 2022 International Booker Prize Chooses its Winner


We have read, and sometimes reread, all the books on the International Booker Prize long-list. We have entered scores in a Google spreadsheet for each of these categories: writing, content and longevity. We have met on Zoom, both with ourselves and with translators Anton Hur and Daisy Rockwell. And, we have ”thrashed out” our opinions on Slack. Arriving at the winner for this year’s International Booker Prize was exhilarating and thought provoking. It is some of the best reading and discussing of literature in translation that I do all year.

Our shortlist differed from the official shortlist only by replacing The Books of Jacob and Heaven with Happy Stories, Mostly and The Book of Mother. Therefore, our final vote revealed these results:

6th place: The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman, translated by Leslie Camhi

5th place: Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu, translated by Tiffany Tsao

4th place: A New Name by Jon Fosse, translated by Damion Searls

3rd place: Elena Knows, by Claudia Piñeiro translated by Frances Riddle

2nd place: Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell

1st place: Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, translated by Anton Hur

It may be interesting to note that Tomb of Sand was behind Cursed Bunny by one point in our scoring.

Also, while those two quickly emerged as the favorites, I must stand by my personal choice of A New Name by Jon Fosse. While it is not necessarily a stand-alone book, for it is part VI-VII of Septology, the brilliance with which it is written, and translated, is undeniable. I understand that my fellow jurors questioned A New Name’s ability to win, as it is more fulfilling to read the two books which came before (The Other Name and I Is Another). Of course, I agree; it is best to read all three books in Septology to get their full effect. However, the reflection on his life that the main character makes is made all the more profound by Fosse’s use of flowing sentences with no periods, by words and themes which repeat each other, by the comparison of another life in the shadow of Asle’s. To me, no other book compares. In fact, I was unable to read any book, for several weeks, after finishing A New Name.

And so it is that we conclude this year’s round of shadowing the International Booker Prize. May I commend the insight and brilliance of my fellow panelists: Stu, Paul, David, Frances, Oisin, Vivek and most especially Tony, who tirelessly led us through it all. I respect each of you more than you know, and thank you for continually broadening my reading horizons.

Sunday Salon: Twenty Books of Summer, a Taste of Spring in Illinois, and anticipation for the International Booker Prize Winner.

It’s great that Cathy allows flexibility in her Twenty Books of Summer challenge because I have been tossing around lists in my mind since she first announced it. “Should I cull all the books I’ve wanted to reread?” I asked myself, for they are legion.

“Or, should I read all the review copies which have been sent my way this Spring while I was focusing on the International Booker Prize list?” (and what an exceptional list it is!).

“Maybe the best thing to do is open the Japanese literature books that I gathered for the Japanese Literature Challenge 15 but never got around to reading…,” I thought, and that is how I’ve decided to begin.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami is, of course, a reread for me. But, all the others are new, especially Fish Swimming in Dappled Sunlight by Riku Onda. The WSJ says this of it: “Part psychological thriller, part murder mystery – it is audacious in conception and brilliant in execution.” I am so eager to begin this book sent to me by Bitter Lemon Press.

I must confess to already beginning Me by Tomoyuki Hoshino, as I have been listening to it on my walks. Publishers Weekly says, “Hoshino’s ambitious novel is pleasingly uncomfortable,” which indeed it it. It seems there is a bit of unreliable narrator going on, and I can see that it will look deeply at what our identity is. I particularly anticipate the afterword by Kenzaburo Oe. (You can find a review on Tony’s Reading List, who clearly has read it before I have.)

The rest include The Roads to Sata, Lonely Castle in the Mirror, and people from my neighborhood. Each one calls my name in its own way, as I am so hungry for Japan. Perhaps some of these may appeal to you, too?

May I show you a few pictures from our walks this Spring? Truly, Illinois has its beautiful moments. Before we get to our ghastly summers, which my husband aptly calls Hell’s Front Porch.

Finally, this week brings us the winner of the International Booker Prize, which will be announced on Thursday, May 26. Our Shadow Jury will declare our winner before that, and I will tell you they are strongly inclined to choose Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree, translated by Daisy Rockwell, or Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung, translated by Anton Hur. I, however, will never sway from my opinion that Jon Fosse’s Septology is far and away the best I have read in years. So much so that when I finished A New Name it was many weeks before I could even read another book.

It’s World Book Day! Celebrate with ten free books in translation from Amazon…

Click here.

Included amongst the titles are a travel memoir from Bolivia, literary fiction from Tunisia, a memoir from Ghana, psychological thrillers from the Netherlands, historical fiction from Israel, book club fiction from India, contemporary fiction from Japan, fantasy from China, and a children’s book from Venezuela.


The Puma Years by Laura Coleman: “The rapturous story of one woman’s liberating journey in the Amazon jungle, where she fell in love with a magnificent cat who changed her life.”

The Ardent Swarm by Yamen Manai: ”A stirring allegory about a country in the aftermath of revolution and the power of a single quest.” (translated by Lara Vergnaud)

North to Paradise by Ousman Umar: ”The inspiring true story of one man’s treacherous boyhood journey from a rural village in Ghana to the streets of Barcelona.” (translated by Kevin Gerry Dunn)

Where The Desert Meets The Sea by Wernie Sonne: ”A heart-stirring story where the boundaries of love and friendship are challenged by the intractable conflicts of war.” (translated by Steve Anderson)

An Eye for An Eye by Carol Wyer: ”A detective spiraling out of control works to uncover the truth and stop an elusive killer before they strike again.”

The Other Man by Farhad J. Dadyburjor: ”A heartwarming and transporting romantic comedy about finding happy ever after on your own terms.”

The Easy Life In Kamusari by Shion Miura ”In this lively coming-of-age tale, a young man is thrust from city life into the trials, mysteries, and delights of a mythical mountain forest.” (translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter)

Mother Dear by Nova Lee Maier “A nightmarish home invasion prompts one woman to do the unthinkable to protect her family.” (translated by Jozef van der Voort)

To The Sky Kingdom by Tang Qi: ”Spanning a millennium of tangled lives, this story delves into the powerful forces that drive mortals and gods alike toward revenge, loyalty—and love.” (translated by Poppy Toland)

The Caiman by Maria Manrique: ”The unforgettable story of how one man’s friendship with his alligator sparked a lasting legacy.” (translated by Amy Brill)

Thank you so much, Amazon, for honoring this day by gifting us ten free books from around the world! I have already downloaded all ten for my kindle, and wonder if you’ll do the same?

Sunday Salon: Midway through the International Booker Prize 2022 longlist, and wondering about books which shock us

Herrick Lake

Reading has always been an open path for me. It is the route to escape, joy, adventure, companionship, and with my appreciation of of translated literature, developed about ten years ago, the understanding of other cultures. So, reading the #IBP22 long list is a special anticipation for me every year.

This year’s list, in my opinion, is particularly brilliant. I am only half way through it, but I have read of mothers with Parkinson’s and manic depression, daughters who love them, Polish Jews from the 1700s, and a head coming out of a toilet made of fecal matter and trash. Wait, what?

There are those readers who thrive on bold writing. Writing in which the author knows no boundaries in imagination, vivid imagery, and horror to capture our attention in conveying their point. While I admire the audacity required to write like this, I personally struggle with feeling disgust at the same time.

Brave souls in our Shadow Panel adore this kind of writing, the kind written by Fernanda Melchor and Bora Chung. What does it say about me who likes other books better? Do I expect the world to fit into a neat concept of “ironed tablecloths, bone china, and polished silverware for tea”? No, our world is full of rags, chipped pottery, and no utensils at all for food which can scarcely be found. I know that…

I read for pleasure. I read for increased understanding. I read for enlightenment and new awareness. But, I inwardly struggle with books which highlight the grotesque. Do you?

The International Booker Prize 2022 Longlist

The 13 long listed novels have been announced. They are works of fiction translated into English from 11 languages and originate from 12 countries across four continents – including Hindi for the first time.

The Booker Prizes

I am incredibly excited about this list and so eager to read all of it, especially in conjunction with the Shadow Panel of blogging friends:

Look for our review on our blogs and social media to find our thoughts on this most promising long list. Especially beloved by me so far are Heaven by Meiko Kawakami (which also fits nicely the Japanese Literature Challenge 15) and A New Name by Jon Fosse…

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. 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?

Japanese Literature Challenge 12 (State of the Challenge #8, and the winner of Desire by Haruki Murakami)

img_0312Strange Weather in Tokyo, giving us a heartfelt response similar to the one I experienced myself after reading it. (Although my edition of the same book was entitled The Briefcase, oddly enough.)

Juliana has done a masterful job of reviewing The Pillow Book by writing a letter to Sei Shōnagon here.

Andrew Blackman has also read The Pillow Book, mentioning it in his February post, promising to publish his thoughts which I am eager to read.

I have read and adored The Emissary and Hideo Yokoyama’s latest book, Seventeen.

As promised, I have a winner for Desire which was offered as a giveaway last Thursday. The easiest, and fairest, way to find a winner was to simply pull a name from those who left a comment on the original post. And so, I am pleased to announce that Abby has won this particular book. I will email you, Abby, to ask for your mailing address. Thanks to all who entered and enjoy Japanese literature!