Category Archives: Japanese Literature

Read 22 of 2022. The Village of Eight Graves by Seishi Yokomizo. Translated from the Japanese by Bryan Karetnyk

The Village of Eight Graves by Seishi Yokomizo

Title: The Village of Eight Graves
Author: Seishi Yokomizo
Translated from the Japanese by Bryan Karetnyk
Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo
ISBN: 978-1782277453
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 352
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 2.5/5

I was so looking forward to reading a good mystery and was disappointed to some extent by this read. The pacing clearly was one of the major reasons for this. It went on to become too long after a certain point, and I wish it had ended earlier.

Tatsuya Terada has been invited to become the heir of a wealthy Tajimi family in a remote mountain village. The village gets its name from a bloody legend of eight samurais who were murdered by the inhabitants in the 16th century, letting loose a curse. Recently someone from the Tajimi family has murdered thirty-two villagers.

Tatsuya goes to the village only to become the prime suspect. Enter, Kosuke Kindaichi – a very hapless detective trying to solve the murders.

The writing is interesting in the first half and then it loses steam in the second half. I found myself getting bored and I wish there was more to the unfolding of the story. The characters are well-rounded and yet the plot doesn’t take it any far. The translation by Bryan Karetnyk manages to give the reader the much-needed imagination when it comes to a mystery and maintain the hold on conversation as well.

The Village of Eight Graves could’ve been so much more and isn’t. It would for sure make for a great binge-worthy Netflix series, but as a book it disappointed me for sure.

Read 3 of 2022. In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. Translated from the Japanese by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker

In Praise of Shadows by Jun'Ichirō Tanizaki

Title: In Praise of Shadows Author: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Translated from the Japanese by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker Publisher: Vintage Classics
ISBN: 9781784875572
Genre: Nonfiction, Design
Pages: 128
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I have always wanted to read this book, and #JanuaryinJapan made me get to it sooner than later. I must say though that I loved it through and through, no matter how outdated some of the ideas may seem in today’s time and age.

Tanizaki’s book is about shadows and light when it comes to Japanese architecture or the layout of a home, but it is so much more than that as well. It is about how we approach darkness and the significance we give to light. Tanizaki appreciates shadows and the role they play not only in aesthetically but also in our lives and what they say about us as people.

It is about how shadows are all-pervasive in our ordinary lives and thereby then extending to the ordinariness of living and what encompasses it. When Tanizaki speaks of woodwork, sliding doors, walls and the projection of shadows on them, Japanese houses, the traditional restaurants, candle lights, and Japanese toilets, it all fits beautifully and merges with the reality of living, where harshness of light is preferred to the understated beauty of darkness.

Japanese aesthetic got me then thinking of how we also live our lives – more tuned to Western aesthetics than the Oriental and perhaps that leads to more restlessness and anxiety. Like I said, the book does seem outdated when it comes to some concepts of space and light and shadow but overall, it is a wonderful primer on not just design but also on how to live in the modern age.

Books and Authors mentioned in In Praise of Shadows: 

  • Natsume Sōseki
  • Saito Ryoku
  • Kôtei
  • Takebayashi Musôan
  • Pillow of Grass by Nastume Sōseki
  • Some Prefer Nettles
  • The Makioka Sisters
  • The Key
  • Diary of a Mad Old Man
  • The Mother of Captain Shigemoto
  • Seven Japanese Tales by Howard and Hibbett
  • The Tale of Genji
  • Susan Sontag

 

Abandon the Old in Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Abandon the Old in Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Title: Abandon the Old in Tokyo
Author: Yoshihiro Tatsumi 
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly 
ISBN: 978-1770460775
Genre: Comics, Short Stories, Graphic Short Stories 
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 4/5 

So, I have just finished reading, “Abandon the Old in Tokyo” by Yohishiro Tatsumi – the father of “gekiga” (he coined the term, and its literal meaning is dramatic pictures), aimed at adult audiences with more mature themes. This collection of comics is just that. Eight stories with themes dealing with existentialism or morbidity that stuns you.

These comics explore the murky side of humans, of the society we live in, and constantly through the use of allegory or metaphor bring that to fore. What I found most remarkable was how it was all achieved through the medium of minimal words in the comic panels, relying heavily only on the power of art.

The collection delves deep into the underbelly of Tokyo and the life of its residents in the 60s and the 70s. Most stories deal with economic hardship, loneliness, longing to better their circumstances, and estranged relationships. Everything is played out not-so-neatly – the twists and the turns are immense, and somehow to me they also seemed subtle. For instance, “Unpaid” for me was the darkest story of them all – of how a bankrupt businessman deals with life by connecting with a dog (you will understand the twist when you read it). Another favourite was the title story, about the relationship between a young man and his mother, and what happens when he wants to start living on his own.

Tatsumi’s characters are ordinary. They lead ordinary lives, and perhaps aspire for a little more than what life has offered. He symbolises or at least tries to symbolise the mass – the everyone, and how drama is played out in their lives, sometimes much against their wish. Even though the stories are set in a different time, and even written in a different time, they make their presence felt through crowds, manholes, buses, trains, restaurants, and the ordinary that still exist and will continue to. His art and the words that accompany them complement each other throughout. Your emotions are tested – since some of the vignettes aren’t easy to handle. Yet, you must read Tatsumi. Start with this. Get introduced to a softer version of the gekiga. Highly recommend it.

Once and Forever: The Tales of Kenji Miyazawa by Kenji Miyazawa. Translated from the Japanese by John Bester.

Once and Forever Title: Once and Forever: The Tales of Kenji Miyazawa
Author: Kenji Miyazawa
Translated from the Japanese by John Bester
Publisher: New York Review Books Classics
ISBN: 978-1681372600
Genre: Mythology, Folktales, Folklore
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The month of May is also a slow one. A slow reading month. But this one was worth the time spent on it. Two dozen tales of joy, innocence, whimsical, sometimes tragic – but all deeply rooted to Japanese folklore and connected to the flora and fauna of the land.

Miyazawa takes you through a range of emotions with these tales. Whether it is the cautionary tale of “The Restaurant of Many Orders” to the heartlessness of “The Spider, the Slug, and the Raccoon”, Miyazawa had me enthralled and wanting more with every turn of the page.

I don’t think I’ve read something like these tales before. It isn’t about them being magical. But it is about holding your own as well in the face of the traditional ways of life. Most tales are also drawn from Buddhism which I loved. For instance, “A Stem of Lillies” which does incorporate the many images from the Lotus Sutra.

Once and Forever is a book that will stay for me for a long time. It is so underrated and I’m glad that New York Review Books decided to publish these tales. Read it. Lay your hands on it.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa. Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder.

The Memory Police by Yoko OgawaTitle: The Memory Police
Author: Yoko Ogawa
Translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846559495
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations,
Pages: 288
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

This book was on my TBR since the time it was published. I just took a while to get to it, thanks to the International Booker 2020 Longlist, whose shadow panel I am a part of. This book definitely is in my top 5 books from that list and I will tell you why.

The book is set on an unnamed island, where people and objects are disappearing at the hands of an authoritarian force known as The Memory Police. Things you do not seem to remember or know anymore. A rose. A book. A chair. More. It is not about the utility as it is about memory. In all this, is the unnamed protagonist, a writer who is close to her editor, and what happens after.

The Memory Police is  a meditation on loss, insanity when it consumes you, a comment on love, friendship, and what it takes to survive in a totalitarian regime. Memory of course plays a major role, but what hit home was the idea of nostalgia and what it does to you as a person. What you choose to remember, what you forget, and what you have to hide. Ogawa’s writing is subtle, graceful, and full of melancholy – of lost spaces, places, and the role of community when it comes to memories. This book is unlike anything I have read before.

Snyder’s translation to me was pitch perfect. I never felt at any point that some thing was getting lost in the translation or that I needed to know more. With translations that’s always the thing – the need to either know more or not. The Memory Police hits that raw never while reading, also providing that comfort at times (rarely), and making you see the world where you must do what it takes to maintain your sanity, humanity and remember.