Monday, March 2, 2015

On Memory: New Japanese Writing

The March 2015 issue of online journal (Words without Borders) is edited by guest editor David Karashima and features translated fictions from Yoko Tawada, Kyoko Nakajima, Shun Medoruma, Mitsuyo Kakuta, Keiichiro Hirano, Hideo Furukawa, Toshiyuki Horie, Masashi Matsuie, Mieko Kawakami, Natsuko Kuroda.

On Memory: New Japanese Writing at Words Without Borders

Thursday, February 19, 2015

books for the reading diary - 2015

A quick list of some books in the reading diary for 2015 -

January -
Wild Grass on the River Bank - Ito Hiromi translated by Jeffrey Angles - Action Books
Yellow Rose by Nobuko Yoshiya, translated by Sarah Frederick - Expanded Editions

February -
Cat Town: Selected Poems by Sakutarō Hagiwara, translated by Sato Hiroaki- NYRB/Poets
The Whale That Fell in Love with a Submarine by Nosaka Akiyuki - translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori, illustrated by Mika Provata-Carlone - Pushkin Children's Books
Trash Market by Tsuge Tadao Drawn and Quarterly
Ground Zero, Nagasaki: Stories by Seirai Yuichi, translated by Paul Warham - Columbia University Press
Dendera by Sato Yuya - translated by Nathan A. Collins and Edwin Hawkes - Haikasoru

March -
Seraphim: 266613336 Wings by Satoshi Kon and Ishii Mamoru - Dark Horse Comics

April -
I Want to Kick You in the Back - Wataya Risa, translated by Julianne Neville - One Peace Books
The Book of Tokyo: A City in Short Fiction - edited by Michael Emmerich - Comma Press

May -
Dream Fossil: The Complete Stories of Satoshi Kon by Satoshi Kon - Vertical Inc
Red Girls - The Legend of Akakuchibas by Sakuraba Kazuki - Haikasoru

July -
The Silver Spoon: Memoir of A Boyhood in Japan by Kansuke Naka, translated by Hiroaki Sato
The Secret of the Blue Glass by Inui Tomiko translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori - Pushkin Children's Books

August -
Ten Nights Dreaming by Natsume Soseki, translated by Matt Treyvaud - Dover Books
Goth by Otsuichi - Haikasoru
Wind/Pinball:Two Early Novels by Murakami Haruki - Knopf
A Cat, A Man and Two Women by Tanizaki Junichiro - translated by Paul MacCarthy, New Directions
Silence - Endo Shusaku, introduction by Martin Scorsese - Picador Classics

September -
The Tokyo Zodiac Murders - Shimada Soji - Pushkin Vertigo Series
The Miner by Natsume Soseki, translated by Jay Rubin, foreword by Murakami Haruki

October -
New Selected Poems by Tanikawa Shuntaro - Lintott Press
A Midsummer's Equation - Keigo Higashino - Minotaur Books
The Gun - Fuminori Nakamura, translated by Alison Markin Powell

As time goes on, no doubt hopefully more might be added.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Dazai by Moriyama Daido

No doubt it's about time I created a Facebook page for these kinds of book reminding posts and likes, but a book that appeared last year that I'd love to have a flick through, (although you can see a page by page flick through here), is Moriyama Daido's Dazai, published by Match and Company as part of their MMM series. The book consists of a new translation of Dazai Osamu's 1947 story Viyon no Tsuma/Villon's Wife by Ralph McCarthy accompanied with a photographic narrative set to the story by Moriyama.

Dazai by Moriyama Daido at Match and Company

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Ground Zero, Nagasaki Stories - Seirai Yuichi

Recently published by Columbia University Press, Ground Zero, Nagasaki - Stories by Yūichi Seirai, (pen name of Nakamura Akitoshi), is translated by Paul Warham, a title selected from the JLPP, the book was originally published as Bakushin back in 2006 and was awarded both the Ito Sei Prize as well as the Tanizaki Prize, the book also inspired a film in 2013 Under the Nagasaki Sky, (trailer). Seirai was born in Nagasaki in 1958 and throughout this collection of six stories two subjects appear as an intertwining backdrop in the lives of the characters he has written, that of the atomic bombing of the city and also of the city's religious history, these appear in the stories to varying degrees and in various perspectives. An aspect to Seirai's writing that becomes apparent is that whilst we read his character's cross examining themselves and their pasts, a subtle symbolism arises. Nails, the opening story is narrated by a father whose son becomes obsessed with the movements of his wife, to the degree that he pays a private detective to watch her even though he himself is with her, the obsession culminates in a tragic accident, which borders on it being premeditated . Throughout the story the son's father contrast's his son's behaviour with that of his distant relatives who were devout believers, and wonders at how the faith has become misaligned. An instance of imagery used in this story is that inside the son's house, the father discovers a room whose walls are filled with hammered in nails, which carries associations with religious imagery, but it also gives a picture into the son's inner psychiatry, which it also could be seen as having a relationship with the persecution of those with religious faith.

This aspect of contrasts is another common theme to Seirai's stories, his characters seem to witness and struggle to reconcile injustices and impasses that are unfolding in their lives and by parallel and degrees the contemporary world, their source, or perhaps their central point of reference is the atomic bombing and of religious persecution, or those who had to hide or disguise their faith. Seirai's narratives are richly imagined, in addition to this he has created a fascinating cast of characters, probably one of the most noticeable here is Shu-chan in the story Stone. An aspect to this story is the sense of uniqueness of it's setting, which takes place in a hotel reception area, Shu-chan is waiting for the appearance of a politician to emerge, who he was friends with from high school days, who Shu-chan refers to as Kyu-chan, the crux of the story however is that the politician is under investigation for corruption after assigning a job to his mistress. Whilst waiting Shu-chan strikes up a conversation with an awaiting reporter, Shirotani, who when realizing that Shu-chan has a history with Kyu-chan becomes interested in his story. Shu-chan is a strange character, he still lives at home with his mother, who is in declining health, and his main wish is to loose his virginity, which escalates as being the main sense of injustice in his life, Shu-chan is obsessed with numbers keeping count of all the women he has fallen in love with, (he falls in love with Shirotani), he also memorizes the plate numbers of cars parked outside a brothel he visited in his past. Shu-chan and Kyu-chan meet, and examine their pasts and presents, assumptions are overturned. In the story Seirai subtly examines the stone like nature in people, of how it's indifference to the world is used as both defence and defiance, later walking by the Urakami River in stones washed up by the river, Shu-chan hears the voices of those persecuted and victims of the bomb cry out.

All of these stories offer penetrating insights into the psychological worlds of their protagonists, in Honey a woman finds herself in a loveless marriage, and follows her as she seduces a young man from a cycle repair shop, the story traces her re-sifting her past and leads up to the point of his hand reaching out to touch her at precisely the same moment as the bomb dropped. In Insects Mitsuko looks back after surviving the bomb, and re-examines a love triangle she had kept hidden for decades at the same time uncovering the nuances of faith and human relationships.

Two stories that seem to stand out in the collection are Shells and the final story Birds, both, (as can be seen in all of the stories), are acutely and vividly imagined. Shells is narrated by Hiroyoshi, a man who displays signs of mental vulnerability, we get the impression that his wife and brother-in law think him delusional, as the story begins to unfold we learn of the passing of his daughter, Sayaka. Another aspect that occurs in the story is of him discovering sea shells in his apartment, which lead him, in a candy trail kind of fashion, out to the beach. We learn that he and Sayaka used to collect shells together, which lends the appearance of the shells a supernatural and spiritual tint, outside he befriends a trash collector, Nagai, out on the beach, as the two talk, Nagai learns of Sayaka's passing and Hiroyoshi learns that Nagai's sister, also passed away, both of them on the same date, August the 10th, the pair recall how Sayaka and Nagai's sister spent time together. Another motif that appears in the story is that of a tsunami that rises up the shoreline which Hiroyoshi initially envisages at the start of the story, is this the source of the shells being left behind after the receding wash?, the appearance of the shells subtly begin to represent evidence of his sanity, and by projection his faith, which he covets at first in front of Nagai waiting for the right moment to share their wider secret with him. The story explores themes of pasts which converge with the present, at the same time displaying powerful imagery, the advancing tsunami, which is jointly imagined in the story, is subtly and distantly juxtaposed with that of a sea of fire after the bomb.

Birds, the final story, is narrated by a writer, now in his sixties, similar to that of the narrator of Insects, who survived the bomb, although both of his parents died leaving blank spaces in his family register which remain for him the source of the enigma of his past and by degrees of his truer current identity, which at one point with memories with his adoptive father also calls into question the nature of his faith. The opening setting of the story is a domestic one which sees him settling down to write, but is disturbed by his wife who hears noises coming from upstairs, possible burglars?. The narrative sees the writer re-examine his past, as well as examining his relationship with his immediate family, his son, daughter and wife, there is a sense of estrangement to the narrative that he has from his past and present. Whilst sifting his past the writer recalls a story describing the returning of egrets carrying the souls of the victims of the bomb. The story ends on a deeply moving note with an emotional reunion of sorts, and as with the rest of the stories in this collection there is a plethora of associations and layers between the lines, the characters of Seirai's fictions find themselves conduiting the gaps between past and present, faith and faithlessness, a remarkably vivid collection.                     


Ground Zero, Nagasaki - Stories at Columbia University Press

Read the short story Nails at Issuu via CUP

Interview with Seirai Yuichi at the Hiroshima Media Peace Center

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Recently published by Portobello Books The Vegetarian is translated by Deborah Smith, glancing at the book's jacket you'd be slightly forgiven for failing to notice that hidden amongst the petals of flowers you can make out a tongue, fingers, a slab of meat, and on the back a single eyeball stares out from amongst the flowers, it's a slightly disconcerting blend of flesh and vegetation, something which figures largely within the novel. Han Kang comes from a literary family and has been awarded many literary awards, including the Yi Sang Literary Prize, for the story Mongolian Mark, a line from a poem by Yi Sang provided the inspiration to the story The Vegetarian, that states; I believe humans should be plants, this is another aspect seen in one of the leading characters of the novel. The Vegetarian is made up of three chapters that, almost in relay fashion, follow the story line of it's main protagonist, Yeong-hye. That said the book ostensibly follows two sisters, Yeong-Hye and also In-hye, although the perspectives that we see them from shifts in being from related characters, in the central story Mongolian Mark the narrative focuses on Yeong-hye's brother in law, a video artist who finds himself estranged from his own works, who fixates on his sister in law's, Mongolian mark, which has surprisingly not faded away as she has got older. Mongolian Mark picks up on the events of the preceding story The Vegetarian that sees the disintegration of Yeong-hye's marriage, which sees Yeong-hye turn vegetarian after having a dream, which throughout the story is initially described in italicised fragments. Throughout the opening story Yeong-hye stays steadfast to her vegetarianism, at a meal with her husband's work colleagues she refuses to eat meat which causes an incident her husband tries to contain by describing that she is a vegetarian due to medical reasons. As the story progresses it slowly becomes apparent that Yeong-hye's vegetarianism is leading more toward a fully blown eating disorder associated to her having a nervous breakdown, which culminates in a family gathering for a meal ending with Yeong-hye having meat forced upon her and a suicide attempt. Toward the end of the story elements of Yeong-hye's family background emerge, her violent father and characters that feature later in the book begin to appear, her brother in law, and her sister, In-hye.

Han Kang's prose deftly explores the fissures in her character's lives, predominantly the men that appear in the book are on the whole unforgivably base, the violence of her father, the neglect of her husband, who is later referred to as the more formal Mr Cheong in the latter part of the novel. At the same time within the book Han Kang explores the strengths of her characters as in the final story Flaming Trees, which sees In-hye reflect and summarises on her past and events of the book that have led to this point, In-hye visit's Yeong-hye in hospital now being force fed and on the brink of wasting away. Flaming Trees subtly continues the metaphor at play in the centre of the book, of humans as plants, Yeong-hye is at times overwhelmed by the feeling that she has an inner plant that is trying to find expression through various episodes in the book, at times she exposes her self to the sun which seems to appear as an attempt at temporary photosynthesis. The central theme in Mongolian Mark is that Yeong-hye's brother in law fixates on her Mongolian mark which inspires him to create a film of her painted with flower motifs on her body. An aspect that lies at the edges of the reader's suspicion is that of Yeong-hye's mental state, is her brother in law taking advantage of her, although she gives her consent and her enthusiasm for the project is a surprise to her brother in law, as much as it is to the reader.

During Mongolian Mark the marriage between Yeong-hye's brother in law with her sister, In-hye begins to come into focus in the narrative, and the brother in laws pursuit of his art knows no bounds, after persuading an artist friend, J, to also take part in the filming, but things don't go to plan and In-hye makes the discover of the subject of her husband's film with Yeong-hye. Han Kan's prose traces the lines and cracks with the things that bind her characters, pursuing desires contained and those seeking expression, at times uncontrollably and examines their consequences. The Vegetarian looks into the darker side of it's character's psychologies which glances equally between causes and consequences which grips across the triptych of stories presented here, I hope further translations appear in the near future.   

The Vegetarian at Portobello Books                 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Domu: A Child's Dream by Katsuhiro Otomo

 Unfortunately funds don't currently stretch to being able to afford the complete omnibus of all three parts of Domu - A Child's Dream, (translated by Dana Lewis and Toren Smith), so for the time being I'm having to make do with the first instalment, it's a slight temple scratcher as to why this isn't more readily available, being from the creator of Akira, you'd assume that it would be available in multiple formats 24 7, but there we go. It's been a long while since I've watched Akira and I'd have to confess that I've not reached a reading of the volumes as of yet either, although reading a little about Domu online there appears to be a slight crossover between the works, whether this becomes more apparent in volumes Two and Three I can't yet say. Much of the idea for Domu apparently came from Otomo's own experiences after first moving to Tokyo where he lived in an apartment block with a large number of cases of suicide, the setting of Domu is in a danchi, the Tsutsumi Public housing complex, that has seen 25 deaths in 3 years, the story opens with Mr Ueno jumping from the roof, which thereafter leads to the case being investigated by Inspector Yamagawa. These scenes alternate a little between seeing the police ruminate on the case and going over the past history of the mysterious deaths, with that of being introduced to some of the notable characters of the block, who'll feature again as the story begins to unfold, Mrs Tezuka, who suffered a miscarriage late in her pregnancy term, Yoshio Fujiyama, a man who lives with his mother, Fujiyama is suspected of being a child molester, who despite his age has the mental age of a 5 year old, he's given the nickname of Little Yo, Yoshikawa an alcoholic who at some point in his past was involved in a truck accident, his son, Hiroshi begins to feature more prominently when a new family moves in and he plays with the daughter, Etsuko, Otomo contrasts the pair juxtaposing their return from play to their respective apartments, Etsuko chatting away describing, rather worryingly, that they've been playing with Little Yo, with that of Hiroshi returning to the apartment with his father sprawled out amongst bottles asking for him to bring him more beer. Another character who at first is described only as being Sasaki's son, (Tsutomu), seems to keep himself to himself, there is also old man Cho, who sits out on the bench all day so obvious he evades attention. 
The police locate a witness who saw Mr Ueno on the night of his suicide who remembers vividly his strange baseball cap which had been attached with a pair of angel wings, things get stranger when a police officer on patrol goes wandering and is also found to have jumped from the roof, and further still when Inspector Yamagawa pursues a voice mocking him for an episode in his past is lead to the roof, and sees the illuminated image of a spectral old man Cho hovering towards him, he suffers the same fate of those he has been investigating. In a way the first volume of Domu is a book of two halves, in the second, much of the action is seen through Etsuko's eyes, she spies old man Cho's levitation tricks, and the attention shifts to him as being the malevolent force that is behind all of the strange deaths, his head appears to rise up out of the table in Yoshikawa's flat as if it were poking up out of water. Needless to say the artwork in Domu is breath taking, Otomo's drawing is awe inspiring to study, and despite the impression of the vastness of the danchi, there remains a certain claustrophobic element in his depiction of it, looking at his buildings it's understandable that he is a source of inspiration for subsequent generations of artists, in particular one maybe being Hisaharu Motoda whose book Neo Ruins is still one that remains prominent on the wants list.
Another Inspector arrives to take up the case who also begins to hear voices prompting him to leave the complex, but whose voice is it?, old man Cho's?, Yamagawa's?, no doubt all will be explained in the subsequent volumes. The end of volume one culminates with Sasaki's son who we see studying hard in his room, then being distracted by his hobby of making model aeroplanes, as we watch him old man Cho's spectral presence is seen hovering outside of his window and then entering the room. Otomo plays these culminating scenes off of one another to maximum affect, with the scene of old man Cho appearing in Yoshikawa's flat left unresolved, but Etsuko bumps into Tsutomu Sasaki on an errand ending the first volume on a rather gory note. In Domu Otomo explores a dark psychology, which points to the conundrum of who is actually being used by who, no doubt nothing is to be taken at face value, although I'm not sure as to how it's plot will resolve itself I'm glad to have become acquainted with it's first instalment.                            
Domu: A Child's Dream at Dark Horse
further synopsis at Wikipedia     

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Salad Anniversary

Pushkin continue to excel in breathing new life into older titles with Salad Anniversary by Tawara Machi, a poetry collection that was a phenomenal bestseller, notching up sells that went into the millions of copies when it was published back in the late1980's, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, Salad Anniversary was previously published in translation in an edition from Kodansha International, and has been given an attractive new jacket by artist Mio Matsumoto, (My Diary). Salad Anniversary contains fifteen poems in tanka style, many of which are concerned with the transitory nature of love, both attained, unattained and lost, that shift from the thematic to the literal. Tawara received the Kadokawa Tanaka Prize for her poem August Morning which is the books opening poem, the tone of the poems retain their freshness, although the tell tale mention on a number of occasions of the Southern All Stars, slightly displays and gives their age away, although this adds very much to the dimensions of the book and reflects the age of Tawara's poetry.
An aspect that prevails through the poems is a subtle sense of solitude, through the observations of relationships there are also many acute observations of the age which cast a glance to the generational gap between Tawara's generation with that of her father's, as in the short poem Morning Necktie, a tender portrait of her father with his half anxious criticism of her writing poetry, the poem remains not a harsh indictment but has an undeniable human, and in places tender quality to it, laced with a quiet humour, he sips his tea as if to say   "I'm not listening",  and observes how he continues to unhesitatingly call his wife mother, continuing the childhood domestic scene beyond it's need, the poem closes with forgiveness for her father's generation's  inability to express tenderness.   
The collection offers up many moments where Tawara's narratives are seeking to find their place in the bigger schemata of things or perhaps to realise their own form in relation to it and also in relation to the men that figure in the poems. In I Am the Wind, the narrator relates her relationship with a man who feels very much as being a political activist or with having political concerns, the poem observes the degrees of attention divided between her affections for him with that of his thoughts and relationship with his own political world view, these observations alternate throughout the poem as they study her thoughts of him, these at one point seem to congregate around a supposition of things seen through her contact lenses as she takes them out to clean them, the relationship teeters between existence and non-existence, diary entries kept blank filled in with pencil, the observations seem to plateau when the narrator visits a Van Gogh exhibition, stepping from picture to picture only to see her own image reflected in the glass in their frames. An added aspect that operates subtly in the background to the poems is that of the flowing of time, I Am the Wind starts with a letter written and of time beginning after the sticking of the stamp.  
The poem after this is Summertime Ship which relates a ferry trip to Shanghai, where things seen juxtapose the familiar with the unfamiliar, it too is a poem that is full of observations concerning the perceptions of the relationship between the narrator and the wider world. The poem takes in the sights and sounds of the visit, and ends with the narrator returning and setting off through the streets of Tokyo in the t-shirt worn which saw the Yangtze, the poem acts to document and witness the excursion. The title poem sees the narrative coming from a house wife whom it feels is in a marriage devoid of real love, a husband setting off for work, whilst carrying out domestic chores she dreams of Goa, the poem feels, as does most of the collection, to be tinged with the bitter sweetness of thwarted expectations, although they remain to question and reflect on standard demarcations of societal perceptions. Tawara's poems take their cue from first and last things, where the present day often or not acts as a spring board into reflections past and future, Pushkin Press have done a great job in making this landmark collection readily available again, Salad Anniversary is also accompanied with Juliet Winters Carpenter's afterword from 1989. Many thanks to Pushkin Press.     
Salad Anniversary at Pushkin Press
at Amazon                        

Monday, October 20, 2014

Yukio Mishima - Damian Flanagan - Critical Lives

The momentum of books on Mishima Yukio continues after the recently mammoth addition to the canon with Persona comes a more concise book from Damian Flanagan, an award winning translator of Soseki Natsume, published as part of the admirable Critical Lives Series by Reaktion Books. Flanagan's Mishima starts with Mishima's final hours, describing the sequence of events of Mishima's attempted coup before reversing back to examine how his early years were influenced by being torn between the overbearance of his grandmother with that of his mother and also of his father, who disapproved of his tendencies towards writing, this is described as instilling a trauma in the young Kimitake and there are similes made between the state of post-war Japan with that of Mishima's psyche, a pulling between adopting and attraction to Westernization with that of preserving Japan's traditional identity and characteristics.
Centre to this book Flanagan points to an event that he feels is perhaps overlooked in other books that have appeared about him, that after graduating Mishima received a watch from the Emperor, time would remain a central facet to Mishima, Flanagan points that the taking off of his watch was one of the last actions he undertook, and throughout the book highlights other incidences where time played a crucial part in his life, his strict adherence to publisher's deadlines, most affectively Flanagan points to Mishima's sense of the forces of time culminating in his writing of The Sea of Fertility, wanting to write a 'world explaining book' that would also transcend time itself, whilst writing the instalments of the book, Flanagan deftly demonstrates that for Mishima, time was running out, and aptly describing the events of November 25th as Japan's JFK day, the documentary The Strange Case of Yukio Mishima points out that a reportedly 10,000 people turned out for his funeral, Flanagan's conceptual or thematical approach in describing the events surrounding the writing of The Sea of Fertility and November 25th is a refreshing approach, in addition to it he also explores the significance of the sea in Mishima's writing as being a place void of time, these contrasts run parallel to the polarities found in Mishima himself, transforming himself from the aloof pale young man to the body builder of his later years, time seems to be at the heart of the writer who felt himself an anachronism at the age of twenty.    
As with the other biographies of Mishima what comes across succinctly is his prolificness as a writer, perhaps something that was encouraged by his mother who would provide ink and paper for him, it seems his writing schedule would begin at 11 at night, warming up with lighter stories and then moving onto his more literary works, Mishima's writing career and influences are chronicled, a striking image is that of the launch of A Forest In Full Bloom held in a blacked out restaurant during the bombing raids, and of his father resignedly accepting Mishima's writing career with the observation that due to the war he'd be dead soon anyway, reading of his initial ventures into his career as a writer there's a feeling that with his connections with the owners of a paper factory in a time of strict paper rationing this might have been a factor that perhaps may have tilted the balance slightly to his favour. Among his influences it always comes as a slight surprise that although Cocteau and Radiguet are often name checked, Genet's seems to be absent, Flanagan explores the Mishima - Dazai relationship/influence, and among other writers mentions the folklorist Shinobu Orikuchi, (Shisha no Sho), who Mishima gave a fictional portrait in the short story Mikumano Mōde translated by John Bester as Acts of Worship. Throughout the book there is mention of film adaptions of Mishima's works and those that he acted in, perhaps a filmography would have made an interesting addition to the bibliographies at the end of the book, the link between Japanese literature and cinema is a fascinating one.  
Toward the end of the book Flanagan summarises Mishima in relation to contemporary writers, noting in a way that in terms of writers being recognised in the West that the baton has been passed to Murakami Haruki, with the observation that Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase begins on the significant date of November 25th, throughout the book it's mentioned that Mishima was also consciously aware of trends in the zeitgeist, at times this was more successful than others, as with the success of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion over the subsequent court case surrounding After the Banquet's publication. Mishima left many enigmas behind, and to fully gauge the extent of his legacy would be interesting to estimate, maybe it would take a manga adaption of Kamen no kokuhaku to find Mishima at the centre of things again within a contemporary setting, but Mishima's abhorrence of the materialistic way of life still has relevance and leverage for the twenty first century. Essentially the book is inspiring and erudite wanting you to turn to the novels and the writing again, discussing Thirst For Love from 1950 we learn that Mishima had toyed with the idea of Etsuko's perspective being that from a male one, which spurns a reappraisal of this writer who pursued things to their fullest degree.
Yukio Mishima is part of the Critical Lives Series at Reaktion Books

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Guest Cat by Hiraide Takashi

A book I've found myself purposefully taking my time with, The Guest Cat was originally published by New Directions and recently again in an edition from Picador, in a translation from Eric Selland. The prose as you may expect has a poetic quality, Hiraide's poetry is also available in translation in For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut, not only can this poeticism be felt in the prose but also in some of the imagery that it conjures up; a pair of mating birds observed by the narrator fly away as one beating heart, and with it there are a number of originally imaginative concepts, one being the house the couple live in with it's optical phenomena obfuscating the reflections in it's glass windows of it's passers-by. The Guest Cat brings together various strands and moments in transition, set in a Tokyo suburb the central narrator is an editor, who turns writer, and his wife who are renting an outbuilding and through circumstances with the family who own the main house they find themselves having to move out and find a new place to live, the book is made up with short observational chapters that at the end of the book the narrator confirms have been compiled from journal entries and essays written for various publications. An added sense of transition is felt also in the time period that the book crosses, that of the passing of the Shōwa period, and the dawning of the Heisei, the narrator notes the inflating and unaffordable price of property, marking the demise of the bubble economy, when starting out on their search for alternative accommodation, but at the centre of the book is the appearance of a cat who visits the couple.

The tone of the narrative is on the whole a deeply contemplative one, it subtly shifts emanating at times from the interior with glances to the exterior and throughout and central to it is the enigma of the cat's appearance. Through the chapters the narrator attempts to decode it's contrary nature through observation and subtle experiment, obviously metaphors can be drawn and parallelled between the mystery of the cat with that of the wider predicaments of the narrator's life, and it's unavoidable to be reminded of Wagahai wa Neko de Aru, although it obviously bears and displays more of a contemporary tone, The Guest Cat ventures into exploring the spatial quality of human relationships, and subtly shifting on to notions of mortality, similar to Soseki's novel with a central feline guest. The simplicity of the prose deftly transforms the density of some of the larger themes that before you realise it you find yourself in the midst of contemplating, some of these are conveyed in some of the observational imagery, the snapshot battle being carried out between a kamakiri and a semi, most of these set amongst the repeated appearance of the Keyaki trees in the grounds of the house, a deeply rewarding and contemplative read.  

The Guest Cat at New Directions and Picador

The New Modernism


Thursday, September 25, 2014

William F. Sibley Memorial Translation Prize 2013 - 2014

The 2013-2014 winner of the William F. Sibley Memorial Translation Prize has recently been announced through the Prize's website. The winning translation by Edith Sarra and Yasuko Ito Watt of - 3/11: Temporary Shelter by Takuya TANAKA is available to read via the site along with an introduction to the text and an afterword.

William F. Sibley Memorial Translation Prize 2013-2014