Sunday, July 12, 2015

Lizard Telepathy Fox Telepathy - Yoshinori Henguchi





















A pleasing aspect of this book that caught my attention after receiving it was that weighing it in my hands it's proportions very much reminded me of the volumes produced by Katydid Books, most of which are now sadly slipping out of print and beyond, so to have a new translation of Japanese poetry is a welcome thing, here's to the making of a series. In the afterword, entitled Let's Talk About What We're Really Talking About from translator David Michael Ramirez II there is quite a bit made of the breaking of literary traditions and conventions in Henguchi's poetry, he describes the book's formation in detail with infectious enthusiasm, also hidden at the back of the book in slightly small text is a rather brief biography/chronology of Henguchi himself, perhaps this is how he wanted it, in which it's mentioned that he was published in Arechi/Wasteland, Henguchi's voice is a contemporary one.

The book comes in dual text and also the poems appear in differing fonts which subtly presents or recreates the effect perhaps of their dōjinshi origins, the book opens with the piece Nihongo a sprawling prose poem that spreads over four pages, (most of the poems in the book remain confined to a single page), in which Henguchi vents his frustrations with stilted language and how it's slidden into atrophy, and of this condition's affects in daily life, it's an impressive opening piece, after reading it I started to recall how perhaps older collections of poetry came with an index of first lines, with many of Henguchi's poems I envisioned the book being presented with an index of last lines as Nihongo culminates with - I would like to start a Nihongo that receives applause even in absolute darkness. After Nihongo there comes a selection of Henguchi's photography chaptered with the title For Dad, many of these shots are interior details, shots of the family home?, is that toilet plumbing in one?, another is a close up of tatami repaired or joined together with thick black carpentry tape, many are close ups reducing the image to elemental presences, we stare at the metallic foot grip of an escalator step, vivid green bamboo wall tiles, traditional imagery juxtaposed with that of the 'make do' present, a view through the waves in the glass of a window take on the perspective of looking down, a plane view out into the panoramic expanse of an ocean, in others we see perhaps the same image presented from a different angle or of the same face enlarging, getting closer and closer, the section ends with what could be a still of moving water, paused.

Reading the poems the reader might begin to look for common overarching themes, there's much reward in contemplating and comparing Henguchi's poetry as a whole as well as reading them one poem at a time, the narratives of Henguchi's poetry is one often caught between absolutes, either trying to escape them or alternatively forming new ones, or questioning where they might begin as in the prose poem; Framing the Freedom of Being Torn Apart which observes - Everything from start to finish is sure to be fiction. then posits the question - Where and when would you say is not fiction?, as with many of the poems there is the presence of unattainable realities, frustratingly some of these close at hand, desired or non-desired, the poem answers the question with the observation to the answer that lingers in the mind - In spite of that everybody is a damn creation, Henguchi's narratives are unflinching in their depictions of the vacuums between the fabric of realities imposed and unimposed, the struggle between the official and the unofficial is a theme not too distant in many of the poems and the precariousness of living and choosing between them, there's the challenging line - Realizing that the more sincere you become the more meaningless you become. Framing the Freedom of Being torn Apart is a poem made of clipped sentences, in ways it culminates in many places and times, the ending is a plea against maturing, but a little before the end a line laced with absolutism seems to arrive at a culmination before the poem's end - Everything, has an end in everything, Henguchi's voice blends visions of the darkest depths whilst still retaining in places indefatigable lines of resolve.



Truly no matter what happens it won't matter at all.

from Falling Slightly Forward         



Lizard Telepathy Fox Telepathy at Chin Music Press



        

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Satoshi Kon's Opus






















Opus first appeared in serialization in 1995/1996, recently it's been published by Dark Horse, (November 2014), in a translation by Zack Davisson, Dark Horse have done a great job with the publication of Opus, reading Opus it's hard to resist visualizing it as it may appear in an animated form given Kon's filmography, although he started out originally in manga. Visually the book is stunning, the full page art work at the beginning of each chapter could hang on the wall of any gallery, the book comes including a final chapter which was only sketched out in pencil that wasn't included when Opus was initially serialized, this brief end chapter was found after Kon's sudden death from cancer in 2010, it extends the story line featuring Kon himself, but even with this chapter there's the feeling that the story line of Opus is open ended, it could just keep going.

The premise of Opus is quite a simple one although how Kon builds upon it displays the ingenuity that we've come to associate with the rest of his work, in some ways utilising the story within a story approach Kon examines a number of different aspects to the creative process and the relationship between the author and the characters they create, Kon built on this spiralling the story out crashing through barriers that we assume end with the frame that are there whilst we read stories and manga. The jacket describes Opus as being a meta-fictional tale and it is, Chikara Nagai is a manga artist, creator of series Resonance whose lead protagonist, Satoko, is an agent fighting the evil forces of Masque, head of the Nameless Faith cult. Under pressure to deliver the final instalment Chikara finds a page which is seen depicting a tunnel leading down, falling through he finds himself in the manga that he has created, after demonstrating to and convincing Satoko that he is the creator of her story the metaphors begin to abound, essentially with Chikara as a god figure, and his character's there merely as puppets in a preordained story, without will, but these ideas are treated with irony and humour. Another character central to the story is that of Lin who obtains the all important last page of the story who is then pursued through much of the story by Chikara and Satoko whilst they fend off Masque, who is also in pursuit of Lin. Added to this Satoko is imbued with telepathic abilities something which rises to the forefront of the story when later in the story she finds herself spilling back out of the manga and into Chikara's world after he returns to his world, the story reverses back through to dark events in the character's pasts, and through various forms of resurrection, one by the pen of creator Chikara himself.

As already mentioned the artwork is spot on, the images of the storyline cracking and disintegrating as they are pursued are spectacular, at various points Chikara finds himself situated in a pure white void, out of the story, (but still within it - if you know what I mean), at one point it's mentioned that there are other places where the story is happening, hinting to the reader not only to restrict themselves contemplating what is visually happening within what is being drawn opens up the dimensions of the story in a highly original and absorbing way, and of course Kon pursues the story in and out of these places too. Opus is a masterpiece, one that I keep turning to with relief knowing that yes I do have a copy.

Opus at Dark Horse

 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Realm of the Dead by Uchida Hyakken




















 
Realm of the Dead is a book I've been meaning to reach for a while now, published by Dalkey Archive Press in 2006 and translated by Rachel DiNitto, who has also written an in-depth study of Hyakken in Uchida Hyakken - A Critique of Modernity and Militarism in Pre-war Japan, (Harvard East Asian Monographs - 30). Realm of the Dead is made up of two books by Hyakken, the same titled Realm of the Dead/Meido from 1922 and also Triumphant March Into Port Arthur/Ryojun Nyujoshiku from 1934. Between the two volumes there is a one page preface from Hyakken for the collection Triumphant March Into Port Arthur, in which he goes some way in explaining the ten year gap between the publication of the two books, the main cause being the great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, reading this short preface from Hyakken comes the realization that Realm of the Dead is a book that would have perhaps been improved upon with the addition of at least a few pages by means of a further introduction or afterword to give a fuller con-textualisation to his writing and it's period. As well as writing an alternative version of I Am A Cat, Hyakken is also famous for being the subject of Kurosawa Akira's film Madadayo, in 1911 he was a pupil of Natsume Soseki, and after graduating from Tokyo University taught German at the Imperial Japanese Army Academy from 1916.

The two books consist mainly of short stories, 18 in Realm of the Dead and 29 in Triumphant March into Port Arthur, some of these in the later barely cover two pages, but reading Hyakken is to marvel at what he achieves in such a short space, his writing inhabits in lucid prose, realms of consciousness peeping out into vistas of the subconscious, or vice versa, at times surreal, reaching depths and heights that at times abruptly end as if their narrator is awakening from a dream or vision. Hyakken's compressed world is sometimes similar to that of Kafka, the inconsequential can be flipped over into being the consequential, plunging the narrator into philosophical explorations and interior ruminations which throw the narrator's world view into unexpected trajectories, the dilemma of a found wallet being one. Reading Realm of the Dead reminds me of the need to track out two other books, one being A Thousand One-Second Stories by Inagaki Taruho and the other is The Beautiful and the Grotesque by Akutagawa, in places it's interesting to remind yourself that Hyakken was for a time a contemporary of Akutagawa, perhaps he can be identified here appearing as Noguchi in the longer story The Bowler Hat, the narrator and Noguchi almost vie with each other as to who is the more affecting of the two writers, Noguchi departs the story eventually overdosing. Hyakken's stories do dip into some strange territories, one narrator finds himself being interrogated by melting police detectives, and although brief his stories impress with their unrelenting nature, in others the reader may pause and begin to question as to the motives behind Hyakken, or his narrator's reasoning in relating their narratives. In Whitecaps the narrator relates the story of how he and his Uncle find themselves rowing out to sea with the task of disposing of their pet dog that is guilty of biting a neighbour's child, reading Hyakken's stories sometimes feels that some could come closer to being described as narrative obstacles rather than ending with clear conclusion, although an overriding one could be that sometimes life is not good.

Across both of the books of stories there are number of different styles and narrative forms, some are dark explorative fictions, some feel that they maybe inspired from real life experiences and settings, there are a number here set in Hosei University, (including the title story of Triumphant March into Port Arthur), where Hyakken taught and perhaps if you are well grounded in Taisho/early Showa era history, some of the symbolism and portraits will begin to come into sharper focus, the story Triumphant March into Port Arthur is a far from being a celebratory narrative following the narrator watch a newsreel of the battle, which is centred around the meeting between General Nogi and General  Stessel, the narrator leaves the theatre with tears down his face, loosing all sense of his bearings he describes - 'The crowd kept clapping. My cheeks wet with crying, I fell into formation and was led out into the quiet of the city streets, out into nowhere'. Many of the stories feel that they have a metropolitan setting, but amongst these The Carp seems to pause for a moment to offer at what first appears as a landscape view, although with Hyakken it doesn't take too long before things begin to take on an alternative perspective, the narrator finds himself pursued into the landscape, the motives or identities of his pursuers uncertain, a mountain range comes into view, one pointing up resembling the dorsal fin of a carp, at points the delineation between land and sky becomes distorted, a spot of bright light appears and the narrator can hear an echoing sound that seems to grow in volume, the narrator finds himself on the other side of the light, staring back he notices that the side he was in is shaded in darkness, before him he observes a lake, in it a beautiful carp swims, the narrator becomes entranced by the fish, whose reflection he can see projected or reflected in the sky, the story ends with the narrator trying to restrain himself from diving in to swim with the beautiful fish. It's a beguiling story, reading it again on it's own and taken out of the stream of narratives from these stories, is to realise Hyakken's ornate  combination of allegory and modernist prose, to read The Carp is to perhaps picture a narrator witnessing an aspect of one of the stories from Ugetsu Monogatari - Muo no Rigyo/A Carp That Appeared in My Dream, and in another of one transcribing the journey from the mortal into the immortal, a fascinating collection that rewards after repeated reading.  


Realm of the Dead at Dalkey Archive Press                       



Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Minka - My Farmhouse in Japan





















Recently I've acquired the bad habit of picking up more than one book at a time, it's something I'm not fond of doing, but a book that I've had on the shelf to read for a long time now is John Roderick's Minka - My Farmhouse in Japan, which is an account of how he came to buy a farmhouse that has connections that date back to the age of the Heike monogatari, for 5000 yen, intrigued?, I'll leave it to you to track out a copy of the book for the fuller explanation, but the story involves disassembling the house and moving it from Shirotori to Kamakura.

Whilst also reading about the book on the internet I stumbled over an accompanying film that was made in 2011 by Davina Pardo which you can watch via the New York Times website or via here.

Minka My Farmhouse in Japan at Princeton Architecture Press

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

travels and book prompts



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
Apologies for the recent lack of posts but have been on journeys, nice to amble through familiar neighbourhoods and to get lost in some more slightly unfamiliar ones. My trip back would probably best be described as being domestic in nature and on the whole off the tourist track but did keep an eye out for books, although two that I'm particularly looking out for remained elusive, but perhaps maybe next time. A book spotted in an Aeon discount stall, that I'm pretty sure I'm going to regret letting slip through the net, was a book of Domon Ken's photography published by Mainichi, for a book of this type it was at a really good price, just over a thousand yen, but indecision got the better of me. Another more recent book that caught my eye was a recent book on Okamoto Taro, called Okamoto Art which is an informative bilingual survey of the artist's work, 1911-1996. A book that I thought I caught glimpse of was a new one on Ishida Tetsuya, I returned to the store to find it again but it had disappeared in the space of an afternoon... I did make a couple of purchases but perhaps posts will be forthcoming, one being the first volume of I Am a Hero by Hanazawa Kengo, film adaption forthcoming.

Aside from books some other landmarks during my visit were the ending of Massan on NHK, a dramatized account of the life of Rita Taketsuru, (Japan Times article), which was a tad too weepy for me, along with this was the animated version of Oda Tobira's manga series of Danchi Tomoo, (wiki on the manga), which by turns introduced the band Mongol 800. Three places to visit next time - Koyasan, which is celebrating it's 1200th anniversary, and also Shitennō-ji, and also a castle that I've passed many times and whose park I've walked in but still not yet entered is Himeji jo, recently reopened after extensive renovations. Perhaps not actually too many book prompts, there's always a stack of novels that grab my attention on each trip, and I've a few reads to catch up with in forthcoming posts, but recently time hasn't been my own - apologies.

  


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
Miracles by Sono Ayako, translated by Kevin Doak, Merwin Asia Publishing
Nan-Core by Mahokaru Numata translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies, Vertical Inc

May -
Dream Fossil: The Complete Stories of Satoshi Kon by Satoshi Kon - Vertical Inc
Red Girls - The Legend of Akakuchibas by Sakuraba Kazuki translated by Jocelyne Allen - 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, translated by Ted Goossen - Knopf and Harvill Secker
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
Seibold's Daughter by Yoshimura Akira, translated by Richard Rubinger, Merwin Asia Publishing

October -
New Selected Poems by Tanikawa Shuntaro - Lintott Press
A Midsummer's Equation - Keigo Higashino - Minotaur Books
Death by Water by Oe Kenzaburo - Grove Atlantic
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