Friday, May 20, 2016

Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure

Perhaps on a first reading of Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure, what first remains is a sense of distance imparted to the reader, although written and published in the immediate months after the disaster that hit Fukushima and the North East in 2011, Furukawa's blend of fiction and non-fiction, travelogue and memoir creates a space for contemplation and presents various perspectives of narrative, early on in the book the phrase 'use imagination for the good' reaches out and stays with the reader. With it's blend of voices Horses, Horses searches out for the narratives not found in official history books in an attempt to reclaim and present the authentic, there is a fascinating use of allegory within Furukawa's telling of the history of the horses associated with the area of the North East, in particular with Soma City which carries within it's name the word horse, reading this allegory and the way Furukawa has structured this element of the book brought to mind Julian Barnes's A History of the World in Ten and 1/2 Chapters, which similarly presents an alternate allegorical perspective of history. Furukawa pinpoints two figures from medieval Japan, Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Oda Nobunaga in his observations of historical paths.

The main branch of narrative of Horses, Horses is of Furukawa caught between writing projects and of the sequence of the events of the disaster unfolding, his personal history of this period is examined and then returned to when being both in and outside of Japan. This proceeds with him and colleagues from his publishers hiring a car to travel to the area to see how close they can go, (the slowly enlarging red circles of the exclusion zones feature), Furukawa toys with the notion of exposing himself to the radiation, and confronts suicidal feelings unexpectedly arising that he assumed he had over come in his youth. There's a measured economy to the prose, the reader very much gets the sense that although with the literary experimentation, the dipping into fiction and non-fiction, (in places in a talking direct to the camera type of way, with the appearance of a character from one of his novels in the car that they are travelling in), Furukawa is not attempting to place words where they cannot be placed, it very much feels that apprehension is never too distant from the surface.

Along the way there are number of names referenced, one of the first being The Beatles in particular their songs Strawberry Fields and Tomorrow Never Knows, with it's screeching sound at it's beginning which sounds similar to that of the squawk of a gull, poetically evocative of being at the coast and in a way a warning cry. A number of Japanese writers are mentioned, in particular Miyazawa Kenji and Nakagami Kenji, both writers Furukawa obviously has an affinity and strongly identifies with, similar themes and motifs appear in their works, animals, and the sense of alternate histories being written and born out of alternative myth. Another aspect that appears whilst reading the book is a rather pensive sense of apprehension and fear, this is highlighted in the quote that Furukawa borrows from Nakagami, and Furukawa later examines this fascination of dates - 3.11 - 9.11, and of how these events cannot be confined to a single day, although the book has the subtitle - A Tale That Begins With Fukushima, it also feels that it resembles a memoir of an approach. Throughout these narratives there are incidences of subtle poetical examinations of the second part of it's title - that of light and in one place the prose arrives at a stop and Furukawa turns to poetry to express himself. Throughout it's various modes of narrative Horses, Horses moves and posits questions in equal measure.

Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure, translated by Doug Slaymaker and Akiko Takenaka is available via Columbia University Press

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Nakagin Capsule Tower - a book prompt

Another book prompt post about a title that came out at the end of last year about a building that I've known about for a long time but not know much about perhaps when I get a copy of this book that'll change. When I was young I remember watching a science programme that featured the building, which was presented at the time as being the way of the future, as far as I understand the building has recently been under the threat of demolition, due to it becoming unsafe and also of the asbestos used in it's construction, a sad thing as the building is unique and very much deserves saving. In spite of this the building is in the throes of being rescued, restored and open again to the public to stay in, which one day I'd love to do, but in the meantime there's the book.

more info on the building at Wikipedia.

the book at Amazon

Nakagin Capsule Tower Facebook page

the building's webpage

Monday, February 22, 2016

a cat, a man & two women by Tanizaki Junichiro

Reissued by New Directions, a cat, a man and two women was originally published by Kodansha International, translated by Paul McCarthy, this new edition also includes his original Preface, this translation received the Japan - U.S Friendship Commission Prize. New Directions have done a great job with this edition with a striking new jacket including art from Tsuguhara Foujita, and also of note is the mention on the reverse that two more novels yet to have been translated into English are on the way, which is news to look forward to. Recently they've also given attractive new covers to Mishima's Confessions of a Mask and also Death in Midsummer.

a cat, a man and two women collects three of Tanizaki's short fictions, the last Professor Rado is in two parts as it was originally published in two installments, as was the title story. The second story is The Little Kingdom/Chiisana okoku, which when you discover that it first appeared in 1918, the same year as Akutagawa's Hell Screen, makes you wonder agape again at the span of Tanizaki's writing career, which takes in three era's of modern Japanese history. The Little Kingdom follows the fortunes or misfortunes of a provincial teacher caught in a power game within the children of his class which he himself becomes entangled with. As Paul McCarthy mentions in his informative Preface themes of domination and submission appear in the story, themes that preoccupied Tanizaki throughout his writing.

It's been sometime since I've read Tanizaki, but reading a cat, a man and two women brought the realization of how Tanizaki incorporates the epistolary into his writing as all though I've not checked, a number of his pieces seem to either open or feature letters written by or between his central characters, it seems that this is a perfect vehicle to open scenarios and windows into his character's consciousness and psyches. In the title story this is done to great affect in Shinako whose letter at the opening of the story requesting the handing over of the cat that Shozo is so enamoured with sets the shifting of the story. Essentially the story is a menagerie a trois with the additional central character of Lily, the cat, who becomes the pivotal factor in the relationships between Shozo and the two women in his life, his divorced wife, Shinako and new wife, Fukuko. Tanizaki's usage of Lily in Shinako's care and the shifting of her empowerment within affairs is masterly conveyed. Another aspect of the story of note is that of it being set firmly in the Kansai area, rather than that of Tokyo, Tanizaki famously moved to the area. Envisioning the stories here, it's quite easy to picture them as early black and white films, it comes as little surprise to know that early in his career Tanizaki was a script writer for Taishō Katsuei, or literary consultant as it's Wikipedia page mentions. Although coming from a background of reasonable comfort, Shozo appears as a rather feckless character who eventual succumbs to the encroaching web of conflicting affections between the three.

The last story out of the three is Professor Rado which seems to display the hallmarks usually associated with Tanizaki - masochism and off beat sexualities, the story was originally published in two parts, the first in Kaizo in 1925 and the second in Shincho in 1928. In a way it could be said that it displays some early aspects of the Ero guro. The story is conveyed by a journalist assigned to interview the Professor who when they meet displays an affected appearance and strange mannerisms and conversational manner, question marks and rumours emerge over the Professor's household. In the second part the journalist catches up with the Professor again at a variety performance where the Professor begins to show an extra special interest in one particular performer who is rumoured to suffer from the symptoms of syphilis, the journalist agrees to gain more information about the performer who appears to always remain quizzically silent during performances and has a mysterious past. The story has a certain voyeuristic quality to it as the revealing scenarios of the plot are relayed by the journalist in a clandestine manner. a cat, a man and two women offers an interesting showcase of Tanizaki's styles and themes, and it's great that New Directions have rescued it from lapsing into being out of print, very much looking forward to the two forthcoming novels.

a cat, a man and two women at ndp  


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Provoke: Between Protest and Performance

A book that I'm very much looking forward to, due in March from Steidl, Provoke: Between Protest and Performance accompanies the first exhibition dedicated to the magazine of the late 1960's. The exhibition, which began in Vienna at the end of last month and continues on to four locations, ending at The Art Institute of Chicago in May 2017. Sadly be unable to see this exhibition in person, be the book is very much looking like an essential substitute, the book is edited by Diane Dufour and Matthew Witkovsky.

Provoke: Between Protest and Performance at Steidl Verlag

and at Amazon

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Fruit of My Woman by Han Kang

The January edition of Granta continues the momentum of translations of Han Kang into
English with the short story The Fruit of My Woman from 1997, in her translator's note at the end of the story, Deborah Smith notes that it can be seen as a precursor, with some of it's themes similar to those that can be seen in The Vegetarian.  

The Fruit of My Woman at Granta

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura

Although Nakamura's first novel, first published in 2003, and awarded the Shincho Prize, The Gun is the fourth novel of his to appear in English translation, this time by Allison Markin Powell, it's also great to see that the momentum of translations continues with another of Nakamura's novels on the way in 2016 also from Soho Crime, The Kingdom is set to be published in July. The Gun/Jū displays Nakamura's foray into dark psychologies with his central character Nishikawa who stumbles across a crime scene and procures from it a gun, listening to Nishikawa's inner ruminations can feel that we are taking a few steps into the realm of a character from Dostoyevsky, as step by step we begin to venture further and further into the world of a young man so disenchanted with life that the centre of his world begins to revolve around the found gun.

This obsession being essentially at the centre of the novel Nakamura's narrative inhabits a few other patches of distraction, firstly Nishikawa's relationships with two women in the novel, Yuko Yoshikawa, whom Nishikawa has the more deeper relationship and fascination with and also another woman whom Nishikawa eventually refers to as the 'toast girl' which is a more casual relationship, the pair seem to use each other solely to satisfy their own lusts. Out of the two women Yuko displays the more complexity as we see she and Nishikawa get closer then further away from each other, the reasons for this on her part never seem to become too obvious, a troubled past?. Secondly is the discovery that Nishikawa's biological father is dying of cancer, which seems to be an event that will shake Nishikawa off his obsession from the gun, and posits another possible opportunity to gain a differing perspective on his transfixation with it. Another similarity The Gun has with The Thief is the appearance of a child, a young boy, caught in an abusive situation with his single parent, similar also is the empathy the main character has towards the boy, and his desire to rescue him from his predicament. The Gun could be described as noir, and in many places it is, but there remains a deeper portrait of drab morality in all quarters of the novel which again could be described as resembling aspects from a Russian novel, this darkness Nakamura captures and conveys very well.

That said, the prose has a lightness to it making it highly readable and in places it makes for quick reading, at times it's unfolding events might be visualized in the form of a dark manga, when Nishikawa contemplates the gun and it's wider philosophy sometimes the images of thought bubbles appearing on the pages come to mind, and the ending bears the possibility as being visualized as filmic, in it's sudden and unpredicted way of turning the tables around over it's last pages. Through this though we see the beginnings of Nakamura's writing being drawn to the examination of one man's attraction to violence and follows him through his compulsion to act upon it, it's consequences for him remain on the pages beyond the end of this book, as deftly as the borderlines his characters find themselves drifting over.

The Gun at Soho Press     

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

books for the reading diary - 2016

The start of a new year brings the beginning of a new list of books marked for the reading diary -


Tokyo Decadence - Ryu Murakami, trans. Ralph McCarthy  - Kurodahan
The Gun - Fuminori Nakamura, trans. Allison Markin Powell - Soho Press
A Girl on the Shore - Inio Asano - Vertical Inc


A Midsummer's Equation - Keigo Higashino,  Minotaur Books
A Poem for a Book - Yoko Tawada - The Chinese University Press
Poem in Blue - Noriko Mizuta - The Chinese University Press
Shield of Straw - Kazuhiro Kiuchi trans. Asumi Shibata - Vertical Inc - details here.
Red Red Rock and Other Stories - Seiichi Hayashi - Breakdown Press


Six Four - Hideo Yokoyama, trans. Jonathan Lloyd Davis  - Quercus
Legend of the Galactic Heroes vol 1 - Yoshiki Tanaka, trans. Daniel Huddleston - Haikasoru
Horses, Horses, in the End the Light Remains Pure - Hideo Furukawa, trans. Doug Slaymaker with Akiko Takenaka, Columbia University Press
Fukushima Devil Fish: Anti-Nuclear Manga - Katsumata Susumu - Breakdown Press


I Am a Hero - Kengo Hanazawa - Dark Horse


The Silent Dead - Tetsuya Honda - St.Martins Press info at J'Lit
Cop's Eyes - Gaku Yakumaru - Vertical Inc


The Gate of Sorrows - Miyuki Miyabe, trans. Jim Hubbert - Haikasoru


The Kingdom - Fuminori Nakamura, trans. Kalau Almony - Soho Press
Legend of the Galactic Heroes vol 2 - Yoshiki Tanaka trans. Daniel Huddleston - Haikasoru
Breasts and Eggs - Mieko Kawakami - Pushkin Press


The Nakano Thrift Shop - Hiromi Kawakami trans. Allison Markin Powell - Portobello Books
Me Against the World - Kazufumi Shiraishi trans. Raj Mahtani - Dalkey Archive Press


Absolutely On Music - Haruki Murakami - Knopf/Harvill
Alice, Iris, Red Horse: Selected Poems of Gozo Yoshimasu - edited by Forrest Gander ndp


The Graveyard Apartment - Mariko Koike - trans. Deborah Boliver Boehm - Thomas Dunne

Friday, January 1, 2016

readings in 2015

Obviously an apt moment to jot down my readings in 2015 which has probably been the lowest number of titles read in a while, and lamentably low on the poetry count, perhaps 2016 will see an increase in readings and hopefully more posts forthcoming, all remains to say is a thank you for reading in 2015 and also for your interest if you happen to continue reading my blog in 2016, thank you and all the best to you for the new year.

Agua Viva - Clarice Lispector
Devil's Yard - Ivo Andric
The Vegetarian - Han Kang
The Terrors of Ice and Darkness - Christoph Ransmayr
The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson
The Whale That Fell in Love With a Submarine - Nosaka Akiyuki
The Search Warrant - Patrick Modiano
A Childhood - Jona Oberski
The Small Pleasures of Life - Phillippe Delerm
In the Beginning Was the Sea - Tomas Gonzalez
The Atom Station - Halldor Laxness
Inside The Head of Bruno Schulz - Maxim Biller
The Worldwide Machine - Paolo Volpino
The Festival of Ignorance - Milan Kundera
The Meursault Investigations - Kamel Daoud
Black Rain - Ibuse Masuji
The Devil In The Hills - Cesare Pavese
Grief Is the Thing with Feathers - Max Porter
Honeymoon - Patrick Modiano
The Children's Room - Louis Rene des Forets
Badenheim 1939 - Aharon Appelfeld
Of Walking In Ice - Werner Herzog
The Tartar Steppe - Dino Buzzati
Human Acts - Han Kang
So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighbourhood - Patrick Modiano
A Whole Life - Robert Seethaler

A big thank you to the translators who've translated the above!.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Monday, December 7, 2015

Human Acts by Han Kang

Firstly I'd have to mention a massive debt of thanks to Portobello Books for providing an ARC of Human Acts by Han Kang, the book is due next month and it feels more than fitting that my reading in 2015 that began with The Vegetarian is now ending with Human Acts both of which are translated by Deborah Smith. A first observation between the two books is that where The Vegetarian feels on the whole a largely character driven work, Human Acts takes it's cue from historical event, one that is close to it's author, Han Kang. Human Acts comes to us through six installments and an epilogue, Deborah Smith also provides an introduction which connects the author to the presented novel and offers insights and backgrounds in the translation of the novel, and of the nuances of it's original Korean title, the book has courted controversy since it's publication in 2014.

Throughout the six narratives a resurfacing character, who comes into focus through the varying perspectives is Dong-ho, a young student who becomes caught up in the violent repression of a demonstration in the South Korean city of Gwangju in 1980, and through the chapters a number of other orbiting characters resurface subtly linking the narratives together, interestingly the chapters start out from 1980 and as the novel progresses each chapter advances closer towards us to the present day, the last chapter, or epilogue entitled The Writer is dated 2013. Given that Gwangju is Han Kang's native city there are a number of instances and scenes within the book and chapters that feel have a biographical element to them, in one chapter an editor for a publisher who is about to publish a work from a playwright but encounters the censor, this chapter is presented on the occasions of seven slaps the narrator receives, as with all of the chapters as well as linking to Gwangju they offer nuanced glimpses and recollections into each of their narrators personal histories. Another chapter entitled The Prisoner from 1990 is told in the form of the events being recollected to an enquiring Professor who it appears is researching the events of Gwangju, the narrator recounts his treatment after being rounded up and his relationship with another prisoner, Jin-su, the narrative continues on after they meet again years later, the evidence of the indelible scarring of their treatment whilst being incarcerated remains as the men endeavour to reconcile the events of their pasts.

Deborah Smith points out that the book is not a simple chronology of Gwangju, Human Acts feels very much that it is a testament of the horrific events seen from differing perspectives and characters as well as from differing points in time, but at the same time there are lines laid within the novel that link from the initial event through time past and into the present day, a major one is Dong-ho, one of the chapters is narrated from his mother who recalls the point of last seeing him alive and dated from 2010, although despite being one of the central figures to the novel the character of Dong-ho carries a certain amount of anonymity, it feels that Han Kang has presented us with a sketch of him, although it feels that we see the barest outlines of him he remains highly tangible, his premature fate and snuffed out innocence highly and deeply poignant, and this anonymity carries with it a  certain sense that he is an everyman, Dong-ho could be anyone. Reading Human Acts is an often deeply moving and harrowing read and to be presented with the violence and brutality of it's events is to wonder again at the depths of man's inhumanity.

Human Acts at Portobello Books