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 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


The Nakano Thrift Shop - Hiromi Kawakami trans. Allison Markin Powell - Portobello Books 


Absolutely On Music - Haruki Murakami - Knopf/Harvill

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

Saturday, October 31, 2015

stories available to read online

A brief end of month post - some translated stories of interest available to read online - Asymptote Journal's October issue features a short story from prize winning author Tsutsui Yasutaka - entitled Descent into Yoppa Valley, translated by Sayuri Okamoto and Sim Yee Chiang, and another story from a prize winning author can be found over at Catapult where you can read A False Genealogy by Nao-cola Yamazaki, in a translation by Polly Barton. At Granta online you can read Kawakami Mieko's About Her and the Memories That Belong to Her, translated by Hitomi Yoshio, and also at Granta is Delira by Kanehara Hitomi, translated by Dan Bradley.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa

I crack an egg and the moon comes out

Reading the poems of Chika Sagawa reminds me in places of looking at the paintings of Hasegawa Rinjiro, finely translated by Sawako Nakayasu their narration has a certain stillness to them, perhaps this is the stillness of the moment of the observations they contain, and as they unfurl we have a sense that the barrier between the interpretation of the wider world with that of it's translation to the inner being evaporates within their confines. This collection, as well as including Sagawa's poems also include a number of her short prose pieces, some of these appeared in the magazines that Sagawa contributed to, the collection also includes brief poetry reviews, observations of fellow poets, all of which convey a lucid sense of intimacy and close proximity, reading these reviews provokes the wish to see an anthology of them appear in English, to read on, to expand the picture we have of Japanese modernism. Sagawa was born in rural Hokkaido in 1911 and died in 1936 after succumbing to stomach cancer at the age of just 24, the collection includes diary entries written in hospital whilst she was receiving treatment, the entry for October 23rd sees Sagawa note; was the first time in two weeks I was able to walk down the stairs to get to the X-ray room. Symptoms of her illness and a sense of the outlines of mortality can be felt in many of the preceding poems, notably in the poem Finale.

In her introduction Sawako Nakayasu highlights the importance of Sagawa as a female poet in what was a largely male dominated arena, observing that perhaps the only other comparable poet being Yosano Akiko, Sagawa, who is regarded as Japan's first female modernist poet, was championed by Ito Sei, Kitasono Katue, and eventual Nobel Prize nominee; Junzaburo Nishiwaki. Another notable Japanese name here is Hyyaken Uchida, whom Sagawa mentions reading, perhaps some stylistic similarities can be detected between the two, another is Soseki whom Sagawa observes his passing. Although containing traditional observations of the changing seasons, Sagawa's poems are noted for their inclusion and insertions of modernist descriptions and subtle surreality, subject and object often take turns in coming to the fore. As well as writing poetry, Sagawa herself translated the poetry of James Joyce, Charles Reznikoff and Mina Loy into Japanese. Whilst reading the poem Ancient Flowers with it's young girls collecting the lips of the waves with their fingertips, I'm reminded of Hasegawa's 1975 still life of the antique doll's head laid out on the table next to the sea shell and as our eye moves from object to object, relationships shift and the picture as a whole subtly transforms from the one we first encounter, this can also be felt perhaps in Sagawa's poetry, from line to line, word to word. In the piece On Bucolic Comedies by Edith Sitwell, Sagawa describes the occasion of it's translation into Japanese, (by Tsuneo Kitamura), as a truly wonderful event, much the same and more could be said about this remarkable and valued translation.

Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa at Canarium Books

excerpts at Asymptote 

Hasegawa Rinjiro at Kyuryudo Art Publishing Co Ltd 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Flowering Harbour by Hayashi Seiichi

Recently finishing the fascinating Trash Market by Tsuge Tadao, translated and edited by Ryan Holmberg, published by D&Q, (no doubt a post forthcoming), I found myself in the mood to read more and a few clicks later brought me to the website of London based comic book publisher Breakdown Press, looking through their impressive catalogue my eye fell on Flowering Harbour by Hayashi Seiichi, again translated by Ryan Holmberg, after very much enjoying Golden Pollen and Other Stories, published by the now sadly defunct Picture Box Inc, I thought I'd have to give it a go. Flowering Harbour contains just the one story, and is produced in what could be described as a chapbook style with a stylish vertical obi, looking over the book it seems such a refreshing change that none of the cover art work here is encroached upon by a barcode or price tag, it's immacutely presented. As well as the story there is a brief introduction from Hayashi entitled Bohemian Living giving a contextual impression to the story which originally appeared in Garo in 1969.

As previously mentioned Flowering Harbour contains just the one same self titled story, it's a soulful one which ends as quickly as it arrives, so it's a little difficult to describe the drama of it without giving it all away, but the story is one of lost and loosing love, illustratively it feels wind blown, (some of it's scenes are played out in a storm), which adds to the sense of the character's emotions being blown and caught up on the much larger scale, although brief it's great to find yourself caught up in it's storyline, having it presented here on it's own makes it the more easier to turn back and read and enjoy again. It's also great to see that more from Hayashi is on the way, Drawn and Quarterly are issuing the paperback edition of his Red Colored Elegy any day now, perhaps it's already out where you are?, and then in December Breakdown Press have lined up Red Red Rock: And Other Stories    to look forward to.

Flowering Harbour at Breakdown Press

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

In The Wake - Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11

Recently The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston held the exhibition, In The Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11, which finished showing back in July although it's one that I'd really liked to have seen, there is however an accompanying book of the exhibition which was published for those of us who were unable to attend.

exhibition website

for the book