Thursday, 2 September 2010


Manazuru, Hiromi Kawakami's first novel to appear in English, is translated by Michael Emmerich whose previous translations include novels from Yoshimoto Banana, Kawabata Yasunari and Yamada Taichi to name but a few, and is published by Counterpoint Press. It opens by following the observations of a woman who has travelled from Tokyo to a remote cape, (Manazuru), she checks in at an inn by the coast run by a mother and son, the son she estimates could be in his forties. In her room her thoughts turn to Seiji back in Tokyo. Inquiring about booking her room she has the feeling that the son's voice reminds her of someone, although she can't pinpoint exactly who. She hadn't actually intentionally travelled to this place, but finishing dinner with someone, on impulse she got on a train and got off at Manazuru. As she starts to piece together the ambiguous fragments of her situation, her history begins to unfurl, she has a daughter, Momo, at High School age, her husband, Rei, went missing twelve years ago, she lives with her widowed mother, and sometime starting in the recent past she has been in a relationship with Seiji, although she's kept their relationship a secret from the rest of her family.
As she sets off to walk to the cape, she gets the feeling that she's being followed, the present tense is punctured by recollections of her relationship with her husband, of watching silent movies together, his love of the sea, 'It's strange when his presence used to be so thick, when his sudden departure only made his presence thicker', she realizes of him. The prose reverses back to when Momo was a child and explores the relationship between mother daughter, she contemplated taking down the family name plate, Yanagimoto, after some years after her husband disappeared. Kawakami's prose through Emmerich's translation captures Kei's emotional fragility, her thoughts seem to follow lines caught within an undefined polarity, 'When the path ahead is still unformed, we loose all sense of our location', her uncertainty is defined again with her stating, 'The fear in me resembled the inability to tell upstream from downstream, to perceive the direction the water was going'. As Kei examines the effects of her husband's disappearance Kawakami's concerns come to the fore, the substance of the present, desire, love, memory, motherhood, the effects of recollection, loss, and the study of human relations between both, mother and daughter, wife and man. Kawakami seems to dismantle her prose, reducing it to near poetry, near the beginning of the book in a descriptive passage we're offered as a complete sentence, 'Chrysanthemum leaves and Shiitake.', taken by themselves they summon up exacting imagery, this allows her characters to unglue themselves from their circumstances to explore a much wider terrain, and later sentences are further reduced to sometimes consisting of one word, lending the prose a blend of stream of consciousness/ stream of recollection effect, but allowing us to sometimes pause to reflect as Kei pieces together her path to coming to a conclusion of what possibly drove her husband to disappear.

Kei seems reluctant to let go of her husband, or even the memory of him, 'I've heard that when you start to dream of what you have lost, it means the hurt is healing', she appears to be happy to endure this pain rather than let him go. Although Seiji knows about Rei, Kei's feelings for her vanished husband at times threaten to overspill into her relationship with Seiji, he manages to contain his feelings despite her fragility, 'When we embrace, I feel as though I am only the outline of my body... Two outlines almost fusing but without dissolving', she observes when they are together. What Kei felt as a presence following her at the beginning of the novel, takes the form of woman who she suspects maybe connected to Rei's disappearance, she begins to talk with this woman, although it's unclear what this ghostly woman represents, possibly the woman is a symptom of her loss?, but the two women grow a fondness for each other. Despite her sometimes erudite nature the woman guides Kei back to Manazuru, where an accident occurs, a boat being used for the local festival is engulfed by the chaos caused by a typhoon, and after what could be a brief sighting of Rei, there's a pursuit and dilemma of sorts arises. On her return the narrative skips between her relationship with Seiji and recollections of Momo as a child and the difference in Momo as she shows signs of growing up. A letter arrives from Rei's father informing her that he's resigned to the fact that Rei is dead, but for Kei his lingering presence is harder to free herself from. The novel's a mixture of startling abrupt imagery and questioning meditation on the nature of remembrance of things past and passing, losing and loss.

Manazuru at Counterpoint Press


Bellezza said...

What a fascinating blog you have written, a plethora of information on Japanese literature! I can tell I need to visit often, because I don't know a fraction of these works, and you have a lot to teach me.

me. said...

Thanks for the kind comment!,there are so many books that i'm looking forward to read and post on.