“It occurred to me that I was crying because I wanted to see the translator. I wanted to feel the warmth of his skin, see the shy smile that lit up his face when he caught sight of me in the crowd. I wanted to repeat our secret ceremony at his home on the island. Though I knew I would see him the next day, that was somehow no comfort as I cried behind the desk. I wanted to see him that instant, and the feeling made me terribly sad.” (p. 73)
My relationship with Hotel Iris began a year ago when it was first released in English. I was promised an early edition by one of the agents in the publishing house, but it never appeared. Saddened, I determined to wait until I could order it myself.
Then, Mark David of Absorbed in Words sent me his own copy from the Philippines. I have been saving it for a special time, and this is it: the last weekend of my Summer before I return to the classroom.
I love the way Japanese novels, the particularly outstanding ones, create a mood. Every detail is portrayed simply and elegantly, and I feel as if I’m living with the characters in their own setting. I feel as if I’m there, although I’ve never personally been to Japan.
“We were standing on the deck of the excursion boat, looking out at the sea. The crowd that had pressed against the railing until so recently was nowhere to be seen. A nurse from the sanitarium who had apparently been shopping in town was sleeping against the window in the cabin. The man who ran the coffee stand had left his post and was smoking a cigarette at the bow of the boat. The deck was empty except for a few groups of tourists out to escape the monotony of the town.” (p. 142)
But Hotel Iris is not about tourists, or excursion boats, or monotony.
It is about a seventeen year old girl, the daughter of the hotel’s proprietress, and her relationship with ‘the translator’. The translator, for that’s all we know him as, first sees her when a whore kicks him out of their room in the hotel. Mari knows she must have him give her orders such as she heard him give the old prostitute, and their union is inevitable.
Much like Nabokov’s Lolita, we are in turns pitying her and captivated by her story. Here is a man fifty years older than she, who subjects her to horrors beyond my imagination: ordering her to put his socks on his feet without using her hands (only her mouth); tying her to furniture with cords which bind her; being rough and cruel one minute, while telling her he loves her the next.
In this bizarre tale, Ogawa explores relationships between mother and daughter, uncle and nephew, and most intriguingly, lovers with strange and unmet needs.