A True Novel by Minae Mizumura

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This book tells a story within a story within a story. There is, at the core of it, the relationship between Taro Azuma and Yoko, his childhood friend. These two are where the resemblance to Wuthering Heights is strongest, for they are obsessed with each other although Taro is an unwanted ruffian, and Yuko comes from an affluent family.

Her family is served faithfully by Fumiko, a character through whose point of view much of the story is told. After all, she was there when the children were small; she was there when they grew into their complicated adult lives. But, she does not tell everything, leaving certain parts of the narrative out until the very end, which were only revealed by Yuko’s aunt in the final few pages.

It was a novel I wanted to enjoy, and certainly there were parts which I did. But, I found much of it tedious and overwrought; I was unable to care about the characters who seemed increasingly dramatic and immature. I could not find  much emotional involvement of my own within its pages, not like that I have for Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, or even Jane Eyre.

This novel may by considered a Japanese rendering of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, and indeed it resembles that classic. But the way A True Novel calls to mind the indelible relationships we form in our youth, or the pain we may have experienced in waiting for someone to perfectly love us, is a theme that involves many romantic novels, most of which I found more compelling than this one.

Find more reviews at Vishy’s Blog, A Bookish Way of Life, Tony’s Reading List, and Mirabile Dictu.

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15 comments

    1. I am so relieved to hear you say that! Normally I love Japanese literature, normally I love a big, thick book. But, I just couldn’t become absorbed in this one, despite its tremendous accolades. I thought it was just me.

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      1. It is an odd book, for me. There were times I was mesmerized, but when I put it down I had to convince myself to get back to it. Certainly it has stayed with me, and there were parts that I found disturbing and powerful in a good way. I chose not to write about it on the blog though, because I usually wrote only about the books that I can really get behind – in part because I don’t have the time to write about the others.

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        1. Exactly! There were times I was mesmerized, too, but I absolutely had to convince myself to go back and carry on. It wasn’t a book I was eager to pick up, yet I know what you mean when you say there were parts that stayed with you. And the disturbing parts were very reminiscent of Wuthering Heights. Like you, I most often choose to write about the books which I highly recommend. However, this time I “had” to put up a post since I was leading a group read on it with Vishy and Nadia. I felt I owed them some response, as well as leaving thoughts for the Japanese Literature Challenge. I end up wishing I could endorse this with all my heart, as I usually am quite passionate about Japanese literature for one thing, and love stories for another.

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  1. Bellezza, thank you for sharing your honest thoughts. Connecting with characters is important to me as well. I hope the next book you read is more engaging.

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  2. Enjoyed reading your review of this one. Although it sounds interesting I’m not sure if I would enjoy this one too much. I need to hurry up and find my Japanese read to complete my challenge by the end of January!

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    1. Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat put up a review of The Devotion of Suspect X today, by Keigo Higashino who’s an author I love . She was quite smitten with it, so I’m eager to try that one, as well as The House Cat. I hope you find something that appeals to you this month!

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  3. Sorry to know that you didn’t like the book, Bellezza. I was hoping you would 🙂 But I can understand what you felt. Sometimes long books aren’t as engaging as we expect them to be, and it is hard to pick them up again, if we keep them down for a while. Hope your next read is better!

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    1. I’m wondering if I just read this book at the wrong time. The hectic weeks of Christmas are not the best time to languor in a slow, long novel. As I mentioned on Tony’s post, even now that I’ve finished it I have not stopped thinking about it. Mizumura has given us a lot to think about with her characters and intricate plot. I’m not sorry I read it, I only wish I had enjoyed it as much as you and Nadia did.

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  4. M, I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the book. I can understand what you mean about being overly dramatic, but that is what I find when I read the classics like Wuthering Heights. I love the melodrama of those books – its what makes them fun to read. With A True Novel, I enjoyed getting caught up in their lives and stories. Plus, I love reading about Japan. I hope your next book is a great one to kick off this new year. I’m rereading the Maisie Dobbs series because I can’t seem to find a book that I want to read. I do have the new Minae Mizumura book on hand, so I may read that.

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    1. You make an excellent point, Nadia, about the drama inherent to those other classics. And, of course, I love reading about Japan, too. In fact, if I wasn’t beginning Captivity for January’s read along, I would jump right into another Japanese novel now. I hope you enjoy your Maisie Dobbs read.

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  5. Perhpas we forgive the melodrama of Wuthering Heights as ‘of its time’ in a way we cannot with a more modern work?
    I sympathise with the idea of reading something you don’t entirely like but still being glad you read it though.

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    1. An excellent point, Gary, about the era in which the book is published and its impact. I really, really try to read everything I start, to give it a fair chance. Haven’t you ever stuck with a book and then at the end were glad you did? That’s happened to me. Plus, I may have a touch of OCD. 😉

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