Japanese Literature Challenge 12 (State of the Challenge #2)

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Find reading plans from Juliana at the [blank] garden, Nadia at A Bookish Way of Life, and Gnoe at Graasland.

Bee Honey by Banana Yoshimoto, Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami, and The Master Key by Masako Togawa are reviewed by Mel U of The Reading Life.

Birthday Girl by Haruki Murakami is reviewed by me.

Reminder to read The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon in February with Frances and I, if you would like to do so.

Birthday Girl by Haruki Murakami (a short story translated by Jay Rubin)

 

One rainy Tokyo night, a waitress’s uneventful twentieth birthday takes a strange and fateful turn when she’s asked to deliver dinner to the restaurant’s reclusive owner. Birthday Girl is a beguiling, exquisitely satisfying taste of master storytelling, published to celebrate Murakami’s 70th birthday. (from Penguin)

I cannot stop thinking about Haruki Murakami’s short story, Birthday Girl. 

The setting begins in an Italian restaurant, and then it moves to room 604 of the same building. The room overlooks the steel skeleton of the Tokyo Tower, while outside the wind whips the raindrops which tap unevenly at the windowpane. The waitress who twentieth birthday it is has been asked to bring dinner to the owner of the restaurant, a job usually reserved for the manager who has suddenly been taken ill. After she lays his meal out for him on the plastic laminate coffee table, the owner asks her to stay a moment for he has something to say to her.

‘Happy birthday,” he said. “May you live a rich and fruitful life, and may there be nothing to cast dark shadows on it.”

They clinked glasses.

May there be nothing to cast dark shadows on it: she silently repeated his remark to herself. Why had he chosen such unusual words for her birthday wish?

Perhaps it is because the girl is so young, only twenty; perhaps she can make wishes which will not darken the years ahead of her. Yet, which of us can escape the consequences of our wishes, not having the ability to see what they will bring?

He then makes it clear that he wants to give her a present, although this makes her uncomfortable.

“The kind of ‘present’ I have in mind is not something tangible, not something with a price tag. To put it simply”—he placed his hands on the desk and took one long, slow breath—”what I would like to do for a lovely young fairy such as you is to grant a wish you might have, to make your wish come true. Anything. Anything at all that you wish for—assuming that you do have such a wish.”

This girl has not had anything special happen all day, and no one had even wished her a happy birthday, so she makes a wish. While we are not told what her wish is, we are told that it is not what an ordinary girl might wish for. She did not wish to become prettier or smarter or rich.

Whatever it is that she wished for, she later tells an unnamed narrator that it did, and didn’t, come true. “I still have a lot of living left to do, probably. I haven’t seen how things are going to work out to the end.”

When this narrator asks her if she regrets what she wished for, she replies that she is married now, with two children, an Irish Setter and an Audi with a dented bumper. Is this an answer of a fulfilled wish? It could be. Or, perhaps wishes cannot be fulfilled after all.

“What I’m trying to tell you is this,” she said more softly, scratching an earlobe. It was a beautifully shaped earlobe. “No matter what they wish for, no matter how far they go, people can never be anything but themselves. That’s all.”

So as you can see, this story of merely seven pages has a myriad of meanings. Once again, Murakami leaves us wide open to possibilities. But, I like thinking about the mysterious mood he portrayed, the idea that a fastidious man can grant one wish, and overriding all of that, we can never be anything but ourselves.

Since my birthday is at the end of the month, I had to read his short story, Birthday Girl. (It is available to read online here.)

Still Is The Land (from West With The Night by Beryl Markham), a tremendous dog story

 

 

‍My mother found this story, an excerpt really, in The Greatest Dog Stories Ever Told edited by Patricia M. Sherwood. Beryl Markham’s courage never fails to amaze me; it stands hand in hand with her ability to write.

In this story, she tells of her dog, Buller. He was bull terrier and English sheepdog, so thoroughly mixed he looked like neither.

Buller was my accomplice in everything. He was a past-master at stealth and at more other things than any dog I ever owned or knew.

Surely he was at least as brave as Beryl, accompanying her on the Nandi hunts she participated in with the Murani in East Africa. He had even survived the attack of a leopard who had crept one night into Beryl’s hut and abducted him from the foot of her bed.

This story of their hunt, in which Beryl and Buller and the Murani encounter an angry lion, and an angrier warthog, shows more courage than I will ever possess.

But, it also shows the affection for a dog, which I know quite well.

Books Read in 2018

Books Read in 2018

~January~

  1. Satantango by László Krasznahorkai (translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes)
  2. Theft by Finding by David Sedaris
  3. Paris for One by JoJo Moyes
  4. Origin by Dan Brown
  5. Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna
  6. The Open Window by Saki
  7. The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

~February~

  1. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  2. Mrs. Osmond by John Banville
  3. The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani (translated from the French by Sam Taylor, Goncourt prize)
  4. The Builders by Maeve Binchy

~March~

  1. Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena (translated from the Latvian by Margita Gailitis)
  2. Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto by Gianni Rodari (translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar)
  3. Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck (translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky, Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  4. The White Book by Han Kang (translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith, Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  5. The Stolen Bicycle by Ming-Yi Wu (translated from the Mandarin by Darryl Sterk, Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  6. Frankenstein In Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright, Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  7. Like A Fading Shadow by Antonio Munez Molina (translated from the Spanish by Camilo A. Ramirez, Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  8. Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft, Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  9. As The World Goes On by Laszlo Krasznahorkai (translated from the Hungarian by John Bakti, Ottilie Mulzet and George Szirtes, Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  10. Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz (translated from the Spanish by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff, Man Booker International Prize 2018)

~April~

  1. Old Buildings in North Texas by Jen Waldo
  2. The Flying Mountain by Christoph Ransmayr, translated from the German by Simon Pare (Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  3. The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet, translated from the French by Sam Taylor (Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  4. Vernon Subutex 1by Virginie Despentes, translated from the French by Frank Wynne (Man Booker International Prize 2018)
  5. The Imposter by Javier Cercas, translated from the Spanish by Frank Wynne (Man Booker International Prize 2018)

~May~

  1. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Man Booker Prize 2002)
  2. Middlemarch by George Eliot

~June~

  1. The Rooster Bar by John Grisham
  2. The Eight Mountains by Pablo Cognetti (Premio Strega 2017, Prix Medici etranger)
  3. Heart Earth by Ivan Doig
  4. Clock Dance by Ann Tyler
  5. The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet
  6. Our House by Louise Candlish

~July~

  1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (reread)
  2. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
  3. Something In The Water by Catherine Steadman

~August~

  1. Fever and Spear by Javier Marias (Spanish/Portuguese Lit Month)
  2. A Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan (Man Booker Prize 2018 long list)
  3. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (Man Booker Prize 2018 long list)
  4. Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews
  5. Sabrina by Nick Drnaso (Man Booker Prize 2018 long list)
  6. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (Man Booker Prize 2018 long list)

~September~

  1. The Miniaturist by Jessica Burton
  2. The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  3. Needful Things by Stephen King (R.I.P. VIII)

~October~

  1. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
  2. Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

~November~

  1. Chess Story by Stefan
  2. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
  3. Educated by Tara Westover
  4. Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants by Matthias Énard
  5. Three Governesses by Anne Serre

~December~

  1. The Witch Elm by Tana French
  2. A Vintage Christmas (Vintage Minis)
  3. Silent Night by Robert B. Parker

Japanese Literature Challenge 12 (State of The Challenge #1)

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I was so happy to find that several blogging friends wished to participate in the Japanese Literature Challenge yet again. Although we are not numbering in the hundreds, as in the early days of 2006, these are the faithful few endeavoring to read Japanese literature throughout the months of January, February and March.

 

 

 

Participants:

 

The Master Key by Masako Togawa (Japanese Literature Challenge 12)

The novel begins with a woman wearing a red scarf being struck by a car and killed. Only, she is not a woman, but a man, as was later discovered by the medical examiner.

Suddenly the story shifts to an earlier time, where this man has carried a Gladstone bag which is apparently quite heavy (for within it is the body of a child), into a building. He and a woman bury it in the floor of a bath house which has long been in disuse.

Leaving all that behind, the story continues with the people who live in an apartment building solely for women. There is a strange assortment of characters, from the receptionist who sneaks naps while at her desk, to the concert violinist whose middle finger became paralyzed in her thirties, to the woman who steals fish heads and bones to build up her calcium, to a retired teacher. (Like me.) Who relieves her loneliness by writing to all her former students one by one, thereby bringing the mystery to its conclusion.

I liked this novel, but I did not love it. The mystery was clever enough, yet I found the translation irritating in many places. Not that I can read Japanese; the English simply sounded forced.

While spending the month here in Florida, I plan to indulge myself in translated literature. I have begun the rightfully praised trilogy of Miklós Bánffy, They Were Counted, and then I shall pick up Ruth Ozeki’s Tales for The Time Being.

In the meantime, it thrills my heart that so many bloggers have joined The Japanese Literature Challenge 12, and are reading such exciting books. I will publish a post of links soon.

My Top Ten Books for 2018

 

It is no surprise that when I review the list of approximately fifty books I read in 2018, the ones which are my favorite are all (but one) in translation. But, that does not make them inaccessible for readers who do not normally pick up translated literature. In fact, if you are tired of the same boring mysteries, the same boring love affairs, the same boring story told over and over again, I can’t recommend each one of these enough.

My Top Ten for the Year 2018:

  1. Flights by Olga Tokarczuk: Because it deserved to win the Man Booker International Prize this year for its breathtaking writing and memorable recounting of our lives.
  2. From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan: Because I have never seen three disparate stories woven together so seamlessly, or with such power.
  3. The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti: Because it won both the Strega Award and the Prix Médicis étranger, and faultlessly told the story of two boys’ friendship, as well as their relationship with one’s father.
  4. Fever and Spear by Javier Marias: Because Javier Marias is my favorite Spanish author; everything he writes is downright lyrical.
  5. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata: Because I was enchanted by this quirky character who loved convenience stores, the reason for which I could completely understand when I was in Japan this October.
  6. Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami: Because it is an accessible, brilliant novel by my favorite Japanese author whom I never pretend to fully understand.
  7. Chess Story by Stefan Zweig: Because the tension mounted with every move, and the author wrote it in less than 100 pages.
  8. Go Went Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck: Because of the compelling side she shows for the immigrants who have no home.
  9. Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz: Because it was the most startling and upsetting book I read this year (ever?) and I will never forget it.
  10. Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants by Mathias Enard: Because Mattias Enard captured Michelangelo in a fresh, new way when I thought I knew him already.

And now, I wish you a Happy New Year, and many joyous reads ahead in 2019!

Japanese Literature Challenge 12

Several dear blog friends have inquired about hosting another Japanese Literature Challenge, which touches me as it is an interest for which my heart never wants to let go. In the previous eleven years, I have run it from June to January, but now I am beginning with January and ending in March. I think we should have at least three months in which to indulge this passion, especially as I believe that Frances and I spoke of reading The Pillow Book in February.

There will be give-aways during the challenge, which I will send internationally. One of them is the advanced reading copy I have of Mishima’s book Star which will be published by New Directions Publishing April 30, 2019. Another is a book I have from nyrb entitled The Gate by Natsume Soseki. I will also give away a copy of The Emissary by Yoko Tawada which recently won the 2018 National Book Award for Translated Literature. Of course, what would a Japanese Literature Challenge by without Haruki Murakami? I will give away a Vintage Mini copy of his book, Desire, in which the “five weird and wonderful tales collected here each unlock the many-tongued language of desire, whether it takes the form of hunger, lust, sudden infatuation or the secret longings of the heart.” (back cover)

Since blogging has expanded into other social platforms, let’s use #JLC12 on Twitter or Instagram. And if you’ll leave a comment here, on this post, I will publish a weekly update including the book(s) you read and a link to your post if you wrote one.

So please, join The Reading Life, Graasland, Reading The World, Terri Talks Books, Tredynas Days, and me in this year’s Japanese Literature Challenge 12. I am eager to begin.

Of Wych Elms, Shiny Bells and a Star (Thoughts on Tana French’s latest, Henny’s color-along, and Yukio Mishima’s book coming in April)

It took me three weeks to finish Tana French’s The Witch Elm, partly because I’ve been quite distracted this Fall and Winter, and partly because I found it quite long. In between reading chapters about Toby and his cousins, and detective Rafferty’s exploration behind the finding of a body in the wych elm of their uncle’s garden, I have been coloring.

In particular, I have been enjoying Henny’s Christmas color-along of Shiny Bells on YouTube. The template was only $1.75, and she has been putting up daily tutorials here. I figure if more people come to see the origami pages I have published, than the thoughts I have on books, it can do no harm to post a few thoughts on colored pencil. While my drawing only vaguely resembles hers, it is great fun to follow along and learn what she has to say about shading and blending.

I found myself comparing The Witch Elm to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, one of my favorite novels. They are similar in that both authors create such an atmospheric mood, while bringing their characters to life. The Witch Elm was less than a mystery, I think, than an exploration of relationships, as well as the way that Toby had to manage a series of consequences that had deadly results. I liked it until the end, where I must absorb Toby’s new nature. Or, perhaps it was the nature he had within him all along.

In other news, I am ready to begin two new novels by Yukio Mishima.

One is entitled The Frolic of The Beasts. The other was send to me by New Directions Publishing, entitled Star which will be published April 30, 2019. It is described as such: “For the first time in English, a glittering novella about stardom from “one of the greatest avant-garde Japanese writers of the twentieth century” (Judith Thurman, The New Yorker)

My passion for Japanese literature never wans, and I will be sure to post some thoughts on these as soon as I have read them in case you would be interested in picking them up as well.

Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants by Mathias Énard (It’s just magnificent!)

Here is an indication of the glory within these pages, just in Énard’s ability to write about a notebook alone:

”Michelangelo owns a notebook, a simple notebook he made himself: some leaves of paper folded in half, held together with a string, with a cover made of thick cardboard. It’s not a sketchbook, he doesn’t draw in it; nor does he note down the verses that come to him sometimes, or the drafts of his letters, even less his impressions of the days or the weather outside.

In this stained notebook, he records treasures. Endless accumulations of various objects, accounts, expenses, supplies: clothes, menus, words, simply words.

His notebook is his sea chest.” (p. 14)

Mathias Enard has written exactly how I feel about notebooks, what I have known to be true about them, but unable to articulate, since I was a child.

And then there’s this:

”You conquer people by telling them of battles, kings, elephants and marvelous beings; by speaking to them about the happiness they will find beyond death, the bright light that presided over their birth, the angels wheeling around them, the demons menacing them, and love, love, that promise of oblivion and satiety. Tell them about all of that, and they will love you; they will make you the equal of a god.” (p. 54)

I could keep writing quotes until the novel ends…