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Murakamish

January 21, 2013 55 comments

N*P by Banana Yoshimoto. 1990

I bought this book after reading a review about The Lake by Yoshimoto book at Tony’s blog. N*P‘s blurb seemed appealing and I was trying to explore Japanese literature, so I thought, “Why not?”

Ce que je savais de Tarao Sakase, cet auteur assez quelconque installé aux Etats-Unis, c’est qu’il avait, au cours d’une vie tout aussi quelconque, écrit un grand nombre de nouvelles.Qu’il s’était suicidé à l’âge de quarante-huit ans.Qu’il avait eu deux enfants avec une femme sont il s’était ensuite séparé.

Que ses nouvelles, réunies en un recueil, avaient connu un bref succès aux Etats-Unis.

Le titre de ce livre ? N*P

L’ouvrage se composait de quatre-vingt-dix-sept nouvelles.

What I knew about Tarao Takase, this average writer settled in the USA, it’s that he had, during his average life, written a lot of short-stories.That he committed suicide at 48.That he had two children with a woman whom he later divorced.

That his short-stories, gathered in a collection, had had a brief success in the USA.

The title of this collection? N*P

The book included ninety-seven short-stories.

(My akuyaku. It’s Japanese lit, I have the right to use it)

Kazami is our narrator in this novel. When she was in high-school, she was in a relationship with Shôji, an older man and the translator of Sakase’s ninety-eighth short-story. Shôji never completed the translation as he committed suicide. Kazami was at a party with Shôji when she first saw Otohiko and Saki, Sakase’s children. She didn’t speak to them, though.

Five years later, Kazami stumbles upon Otohiko in a Tôkyô street and they start a conversation. He remembers her and one thing leading to another, she befriends with him and his sister as well. Later she will meet Sui, Otohiko’s lover and also step-sister. They have the same father and discovered it after they started their relationship. The plot gravitates around these three young people, Otohiko, Sui and Saki and their unbreakable linked created by their father and his 98th short-story. It’s hard to describe this novel without giving too much away.

Yoshimoto_NPKazami is like a means to make the story move forward and also a convenient narrator. She’s involved too, in a way, through her love story with Shôji. The story is original but the abundance of weird coincidences is a bit too much for a contemporary novel. I enjoyed the description of Tôkyô in the summer, the way the atmosphere, the light, the weather penetrate the characters and influence their actions and their moods. They seem to be attuned to the outside world. Like in a Murakami novel, there’s a bridge between Japan and the Western world: Takase used to live in the USA, Otohiko, Saki and Sui are just back from Boston, Kazami is a translator from English to Japanese, just like her mother and her former lover. The story is also a bit marked by Fate like a Greek tragedy, or perhaps it is only this fortuitous incest that reminded me of Oedipus. (Although here, it’s between siblings)

I finished reading this book a couple of weeks ago and I struggle to remember it. Not good. Yoshimoto’s style is erratic. Sometimes she’s really good and sometimes, it’s a bit laboured. I don’t have quotes, which isn’t a good sign for me. I liked it but not more.

So far I have a limited experience with Japanese literature and to be honest, I’m still waiting for the book that will make me swoon and want to run to the closest book store to buy it to all my friends. OK, I loved South Of the Border, West Of the Sun by Haruki Murakami but it’s so westernised that it doesn’t count. I enjoyed Kafka on the Shore, couldn’t finish The Wind-up Bird Chronicles and didn’t like Norwegian Wood. I remember nothing of the Kawataba I’ve read and I was horrified by the Fumio Niwa. I thought that Yoshimura was good but I missed too much of it because I don’t know enough about Japanese culture. And as there are no introductions of any kind in French books, I don’t make any progress in that field. So it’s becoming quite frustrating. Truly I enjoyed the descriptions of nature and the quality of the style. They’re all gifted writers but still, nothing got me past the clinical appraisal of the style. My emotions weren’t involved. So now, after this mild encounter with Banana Yoshimoto, I’m thinking about reading the books I have on the shelf (I Am a Cat by Soseki, On Parole by Yoshimura and Strangers by Yamada.) and then giving up on Japanese literature.

This one is my first contribution to Tony’s January in Japan.

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