January 21, 2013 Leave a comment Go to 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.

  1. January 21, 2013 at 2:57 am

    Yoshimoto can be a very frustrating writer. I haven’t read this one, but when I reviewed ‘Asleep’, I also said that nothing really stayed with me. Her works are like a nice chocolate that you can’t remember the flavour of five minutes later 😉


    • January 21, 2013 at 8:56 pm

      Not even as good as a chocolate fix.
      A bad choice of book, then. But she sold 1 million copies of N*P in Japan !!


      • Tony
        January 17, 2019 at 11:54 pm

        I actually read this a couple of years back, and it is one of her better books 🙂


  2. January 21, 2013 at 8:13 am

    I’m going to try Japanese crime, Emma. You know how I feel about crime novels, so this will be an interesting experience for me.


    • January 21, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      good luck with this. There must be good crime writers too; the problem is: do they get translated?


      • January 22, 2013 at 1:32 am

        I’ve found a couple Emma, and I’ll be getting to them in a while.


        • January 22, 2013 at 11:38 pm

          I’m curious to read about them.


  3. January 21, 2013 at 8:43 am

    I haven’t found a Japanese writer to love yet either. It seems to me that there should be a great WW2 novel from Japan, there should be some great historical fiction and there should be some great novel exploring revenge, guilt and forgiveness, but if there is, it’s passed me by.
    I quite liked The Briefcase by Kawataba, but I was bored out of my brain by The Lake and underwhelmed by 1Q84. People rave about the Makiota Sisters (Sp?) but I found it so forgettable I can’t remember reading it at all. I’m going to try Kenzaburo who won the Nobel Prize and if that’s no good I’m giving up on it.


    • January 21, 2013 at 10:47 am

      Shusaku Endo and Msuji Ibuse have written great WWII novels.


      • January 21, 2013 at 11:09 am

        Hi Caroline, I’ve found Shusaku Endo but not Msuji Ibuse at GoodReads, can you suggest a title for the Endo please?


        • January 21, 2013 at 12:23 pm

          The Sea and Poison.
          And the Ibuse would be Black Rain. I messed up the name – Masuji Ibuse. I “liked” Black Rain better. But they are both very disturbing.


      • January 21, 2013 at 9:35 pm

        I would have recommended your blog to Lisa for this. Thanks for answering.


    • January 21, 2013 at 9:00 pm

      Ah someone who feels like me. We haven’t read the same ones, though. I’m definitely not reading 1Q84.

      I was starting to wonder if I’m even able to love non-Western fiction (Since I didn’t fall madly in love with the with the South-American books I’ve read so far) but then I remembered I love Naguig Mahfouz.


  4. January 21, 2013 at 10:51 am

    I’ve read quite a lot of Yoshimoto’s books and liked them a great deal but that deosn’t mean i could remember them very well either. It’s the moods and atmosphere I like and those I can remember. However I liked her short stories and Kitchen better than this novel.


    • January 21, 2013 at 4:33 pm

      Kitchen is my favorite Banana Yoshimoto novel also. In fact it blew me away and made me want to tell everyone to read it. But none of her other books could live up to that level of expectations for me.


      • January 21, 2013 at 9:37 pm

        Second time someone says Kitchen is better. Sometimes I should just go for the obvious, after all, this is her most famous novel.


    • January 21, 2013 at 9:36 pm

      Apparently, I picked the wrong Yoshimoto. Too bad for me.


      • January 21, 2013 at 9:45 pm

        Kitchen stands out, that’s for sure.


  5. January 21, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    It doesn’t sound standout wherever it’s from. Not sure that’s so much a comment on Japanese literature though as just a solid but not great book.

    Junichiro Tanizaki is probably my favourite of the Japanese writers I’ve read, but as you know I’ve reviewed two Yoshimura’s at mine both of which were very impressive.

    Lisa, regarding WWII novels check out Yoshimura’s One Man’s Justice which is one of those two I’ve reviewed.

    I have I am a Cat, but I think it’s as much of historic interest as it is literary. Strangers is supposed to be good, but like most of the others you’ve read it’s a fairly fashionable contemporary novel if I recall correctly – like most of the others you’ve tried so far. Looking at your list I’m not sure you’ve read any of the Japanese greats, more the Japanese current scene which is cool but not necessarily where I’d start.

    Put another way, I’m afraid the three you have on the shelf (query the Yoshimura, don’t know that one) may not be particularly great introductions to Japanese literature. I am a Cat should be fun at the start, but to get through the whole book (and it’s big) requires an interest in historical Japanese culture, and The Stranger is one I looked at in a bookshop but didn’t buy as I wasn’t wholly persuaded.

    The best Japanese fiction transcends culture. To be fair, I think Murakami does do that sometimes, Yoshimoto I’m not so sure.


    • January 21, 2013 at 9:47 pm

      I liked the Yoshimura I’ve read. He’s definitely a great writer, beautiful style, original stories. But I can’t say I loved it. I’m looking forward to reading On Parole, though.

      When I asked Tony where to start, he recommended I Am a Cat. So now I’m a little confused.
      What bothers me is that I don’t manage to create links between the books. Usually, when I read about another culture, after several books I’m able to notice common points between books and it helps me build a sort of personal dictionary of that specific lit. It’s a bit of knowledge that grows and helps reading and enjoying books. Here, I don’t make any progress toward this personal references. That’s why I’m discouraged and thinking perhaps this is just not for me.

      I’m amazed at how very polite you all are: nobody’s saying that giving up is a stupid thing to do.


  6. January 21, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    On Parole is the book the film The Eel is based on! I just googled it. The film is exceptional, so I hope the book is too.


    • January 21, 2013 at 9:52 pm

      I’m afraid I’ve never heard of that film.

      Btw, I’ve just finished My Father’s Journal by Jirô Taniguchi and thought it was fantastic. Perhaps I should start again with graphic novels…


    • January 22, 2013 at 1:32 am

      I agree Max, the film is excellent


  7. January 21, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    I ve only read kitchen by her I enjoyed it but other reviews for her recent books have been up and down ,all the best stu


    • January 21, 2013 at 9:47 pm

      thanks Stu. I should have read Kitchen


  8. January 21, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    Nice review, Emma! Sorry to know that you didn’t like ‘N*P’ as much as you had expected to. I haven’t read a Yoshimoto novel yet. One of my friends who is a Yoshimoto fan told me that ‘N*P’ and ‘Kitchen’ are excellent. Maybe you will like ‘Kitchen’ more. I have seen Soseki Natsume’s ‘I am a Cat’ in the bookshop here. I love the premise of that book. Hope you like it. Have you read Yoko Ogawa? She is my favourite Japanese writer. I loved her book ‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’. Also have you read Natsuo Kirino? I liked her novel ‘Grotesque’ though it is quite bleak and dark.


    • January 21, 2013 at 10:55 pm

      Apparently, you’d better read Kitchen if you want to try Yoshimoto.
      I’ve never read Yoko Ogawa or Natsuo Kirino. Thanks for mentioning them.


  9. January 21, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    I’ve picked different authors from you and found the same issues of disconnect and not quite knowing where to start/the basics of the culture described. I’ve got two other books to read and a DVD to watch but in some ways the J-Lit challenge has really turned me off!


    • January 21, 2013 at 11:18 pm

      I’m not the only one.
      Perhaps we should first read Japanese Culture for dummies or something like this? 🙂


  10. January 21, 2013 at 11:28 pm

    Oh dear 😦 Perhaps we need a list of good J-Lit starter books 🙂

    I agree with Max that for those into literary fiction, going with the names that are tossed around isn’t necessarily the best idea. Many of those are deliberately chosen to please as many people as possible…


    • January 21, 2013 at 11:29 pm

      Now you have a task at hand: you need to write the Japanese Lit for dummies blog post 🙂


  11. January 22, 2013 at 11:09 am

    I probably share your views on Japanese literature. Apart from Murakami I have yet to find an author who impresses me. The more I read other people’s blogs, the more I want to remain with European literature. I know there are countless good authors beyond our borders but somehow they don’t interest me very much! At least it enable me to keep my blog quite focused


    • January 22, 2013 at 11:41 pm

      I understand your choice but I don’t want to make the same right now. I’m still willing to read books from non European countries.


  12. TBM
    January 22, 2013 at 11:10 am

    I haven’t read that many Japanese writers but have been searching for some novels. I may seek out the WWII novels suggested by Caroline as a place to start. My goal this year is to read more novels from around the world.


    • January 22, 2013 at 11:45 pm

      It’s not that simple to know what to start with. Caroline’s suggestions are good literary books. At least you don’t have to worry about that aspect.


  13. January 22, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Some general thoughts.

    Firstly, I’ll bow to Tony on I am a Cat, since I have a copy which I’ve skimmed and have read about it but he’s actually read it, which definitely trumps me there.

    Secondly, on popularity, that’s actually a warning sign. Yes, some of these books sell millions of copies. How many of the books you normally read is that true of though? Did Gary Romain sell in the millions? If so, my respects to the French book buying public… If you’re not a big reader of popular fiction in French or English it’s unlikely you will be in translated Japanese.

    Kitchen is alright, but I’d be very surprised if you did read it if it made your end of year list.

    I actually wonder a bit about book challenges. The reason I’d think to read a Japanese novel is because someone you know talks about it and it sounds like something you want to read. I’m not sure seeking out novels because they’re Japanese would ever really generate the same enthusiasm because you’re not looking to read that book, but simply a book written in that language. Also, challenges always sound to me a bit like work rather than pleasure.

    Looking at European literature, if we did this same exercise you’d likely end up with some Ian McEwan, perhaps Bernard Schlink, maybe (maybe) some Houllebecq (I had to google how to spell his name – the shame!) though probably not, perhaps the JK Rowling adult novel, that sort of thing. Popular literaryish fiction.

    What I’d suggest is abandoning challenges, and if a review of Tony’s, or mine, or whoevers tempts you to read a book that’s Japanese (or Brazilian, or Nigerian, or whatever) then by all means read it, and if they don’t, don’t.


    • January 23, 2013 at 12:04 am

      You’re right about the popularity. Of course it’s not a guarantee of quality. There is no rule about the books that make it into translation. I’ve checked online and stumbled upon an article by Le Figaro: Romain Gary is among the 50 classic writers the most sold in France ( and yet, he’s not translated into English. So the who gets translated seems pretty random, sometimes. There are certainly fantastic Japanese writers that aren’t available in French.

      About challenges. I didn’t read a Japanese book because of the challenge. (And January in Japan is not a challenge, there is no objective, other than read the Japanese lit you want and write a billet about it) I read it in January because of this event, that was the difference. Bookish events are just an opportunity to read a book you already have. I bought Yoshimura after reading your reviews, Yoshimoto after reading Tony’s, Strangers after reading a review on Caroline’s blog and I owe you South of the Border, West of the Sun. So the Japanese writers I tried all come from my reading bloggers I respect. Nothing random. So I think your comment is a bit unfair.


      • January 23, 2013 at 1:02 am

        Interesting about Gary Romain. The French reading public is clearly more sophisticated than most.

        I was trying in part to jump off to a wider point on challenges, but I did it badly in part because I misunderstood the January in Japan concept. I was using “you” more as I would “one” than “you”, but then muddled that with stuff actually addressed to you. As a result rereading what I wrote I can see that you’re right and I was unfair, particularly in the final paragraph, and I’m sorry for that.


        • January 23, 2013 at 8:20 am

          The French public isn’t better than any other. Gary is just a bloody good writer.


          • January 23, 2013 at 10:48 am

            I’ve no doubt he is. I wasn’t being particularly serious about the French reading public, there’s are always a few literary writers with big sales (in the UK, McEwan, Barnes, Banks, Ishiguro spring to mind). I do think it’s fair to say though that as a rule there’s no clear relationship between being a good writer and being a widely read writer. Being a good writer doesn’t mean you can’t be widely read, but nor does it mean that you will be widely read.


  14. January 23, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Great comments here! I haven’t read any Yoshimoto but I did read Strangers by Yamada for J-Lit Month which you said you have on your shelf (also read South of the Border, West of the Sun). I thought it was excellent, but I may never have chosen it had I not decided to take part in this read-along.


    • January 23, 2013 at 11:08 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I have a chance that Strangers is a great read then


  15. January 24, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    NOVEL FOR REVIEW: A Soul’s Calling, 340 pp., Wanderlust Publishing House, ISBN 13-978-0-61569-535-8

    Dear Books,

    Sorry to approach you through your comments but I could find no email address to send this to. And, I know your time is limited and have to be very selective in the books you review, but I would count myself very lucky if you considered my book A Soul’s Calling for review on your website.

    A Soul’s Calling is a memoir about a man who listened to his heart instead of reason. The book, a work of speculative non-fiction, is part travelogue, part hiking adventure, with shamanism and magic woven throughout.

    A Soul’s Calling transports readers to Nepal’s rugged but enchanting Khumbu Valley where mountains speak and nature is imbued with a special kind of magic. The novel is an inspiring modern day adventure that weaves the timeless themes of living an authentic life, the consequences of power, and what a man would do for unrequited love.

    Scott, a forty-something attorney, is average in every way except one. He has a connection to the Other Side. He speaks to Spirit and Spirit speaks to him. He sees, hears, and interacts with an invisible realm that is beyond ordinary human perception. When Scott learns his soul has been spiritually compromised he travels to the ancient kingdom of Nepal to win it back. Once there, he hikes the Himalaya carrying a mysterious bundle and a stick laden with prayers from Luminous Beings hoping to come face to face with the greatest mountain on earth: Mount Everest. As his journey unfolds, Scott is called on to battle his fear of heights, the thin air, and his physical limitations. Powerful, sweeping, and deeply moving, readers will search their hearts as the book draws to a stunning conclusion.

    If this sounds appealing, I would be happy to provide you with a Kindle copy through Amazon. To read an excerpt from the book, please visit or you can view it using Amazon’s Look Inside feature here:

    With every best wish,

    Scott Bishop


    • January 24, 2013 at 9:26 pm

      Dear Scott,

      Thank you for your message but I’m currently on a book buying ban or I should say a do-not-increase-the-TBR project. It means that I only read books that are already on my shelf.
      Plus, I’m afraid I’m not the best reader possible for your book: I’m not too keen on books which include supernatural elements.

      I wish you the best and a lot of success for your book.



  16. January 16, 2019 at 11:21 pm

    Bonjour Emma,
    Je viens juste de découvrir ta chronique sur N.P…. Je suis d’accord avec toi, (je pense que la quatrième de couverture ne donne pas une bonne image du contenu, ce qui m’a réellement gêné ) Bon j’ai dans ma Pal ‘Kitchen’, le seul que je n’ai pas lu et qui parait être le meilleur.
    Concernant Murakami j’ai également un coup de coeur intégral sur “Au sud de la frontière, à l’ouest du soleil”, mais un peu moins sur les autres.
    Difficile de faire une liste exhaustive, mais Peut être, pour te tenter quelques auteurs que j’apprécie particulièrement, Yoko Ogawa j’ai du en chroniquer pas mal sur mon site et pour commencer des nouvelles : “la piscine” ou “les abeilles”, “la grossesse” ou “hotel iris”. C’est vraiment à découvrir tel un puzzle.
    Puis également Mishima, à découvrir avec ‘le marin rejeté par la mer’.
    Evidemment Tanizaki, “éloge de l’ombre” qui est un essai, j’aime aussi beaucoup “la clé”.
    Et un dernier “Ohan” de Uno Chiyo
    Pas de polar dans cette liste,
    A te lire
    Bonne soirée


    • January 17, 2019 at 11:20 pm

      Merci beaucoup pour ces idées de lecture.
      Je n’ai jamais essayé Yoko Ogawa, je retiens l’idée.
      A bientôt

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tony
        January 17, 2019 at 11:56 pm

        Mishima and Ogawa are great suggestions- I just finished rereads from both (‘Spring Snow’ and ‘The Diving Pool’ respectively)!. In fact, French readers are spoiled for choice with Ogawa whereas there are currently only four of her books available in English (with one more due out later this year)…


        • January 18, 2019 at 12:01 am

          Thanks for the message, it’s always strange how some writers are more translated in a language than in another.
          I read one Mishima, a long time ago and I don’t remember its title. I’ll have to try again.


        • January 18, 2019 at 12:04 am

          PS have you ever read Aki Shimazaki?


          • January 18, 2019 at 7:41 am

            Aki Shimazaki is a great writer, Japonaise qui vit au Canada. Elle n’écrit qu’en Français. J’aurais pu l’ajouter à la liste.


            • January 18, 2019 at 10:17 pm

              J’ai commencé, ça a l’air chouette. J’admire les écrivains qui n’écrivent pas dans leur langue maternelle.

              Liked by 1 person

  17. January 19, 2019 at 10:26 am

    Tu as démarré quel cycle ?


    • January 19, 2019 at 11:14 am

      Le poids des secrets. J’ai bien aimé le 1er tome, je vais récupérer la suite. (une copine les as lus)

      Liked by 1 person

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