Tag: January in Japan

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

Posted January 13, 2021 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 2 Comments

Earthlings by Sayaka MurataTitle: Earthlings (Goodreads)
Author: Sayaka Murata
Translator: Ginny Tapley Takemori
Published: Granta, 2020
Pages: 247
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Paperback

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What I really loved about Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman is the way she writes about social norms. She looks at social situations and asks the question, “What do we consider normal, and why it is so important?” Keiko was happy with her situation as a convenience store attendant, but the world and even her family wanted to push her to want more from her career and life. Murata seems to take this idea one step further in Earthlings.

The novel follows Natsuki, who even from a very young age felt like she did not belong here on earth. Both Natsuki and her cousin Yuu considered themselves to be aliens from another planet left on earth. Even when she got older, Natsuki had this viewpoint, and considered earth to be just a baby making factory. To keep her family off her back she married and hoped to just have a quiet life with her husband. However, her family kept demanding she have children and the pressure continuously grew to unhealthy levels.

Earthlings is a weird book; it explores the social pressures of reproducing but it does take a disturbing turn. I like the way Sayaka Murata looks at social issues and pushes the boundaries to show just how damaging they can be but I am also not a fan of the way this book ended. I do not think it is worth discussing the ending and if you have read the book, you know what I mean. I feel that the focus should be on how alienating social norms can be, and the way it made Natsuki feel. I have been married for eleven years and I know how frustrating it is when people ask me and my wife why we do not have children. This question is none of their business and tend to lead to awkward moments if you do decide to share the reasons. This novel plays with the social expectations of reproduction by constantly referring to the world as a baby making factory, like life has no value except creating children.

Sayaka Murata loves to push the boundaries with her characters and I am not going to try and diagnose these people in her books. I have seen far too many people claim Keiko was autistic in Convenience Store Woman, but does that really matter? You could probably label both Natsuki and her husband as asexuals in Earthlings, but it feels weird to label a fictional character. I am not a psychologist, so I do not want to diagnose Keiko with autistic and while I understand it is useful to show representation or to use psychoanalysis to analyse a book, I often find myself questioning the motives. If the author has not mentioned it, are we just projecting ideas onto a character? Granted this can be useful for understanding but it can also mean we are pushing these characters into a label and not letting them show us the problems with the world around us.

The writing of Sayaka Murata might not be for everyone, but I am looking forward to seeing what Ginny Tapley Takemori translates next. I want to read more books like this, where the author challenges social ideas and does it in interesting ways. This is a dark but very entertaining novel, and I am glad that Murata has done so well for herself in the English speaking world.


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Posted January 26, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 0 Comments

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki MurakamiTitle: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Goodreads)
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Philip Gabriel
Published: Knopf Doubleday, 2007
Pages: 180
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a memoir by Haruki Murakami where he talks about his interest in running. From running for pleasure to competing in over twenty marathons and an ultramarathon. Part training log, travelogue and reminiscence, this is a memoir of Murakami’s passion for running.

Now I’m not a runner and I don’t think I ever will be but I like to read about people being passionate about a topic and although this was brief, the passion was not in short supply. Most people know Haruki Murakami for his postmodern novels which include Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84. This is an unusual memoir, not just because it only focuses on one interest, but because I don’t think any other authors have written something like it.

The book tries to explore why he is so passionate about running and why he runs. For a non runner reading this book for its memoir aspects, it’s just interesting the approach he takes. It’s like seeing Murakami’s thought process on the page; not offering tips or anything, just being nostalgic about past runs or discussing plans for a marathon or just tracking his daily runs.

For me this is nothing special, but for people obsessed with running this would be an interesting read. I read just to see the passion he has towards running, as well as the fact it was mentioned in Metroland and I want to be a book hipster. I was surprised how well this worked, like a stream of conscious of Haruki Murakami’s love of running.


Revenge by Yoko Ogawa

Posted January 17, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Short Stories / 0 Comments

Revenge by Yoko OgawaTitle: Revenge (Goodreads)
Author: Yoko Ogawa
Translator: Stephen Snyder
Published: Picador, January 29, 2012
Pages: 176
Genres: Short Stories
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

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An aspiring writer moves into a new apartment and discovers that her landlady has murdered her husband. Years later, the writer’s stepson reflects upon his stepmother and the strange stories she used to tell him. Yoko Ogawa weaves together a collection of short stories to create a haunting tapestry of death.

While this is a collection of short stories, Yoko Ogawa has managed to link each story with the last with recurring images and motifs. Apparently this is an old tradition from classical Japanese poetic collections. This is an eerie and very sinister novel but there is a real beauty within it too; not just in the writing, but in the imagery.  Yoko Ogawa takes the reader on a clever journey of life and the afterlife.

I love what Ogawa does in this book, not only looking at the human psyche but plays with it a little to mess with the mind.  From the very start of this book, I was planning my next dip into the world of Yoko Ogawa, I was hooked and I wanted to explore her writing more. It was just the combination of beauty with the sinister tones of the stories that really worked for me.

If this book is anything to go on, Yoko Ogawa is an amazing writer; showing the reader the beauty behind the dark and disturbing. Each story is macabre but the best part of the entire book is the way the stories link together and the beautiful tapestry Ogawa weaves.  Highly recommended for lovers of short stories and the dark and disturbing, you won’t be disappointed by how Yoko Ogawa captures your attention.