Tag: Japanese Fiction

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

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindleWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

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.


In the Miso Soup by Ryū Murakami

Posted October 4, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Horror / 2 Comments

In the Miso Soup by Ryū MurakamiTitle: In the Miso Soup (Goodreads)
Author: Ryū Murakami
Translator: Ralph McCarthy
Published: Kodansha International, 1997
Pages: 180
Genres: Horror
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Kenji is a tour guide of the night, normally taking Americans to the sex clubs within Tokyo. Frank, an overweight business man that appears to have only one thing on his mind wishes to take advantage of Kenji’s knowledge of the sex industry, hires him to guide him for three days. However Frank’s strange behaviour begins to make Kenji suspicious and he quickly suspects that his client is in fact the serial killer currently terrorising Tokyo. In the Miso Soup is a fast paced, philosophical piece of translated fiction by the Murakami that does not often get talked about, Ryū Murakami.

Translated by Ralph McCarthy, this Japanese novel is a short punchy novel that really explores culture clash in a really interesting way. The attitudes towards sex between the Japanese and Americans are what really stands out to me while reading In the Miso Soup. The whole novel plays around with the cultural differences in an interesting way, exploring attitudes, personalities and even philosophical views. I enjoyed Ryū Murakami’s approach to these themes within In the Miso Soup, I think it was a unique take on East meets West, and I do not think I have seen the approach before.

One thing I like about Japanese fiction is the writing style, it is almost like a slow burn but novels like this still manage to build tension. I have read a few Japanese novels that explore really dark themes in this way; Revenge by Yōko Ogawa comes to mind. Be aware when reading In the Miso Soup, Ryū Murakami does not hold back and it can get descriptive in its depictions of sex and violence.

I really enjoyed reading Ryū Murakami’s In the Miso Soup and am eager to read more of his novels; in particular Coin Locker Babies and Audition. I am fascinated by the philosophical and psychological look into the darker side of humanity that seems to be a common theme within Japanese literature. Other novelists I am interested in checking out include Natsuo Kirino, Banana Yoshimoto and Kenzaburō Ōe. This does not include the authors I have already read, like Haruki Murakami, Yōko Ogawa and now Ryū Murakami. In the Miso Soup is a short novel but it packs a huge punch, not for the faint hearted but well worth reading. I have also done a video review of this book, if you are interested in checking that out.


Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Posted November 13, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 13 Comments

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki MurakamiTitle: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (Goodreads)
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Philip Gabriel
Published: Harvill Secker, 2014
Pages: 298
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Hardcover

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Tsukuru Tazaki was lucky enough to have four close friends in high school. They were a tight knit group and they all shared their hopes and dreams with each other. When it came to college Tsukuru went off to Tokyo to pursue his dream career while the others remained in Nagoya at various schools. They vowed to remain close and Tsukuru made an effort to visit as much as possible. That was until one day Tsukuru was told that the other four wanted nothing to do with him anymore.

I am not going to go too much into the plot; I think this is something that needs to be discovered within the book. However I do need to talk a little about it. Tsukuru Tazaki had always felt like an outsider, even though he was accepted into the group for a while. He was always colourless in a group of colours; Akamatsu (which means red pine), Oumi (blue sea), Shirane (white root), and Kurono (black field), while his name means ‘to build’. Essentially this is a novel about friendship, rejection, isolation and the psychological scars that can be caused by others who never took that into account. There is a whole other side that can be explored but that would involve spoilers.

I had a rocky start with Haruki Murakami; the first book I read was 1Q84 and lets face it, this is the worst place to begin. I was exposed to the world of Murakami with the awkward fetishes and magical realism but 1Q84 was ultimately a little clunky and way too big. Luckily I am a bit of a hipster and picked up What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and while I’m not a runner, I found it to be an interesting read. It wasn’t till I read Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World that I truly understood his brilliance. I still have a lot more to read but Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage was a perfect next choice.

I have often heard people recommending beginning with Norwegian Wood because it is rooted in realism and I would like to think Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage would work as well. I obviously haven’t read Norwegian Wood yet but the idea of beginning with some of his realistic novels before getting into the magical realism and exploring the weirdness of Murakami’s brain is probably a good idea. His style is a little unusual but once you get an understanding of how his mind works you should be readying do dive into something fantastical.

What I have found reading Haruki Murakami is that he has a strong interest in both the conscious and the subconscious. His books explore the complexities of the mind and how different situations have a psychological impact on a person. This is a really interesting theme and one that I am particularly interested in; if I knew that a long time ago, I am sure I would have been more willing to explore his works.  Even What I Talk About When I Talk About Running explored this theme and it was a memoir.

I do wish I didn’t begin with 1Q84 but after a few other books, I finally can say that Haruki Murakami has another fan. I am keen to read all his other books; both fiction and non-fiction. There is something enthralling about the way a mind works and I really like the way that Murakami explores that. While Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage was far from perfect, there are some weird and awkward moments in the writing that I believe is synonymous with his writing style but I found this a captivating read. I have reserved Norwegian Wood at the library and I am hoping to read that one very soon.


A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Posted November 10, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary, Magical Realism / 7 Comments

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth OzekiTitle: A Tale for the Time Being (Goodreads)
Author: Ruth Ozeki
Published: Text, 2013
Pages: 422
Genres: Contemporary, Magical Realism
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Sixteen year old Nao lives in Tokyo and has decided to take her own life. Her life isn’t great, being bullied in school, her parents are depressed but before she ends her misery she has one task to complete. She wants to document the life of her great-grandmother Jiko. She writes a diary to tell the story of her life. On the Pacific coast of Canada, a few months after the tsunami that hits Japan, Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox on the beach, inside there was a diary.

Starting with the story of Nao, A Tale for the Time Being was a fascinating look at the Japanese modern culture with references to pop-culture. It made me want to read more books like this; the Japanese culture, while similar is very different and unusual. The only problem with Nao was the fact I didn’t believe she was a struggling teenage girl, all references to being bullied or having a hard life seem to come across as non-issues. I think if someone is struggling to the point of suicide then these issues would be a major focus and never downplayed. This really became the underlining issue with this novel.

I expected this to be brutal and dark but it felt like it wasn’t taken seriously in the effort to make the book light hearted and humorous. The writing was beautiful but I felt it was too flowery and at times preachy. Ruth Ozeki is not just a novelist; she is also a Zen Buddhist priest. Now I have nothing against Buddhism and I think we need religious equality for all people but for some reason this felt heavy. I like books that teach me something I don’t know and A Tale for the Time Being does just that but I felt like it overdid this. I get that Ozeki is passionate about Zen Buddhism, it really showed, there is nothing wrong with that, just a little priggish.

As for the other major character (Ruth), which I couldn’t see as anything else but the author was rather dull in caparison. Nao’s story was fascinating, learning about Jiko was interesting but Ruth felt full of self-pity and two dimensional. I found myself wanting to skip over her story and return to Nao. Personally I think the Ruth character played no real part in the novel and cutting her chapters out completely would have worked just as well.

While the Zen Buddhist element did feel preachy the major downfalls were the believability of Nao’s struggle and Ruth. This is just too light and whimsical for me this really became a distraction from the themes and ideas the novel was trying to achieve. There was so much going for this but the negatives started to outweigh the positives. I must be one of the few that thought this novel wasn’t amazing.


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

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

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.


1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

Posted July 28, 2012 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction, Magical Realism / 0 Comments

1Q84 by Haruki MurakamiTitle: 1Q84 (Goodreads)
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translator: Jay Rubin, Philip Gabriel
Narrator: Allison Hiroto, Marc Vietor, Mark Boyett
Published: Knopf Doubleday, 2011
Pages: 925
Genres: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism
My Copy: Audiobook

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

This book is a bit too excessive; like most other people I think it could have had at least 300 pages removed without affecting the story. At times it gets really repetitive; like the author has thought the reader has already forgetting information about Aomame or Tengo. 1Q84 is the story of two people who meet and fall in love in school and then, many years later spend the entirety of the book trying to find each other again. As the story obviously isn’t as simple as that; it is fair to say it is very weird and probably what you expect from Haruki Murakami. I’ve not read anything else from him and I don’t pretend to understand the genre Magical Realism but this book was indeed somewhat enjoyable to read.

I mentioned that this book was everything you’d expect from Murakami and that I’ve never read anything by him before. But I do know of his works and I’ve seen the movie adaptation of Norwegian Wood so I had a decent idea of what I was getting into. But I didn’t except what I got. As the story unfolds and you get a better understanding of Aomame and Tengo, you can’t help but love these two characters with all their flaws, quirks and of course their personalities.

While this book was way too long, I am very glad to have read this book and to dive into the parallel world of 1Q84. I do feel more of a book snob for reading this and I think I will have to read some more from this weird author. For people looking for a great but odd story about two people and have a lot of time to spare, then I would suggest this is the book for you.