Archive

Posts Tagged ‘japanese lit’

Book Review: Solo Dance by Li Kotomi, translated by Arthur Reiji Morris

Digital book cover. A bird drawn in a red outline has black legs that turn into thorny branches coming out of it. The book's title is written along two sides. The background is light purple with dark purple thorny branches on it.

Summary:
Cho Norie, twenty-seven and originally from Taiwan, is working an office job in Tokyo. While her colleagues worry about the economy, life-insurance policies, marriage, and children, she is forced to keep her unconventional life hidden—including her sexuality and the violent attack that prompted her move to Japan. There is also her unusual fascination with death: she knows from personal experience how devastating death can be, but for her it is also creative fuel. Solo Dance depicts the painful coming of age of a queer person in Taiwan and corporate Japan. This striking debut is an intimate and powerful account of a search for hope after trauma.

Review:
This is a gut-wrenchingly beautiful read that I couldn’t put down.

The story starts with Cho in Japan. We learn what led to her emigration from Taiwan through a combination of flashbacks and her rereading her own college journal entries. Cho is a writer who has been obsessed with death from a young age. But she also went through a devastating trauma. The PTSD from that event destroyed her budding relationship with another young woman and haunts her to this day.

I think it’s important for anyone considering this book to know coming into it what the devastating trauma was. It’s central to the book and can be quite triggering for some. Cho was raped by a stranger who specifically targeted her due to her same-sex relationship. Although Cho does encounter kind and understanding people who validate how wounded she is from this experience, there are others who expect her to just get over it. Worse, some people blame her for it. She feels shame for what has happened to her. While this is realistic, it is painful to read about.

So this book is about many complex things. It’s about how Cho was obsessed with death from a young age. Why is that? Is it ok to feel that kind of emo way? It’s also about the systemic exclusion of queer and trans people. Cho also travels the world and sees how queerness and Pride and love exist in many countries. While she wants a sense of belonging, just what is the right way to belong is a question left for the reader. Ultimately, though, this is a book about trauma and healing from trauma. How trauma isolates a person, even when other people try, imperfectly, to reach out.

It’s easy as a queer westerner to get caught up in what queerness means in the west. It’s important to dive into what queerness means and looks like in other cultures in order to better grasp how we might create a community that’s more inclusive of all types of origins and experiences.

Although this novella is challenging, it’s also beautiful. If you feel ready to engage with the realistic trauma depicted in it, I encourage you to pick up a copy.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 149 pages – novella

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon. This book is not available yet on Bookshop.org)

Get the Reading Group / Book Club Discussion Guide
A beautifully graphic designed 2 page PDF that contains: 1 icebreaker, 9 discussion questions arranged from least to most challenging, 1 wrap-up question, and 3 read-a-like book suggestions
View a list of all my Discussion Guides.

Book Review: The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashada

June 24, 2016 2 comments

Book Review: The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki HigashadaSummary:
Born in 1992 and diagnosed with Autism at the age of 5, Naoki uses an alphabet board to painstakingly write. In this book, he addresses answers to common questions neurotypicals have about people with Autism, such as “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” and “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” Mixed in with answers to these questions are short stories that Naoki has written, squashing the myth that those with Autism lack imagination.

Review:
I read this for Katie of Doing Dewey’s Nonfiction Book Club back in April, which was also Autism Awareness Month. I don’t often have the time to do group reads, but this book appealed to me and was short, would count for the Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge I host, and I was able to get a digital copy from the Boston Public Library. I read this in one day in just my morning and evening commutes. It’s a short but mind-opening work.

For those who don’t know, Autism is a spectrum disorder. This basically means that Autism can severely or minorly impact how a person with it functions with the world (and everything in-between). Someone who is high functioning may mostly just strike others as a bit odd, whereas those most severely impacted are unable to communicate at all. You may read more about Autism here.

Naoki’s Autism is more severe. He is mostly unable to speak but he has learned how to communicate by pointing to an alphabet board with an assistant who writes down what he points at. Since Autism is so individualized, bare in mind when reading this book that his answers might not necessarily apply to everyone with Autism. That said, Naoki generally answers the questions with the word we, not I. My suspicion is this may be due to cultural reasons. Naoki is Japanese, which is generally a less individualized culture than our own. Additionally, his words have been filtered through a translator. It’s important, I believe, for a reader to keep all of these things in mind when reading this book.

This is a short book and an easy read, so I won’t say too much beyond the two biggest takeaways I had. First, I think in general people often wonder if people with Autism are similar to neurotypicals inside or are completely foreign. I think Naoki’s book smashes that question with a sledgehammer. It left me with the distinct impression that people with Autism are extremely similar to neurotypicals, but their signals from their bodies interfere with their ability to interact with the world. But Naoki puts this better than me.

It’s as if we’re remote-controlling a faulty robot. (page 16)

My second takeaway was that we should never make assumptions about anyone with Autism. The biggest example of this is that it is generally assumed people with Autism do not have an imagination. (I’ve even seen having an imagination being used as a way to rule out some people as having high functioning Autism). But Naoki, who very clearly has Autism, also very clearly has a bright imagination. His own short stories are inter-mixed throughout the book. They struck me as things any 13-year-old might write. That may sound simple, but that’s a big deal for a person who others might assume is “abnormal” for 13 with “no imagination.”

I do wish that the person interviewing Naoki had asked a wider variety of questions. Some of the questions can get a bit repetitive, and I wondered why they didn’t ask something deeper. Instead of continually asking things like why do you do this or why do you do that ask more about what he enjoys. What his hopes and dreams are. Does he think there’s a god. Things like that.

Overall, though, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is curious about what it’s like to have Autism, as well as to those who do or may come into contact with someone with Autism.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 135 pages – short nonfiction

Source: Library

Buy It

Counts For:
Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge

Book Review: The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura

April 2, 2012 2 comments

Red silhouette of man running against black background.Summary:
The narrator makes his living as a pickpocket in Tokyo.  When the man who taught him the art, not to mention his only true friend, finds himself on the wrong side of the Yakuza, he sees the likely impending end to his own life.  But can he run or are his heart strings tied to the city?

Review:
Nakamura is a best-selling writer in Japan, and this is his first novel to be translated to English.  I’m a fan of the crime/noir novels coming out of Japan, and this one certainly didn’t let me down.

The narrator is everything you want from a criminal lead–sympathetic, dangerous, talented, handsome but not exceedingly so, trapped, creative.  It is so seamlessly easy to jump into his head and move through his life.

The story is far more complex than pick-pocketing.  We get a peek at the seedy underbelly of Tokyo, but also at the narrator’s poor, rural upbringing.  We encounter everyone from the downtrodden son of a prostitute to the (apparently) leader of the Yakuza.  It’s glamorous, dirty, and unpredictable.

The ending may turn some readers off.  It is an ambiguous one, which I know some people don’t like.  I love that kind of ending though, because it leaves me to ponder how I think things turned out. How I hope they turned out.  And I didn’t feel at all cheated by it either.  It’s well-supported, but stops just short of telling us everything.

Something did hold me back from completely loving the book though.  I think it would have been better if we had met the narrator a bit earlier in his career to follow his downward trajectory more completely.  It all felt a bit too sudden to me.  I wanted to know the narrator and his relationship to his teacher better.

Overall this is a great piece of translated crime fiction that gives the reader a peak at the crime underworld of Tokyo.  I recommend it to fans of both unique crime fiction and works in translation.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

Buy It

Book Review: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

March 23, 2011 2 comments

Red cover with part torn out revealing a person on a street.Summary:
In classic noir style, Higashino tells the tale of a mathematician, Ishigami, and a physicist, Yukawa, facing off utilizing only their brilliant minds in a quest to save someone they each love from a life of tragedy.  Simultaneously a story of love and betrayal amped up with academia and set against the quintessential backdrop of gritty Japanese city streets–not to mention a lunch box restaurant.

Review:
I fully admit that I put myself in to win this book purely because it’s Japanese literature, and I’m trying to expand my reading horizons to include more non-western lit.  I was therefore pleasantly surprised to see so many classic noir elements present in this modern day detective mystery.  Noir is one of my favorite genres and adding in the touches of Japan gave it a really fun twist.

It takes a bit for the story to get going and to get into Higashino’s writing style.  The sentences lean toward shorter in length than I’m used to.  Once I became used to the length difference though I really got into the different type of flow shorter sentences give to a piece of writing.  Naturally, this could partly be due to it being a work in translation, but good translators try to give foreign language readers a sense of the original author’s style.  I hope the translator succeeded in this regard, because this different style helped give this noir story an extra push in uniqueness.

The mystery itself is nearly impossible to completely solve before the final solution is revealed.  The final solution also contains some serious betrayal and an emotional scene that reminded me a bit of some Japanese cinema I’ve seen.  So intensely shocking and gritty and occurring in the very last few moments of the story.  It moves the story up from a fun way to pass the time to a memorable tale.

The pacing is a bit off, however.  Intensity speeds up and slows down repeatedly making it difficult to be totally sucked into the story.  A few edits would probably solve this problem leaving the same basic tale but without any unnecessary diatribes.  Some may not find the pacing variety as distracting as I did, however.

This Japanese noir piece is artfully pulled off and leaves the reader guessing to the very end.  I recommend it to noir and Japanese literature fans alike.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Won from EarlyReviewers via LibraryThing

Buy It