First of all, I am not in a ‘Japanese phase’ or whatever you’d want to call it. These last months I don’t feel like going to library. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to read books either, it means that I am lazy. So I searched the bookcases of my mother. Since she is Japanese 99% of the books are in Japanese. Problem number 1: I can’t read Japanese. The other 1% were books in English to practice her English. I guess she picked Japanese writers because then she could easily find the Japanese version also.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The first book, my favorite out of all three, is written by Ishiguro. He is actually an English writer with Japanese roots. At five he moved to England so his books have probably nearly nothing to do with Japan. I do think it is still a popular book in Japan, at least there is some translation.
So the book handles about Kathy who grew up at Hailsham School. She tells about her life there and the influence the school had on her later life. Since the school is for ‘special’ (I don’t want to explain what I mean with that, because I am afraid to be the spoiler) children, it also a very special book.
So after my very vague describing I probably haven’t incite you enough to read the book. But I try to be as vague as I can because I had seen the film 4 years ago and that was probably the only minus I can come up with. That is, knowing the plot already. It is one of these books that you really have to go with the flow, without any foreknowledge. Just accept that this book is going to be one of the romantic and eye-opening books you’ll ever read.
Botchan by Natsume Soseki
As you can already see on the cover, this book is a (modern) classic. Believing my mom, it is one of those books that school kids have to read in Japan. Was I one of those kids, I probably wouldn’t have liked the book. It is a book that is so typical for teachers to pick out for their pupils to read. First of all not having the right to chose your own book to read almost felt like a violation of human’s rights. Of course I am over exaggerating, but I guess it felt that way. And then there is the typical choice teachers liked to make. When we went to see a movie with school, it was always some hipster alternative movie. I don’t mind, but please, be creative! Why don’t they show us American History X or Awakenings? Movies that make you think about the world?
Anyways, let me explain why you should read this book. Unlike my intro, I did really enjoy this one, because of the simple set-up. It is about a simpleminded guy who lives in Tokyo. Both his parents pass away, and in contrary to his older brother he can’t find a way to climb up the social ladder. So he decides to take courses and as soon as he graduates he is asked to teach somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Real cityman like he is, he gets in trouble with the provincial boys. All the characters are pretty simple, but that makes it all even funnier. I know that Japanese humor is hard to understand for ‘outsiders’ but maybe this book makes more sense, since it is more subtle than the humor that reaches the Western World.
The woman in the dunes by Kobo Abe
This plot is really weird: there is a man who likes insects so he goes searching for new ones all over the country. He has a theory: insects like sand. So he has to search near the sea of course. And there is where he gets in trouble: he finds a weird village in the middle of a sandy place, almost like a desert. All houses are buried in a pit. When he asks for shelter there is a woman way too eager to let him stay at her house. That evening he notices how much there is to do in such houses, sand is coming in everywhere, there is even no running water. But at that time he hasn’t noticed yet in how much trouble he really is.
As much as weird the plot is, as much is it interesting. Not only because of its weirdness, also because of the dialogues. The thoughts and behaviors of the characters are unbelievable yet real. It is really interesting how he places the characters in a conflict and makes their reactions really convincing. I loved the psychological part of this book, a real must-read!