First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
A True Novel begins in New York in the 1960s , where we meet Taro, a relentlessly ambitious Japanese immigrant trying to make his fortune. Flashbacks and multilayered stories reveal his life: an impoverished upbringing as an orphan, his eventual rise to wealth and success – despite racial and class prejudice – and an obsession with a girl from an affluent family that has haunted him all his life. A True Novel then widens into an examination of Japan’s westernization and the emergence of a middle class.
And just like that, we’re already on the last Friday of the May, the fifth month of the year. Who’d have thought that in that brief span of time, a lot has already happened. In the grand scheme of things, we barely noticed how five full months have slipped by. And here I am again, back with yet another First Impression Friday post. For this weekly update, I am discussing my first impression on Minae Mizumura’s A True Novel.
A True Novel is my eighth read in my May 2020 Japanese Literature Month and is also my first venture into the works of Minae Mizumura. I have never heard of the book or of the author before but when I saw the book during the 2018 Big Bad Wolf Manila Book Fair, I felt like I should buy it. For a thick book, it came at a fairly low price. I am not going to pass on that bargain. Haha.
Anyway, the novel talks about the life of Taro Azuma, a Japanese immigrant. In 1960s New York, he was hired as a private chauffeur by an affluent American family in suburban New York. Barley twenty years of age, he traveled through a freighter from his native Japan. Unfortunately, he didn’t last long on the job but he was immediately hired by a Japanese company as a repairman.
Whilst adjusting to his new environment, Taro came across the teenage Minae Mizumura. Minae was riveted by Taro’s reclusive nature. Despite this aloofness, Taro was hardworking – he learned English on his own and worked his way up the ranks. Through his persistence and ingenuity, Taro became a millionaire while his peers remained where they are – lower levels of the corporate level.
On the surface, A True Novel sounds like your typical rags-to-riches story, of how an impoverished young man became a millionaire. Through flashbacks, it starts to appear otherwise. While it relates the story of a man, on the backdrop, Mizumura is also telling the story of a nation reeling from the effects of the Second World War. The shift from traditional Japan to modern Japan reverberates all throughout the story.
I am already on the second volume; this book was originally published in two volumes. Taro’s story is slowly unfolding through the perspective of the others who have been part of his life. I am interested to know how the story pans out now that Taro is back in his hometown. Intertwined with his story are elements of Japan itself, one thing I’ve noticed that characterized Japanese writing.
I have a little under 400 pages more to go and although the story drags a bit with its many backstories, I am excited to learn of Taro’s fate, how he overcame the prejudices and the glares of everyone who underestimated him. More importantly, I want to learn how his success translate to that of his country. I have my ideas already but I am keeping them at bay.
I am hoping to finish the book this weekend. It’s already getting busy because of month end reporting but I can always sneak in a couple of pages every now and then. Happy weekend everyone! To accountants, happy month end closing! To everyone, keep safe and stay well!