Time flies fast. We have now exhausted seven months of 2022. I sure hope you enjoyed the first seven months of the year. I have noticed that things are slowly but surely resuming to normal and everyone is excited to resume their lives pre-pandemic. We have managed to overcome a health crisis that has reset our lives in the past two years but a new threat is looming over the horizon. The threat of monkeypox is becoming clearer as the days pass by. While I understand that protocols are still in place, I hope everyone is still practicing the minimum health protocols. Let us all stay safe and healthy until the year ends.

In terms of reading, I have dedicated July to reading works of Japanese literature. As I have reiterated in the past week’s bookish updates, Japanese literature has literally become my comfort zone in the vast world of literature. It is a smorgasbord of different subgenres that keep me preoccupied. It also means that with every book and every writer I encounter, I am bound to experience a new journey. This was apparent in my July reading journey. In varying degrees, they were engaging works. There were some that were underwhelming but, overall, it was a successful journey. To date, July 2022 has been my most productive reading month; I was able to complete twelve books. Here is a peek into how my foray into Japanese literature went.

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

I commenced my return to my literary comfort zone with Yukio Mishima’s The Sound of the Waves. A controversial figure in Japanese literature, Mishima (1925-1970) thrived during the mid-20th century. He has produced some of the world’s most influential works, among them The Sea of Fertility tetralogy. It is a series that I have been looking forward to for the longest time but, unfortunately, it was not the book that I kickstarted my July reading journey with. Rather, I opened it with another classic work by Mishima, The Sound of Waves. This is my third novel by Mishima. n a way, I find the novel a little different from the two other Mishima novels I have read. The main characters, Shinji and Hatsue, for instance, were younger, barely into their twenties. The story was built around their budding romance. It earned the ire of their tiny community on the island of Uta-Jima, just off the Japanese mainland. But while it had elements that distinguished it from the rest of his oeuvre, it also shared several elements of his works such as the exploration of the modernization of Japan and its clashes with traditions. It was, overall, a good read and a good book to start my 2022 Japanese Literature reading month.

The Samurai by Shūsaku Endō

Japanese literature blossomed during the 20th century. It was a period marked by the ascent of several prominent names that shaped the landscape of Japanese literature. Among them is Shūsaku Endō (1923-1996who distinguished himself from the mainstream by exploring facets of Japanese culture and history rarely talked about: the role of Christianity in his homeland’s history. It was also the focal point of The Samurai, the second Endō novel I read. Set in 17th-century Japan, the titular samurai was Hasekura Rokuemon, a low-ranking warrior (lance corporal) who, along with three others, was selected to lead an entourage comprised mainly of Japanese merchants to Nueva España (present-day Mexico). They were to act as diplomats with one goal: to strike a deal with Spain to establish direct trade lines between Japan and Spain. Assisting them was an interpreter, Padre Velasco a Portuguese missionary who was also the second voice of the narrative. Several Christians were ordered to be publicly executed by the Japanese emperor. This persecution was one of the primary challenges the diplomatic team had to deal with. Interestingly, I liked this book better than Silence. While the voice of the samurai was mostly muted, I found the depiction of politics within the church and the cultural divides well done.

From the Fatherland, With Loev by Ryu Murakami

From two familiar names, my next book was by an author whose works I have not previously explored. While I have encountered Ryu Murakami every now and then, it was only this year that I finally took a chance on his prose. Apart from my curiosity, the gas mask on the book’s cover piqued my interest. I did not, however, notice the two flags on the mask’s eyes, that of North Korea and Japan. These are important details as the story revolved around these two countries. The crux of the story revolves around the invasion of the Japanese city of Fukuoka by a group of North Korean subversives referred to as the Koryo Expeditionary Force (KEF). The year was 2011. Over the years, Japan has weakened. Its economy, military power, and influence have all shrunk to an irrelevant size. It has increasingly become reliant on the United State; it was a lap dog. A ghost of its former self, Japan’s weakened state opened opportunities for stronger powers such as the KEF. Interestingly, for a book that was supposed to be brimming with action, actions were rare and far in between as there was a preoccupation with bureaucracy. Nevertheless, it was an interesting portrait of bureaucracy and individuals rejected by society as a whole.

A Quiet Life by Kenzaburō Ōe

My fourth book for the month was Nobel Laureate in Literature Kenzaburō Ōe’s A Quiet Life. To best honest, I was reluctant, at first, about reading any of his works but I eventually relented. In 2020, I read The Silent Cry, the first Ōe novel I read. It left a deep impression on me and two years later, I completed my third Ōe novel. I have an interesting anecdote about the book. I thought that A Quiet Life was a different translation of a different Ōe novel, A Personal Matter, which is a deeply personal book about his son. I realized my error when I started reading A Quiet Life. The two novels, however, share similarities as they borrowed elements from the writer’s life. In A Quiet Life, however, the primary perspective was of his daughter, referred to as Ma-chan. It explored her relationship with her brother, Eeyore, who was four years older than her and had special needs. Sibling dynamics were also explored in my first two novels by Ōe. However, A Quiet Life was distinct. First, it was set in Tokyo. Second, the main character was female. The book was middling, not as impressive as The Silent Cry or Nip the Buds, Shoot the Kids but it provided a different dimension of Ōe’s prose.

All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami

July, so far, has been raining with threes. After finishing my third Mishima and Ōe novel, my journey took me to my third Mieko Kawakami novel. Kawakami has recently been rising in popularity. Her 2021 translated novel, Heaven, was shortlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize. A couple of months later, her latest novel to be translated into English was released, All the Lovers in the Night. With All the Lovers in the Night, Kawakami is just the second writer who I’ve read multiple works this year; the first one was Agatha Christie. Anyway, All the Lovers in the Night is a combination of Breasts and Eggs and Heaven. It charted the story of Fuyuko Irie, a freelance editor in her early thirties. Like Breasts and Eggs’ Natsu, I found Fuyuko a passive character, a drifter even. Her actions were often dictated by those around her. The novel explored female liberation, both in mind and body, a subject extensively explored in Breasts and Eggs. Meanwhile, it reverberated with philosophical intersections reminiscent of Heaven. It was, as always, an interesting reading experience. Kawakami’s ability to make the readers inhabit her character’s mind is top-notch.

Quicksand by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

Carrying with my series of third reads, my next book, Quicksand, was also my third novel by esteemed writer Jun’ichirō Tanizaki (1886-1965). He is one of the most influential and most popular names in the ambit of Japanese literature, and world literature in general. He was also on the cusp of being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and one of Japan’s most prestigious literary prizes was named after him. In Quicksand, Tanizaki explored a subject I rarely encountered in Japanese literature: homosexuality. Set in pre-war Osaka, the novel was narrated by Sonoko Kakiuchi, an affluent young woman married to Kotaro. While attending art class, she encountered Mitsuko, a young woman of incomparable beauty. Mitsuko’s beauty captivated Kakiuchi and they soon forged a close relationship. The rumor of their lesbian relationship was key in stopping Mitsuko’s arranged marriage. However, things are not what they seem to be as soon enough, things started to unravel. Is Mitsuko the innocent young woman she projected herself to be? How will the prejudices of a conservative society affect their relationship? As always, Tanizaki It was an interesting glimpse into the complexities of pre-war Japanese society.

Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse 

From two familiar writers, my next read was written by a writer whose oeuvre I have not previously explored, Masuji Ibuse with his novel, Black Rain. A quick research about the book yielded “Second World War.” Sure enough, the novel transported me to the Second World War, to the Ground Zero of the infamous atomic bombing, Hiroshima. It was told mainly from the perspective of Shizuma Shigematsu. His journal related in intricate detail the devastation caused by the atomic bombs on Hiroshima. It covered the days immediately following the “black rain” that fell from the sky. It was a harrowing experience; Ibuse made the readers witness the cataclysm with their very eyes. The air was pregnant with the smell of death. Houses were leveled. The portrait was a bleak one, reminding the readers of the consequences of war. War does not recognize the rich from the poor, the young from the old, the politicians from the ordinary citizens. Everyone was on the same plane. Beyond its bleakness, the novel reverberated with a hopeful message. Flora flourishing after the attack is a contrast to the devastation around them.

Kangaroo Notebook by Kōbō Abe

After The Woman in the Dunes, Kangaroo Notebook was my second novel by Kōbō Abe. To be honest, I have been apprehensive to read Abe’s works at first. I thought it was a work of science fiction. Eventually, I relented because I keep on reading positive reviews of The Woman in the Dunes. It had existentialist elements, giving me a different dimension of Japanese literature. Now that I was a little acquainted with Abe’s prose, I felt it was time to read more. With this in mind, I lined up Kangaroo Notebook to be part of my July 2022 Japanese Literature reading journey. Everything I expected The Woman in the Dunes to be was encapsulated in Kangaroo Notebook. At the heart of the novel was an anonymous Japanese man who, one day, felt itching on his leg. He dismissed it but the following day, he noticed that daikon radish started sprouting from his shins. This alone was enough to creep me out; having anything foreign sprout or thrive on my body immediately freaks me out. But I still pushed through. The book was a quick read after all. However, I found the book chaotic and the plot was all over the place. It was all surreal with shades of existentialism.

Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui

From one work with shades of science fiction to one that is entirely science fiction, the next work of Japanese literature I read was Yasutaka Tsutsui’s Paprika. The book rings a bell of familiarity because it was adapted into an anime film of the same title released in 2006. While I have not watched the movie yet, it was the primary factor in my obtaining a copy of the book. The book was originally published between January 1991 to June 1993 as a four-part series. It was only in 2009 that the book was translated into English. At the heart of the novel is a female psychotherapist named Atsuko Chiba. Along with Dr. Kōsaku Tokita, they have invented the DC Mini, a miniaturized version of the existing dream analysis device the Institute they were working for still used. For their work, they were nominated for the Nobel Prize. However, Chiba, under the disguise of Paprika, has been illicitly using the device to infiltrate the dreams of patients and treat them. Soon enough, nightmares started to converge with reality when greed, lust, and envy all got involved. The book had a very promising and interesting premise but it was undermined by blatant misogyny and homophobia.

A Personal Matter by Kenzaburō Ōe

Finally, I got the right book by Kenzaburō Ōe. A Personal Matter first captured my interest when I researched more about him as part of my first book review for Ōe. It had personal elements which contributed to my interest in the book. I have also listed A Personal Matter as part of my 2022 Top 22 Reading List. With my second Ōe novel this year and fourth overall, Ōe is the third writer who I have read at least two works this year; the other being Agatha Christie and Kawakami. A Personal Matter, as the title suggests, had biographical elements. It focused on the period immediately following the birth of his first son who was a disabled child. The book provided me with an intimate peek into the mind of the Nobel Laureate. I got to read about his doubts, his frustrations, and his proclivity for single-mindedness. He was like many of us, except that he is a successful writer. Even if I didn’t know it was semi-autobiographical, I can spot the same because of the intimacy of the language.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Like Kawakami, Sayaka Murata is experiencing a remarkable rise in popularity on a global scale. Her works, particularly Convenience Store Woman was ubiquitous. At first, I was apprehensive about exploring her prose but I eventually relented because my curiosity was too strong. However, it was a different work that I started my foray into her works. Earthlings was certainly an eccentric literary piece that abounded with graphic images. But here I am again, back to where I was supposed to start. Convenience Store Woman has several layers. Through the story of Keiko Furukura, the novel explored an individual’s role in society and how it was molded by society as a whole. It also explored gender norms in contemporary Japan, which was also applicable on a global scale. Another layer subtly studied how capitalism has influenced our lives. I did like the book although it was quite short. It had the same messages as Earthlings but it was less graphic. Moreover, it was a very thought-provoking story, and rightfully so. Before becoming a writer, Murata worked as a convenience store woman.

A Dark Night’s Passing by Naoya Shiga

I culminated my adventure into Japanese literature with a name unfamiliar to me. Sans any iota on who he was or what the book was about, I acquired Naoya Shiga’s A Dark Night’s Passing. From the title alone, the story is rather ominous. Shiga, I have learned was a prolific short story writer who thrived in pre-World War II Japan. However, he has published only one full-length novel, 暗夜行路 (An’ya kōro) which was published in serialized form between 1921 and 1937. It was first published in English in 1976 as A Dark Night’s Passing. At the heart of the story is Tokitō Kensaku who was born into an affluent family. His mother died when he was still six years old while his father refused to have to do anything with him. With no one else to raise him, he was raised by his paternal grandfather and his mistress Oei. When his grandfather passed away, Kensaku received a hefty legacy. The crux of the story, however, was a long-buried family secret that will play a pivotal role in Kensaku’s reckoning with himself and his family. It was a good book as Shiga wrote an absorbing story even though the main character was barely likable.

Reading Challenge Recaps
  1. My 2022 Top 22 Reading List10/22
  2. 2022 Beat The Backlist: 7/15; 61/50
  3. 2022 Books I Look Forward To List4/10
  4. Goodreads 2022 Reading Challenge: 67/80*
  5. 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 7/20
  6. New Books Challenge: 6/15

*I updated my reading target for the year because I am way too ahead.

Book Reviews Published in July
  1. Book Review # 365: The Dumas Club
  2. Book Review # 366: The Sound of Waves
  3. Book Review # 367: The Sun Also Rises
  4. Book Review # 368: Naked Lunch
  5. Book Review # 369: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
  6. Book Review # 370: The Talented Mr. Ripley
  7. Book Review # 371: The Big Sleep
  8. Book Review # 372: Drop City
  9. Book Review # 373: The Christmas Oratorio
  10. Book Review # 374: Villette

And my streak is still ongoing. For the sixth consecutive month, I was able to complete at least ten book reviews. This is something unexpected, an achievement of some sort. I guess one of the drivers for this is my desire to complete all my pending book reviews from 2021. My effort is paying off because I am now down to my last five books from 2021, just a fraction now of the about 50 backlogs I had at the start of the year! At the same time, I want to ensure that I won’t bury myself in 2022 book reviews. I am just a book review short of completing all my pending book reviews from January 2022. I am about to start on my February 2022 reading list. I hope that I sustain the momentum I have built in the past six months.

Earlier today, I published my 75th book review of the year which is another remarkable feat because the year is still far from over. 2022 is on track to becoming my most productive year, in terms of writing book reviews. I am just three reviews short of equalling my best annual output of 77 book reviews which I accomplished last year. Should the conditions hold, I am on track to completing about 100 book reviews. But to be honest, at the start of the year I set my target for 2022 to at least 100 book reviews. It is still not within reach but I am starting to believe that I can achieve it.

After a month of reading purely works of Japanese literature, I have decided that for my August reading journey, I will be exploring the rest of the Asian continent, at least through literary works. I have finished one book already, Malaysian writer Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists. Like A Personal Matter, it is part of my 2022 Top 22 reading List. It is also my first novel by Tan and I must say I was impressed. I have just started reading Geetanjali Shree’s Tomb of Sand, a book I have been looking forward to after it was longlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize. My interest in the book doubled after it won the prize, even besting Nobel Laureate in Literature Olga Tokarczuk’s magnum opus, The Books of Jacob. I am also lining up Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid’s Booker Prize shortlisted work, The Reluctant Fundamentalist. I am also looking at reading works of Filipino and Chinese writers. Regardless of how August will shape up, I am just hoping that I get to cover as much ground as I can.

And that was how my July reading journey concluded. How about you fellow reader? How was your own journey? I hope you enjoyed the books you have read. For now, have a great day and weekend. As always, do keep safe, and happy reading everyone!