Happy midweek everyone! Wow. We are already halfway through the week. As it is midweek, it is time for a fresh WWW Wednesday update, my first this year. WWW Wednesday is a bookish meme originally hosted by SAM@TAKING ON A WORLD OF WORDS. The mechanics for WWW Wednesday are quite simple, you just have to answer three questions:

  1. What are you currently reading?
  2. What have you finished reading?
  3. What will you read next?

What are you currently reading?

After two months of delving into some of the best works of British and Irish literature, I am now pivoting toward one of my favorite parts of the literary world: Japanese literature. I usually hold my annual Japanese literature month during my birth month but I am making an exception this year as I just came from Japan, a country I have long wanted to visit. I have recently returned to the Philippines but my journey across Japanese literature is still ongoing. I am now currently reading my first novel by Sôsuke Natsukawa, The Cat Who Saved Books. Natsukawa, who was a doctor by profession, made a successful transition to literature. I am glad he did if I were to judge from what I read so far. I am liking the story which explores the nature of reading and our love for books through the story of a hikikomori (a socially reclusive individual), Rentaro, who recently lost his grandfather, the proprietor of Natsuki Books. Just when Rentaro was about to dispose of every book in the bookshop, Tiger the Tabby made his appearance. As this is Japanese literature, a certain suspension of belief is imperative. I have it in my guts that this book is going to be heartwarming, the way Hiro Arikawa’s The Travelling Cat Chronicles was. I hope it won’t disappoint.

What have you finished reading?

My journey across Japanese literature started off rather slowly but I soon gathered momentum which propelled me to complete three books in the past week. I kicked off my Japanese literature reading journey with The House of Nire, my first novel by Morio Kita. This is also my first translated literature this year; I wanted to tip the scale toward translated literature this year. Although I encountered the book while randomly browsing through an online bookseller’s catalog, what reeled me into The House of Nire is its claim to being a parody of Nobel Laureate in Literature Thomas Mann, a writer whose prose I badly want to read.

At the heart of the novel is the Nire family who runs a hospital on the outskirts of Tokyo in the early decades of the 20th century. We read about the family’s trials and tribulations; this family saga is attributed to Buddenbrooks. The novel also grappled with mental health which is reminiscent of The Magic Mountain. The “parody” that is attached to the book, however, belies the major subjects it tackled. Indeed, there are humorous parts but there are also philosophical intersections. It is actually a lush novel juxtaposed to seminal historical events; the rise of Hitler and the studies of Sigmund Freud, for instance, were referenced. While the first two-thirds of the book was centered on the family and their hospital, the last third dealt with the Second World War. It was an intimidating read because of its length but I soon found myself lost in the story of the Nire family.

Compared to The House of Nire, Natsuko Imamura’s The Woman in the Purple Skirt is rather thin. But as I have learned through my reading journey, even the thinnest books can be deceptive as they can pack a lot of punch. That was certainly the scenario I was hoping for when I started reading my first novel by Imamura. Oh yes, I did resolve to read first the works of Japanese writers whose oeuvre I have not previously explored, hence, the four novels in this list so far are my first novels by the respective writers. Imamura is also part of the crew of Japanese female writers who are recently making names for themselves in the global scene.

Anyway, the titular Woman in the Purple Skirt is Hino. She captured the interest of the novel’s narrator who I thought at first was a man. As the narrator relates Hino’s story, one can get a hint that there was a level of obsession lurking in the corners of her mind. For sure, the narrator’s real motive was never revealed until the story drew to a close. One thing was certain, Hino and the novel’s narrator worked together at a hotel. Hino was a new hire and seemed timid. She soon proved herself a reliable asset to the hotel. As the space between the narrator and Hino grew smaller, the narrator’s obsession with her grew bigger. Overall, it was an interesting story about loneliness, obsession, and power dynamics. It was also an examination of the current state of women in modern Japanese society. It had strong points but I felt like the book’s overall impact was ephemeral. I wished the book was longer.

Japanese literature of the 20th century was dominated by men, with Nobel Laureates in Literature Yasunari Kawabata and Kenzaburō Ōe as the frontrunners. This is why I find the recent ascent of Japanese female writers a move in the right direction. But this is not to dismiss the female Japanese writers who also made their mark during the 20th century, among them Sawako Ariyoshi. To be honest, the only other female writer from the era I can name is Fumiko Enchi. I would, later on, learn that Ariyoshi was the writer of The River Ki, a classic of Japanese literature and a must-read.

Nevertheless, my first Ariyoshi novel was The Doctor’s Wife. The book was inspired by the story of Kae, the wife of a noted male physician named Hanaoka Seishū. Hanaoka Seishū is a real historical figure, thus, making the novel a work of historical fiction although parts of the novel were embellished. The focus of the novel, however, was not the relationship between Kae and her husband but rather her tumultuous relationship with Otsugi, her mother-in-law. While the relationship between the two women kicked off on the right now, it soon soured that each woman saw the other as a competitor for Seishū’s affection; by this time, Seishū was slowly creating a reputation for himself. The relationship was toxic but to the outside world, they were the paragons of the ideal in-law relationship. The story was good but it skipped in timeframes which hampered my overall appreciation of the story. It was still good though, making me look forward to Ariyoshi’s other works.

I will still pursue my new-to-me Japanese writers in my succeeding reads, starting with Seichō Matsumoto’s Inspector Imanishi Investigates. This seems to be a work of mystery fiction which will be fascinating as it has been some time since I read a work of mystery fiction written by a Japanese writer. I will then again shift to a heartwarming – at least that is what I perceive from the book’s title and cover – book with Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s Before the Coffee Gets Cold. Why is the book reminding me of Hiromi Kawakami’s The Nakano Thrift Shop? Maybe the book will also give insights into normal characters we come across on a daily basis.

That’s it for this week’s WWW Wednesday. I hope you are all doing great. Happy reading and always stay safe! Happy Wednesday again!