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 dedicating April to reading the works of new-to-me Japanese writers, I decided to make May a reading month for the works of Japanese writers who are familiar to me. I already started it with Haruki Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance (my 13th by Murakami) and Yukio Mishima’s Forbidden Colors (my fourth by Mishima). Earlier today, I finished Natsume Sōseki’s I Am a Cat, my third by Sōseki. I didn’t waste time and started reading The Last Children of Tokyo by Yōko Tawada. I first came across Tawada in 2019 when her name sprang up as one of the potential Nobel Prize in Literature awardees. It was eventually awarded to Olga Tokarczuk (2018) and Peter Handke (2019) but coming across her name piqued my interest. My first novel by Tawada was Memoirs of a Polar Bear, a book that left me unimpressed. This, however, did not stop me from wanting to explore her oeuvre, hence, The Last Children of Tokyo. In away, this book shares similarities with Memoirs of a Polar Bear. They both explore subjects that are rarely explored in mainstream literature in a manner that also does not conform with the mainstream. The Last Children of Tokyo, so far, is a promising read.

What have you finished reading?

Like April, my start to my May reading journey is slow. For one, I have been reading books that are longer than usual. These are also books that grapple with complex subjects. This was the case for Yukio Mishima’s Forbidden Colors. My fourth novel by Yukio Mishima, this is one of two works of Japanese literature that are part of my 2023 Top 23 Reading; the other is Morio Kita’s The House of Nire. While I have grown accustomed to Mishima, I wasn’t entirely prepared for what Forbidden Colors had in store. The book was originally published in 1951 as 禁色( Kinjiki). The two kanji characters forming the original title translate to forbidden and erotic love, or in this case, color. Kinjiki is also a euphemism for same-sex love.

I guess the title is more than enough to establish the premise of the novel; I am thus reminded of Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s Quicksand. Forbidden Colors introduced Shunsuke, an aging and cynical but respected post-war Japanese writer. During a vacation, he met Yuichi, a good-looking but penniless and unintelligent young man who was engaged to a young woman from an affluent family. During one of their conversations, Yuichi confided to Shunsuke that he did not desire his young bride and that he was only marrying her to improve his station. This prompted Shunsuke to devise a plan with Yuichi as the primary tool. Shunsuke has experienced several heartaches and rejections from women. He then wanted to avenge this. The book was not an easy read because of its different elements and layers. It addressed same-sex relationships and misogyny while exploring contrasting subjects such as aging and youth; physical beauty; and even mortality. When entering a work by Mishima, one can never be sure what to expect as his works cover a vast territory. Again, a memorable read from a masterful storyteller.

Natsume Sōseki’s I Am a Cat is a book that has long been on my (badly) want-to-read list. The first time I encountered the novel during one of my random trips to the bookstore – this was about three to four years ago – the book immediately captured my fancy. I don’t know why but the book had a very strong pull. However, I held back on purchasing the book. I was hoping to find a hardbound copy of the book. Alas, the opportunity never presented itself. I can no longer keep the tenterhook; besides, I read several feline-related works of Japanese literature last month which made it even more imperative to read the book.

Without more ado, I obtained a copy of the book last month and made it part of my May 2023 reading journey. Yes, I am finally reading the precursor of all these cat-related works; there is a recent spate of books with cats in Japanese literature. Before the book was published as a single volume, Sōseki wrote it in ten installments for the literary journal Hototogisu. He wasn’t even planning on writing beyond the first short story – it would eventually be the opening chapter of the book – but the editor of Hototogisu convinced him to write more. Thanks to him, the world was gifted with an amazing literary work that transcends time. It comes as no surprise that the main character of the novel is a cat, a stray cat with no name but was adopted by a middle-class family. The patriarch, Mr. Sneaze, was an English teacher. The story focused on Mr. Sneaze’s interaction with two of his friends: the annoying Waverhouse and the young scholar Avalon Coldmoon. Ironically, the cat was unloved – the fact that he had no name pointed to this – but he was, nevertheless, considered a part of the family. The cat also can’t catch a rat but he has a keen sense of observation. As one moves forward, one can sense that the book was uneven and rather fragmented. This can be because it was originally written in ten installments. Nevertheless, the book provided images of the time and glimpses into the author’s life.

My foray into Japanese literature will continue with my third novel by Shūsaku Endō, Deep River. I first came across Endō’s Silence, a book that I was looking forward to for the longest time. I guess I expected too much from the book for it left me deflated. But like in the case of Tawada, this experience did not stop me from exploring his oeuvre further. I liked The Samurai better and with Deep River, a book that is also listed as one of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, I am hoping that I will be provided with a different dimension from which to appreciate Endō’s prose.

Next up on my lineup is Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X, a work of mystery fiction. This will also be my third by Higashino but my first since 2020. The works of Higashino how far-reaching Japanese literature is. Under this big umbrella are several genres and subgenres. I was pleasantly surprised to find works of mystery and suspense fiction under this umbrella. I have also lined up Nobel Laureate in Literature Yasunari Kawabata’s The Old Capital. Interestingly, The Old Capital was one of three works that were seminal in Kawabata being awarded the if not one of the most prestigious prizes in literature. Lastly, I am planning to read Banana Yoshimoto, Asleep. This will be my second by Yoshimoto.

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!