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:
- What are you currently reading?
- What have you finished reading?
- What will you read next?
What are you currently reading?
So my journey across Japan through Japanese literature sails on. After dedicating April to reading the works of new-to-me Japanese writers, May has become a month for the works of Japanese writers who are familiar to me. I kicked it off with familiar names such as Haruki Murakami, Yukio Mishima, and Natsume Sōseki. I am now reading a work by the 1968 Nobel Prize in Literature awardee, Yasunari Kawabata, the first Japanese writer to win the prestigious award. The Old Capital is my sixth novel by Kawabata and my first since 2021. I just learned that the novel was one of three books that the Swedish Academy cited when Kawabata was announced as the winner. This was more than enough to pique my interest. Basically, the novel was a portrait of Kyoto, the old capital. To the uninitiated, before Tokyo, Imperial Japan’s capital was Kyoto. This made me look forward to reading the book even more because I just traveled to Kyoto. The experience was surreal and made Kyoto one of my favorite places in the world. Reading the book reminded me of my trip, especially when it mentions familiar names such as Arashiyama and Kiyomizu. This is certainly going to be a nostalgic trip, which is what I suspect Kawabata is going after. I am just lucky I have some memory and visual aids.
What have you finished reading?
I again had a productive reading week as I managed to complete three books. These past two months have been some of my most productive reading months. Breaking the streak of Japanese male writers whose works I read was Yōko Tawada who I first came across 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. I soon found myself reading Memoirs of a Polar Bear, a book that left me largely unimpressed. This, however, did not stop me from wanting to explore her oeuvre, hence, The Last Children of Tokyo, my second novel by Tawada.
In a way, The Last Children of Tokyo book shares similarities with Memoirs of a Polar Bear. They both explore subjects that are rarely explored in mainstream literature. Tawada expands further as the tackled these subjects in a manner that also does not conform with the mainstream. Unlike my first Tawada novel, The Last Children of Tokyo is set in a future Japan. All countries have restricted travel and each country was left to fend for its own. At the heart of the novel was Yoshiro, one of Tokyo’s ‘aged-elderly’ at over 100 years old. He was living alone with his great-grandson, Mumei in the suburbs as city centers have become dangerous places to live in. The book is deceptively slender as it had several layers. For one, it depicted Japan’s aging population; it is estimated that in 50 years, Japan’s population will shrink to 80 M from its current figure of around 125 M. The book is also a scathing commentary on rapid urbanization and growing consumerism. However, some of the book’s messages and details were obscure, leaving some of it to the reader’s imagination. Overall, it was an interesting read, a book drawn on concepts rather than on a robust plotline.
For the longest time, pre-pandemic, Shūsaku Endō was a writer I have been looking forward to. His (most popular) novel, Silence, immediately grabbed my attention. I wanted to read the book and thankfully, the pandemic lockdown has allowed me to devour one of the many books on my most anticipated list. It was overall, an interesting book but, unfortunately, it failed to live up to my expectations. I guess I had lofty expectations. The Samurai was a different story for I thoroughly enjoyed it. This deep dive into the oeuvre of Endō then led me to Deep River, a book that honestly I wasn’t too keen on reading when I first encountered it. I eventually relented and decided to check out what it has in store. After all, it was listed as one of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.
In Deep River converged an eclectic set of characters whose individual lives and stories crossed paths in a tour to India. We meet Osamu Isobe who recently lost his wife; Mitsuko Naruse, a former housewife who left her husband; Numada, a writer of children’s stories and a lover of animals; Kiguchi, a veteran of the Second World War who experienced dire conditions in the jungles of Myanmar; and Mr. and Mrs. Sanjo, a newlywed couple on a honeymoon. Each character has his or her own motivation for traveling to India, in particular to Varanasi, a popular pilgrimage site for Hindus. They flock to the city to swim in the Ganges River, often considered sacred by Hindus. Deep River is not like Silence or The Samurai, two books steeped in history. However, all three books grappled with religious values. What makes Deep River more interesting is that it integrated elements of Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Overall, it was an interesting and insightful read.
As I have repeatedly mentioned, one of the things about Japanese literature that has fascinated me was the vast net it casts. Under its wide umbrella exists several genres and subgenres. Who would have thought that I would find fascinating works of detective and mystery fiction in this part of the world of literature? I did and it was about five years ago, with Salvation of a Saint a work by Keigo Higashino. I did find the book a little too formulaic for my taste. I would then again read one of his works, Journey Under the Midnight Sun, during the pandemic. Two years later, I am reading my third novel by Higashino, The Devotion of Suspect X. This makes Higashino the tenth Japanese writer with whom I read at least three books; he is the 82nd overall.
The Devotion of Suspect X is less of a mystery and more of a work of suspense fiction. Higashino immediately introduces the perpetrator, Yasuko Hanaoka, a divorced single mother who was troubled by her ex-husband, Togashi. Togashi occasionally drops by his ex-wife’s home demanding money. One particular visit escalated to violence which led to Togashi being killed by Yasuko and Misato, her daughter (not with Togashi). This situation was new to them and they soon found themselves in a quandary. Cue Tetsuya Ishigami, their neighbor who, up until that point, was an enigma to them as they barely had any interactions. Ishigami was no ordinary man. Sure, he is a mathematics teacher at a local high school but he is also a genius but circumstances were not kind to him. What ensued was a typical work of detective fiction wherein Yasuko and Ishigami, well Ishigami really tried to outsmart the detectives. It dragged a bit and I did find myself bored at some points. That was until the real case was cracked by Manabu Yukawa, Ishigami’s long-time friend and fellow genius. I was blown. I did not expect that plot twist.
What will you read next?
I will be breaking this chain of male writers again with Banana Yoshimoto, Asleep. If all goes according to plan, this will be my second by Yoshimoto, after her popular novel, Kitchen. I have also lined up Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s Diary of a Mad Old Man which will be my fourth by Tanizaki. Lastly, I have the work of another Nobel Prize in Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro’s When We Were Orphans. This will effectively complete all novels by Ishiguro.
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!