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?

Wow. May is about to come to an end. This is my second to the last WWW Wednesday update. This also means that my two-month journey across Japanese literature is about to conclude. April was dedicated to new-to-me Japanese writers while May was dedicated to 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 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature awardee, Kenzaburō Ōe. Death by Water is my fifth novel by Ōe, a writer whose oeuvre I was initially not intent on exploring. But my curiosity got the better of me, hence, I am reading my third consecutive novel by a Japanese Nobel Laureate in Literature.

Interestingly, Death By Water is also the third consecutive novel by Ōe – after A Quiet Life and A Personal Matter – that falls within the ambit of the popular Japanese literary movement, I novel. I was hoping that it would be more like the first two novels by Ōe I read but this is still fine. While reading the novel, I realized that it was one of his latter works, published in 2009. The narrator was Kogito Choko, or Kogii for short. He was, obviously, the alter ego of the writer. The concern of the novel was Kogii’s pursuit to complete a novel he started decades ago involving his father’s death; for context, his father during a sudden flooding in their hometown in Shikoku. Ten years after the death of his mother, Kogii (he was already seventy years old) finally had the chance to complete it as he was given permission to open a stack of letters owned by his father but was kept off limits by their mother, and eventually his younger sister Asa. The novel is more about Ōe and discourses on his works form an integral part of the story. It does, somehow, remind me of a previous comment about writers placing themselves in their stories. It feels almost narcissistic, the comment said. In this case, it almost feels like that although I can also discount it to the rumblings of an old man who wanted to reconcile his memories, his dreams, and his realities. I am nearly done with the book and I am still a little torn about what to feel about it.

What have you finished reading?

I can say that I had a productive reading week although my output this week is one book lesser than the previous week. Still, I managed to complete two works of Nobel Laureates in Literature, starting with Yasunari Kawabata’s The Old Capital. Kawabata won the prestigious award in 1968, making him the first Japanese writer to be given one of the, if not the highest distinction a writer can aim for in his/her lifetime and career. During the awarding, one of the three books the Swedish Academy cited for their selection of Kawabata was The Old Capital; I can’t find what the other two books were but I assume it was Thousand Cranes and Snow Country. I could be wrong though.

The Old Capital is also my sixth by Kawabata, one of the first Japanese writers who were key in my growing interest in Japanese literature in general. The Old Capital is literally about Kyoto, the old capital of Imperial Japan. Before the capital was transferred to Tokyo, Kyoto held the distinction of being Imperial Japan’s capital for nearly a millennium. The novel, however, has less to do with history and more about the people that made up the community. The novel’s main character was Chieko Sada, the daughter of Takichiro and Shige, the owners of a wholesale dry goods shop in Kyoto’s Nakagyo Ward. When she was still in middle school, Chieko was informed by her parents that she was a foundling adopted by Takichiro and Shige. Everything was going well for the young lady until a chance encounter at Yasaka Shrine made Chieko learn about the existence of Naeko, her twin sister. Personally, what made the novel flourish are the details of Kyoto that came alive. Festivals, temples, and streets came alive with Kawabata’s writing. It also helped that I have recently been to Kyoto. Overall, a good book very typical of Kawabata’s oeuvre.

The awardee of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro, is listed as British. This is because when he was younger, his family moved from Nagasaki, where he was born, to Guildford, Surrey. His father, a renowned oceanographer, was invited by the National Institute of Oceanography (now the National Oceanography Centre) for research. It took nearly three decades before Ishiguro was able to return to Japan. It is for this reason that, for my own recording purposes, I tag Ishiguro as Japanese. Anyway, like Kawabata, Ishiguro was one of the first Japanese writers who piqued my interest and sustained it. With When We Were Orphans, I have now completed reading all of his eight novels.

If there is one thing that fascinates me about Ishiguro’s oeuvre is its diversity. His works include science fiction, literary fiction, fantasy fiction, and historical fiction. When We Were Orphans was again, of another caliber as it is considered a work of detective fiction, with the central character being Christopher Banks, a detective in 1930s England. However, his past has always haunted him. He spent his early childhood in the Shanghai International Settlement. His father was an opium trader while his mother was a staunch advocate against the opium trade. Nevertheless, everything was fine for the young Christopher. That was until his parents disappeared one after the other. The mystery was just one of the many layers comprising the story. The novel also grappled with history, the opium trade, and corruption. The story was brimming with one too many memories only for the conclusion to be anticlimactic. The revelation toward the end of the story was unexpected but it was not cathartic either. When We Were Orphans was just a middling book.

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 plan to conclude my journey across Japanese literature with my second novel written by Hirmo Kawakami, People From My Neighbourhood, and my first since 2019.

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!