Meghan Collins Sullivan/NPR
As someone who enjoys reading and discussing Japanese literature, I have been pleasantly surprised by the increasing number of translated Japanese books that have come out in the United States in recent years.
Novels by Yōko Ogawa and Mieko Kawakami have been shortlisted for international awards, and there are more than a dozen translated books from Japan coming out this fall alone, including titles by emerging writers. Much of this trend is due to the hard work of translators who manage to capture the Japanese nuances without the exoticism, while providing the necessary context for American readers who may or may not have been to Japan.
In this massive genre as diverse as it is abundant, there are five books coming out this fall that seem like antidotes to our accumulated stress of the past few years. These books share a common theme of protagonists who have been beaten, physically or emotionally, but manage to emerge from obscurity in the end. The stories range from serious to cynical, urban to country.
Regardless of your previous exposure to Japanese literature, these books can become your gateway to a country that is slowly beginning to ease its pandemic-related restrictions for foreign tourists.
Dead-End Memories: Stories by Banana Yoshimoto (translated by Asa Yoneda)
Banana Yoshimoto has been one of Japan’s most beloved writers since her debut in 1988, Kitchen. His books often feature heartwarming characters and tantalizing descriptions of food. Endless memories is a collection of five short stories first published in 2003, which the author considers his “most precious work”. As expected, this book will make readers especially hungry for Japanese dishes like omurice, hot pot, cake buns, and even a bag of convenience store food you’ll share with someone at a park.
In “House of Ghosts”, a young couple spends the night in an apartment where the deceased owners still linger in the kitchen, seemingly unaware of their condition. “Mom!” flip Yoshimoto’s usual scenario and imagine the consequences of a meal meant to harm. The titular story shows how a friendship – however brief – can hold the key to overcoming one’s deep-seated traumas.
These stories don’t necessarily have a predictable happy ending, but they left me feeling warm and comfortable with a renewed appreciation for my own mundane routines and go-to comfort foods.
Diary of a Void: A Novel by Emi Yagi (translated by David Boyd and Lucy North)
In this award-winning debut novel, a woman in her thirties is fed up with her male colleagues who casually pile up misogynistic comments and treat her like a janitor or secretary, even though she has other duties as a full-time employee. time. One day, his supervisor makes a passive-aggressive remark that catalyzes Shibata to come up with a brilliant lie that will solve all of his problems: she is pregnant. Her “morning sickness” means she can’t help in the kitchen, and she has come home at 5 p.m. every day to get enough rest. The men immediately oblige – and begin to treat her with deference.
The novel is cleverly structured like diary entries in a government-issued booklet that allows mothers in Japan to document pregnancy week by week. I was initially motivated to keep reading just to see how Shibata pulls off a fake pregnancy, but I quickly became captivated by the narrator’s deadpan humor and pointed observations on Japanese society’s treatment of women.
American readers may notice similarities to the novel’s description of mom groups and baby tracking apps that compare fetal size to various vegetables – but perhaps the most magical aspect of the story will be the normality of a one-year maternity leave.
Weasels in the Attic by Hiroko Oyamada (translated by David Boyd)
The acclaimed author of Factory and The hole returns with this new episode which could be his strongest and most memorable work to date. Just like the last two titles, Weasels in the attic is a slim book totaling less than 100 pages, which I happily consumed in one sitting. However, length does not equal weight. Each scene is deeply unsettling, reminiscent of Kōbō Abe’s surreal fiction.
The protagonist is a married man living in town, and he and his wife are struggling to get pregnant. Meanwhile, his friends – who he had assumed would be single forever – suddenly get married, move to the countryside, and start families as if nothing had happened. The narrator and his wife are invited to the home of one of these friends, who is infested with weasels that cause rashes and psychological torment. The book simmers with an eerie tension and bursts with unforgettable monologues.
Idol, Burning by Rin Usami (translated by Asa Yoneda)
Rin Usami was just 21 when she won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize for this novel, which tackles stan J-pop culture and the doomed, one-sided relationship between a teenage fan and her. oshior idol.
Akari is a high school girl whose love and obsession with Masaki Ueno of pop group Maza Maza makes her a super fan – someone who will go out of her way to buy all of his products, attend his live shows, write long blog posts analyzing its smallest details. move and expect nothing in return. “My devotion to my oshi was its own reward,” she wrote.
What’s impressive about this novel is the author’s ability to sympathize with Akari’s all-consuming love for Masaki while showing how damaging this relationship is to Akari and everyone around her. The book left me heartbroken but hopeful, and excited for more Usami novels to come.
Her and her cat by Makoto Shinkai and Naruki Nagakawa (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori)
Many of my friends wind down at the end of the day with a new adventure video game called Wander, where the player controls an adorable stray cat as he traverses a mysterious world. Her and her cat would be in their alleys. The book is a novelization of one of the first animated films by acclaimed director Makoto Shinkai, best known for your name. (His last, Suzume’s confinement, will be released in the United States in 2023.)
Her and her cat is divided into four stories, each focusing on a cat and a woman who takes care of them. The perspective alternates between cats and women in a shameless yet satisfying way, much like Shinkai’s anime dialogue. Even readers who don’t consider themselves Shinkai or cat fans can still appreciate the novel’s creative attention to detail, like the sound of rain felt by a kitten, and the recurring motif of how we can find the will to live, no matter how. hard life becomes.
Yurina Yoshikawa is a Nashville-based writer. She runs the Japan-America Society of Tennessee’s virtual book club where they discuss various works of translated Japanese fiction. His writings have appeared in The Japan Times, Lit Hub, and elsewhere.