Monday, September 24, 2007
Nadezhda and Vera, two Ukrainian sisters, have absolutely nothing to do with each other for years.
Upon the arrival of the thirtysomething Immigration Scam Young Female Thing who plans on usurping the memories of their long-dead mother, and embarking on a whirlwind relationship with their octogenarian father, squandering all his money in the process, the sisters join forces in an endearingly funny way.
As they deal with her ruthlessness, they realise they are facing a professional, complete with indulgent son, who supplies many moments of mirth in the story. The diabolic mental acuity of the Cruella de Vil is juxtaposed hilariously with the almost-oblivious devotion of their father to completing his tome about tractors in Ukranian; and in a fitting tribute to how she has rendered his - and their - world topsy-turvy, at the end of the story, the biggest family secret of all tumbles.
Winner of the Wodehouse Humour Fiction Award 2006, this novel will touch the heart of any estranged sibling pairing around; it proves, beyond all doubt, that adversity is what it takes to get a family's solidarity gears well-oiled again. The sheer infinitesimality of the feud between Nadezha and Vera is revealed, as they array forces against the young pretender to the throne; and at the end of the tale, as her husband arrives to bail them out of their misery, we are rewarded by a poignant scene of semi-reconciliation between all.
Funny, frightfully funny. It gets a 8.5 out of 10; not a 9, for it is in no way a groundbreaking work whether in style, plot device or idea flow, but a good read for that languid summer poolside deckchair.
at 4:59 PM
Sunday, September 23, 2007
The cult classic that propelled Yoshimoto to fame in 1989. It won two of Japan's most prestigious literary prizes, and clung on for dear life to the top of the Japanese bestseller lists for a whole year. And counting. Its translation into English was, naturally, greeted with accolades from the Western publishing industry.
Essentially, if you're a fan of the Murakami short story, this is one, writ large. To be exact, two. It purports to be a contiguous story, divided into two parts; both address weighty issues of life, love and death in a postmodern surreal way.
First up, we have "Kitchen", a hundred-word tale that is convincingly aching. Mikage is adopted by Eriko, mother to Yuichi; Eriko herself is far from free of controversy, having undergone a sex change after her/his wife died. Tellingly, in her male incarnation, he was adopted by his future wife's family, whom he eventually eloped with, earning their ire; she finally perished in an accident, leaving Yuichi and Eriko clinging on to each other uncertainly.
The relationship-but-not-there scenario is played out mesmerisingly, as people of all inclinations bedevil their budding sort-of-love. As the story reaches a characteristically quirky Yoshimoto conclusion, with Mikage presenting a gift of pork udon to Yuichi, ties are mended, love still simmers meaningfully under the surface, and the two erstwhile lovers walk away from a previously awkward situation.
Next up is "Moonlight Shadow", a haunting novella about what happens to the remaining lover when one dies. Hitoshi and Hiiragi, brothers, date Satsuki, the protagonist and Yumiko respectively. When Hitoshi and Yumiko perish in a car accident as he picks her up from the airport, things turn awry for Satsuki, who is bent on saying goodbye to Hitoshi.
The entire tale is, seemingly, penned in the past; her journey to saying goodbye to Hitoshi is buffeted by memories that slowly ease the fall. As the story concludes, and Satsuki is hauntingly visited again by her betrothed, the final chilling lines, "I earnestly pray that a trace of my girl-child self will always be with you. For waving goodbye, I thank you." are a sure-fire tear-jerker.
These two novellas will leave you reeling with the power of the written word, in brief. A hearty recommendation is thus attached, and readers of all ages will enjoy this adventure into the more esoteric of genres.
at 9:01 PM
Friday, September 21, 2007
An author that I have spent the last few years attempting vainly to track down; and upon my return to Newcastle, a row of shining Yoshimoto works line the shelves of the Japanese literature section.
No more, as they all belong to me now, till the irate coterie of Japanese literature students angrily demand a restraining order on me in the Robinson Library forever more.
This book is a collection of short stories, in the time-honoured tradition of Murakami and his asinine works. Each tale begins and ends the same way; lonely young person strolls through a world resembling a dreamscape of his own design, and later, through a series of seemingly mundane activities, finds the way out of his rut.
People float in and out of the tales like a dream; there are people doing things that would be perfectly mundane in real life, but acquire significance, in this book, as everything slowly interlinks. Magic realism is the key; Yoshimoto, in "A Strange Tale from Down By The River", slowly introduces the death of the protagonist's sister, yet juxtaposes her into the lives of her fiance; his brother, and many other people whose lives make her passing all the more lamentable.
I give it a 9/10 - a good intro to Yoshimoto's work
at 5:37 PM