Sunday, July 3, 2011

Assorted Japanese Classic Short Stories - Part 1 of 2


Title: Rebellion
Author: Tsuseko Yada
Translator: Geoffrey Ivar
Pages: Around 19

Title: The Hole and other Stories
Author: Ikujirou Ran
Translator: Geoffrey Ivar
Pages: Around 19
Both can be found on Amazon, Smashwords, and soon on Barnes & Noble and Apple ebook stores

Alright, I was going to take a break from reviewing English works, but then I was kindly asked to review a few short stories, all Japanese classic literature from authors which had not been published in English before, and I, avid supporter of Japanese literature in translation that I am, couldn't pass it up. One of the nice things about ebooks is that works that would never be published by the major publishing companies due to lack of interest, has a chance to become known to more people than would otherwise see it.

As there are four stories, this review will be broken into two parts.


Summary: Omatsu, a woman in dire circumstances, is saved by the Christian church and becomes a fervent believer in the good will of the church, but is everything as it seems?

Plot & Characters:
While as a short story there isn't much space to have fully developed characters, the plot was eerie, if perhaps a bit predictable, but I give it props for having an ultimately strong female lead. Overall, a decent read.

The Hole and other Stories

Three dark, supernatural stories best read at night. The Hole is about railway workers dealing with job in which seeing people who have jumped to their deaths is an everyday sight. I've always felt that a whole novel about the subject would be really interesting. The Man Who Held His Breath is told though the eyes of a man who discovers his friend's unique hobby, and Solitude deals with the feeling of being alone, and asks if one can ever feel alone in a crowd.

Plot & Characters:
These are essentially ghost stories without the ghosts. All throughout, one gets the feeling that something is a little off, without knowing what exactly. Thoughout most of it I was driven to learn what happened next, watching the characters' morbid curiosities and fears, or lack thereof, get the better of them. Highly recommended for those looking for a quick, dark read. 

The prose was minimalistic, yet enjoyable, bringing to mind the work Stephen Snyder did on Yoko Ogawa's books (The Housekeeper and the Professor, The Diving Pool). Overall, the translation is well done, with minimal "translation-isms", it doesn't have the usual feeling a translated work gives off, which is good.  Especially in the latter book, the prose draws one in and never disrupts the eerie atmosphere, and I found myself finishing the book when I had only intended to read a couple pages before studying.

This blog thanks Geoffrey Ivar for generously providing review copies of the works above.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

キノの旅 Kino no Tabi by 時雨沢恵一 Keiichi Sigsawa

Title: キノの旅 ―The beautiful world
Author: Keiichi Sigsawa
Illustrator: Kouhaku Kuroboshi
Publication Year: 2000
Publisher: メディアワークス
Pages: 238

I actually read this book a while ago, and am currently on the second volume, but the first volume left such an impact on me that I  flipped through it again recently and thought it would be good to do a review.

First a little background information: I picked up this book because I loved the anime adaptation, and wanted it to go on, but I don't think it matters whether one has seen the anime or not, as the book stands on its own. Indeed, the anime may be very loyal to the novels, but I consider the novels the superior work (and I adored the anime, so I'm not saying this lightly!).

Summary: A traveler called Kino, and a talking motorcycle travel from country to country, experiencing   both the beautiful and not so beautiful sides of human nature.

Plot & Characters: There are really very few main characters in this book, mostly because it involves traveling, which demonstrates the state of everlasting newness a traveler might feel well. The basic plot is not unlike the one of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, as it is more concerned with showing sides of human nature than describing any real place. This lends it a dark, story-like quality which is easy to lose oneself in. In fact, once I began a chapter, I found the book was hard to put down, and the endings always left me thinking. It wouldn't be exaggerating to say that it changed my world view more than once.

Prose & Readability: I am pretty sure that this is the first time I fell in love with an author's literary style.
The prose is clear, yet descriptive, and the frequent use of older kanji (with furigana) gives it a rustic feeling. Like with most light novels, all non-jouyou kanji have furigana. It isn't the easiest book I have read, but it isn't the hardest either. It is however, the most interesting.

Who would I recommend this to: Everyone! But particularly those who like dark stories which leave them thinking.

First Paragraph (chapter 1):
道の真ん中を、一台のモトラド (注・二輪車。空を飛ばないものだけを指す)が走っていた。後部にあるキャリアには、薄汚(うすよご)れた鞄(かばん)がくくりつけられている。

The first paragraph provided for readers to help judge for themselves whether a book is a good fit for their current level, and is presented with all furigana shown in the actual book.