By Banana Yoshimoto
Setting & details: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Authenticity of Japanese characters & dialogue: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Translation quality: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Entertainment value: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
My recommendation: Although Japanese fiction nearly always loses a lot in translation, this collection of short stories still manages to feature characters and situations that are strangely Japanese, yet truly universal at the same time.
If you’ve heard me bemoan the horrors of Japanese fiction translations before, you’ll know that I seldom enjoy Japanese novels in English because so much of the meaning isn’t in the words, but inferred by details that only people raised in Japan can understand. Banana Yoshimoto manages to get around this problem by writing about situations all human beings face—how a single misfortune can change a person’s life, how it feels to face the exhaustion brought on by the demands of modern life—so we sympathize with her characters and find their mystifyingly Japanese reactions to situations thought-provoking instead of annoyingly unbelievable.
She does this by putting her characters into scenarios we are all familiar with and lulls us into suspending our disbelief by narrating from inside the character’s head, so we see their choices and reactions through Japanese eyes. She gets us past our own cultural assumptions, so we can embrace accepting the supernatural as if it were ordinary (in “House of Ghosts”) or ride along for a very un-Western way to recover after being dumped in the worst possible way (“Dead-end Memories”).
This book of short stories is a fine window into the life and thinking of ordinary Japanese characters, and is a surprisingly enjoyable read.
You can get it right now from your favorite bookseller, or check out the May-June Japanagram to see if you won a copy! All subscribers are automatically entered to win—if you’re not among them yet, click this button to subscribe, and be automatically signed up to enter.
How I pick the book giveaway winners: On the last day of each month, I load all the email addresses of Japanagram subscribers into a random name picker on the Web and ask it to choose subscribers to match however many books I’m giving away that month. Then I publish the emails in the next day’s Japanagram (all emails obscured in a way so only the subscriber will be able to recognize it as their own, of course!)
Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had