As I did in the last Tadoku Tuesday post, I am going to write about two books I have read recently or am reading, as well as any new additions to my book collection. Both of the novels I focus on here happen to be by two famous contemporary Japanese authors, Banana Yoshimoto and Kotaro Isaka.
The Novel I’m Reading: 「アムリタ」 Amrita by Banana Yoshimoto
It’s a little bit difficult to give an overview of the plot for this novel, but I have tried my best!
Sakumi is dealing with two major events in her life; memory loss caused by an accident as well as the death of her younger sister Mayu. Prior to the accident Sakumi had been making ends meet with a part time job, but then realises that she wants to pursue a career in writing. Her little half-brother Yoshio then develops telepathic abilities. As her memories begin to resurface little by little, she begins to come to terms with the circumstances of her sister’s death and gains the courage to work towards what she truly desires in life.
I’ve previously written about another of Yoshimoto’s novels before, which had not been translated into English. This time I thought I would try reading one of her more famous novels, which on the whole has been well received.
I wouldn’t say that the plot is particularly enthralling, although there are some interesting characters which help keep the narrative engaging. There are lots of dream like passages, which give the novel a mystic feel and are vividly depicted. Despite this, Sakumi as a narrator feels very grounded and relatable, even though situation she finds herself in is not.
This is a fairly long novel that has been split into two parts. I have finished the first half of the book and enjoying it so far, but knowing that there is another 200+ pages to read I do wonder what developments are going to occur which will keep me interested.
If I had to estimate the book’s difficulty in terms of language I would probably put it at JLPT N2 level. Banana Yoshimoto’s writing style is on the whole quite straightforward, although at times there can be long rambling sentences that might take a bit of careful reading.
The Novel I Recently Finished: 「神様の制度」 Kamisama no Seido by Kotaro Isaka
This novel is actually a compilation of several short stories, which all involve the same narrator. Our narrator is only known as Chiba and works as a agent of death (a Grim Reaper of sorts). As an agent of death, his task is to spend time with the person he is assigned to, and decide within seven days if that person should die.
This is the first novel I have read by Kotaro Isaka, and I really enjoyed it. Like Amrita, this novel also looks at the themes of life and death. Having said that, the tone of this novel is completely different. Isaka has written stories spanning many genres, and elements of this come into play in the novel. He somehow manages to infuse the variety of short stories with suspense and comedic moments in a very satisfying way. As a death god, there are a lot of ‘fish out of water’ moments where he is trying to understand human feelings and motivations, which provided a lot of humour that I was not expecting. There is a wide variety of characters presented in the stories and through the narrator’s eyes, we get to learn a lot about the people he is assigned to. I found it very easy to get engrossed in each of the stories.
In terms of language level I’d probably recommend this for JLPT N3 level learners. I think this would make an ideal choice for someone looking to read their first novel in Japanese. I find Isaka’s writing style easy to follow; he tends to write in shorter sentences that still manage to convey a lot of information. Being a series of short stories, it is much easier to digest than attempting to read a longer novel in one go.
There is a sequel called 神様の浮力 “The Buoyancy of Death” which was released a few years ago. I would like to read this in the future, although the novel seems to have more mixed reviews from fans of the original.
I will certainly be reading more of his works in the future, although with such a large catalogue to choose from I will struggle to decide what to read next!
Books added to my To Be Read pile:
I am trying my hardest not to amass too many books (because then it gets even harder to decide what to read next!) and have only added one book to my collection recently:
「舟を編む」 Fune wo Amu / The Great Passage by Shion Miura
Mitsuya Majime is an introverted man with a passion for reading. He takes the opportunity to transfer from the sales division to the dictionary department, where he is under the guidance of the highly regarded editor Kohei Araki. Araki’s team is undertaking the task of completing a dictionary called “The Great Passage”. The book follows the team’s pursuit of making the very best Japanese dictionary.
This has been on my wishlist for a long time, so I was super happy to finally buy this book! Given the subject matter, this could be a bit of a tough read in Japanese. Fortunately, I also purchased the ebook version of its English translation (“The Great Passage”) which I can use to help me with any tricky parts. I haven’t yet decided whether to try and read both versions in parallel or not.
There’s also an anime adaptation and a live action film, so I think starting with one of these two to give me a grounding in the plot and characters will make reading the novel a little bit easier.
What are you reading at the moment (in Japanese or otherwise)? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!