My posts during April form part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I will be writing to a theme: book genres, largely taken from the comprehensive Goodreads list.
So, when seeking a genre for J, I paused at Japan. What had I read about either the country, or what had I read that had been written by a Japanese author? 30 years ago, this would be my parents' copy of James Clavell's "Shogun", over which I shall draw a veil, as much as it was a very long time ago and because it seemed like the archytypical example of an entirely westernised point of view.
Until more recently, what I'd read about Japan could be covered by the contents of two very recent reads: "Hotel on the corner of Bitter & Sweet" and "The Narrow Road to the Deep North".
The first is the tale of treatment meted out to Japanese-Americans at the hands of their fellow Americans during World War II - being mistrusted, rounded up and placed into internment camps. And there's also a lovely love story. The second is the experience of Australian soldiers captured by the Japanese during World War II and the brutality they endured. And again, there is also a love story, if less lovely this time ... But neither book is written by a Japanese author, nor were they about Japan.
Two writers now to be found amongst my most favourite are Haruki Murakami and David Mitchell. Haruki Murkami needs no introduction, famous author of "Wind Up Bird Chronicle", "Norwegian Wood" and "IQ84", he has a most distinctive writing style. Surreal and psychadelic have been used for the first one and my review for the latter contains the description 'shifts in reality'. Murakami's books are odd, they're challenging. If you can't park your need for reality and rationality at the cover, don't open one. His ideas are huge and more than a bit kooky. A fan produced this wonderful infographic :
If you're questioning the 4.17% about ears and 25% about cats, he's probably not for you. The only thing other fans could find missing was sex, in particular awkward sex!
Murakami also wrote about one of his passions in "What I talk about when I talk about running". A straightforward conversation about why he runs and how he prepares for the marathon per year he takes part in. There's nothing surreal in it though, so I hugely prefer others in his back catalogue!
David Mitchell has lived for many years in Japan. Although he, his Japanese wife and their children now live in Ireland, he still maintains close connections in Japan as evidenced by his translation of "The Reason I Jump: One Boy's Voice from the Silence of Autism" by Naoki Higashida. A number of Mitchell's novels fall into the category of mystical, being unusual in structure, form or subject. A wonderful suggestion is that they are akin to zen koans - a riddle or a puzzle used during meditation by Buddhists.
But he also wrote about Japan in "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet". Nagasaki in the late 1700s and a young Dutchman goes to make his fortune so that he may claim his socially superior fiancee. Japan maintains a separate man-made island, Dejima, for trade with foreigners; a trade largely limited to the Dutch (the English spent all their money on prostitutes and the Spanish were too keen on proselytism). A largely straightforward tale of love and adventure, but are there links to others of Mitchell's works, as there are with his more mystical offerings? Read it, enjoy it, notice the links, or not, its a great work. Mitchell is such a magnificent writer, just go along for the ride - that's what I do!
David Mitchell has gone on record with his favourite Japanese novels which have - of course - been added to my ever growing TBR list. But what would you add?