MixedAsian Review of Books\"... the characters here are believable and human; Annabelle in particular is lovely, lonely, and strikingly real. Her flaws are written large, but, like literature’s best flaws, her hoarding is a perversion of her greatest strength ... Despite its strengths, The Book of Form and Emptiness is less ambitious than its predecessor ... the metatextual elements...feel forced and—frankly—cliché ... The voice of the Book Benny hears is charming and sometimes helpful. It is not particularly original. When the Book speaks, its words are often heavy-handed and self-righteous ... The Book is likewise responsible for many of the novel’s clunkier moments. Nevertheless, The Book of Form and Emptiness has charms of its own ... The novel is at its best when it is simply the story of Benny and Annabelle, two broken people who must learn to love themselves, flaws and all.
PositiveAsian Review of BooksYellow Cardigan’s failure to reveal anything about her own life or describe anything about her own actions disorients the reader and adds to a growing sense of foreboding ... The Woman in the Purple Skirt is an apolitical novel, but evidence of the challenges facing Japan’s economy and culture are everywhere. Unreliable employment and limited professional opportunities are the lived reality of Japan’s have-nots. They invisibly shape the way people live no less than Yellow Cardigan invisibly interferes with Purple Skirt. And at the heart of the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan’s obsession is an unsated desire to initiate a relationship—to form, not a sexual or romantic bond, but a connection to any other person.
Mieko Kawakami, tr. David Boyd and Sam Bett
RaveAsian Review of BooksHeaven is excruciating. Readers share viscerally in the protagonist’s victimization at the hands of sadistic bullies ... Heaven’s bullying is all the more real to the reader because of Kawakami’s descriptions, vividly rendered into English by translators Sam Bett and David Boyd ... The psychological tension of the novel lies in the narrator’s responses to the world views Kojima and Momose propose.
Izumi Suzuki, tr. Polly Barton, Sam Bett
RaveAsian Review of BooksLike much of Suzuki’s fiction, Terminal Boredom is even more striking and believable in 2020 than it was in 1980 ... Suzuki was also remarkably forward-thinking on feminism and gender ... The stories collected in Terminal Boredom are fundamentally science fiction, and a few may make more comfortable reading for long-standing sci-fi fans. Suzuki’s writing can be evasive: she skips from one narrative perspective to another or makes leaps forward in time without warning. Aliens, space travel, and impossible drugs all make appearances. But Suzuki also uses the genre as a tabula rasa for her commentary on the present—and grim predictions about the future. Many of her stories will easily hold the interest of people who don’t normally read speculative fiction ... this collection is worth reading for more than its historical importance. Suzuki’s feminist spirit is as relevant and her stories as piercing today as they were more than thirty years ago.
Maki Kashimada tr. Haydn Trowell
RaveThe Asian Review of Books... Kashimada writes about one woman’s trauma with razor-perfect concision and an austere beauty ... There is certainly no shortage of novels about hotels with complicated histories, but Touring the Land of the Dead is fairly unique in its execution ... Through Natsuko’s story, Kashimada takes up some of the most complex issues in contemporary Japanese society: the future of the family in an aging country and what some people perceive as a post-bubble cultural ennui ... In comparison to the muted, third-person narrator of Touring the Land of the Dead, Nanako’s voice is eccentric and character driven. The two markedly different narrative voices show off the talent that helped Kashimada win Japan’s most coveted literary award, the Akutagawa Prize, for Touring the Land of the Dead. Haydn Trowell’s unobtrusive translation leaves room for Kashimada’s prose as she reflects on family, memory, and identity.
RaveAsian Review of BooksIn Japanese, several features set it apart from a conventional Japanese-language novel. The words flow horizontally left to right as in many European-language books, as opposed to vertically and right to left as in most Japanese-language books. It also freely moves from English to Japanese and back, the way a fluent speaker of both languages like Mizamura might ... Carpenter’s compromise is to use different typefaces to represent the use of different languages. A great deal must be lost in translation, but the novel is still a thoughtful reflection on language and culture ... Mizumura’s reflections on race are some of the most eloquent in the book ... An I-Novel ends without a conclusive answer, but it becomes clearer that Mizumura’s distinction between her \'Japanese-language self\' (her \'real self\') and her \'English-language self\' isn’t a comfortable one. Her dual identity makes her a keen critic of two very different cultures that are, in some ways, inseparable.
Kikuko Tsumura, trans. by Polly Barton
PositiveAsian Review of BooksIn the novel’s final pages, when the author finally reveals what that first career was, all of the narrator’s contract work appears in a different light. It is this conclusion, dramatically shifting the reader’s understanding of the events in the novel, that makes the novel so satisfying. Polly Barton’s engaging and readable translation makes sufficient use of Britishisms—\'bloody\', \'moreish\' for \'tasty\', \'skive off\' for \'to skip work\'—to briefly draw the reader out of a Japanese life and into an incongruously British one ... For all its critique of the modern workplace, the resolution of There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job is fairly conventional. Even while new jobs farther away from her original field, the narrator finds herself doing work more and more like what she trained for. She can’t help doing what she loves any more than she can help doing her best, even when she has resolved to do mindless work.
Aoko Matsuda, Trans. by Polly Barton
PositiveThe Asian Review of BooksThe collection’s source notes may sometimes be too brief for a non-Japanese reader ... The Jealous Type complicates an easy reading of Where the Wild Ladies Are as a feminist effort—as does the presence of a man, Shigeru, as the collection’s unifying figure. Nevertheless, Matsuda presents a radical reimagining of stories fundamental in Japanese popular culture. Women are no longer victims, no longer the objects, but the subjects of these stories. Whether made over into heroines or as villainous as they have always appeared, the women finally take center stage. For better or worse, it is what the “wild ladies” have to say that matters.