PositiveThe Straits TimesTawada puts a rather buoyant spin in her focus on one refugee\'s hopeful quest to find a compatriot with whom she can once more converse in Japanese, a language that has become critically endangered ... The novel contemplates beautifully the nuances of the Japanese language without veering into didactic territory ... reads like the Berlin-based Tawada\'s homage to her native country - she was born in Tokyo in 1960, but relocated to Germany when she was 22 and now writes in Japanese and German ... Readers who crave explosive drama will probably not enjoy the quiet narrative, which is heavily centred on conversations and the power of listening ... But the novel - the first in a planned trilogy - is an exquisite folkloric read of the power of language in shaping identity and what it means to lose a sense of self.
Kotaro Isaka, trans. by Sam Malissa
RaveThe Straits Times (SING)Isaka...shines in character development. None of the crooks in Bullet Train is a cookie-cutter stereotype. They leap off the pages with their own idiosyncrasies and mind games. The blackly comic crime caper is reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino\'s directorial debut Reservoir Dogs (1992), about a planned jewellery heist gone awry. Isaka relishes mocking how people are quick to jump to assumptions in their perceptions of the world ... More would-be killers and myriad twists...are thrown into the mix on this perilous journey, which requires more than a healthy suspension of disbelief. Each character gets to tell his or her own perspective in separate chapters, a narrative structure that lends itself to repetition. But this hardly breaks the tempo of a high-octane dark comedy as the body count stacks up.
Sayaka Murata, tr. Ginny Tapley Takemori
MixedThe Straits TimesEarthlings is not the easiest novel to stomach. Parents, drawn to the cutesy cover, may be inclined to pick up the book for their children, but should be forewarned that it contains adult themes such as incest - albeit consensual - cannibalism, sexual awakening and child abuse ... Likewise, Murata\'s tale is a wholly original contemplation of the ills that threaten Japanese society today and their potentially debilitating effect on mental health. She gives a voice - albeit a twisted one - to the voiceless: the bullied schoolchildren, the minors who fall prey to paedophiles and the adults who are pressured to conform to societal norms.