Archive for Japanese literature

where the wild ladies are [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , on December 8, 2021 by xi'an

Where the Wild Ladies Are by Aoko Matsuda is a winner of  the 2021 World Fantasy Awards (which I bought for that reason!) and a collection of Japanese short stories that bring a new view on some traditional Japanese tales, representing a form of empowerment to the women involved in these. (Not that I knew any of them, which makes reading the new versions missing part of the subtext. Maybe the original version should have been included as well for non-local readers unfamiliar with yōkai stories. The book nonetheless contains detailed pointers to all original tales..) The title is inspired from Maurice Sendak’s Where the wild things are (#16 in Children’s Classics). And there is a short story about it, where the narrator is reminiscing his childhood reading this book while his mother’s lover (and presumably his father) is visiting. The whole collection is very good, with ghosts being almost indistinguishable from the living, sharing most of their concerns and woes, if less constrained by customs and duties. And the living accepting their intermission with no reservation or fright. This permeability of the two worlds reminded me of some Murakami short stories. (While several of the stories are connected, under the hat of a sort of ghost job agency, they can be read independently.) And wish the book would not be labelled as fantasy, given its universal message and its infinite distance from heroic fantasy or horror books.

a journal of the plague year² [or the unbearable lightness of staying]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2021 by xi'an

Read Haruki Murakami’s First Person Singular, a collection of short stories, some already published in The New Yorker, and quite diverse. Even with those I did not like much, I appreciated the enormous skill in making an uninteresting event or line of thought into something worth reading, while still keeping the thing utterly mundane. A super version of i-novel as well as a pastiche. Short stories like With the Beatles or Carnival are quite powerful. And The Stone Pillow even more. The cover of the book, with its  Shinagawa monkey reaching out for something adds to its appeal, even though the corresponding story did not really need the monkey [as a monkey].

Spent a whole Sunday morning preparing vegetables from the farmers’ market for the week, with mixed results as some turned sour before we could eat them! (No one got sick though!) And has a taste of our first strawberries [plentiful after a wet cool Spring], cherries [tasty, but which did not resist the onslaught of magpies, pigeons, and slaty-headed parakeets], rubharb, and potatoes [which grew on their own from discarded peel].

Watched Strangers, a 2017 Korean TV series. To quote the New York Times, “the murder mystery “Stranger” has less of the usual awkwardness and obviousness of many South Korean dramas as well as another big advantage: It stars the immensely likable Bae Doo-na as a fearless cop.” Indeed! Besides this central figure of Bae Doo-na, who also plays in Kingdom, the show is faster paced than others and steers away from both supernatural elements and romantic side-stories (if barely). The only annoying part is the constant upheaval of characters’ morals, who at one point or another are suspected of one crime or another. And the rushed final episode.

a journal of the plague year² [more of the same]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2021 by xi'an

Read V.E. Schwab’s The Near Witch, yet another instance of a YA novel not identified as such! Conditional on this category, I found it a rather good book in that the central character (as a female teenager fighting prejudices of her village) is well-made, with depth and (almost) enough imperfections to be credible. The universe where this happens is however restricted to a village isolated in a grassy plain where strangers are so rarely seen as to be immediately an object of suspicion. On the light side, but definitely superior to her Shades of Magic trilogy.

Made hot X buns, mostly successful except for the X that tasted exactly as the dried uncooked flour it was made of!!! And tagliatelle nere agli asparagi, at the very end of the [green] asparagus short season, with more bigoli as well. And sampled a few bentô boxes from [surviving] local restaurants. During a semi-vacation trip to the Brittany coast, cooked large local crabs bought from the local fishermen (back from blockading Jersey!] and fish from the same providers.

Watched some parts of Kingdom, yet another Korean TV series that mixes historical drama with… zombies. A lot of scenes can be [and were] speed-watched as the pace is deadly slow (if not from the zombie perspective!). The end is unexpected, making it almost worth the effort. And Erased, a Japanese TV series derived from a famous manga, which I found remarkable, mostly for the performances of the young actors, as the serial killer is rather easy to spot. And the end somewhat anticlimactic. Also started 47 Ronin, which I thought was related to the book I read two summers ago. But found it so ridiculous with its cheap fantasy, its obligatory Westerner saving the day, the gross misrepresentation of the original story, the many cultural counter-representations, the absurd love story, &tc., &tc., that I gave up. The antithesis of Mizoguchi’s 1941 version.



World Fantasy Award²⁰²⁰ (reading list addenda)

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2020 by xi'an

Here are the five nominees for the World Fantasy Award 2020, not that I am familiar with this other award, which 2019 selection does not cover my reading list. And neither does the 2018 edition. Except for the unique ravenesque Ka. At least, this year, I have voraciously read one of them, tremendously enjoyed other books by Ann Leckie, and would be most tempted by reading Japanese fantasy. Adding to my already high pile of books to take on (potential) vacations for the end of the month… or to read at home if again quarantined.

夢幻花 [Dream flower]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2020 by xi'an

Another Japanese mystery novel by Higashino Keigo, which I read in French under the title La fleur de l´illusion [on a sunny Sunday afternoon, under my fig tree] and enjoyed both for its original, convoluted (and mostly convincing) plot and for the well-rendered interaction between the young protagonists. And also for having a few connections with my recent trip, from one protagonist studying nuclear physics at the University of Osaka to a visit to the back country of Katsuura. (The author himself graduated from Osaka Prefecture University with a Bachelor of Engineering degree.) Spoiler warning: the only annoying part of the plot was the resolution of the mystery via a secret society run by a few families of civil servants, which as always sounds to me like a rather cheap way out. But not enough to ruin the entire novel.


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