Sunday, April 10, 2011

Possibly Forthcoming JLPP Books I'm Excited About

So about two months ago, the JLPP released an "advance information" sheet, which is their list of books they're trying to sell to American publishers.

Although I've written about it here, quickly, the JLPP,  or Japanese Literature Publishing Project, is an organization that funds and promotes the translations of Japanese fiction into various foreign languages. They hire the translator, they edit the translation, they sell that book to American or French or whatever publishers (who are relieved they didn't have to spend any money doing that work themselves), and then, as an added bonus, the JLPP buys, from the publisher, a large number of copies themselves to give to libraries and such to promote Japanese culture to a larger foreign audience, thus ensuring the American publisher makes a certain amount of money, even if it doesn't sell very well at Barnes and Nobles to readers like you or me. Everybody wins.

According to their website, this is round five of books they're trying to hawk. All the books on this list have been translated already, but it does not specify whether the rights have been bought by someone already or not. As such, there's no guarantee that any of the books on the list will be seen on American shelves anytime soon.

Nevertheless, over the next few days I'm going to highlight the books that look especially intriguing to me. Starting with:

Death Penalty
Masahiko Shimada
Translated by Meredith McKinney
Why I'm Excited: Masahiko Shimada is an extremely interesting writer. He won a literary award for his book A Divertimento for Gentle Leftists while he was still a college student, and among his works he has a novel called Higan Sensei which is supposedly a parody of Natsume Soseki's undisputed classic Kokoro. 

 I've read MOST of Dream Messenger, his only novel available so far in English, (I got it out from the library and had to return it before I could finish), and I'll admit right now that I thought it was a bit uneven. It's got an interesting idea, some interesting parts, it's occasionally hilarious, but it's far from a fully cohesive story. But his short story "Momotaro in a Capsule" from Monkey Brain Sushi is one of the smartest and most hilarious stories I've EVER read (he also has a story in the far inferior Japanese fiction anthology New Japanese Voices that I've yet to read). Honestly, though, at his best, he reminds me of a slightly more postmodern Kenzaburo Oe - intelligent, political, and full of black humor.

The basic summary of this book is that a man demands the right to commit suicide but to have the time of his life for one week until then. The summary makes it sound both thought provoking and really outlandish/funny (he takes out his life savings to dine with his favorite idol, for one), which from my experience, are both extremely accurate descriptions of Shimada's work. It thus has an equal chance of being absolutely brilliant, a train wreck, or simply mediocre, but my gut feeling is that it will be pretty awesome.



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