Hello friends. In case you're new here, this week I'm taking a look at books selected by the JLPP for translation that I think will be a fun read, whenever it happens to come out. [Please see Part 1 in this series to see how the JLPP works, etc.]
I don't really have any other comments to make before getting to the meat of the piece like I did last time, so let's just get right to it!
So today we have...
Belka, Why Don't You Bark?
Translated by Michael Emmerich
Why I'm Excited: This one's a bit easier to explain, because before I read about this book, I hadn't even heard of the author, much less this particular title.
I know, I know - I'm not inspiring much confidence so far. But I think the presence of Michael Emmerich as translator is excitement enough.
I've been lucky enough to talk with Emmerich twice now, most recently a few weeks ago. One of the things he said was that as a translator he's been very lucky, since with very few exceptions, he's been able to select the projects he works on, and he said that all the works he's worked on, even if it wasn't his idea initially to translate a particular piece, he's found that every work he's translated has had something interesting about it.
And if you look at what he's translated, you'll see he's got a great track record and a man of pretty great taste: Yasunari Kawabata, Banana Yoshimoto, Rieko Matsuura, Hiromi Kawakami (his translation of Manazuru won the "Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature"; though my feelings to that book are mixed), and, of course, my current literary obsession, Genichiro Takahashi. So I can't say I've loved everything he's done (another example: I respect Matsuura's The Apprenticeship of Big Toe P, but I wouldn't want to read it again any time soon), but he's an incredibly intelligent guy and a great translator.
But Belka, Why Don't You Bark truly does, in its own right, look interesting. According to the J-Lit organization, Hideo Furukawa is "a literary powerhouse" and described by many literary critics as "ushering in a new 'post Haruki Murakami' era in Japanese fiction." Obviously the J-Lit Organization is going to try and make their authors sound good, but I think it's very interesting that they'd describe him as "post-Murakami," which to me implies a replacement of Murakami, as if we don't need him anymore because we've found someone better. A bit of hyperbole, probably, but, damn if I'm not intrigued.
In fact, according to his Wikipedia page, he's a Murakami super-fan - including writing a "tribute" of Murakami's short story "A Slow Boat to China," first called "A Slow Boat to China RMX" and then retitled "Slow Boat 2002." I don't know what the contents of the story are so I don't know what a "tribute" means, but I sure wish I could read it for myself. Maybe it's Furukawa's list of the first Chinese people HE met.
Also, Furukawa sounds like a cool dude (like Ko Machida) because since 2006 he's been jamming with Mukai Shutoku, leader of the seminal indie rock bands Number Girl and Zazen Boys (whose experimental math rock style I like a little better than the more straightforward 90s alt-rock of Number Girl).
Belka, Why Don't You Bark? is kind of a history novel starting from WWII, then the Korean War, and the Space Race, but by following a pair of dogs and their many offspring and their roles in these major world events. At the same time, though, it also has another narrative about a KGB dog breeder who kidnaps a yakuza's daughter, and these two narrative threads eventually merge.
I'll admit the first plot line sounds more interesting than the second one, but I still think it's a really neat idea. I also like the way the JLPP describes it as a cross between "pure literature" and "entertainment literature" - which is basically how the literary circles describe Haruki Murakami. Not too dry or pretentiousness and not pure fluff either. And again, if it caught Michael Emmerich's attention, I'll definitely give it a shot.