Saturday, April 23, 2011

Possibly Forthcoming JLPP Books, Part 4

The list continues! [Explanation on the JLPP and this journey here.]

Although I'll admit I didn't fully plan it this way, last week I focused on the top three books that I was most excited about seeing possibly published into English. I took a little break, and afterward I realized that although there were some books that I was curious about reading, for whatever reason, they didn't have me as excited as those three.

So it's fitting that I'm starting another round after taking a break to talk about the Fukko Shoten, because I can think of this as the 2nd round of the draft. They also have the potential to be interesting, but my excitement is a bit more tempered than my 1st round draft. (Please forgive me of my tenuous use of a sports metaphor. Talking about sports is not my strong suit, surprising as that may be coming from someone who writes a literature in translation blog.) As such, in addition to the Why I'm Excited column I'm going to add a Why I'm Hesitant column too this round.

(Also, this will probably be my last round of books. Since this series of posts is called "Possibly Forthcoming JLPP Books I'm Excited About," I'm not going to bother listing all the other books that look like they are boring, crappy, or otherwise not my thing, which there are quite a few.)

Anyway, off we go!

The Downfall of Matias Guili
Natsuki Ikezawa
Translated by Alfred Birnbaum

Why I'm Excited: First of all, like Michael Emmerich re: Belka, Why Don't You Bark?, I trust Alfred Birnbaum as a translator: he brought Haruki Murakami to English speakers. How can I not swear allegiance? Because translators don't always get to work on projects they like? (Shh, let's not complicate matters.)

Actually, despite that parenthetical aside, he hasn't done that many translations: as far as I can tell, besides Murakami he worked on some of the translations in Monkey Brain Sushi, Miyuki Miyabe's All She Was Worth and Natsuki Ikezawa (a.k.a. the guy we're talking about right now, you guys!)'s A Burden of Flowers. So it could very well be a passion project.

Speaking of Ikezawa himself, he has a surprising (it's sad, really, but it's true) two novels already in English translation: the aforementioned A Burden of Flowers and Still Lives, which was translated by Dennis Keene. The reviews on Goodreads are good, especially for Still Lives (4 stars), though I haven't read either.

The Downfall of Matias Guili itself is described by the JLPP as a "magical realist epic" in the vein of Garcia Marquez set in a fictional island in the South Pacific that is constantly being taken over by foreign countries, until it finally achieves independence. The new President Matias Guili is a "Japanophile" who, through some mysterious turns of events, becomes suspicious of a guerrilla uprising against him. It's won the Tanizaki prize and considered Ikezawa's "crowning achievement" of his first decade of fiction writing.

Why I'm Hesitant: Frankly, I hate Garcia Marquez. I remember vaguely liking his short story "Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" in high school, but I barely made it through Love in the Time of Cholera and could only get through thirty pages of Chronicle of a Death Foretold before I just put it down. So for me, that's a terrible association to make. Of course, everyone else in the world loves Marquez, so maybe I'm just wrong on this one.

Words Without Borders has an excerpt of The Downfall of Matias Guili in their June 2005 issue (somewhat hilariously, it's called "The A Team"). I read it, and found it kind of boring. The style was amusing, as was its portrayal of bureaucracy (needlessly complicated) and international relations (toothless), but I just didn't have particularly strong feelings about it. The excerpt is called "a lost chapter" of the book, so I don't know how it fits into the novel at all, or even if it will be in the final product. But it didn't get me hooked.

It's supposed to be a very political novel. Like with Marquez, that's not an inherently bad thing, but for me, I hope it brings something more to the table in the way of characters or style than just being some sort of manifesto-as-fiction on international diplomacy or the treatment of third world countries, which is the sense that I get from the descriptions about it. But again, that's just my personal taste talking here.

One more matter is troubling. The Downfall of Matias Guili is also from the JLPP's 2nd draft of picks. The excerpt from World Without Borders is from 2005, and the fine print says that the novel was going to come out in 2006. What happened? Did this book have a publisher who ended up backing out? Why hasn't anyone been willing to publish it since? My fear is that the book is actually terrible, and that's why no one wants it.

My feelings for this book are definitely more complicated than the others I've talked about so far, but I would still definitely try reading it if it does (eventually) come out.


  1. Hi Will,
    I read this book in Japanese and I liked it a lot. The short story "The A team" that you mentioned is not a part of the book. The book is an interesting mix of political intrigue, magic, taboo, exotic folk tales and last but not least humor! I hope that Birnbaum's translation gets published. He's such a good translator!
    As for the reason why it's not published yet; I'm not sure of course but perhaps the fact that it's a VERY long story has something to do with it.

    Thanks for sharing with us your interesting blog on Japanese literature.


  2. I've got a copy of Still Lives which I'd like to re-read soon, I remember enjoying it.This looks like another book on the JLPP that I'd happily read.