Saturday, September 17, 2011

September 2011 Japan Book News

Fall has (basically) arrived and with the changing of the seasons comes a new issue of Japan Book News.

If you don't know, Japan Book News is published quarterly by the Japan Foundation. It's full of articles and news about the current Japanese literary culture, as well as a list of notable new releases. It's a great resource for finding out what books are making a stir in the Japanese literary community.

Volume 69 is now up, but unfortunately, the link to downloading the full PDF of the issue is broken, so you can't read the news and articles just now. They do have links to the summaries of the new releases though, and they've highlighted a couple very interesting seeming books. Here's a look at what I'd be interested in getting my hands on:

(Unfortunately, they use Javascript to link to all their internal pages, so as much as I'd like to, I can't give you a direct link to everything they're talking about. You'll have to go the main page, and click your way through to the index for Volume 69 to see more information about these titles. All links are to Amazon Japan product listings.)

1)雪の練習生 ("The Apprentices of Snow," their translation not mine)
by Yoko Tawada

Yoko Tawada has a number of works out in English. I read The Bridegroom was a Dog a while back, but I just read the short story collection Where Europe Begins put out by New Directions, and now I've become a huge fan. Tawada is so surreal and inventive, and she can manipulate these qualities into something either extremely beautiful or extremely disturbing, sometimes practically instantaneously. She writes in both German and Japanese (Where Europe Begins was mostly her German work), but I'm assuming that she wrote this one in Japanese.

Anyway, it's about polar bears. Not just about polar bears, narrated by polar bears. And not just any polar bears. A polar bear trained for the circus who writes a memoir and becomes a famous writer, for one.

Writing from the point of view of a personified animal seems to be in vogue right now in Japan. Belka, Why Don't You Bark? by Hideo Furukawa follows dogs (I think it's narrated by the dogs but I'm not sure), and Kenshin by Rieko Kawakami is about a woman who is turned into a dog. Either way, interesting premise, great writer—I'd love to see this come out by New Directions, who has published a lot of Tawada in the past.

2) 生首 ("Severed Heads")
by Henmi Yo

There's a pretty robust poetry scene in Japan, some of which gets across the Pacific Ocean. The Best Translated Book Award has always had at least one Japanese poet on their shortlist save their inaugural year. I'm not familiar with Henmi Yo really, but I don't think Japan Book News highlights a lot of poetry, and I do like the little excerpt they put in their description:

One evening in early autumn
Across the darkening blue of the western skies
I watched a severed head fly across the heavens.

Not a lot to go on, but worth checking out I think. 

3) 日本語ほど面白いものはない (Nothing is as Fun as Japanese)
by Naoki Yanase

I can't imagine anything like this would EVER get published in English, but it sounds interesting to me all the same. It's based on a series of lectures given by Yanase to a sixth grade class on why Japanese is a cool language. The reason why it's interesting to me is Yanase himself, who did Japanese translations of Roald Dahl and Lewis Carrol, as well as James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Finnegans fucking Wake! I would LOVE to learn more about this guy.

Hey, and maybe since it's written for sixth graders, it would be pretty easy to read, and it might make a good supplementary textbook for American high school or college students learning Japanese. Maybe there's a market for this book after all.

4) 日本の刺青と英国王室 ("Japanese Tattoos and the British Royal Family")
by Noboru Koyama

Title sort of explains it all. About British Princes in the late 19th century that did some tourism and got some badass tattoos, and then more about the history of Japanese tattooing. I don't read a lot of history books, but this sounds pretty fascinating.

5) 文豪の食卓 (Great Writers at the Dinner Table)
by Tokuzo Miyamoto

OK, this one might appeal to me only. I love food, and I love to read about famous people talking about food. So from what I understand of the description of this book, it's part profiles of famous writers through their documented experiences with food and part exposé about regional Japanese food. It seems like it profiles a lot of French and American writers (though there must be something about Japanese writers). I love this kind of stuff, though I can't imagine it ever being published in translation.

6)近代日本奇想小説史:明治編 (A History of the Japanese Imaginative Novel: Meiji Era)
by Jun'ya Yokota

Another history book, but this one about science fiction, speculative fiction, and other genre fare of the Meiji Era. It's 1200 pages though—I'd never get through it. I'd rather read about the neat stuff No-sword digs up.

There's also a new book by Yuko Tsushima, who I was never a fan of, and a history of Japanese mystery novels, which they hilariously call "much-neglected," cause seriously, what is being translated in America besides mystery/crime/thrillers and Murakami?

Anyway, good selection of cool stuff. Check it out, especially you publishing types if you're out there—let's get some cool stuff translated into English!

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