Haruki Murakami is the sun giant of Japanese literature: much lauded, popular, and, unfortunately, blinding Western audiences to other translated books. However, his popularity and sellability has led to a surge of Japanese translations, giving both older reissued authors (Kawabata, Mishima) and current redhot writers (Hiroko Oyamada) an opportunity to ply their trade on western minds.
One knock against Murakami is his inability to successfully characterize women in his stories. While books like Wind-Up Bird Chronicles and Norwegian Wood are rightfully raved about, the flatness of his female characters in his canon is highly problematic considering his influence. Enter writers like Mieko Kawakami who not only isn’t afraid to go after Murakami directly (while admitting she’s a fan of his work) she “...has made her name articulating womanhood in Japan better than any living author.” And Yukiko Motoya’s The Lonesome Bodybuilder: Stories contends directly with the malleability of women in current culture, both as objects on standby for the male gaze to be both ignored and exploited, and also as powerful and vicious “ninjas” bent on dominance and revenge. By playing with societal expectations of women (and, indeed, the expectations they have for themselves and their “role”) Motoya creates powerful prose and is an important voice in Japanese literature. Take a peak around the sun and investigate a new realm of voices on the other side of the ocean.
“ ...a bewitching portrayal of contemporary Japan through the eyes of a single woman who fits into the rigidity of its work culture only too well.” —Grove Atlantic Publishing
In the words of Murakami himself, “the sharp, precisely chosen words, the supple shifts in perspective, the assured, steady hand throughout—it was all so amazing it took my breath away. I know introductory essays often say things like this, but it’s no empty compliment or exaggeration. Seriously, it was breathtaking. If that’s too strong an expression then feel free to change it to “I was deeply impressed.”
At the outset, this is a story about Narazaki finding Tachibana, but as it unfolds, the narrative drifts into the metaphysical philosophies of the cult leaders and what their ideologies mean to the world at large, illuminating the radicalization of humans in society when faced with the smallness and insignificance of the self. Hedonism or acceptance are the two paths embodied by the spiritual leads of this twisting and turning crime narrative. —Andrew
Long Listed for the 2020 National Book Award in Translated Literature
A ex-pat who has lived in Germany since the 1980’s, Tawada writes in both Japanese and German, playing with the idea of language as “a living thing” and the relationships between two languages as both gateway and barrier. Playful, mysterious, sometimes sad, and definitely strange, the part mythology/part commentary Tawada creates will leave your brain dizzy, curious, enthralled, like a visitor trying to capture the experience of belonging. —Mike
Infamously known for committing seppuku (ritual suicide) after a failed government coup in 1970, Mishama was a complex, turbulent, conflicted man who many consider the most definitive Japanese writer of the 20th Century. A happily married father who happened to be homosexual, Mishima avoided fighting in World War II yet started his own right-wing nationalist militia. He was also thrice nominated for the Nobel Prize, being the Murakami of his time: popular with Western readers, his image framed by his actor good looks and embracement of western style charisma. His books and stories were no less dramatic and contradictory, taking on postwar cultural identity, the balance between the feminine and the masculine, and themes of passion, desire, and death. —Mike
Japan’s first Nobel Prize winner and older friend of Yukio Mishima, Kawabata wrote in sparse, lyrical prose with the Nobel committee noting "his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind.” —Mike
With her fiction described as “strange” and “weird” Oyamada’s characters struggle to distinguish reality from the unreal while searching for their roles and purpose in modern Japanese society. —Mike
Slow Boat is the story of a floundering life told through the prism of failed romantic relationships. The narrator wants to escape from Tokyo, but is mysteriously unable to do so. All of his girlfriends find a way free of the city however, dissolve their relationships with him as they go. The narrator finds success, and failure in his work life, but Tokyo continues to ensnare him, often in outrageously comic fashions. —Andrew
Made into a critically acclaimed movie in 1964.
Winner of the Lindsley and Masao Miyoshi Translation Prize
Shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Awards
Finalist for the Kirkus Prize
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