Christmas Books reviewed by Anna Thomas
Of all the books I’ve read this year, I was particularly impressed with the novels by Japanese authors. Here are four of my favourites.
- Yoko Tawada, and Margaret Mitsutani (Trans.), The Last Children of Tokyo, (Portobello Books, 2018).
The Last Children of Tokyo is set in a post-apocalyptic future where Japan has isolated itself from the rest of the world. Vividly imagined, disturbingly so at times, it is the elderly, now long lived and healthier, who are tasked with the responsibility of looking after their fragile children, who often die in their youth. I was taken by the relationship of Yoshiro and his great grandson, Mumei, and the everyday struggle to survive. It’s a short book at 138 pages, but the brevity lends additional weight to the dark undertones. Perfect for those who enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction and feel like branching out.
2) Hiro Arakawa, and Philip Gabriel (Trans.), The Travelling Cat Chronicles, (Doubleday, 2017).
I love cats, and while I primarily bought this book because the protagonist is a cat, the novel is both delightful and heart wrenching. Found as a stray by Satoru Miyawaki, Nana lives with him for five years. When Satoru is then faced with the awful prospect of having to rehouse Nana, a road-trip ensues, as he tries to find a suitable candidate. I enjoyed Nana’s snark and his generally pragmatic personality, which succeeded in being rather endearing at the same time. It was interesting to view a person, or several people’s lives from the perspective of the cat, and see how deeply animals can be affected by their owners.
3) Sayaka Murata, and Ginny Tapley Takemori (Trans.), Convenience Store Woman, (Portobello Books, 2018).
Convenience Store Woman examines the life of Keiko, a thirty six year old convenience store worker, trying to get by when others’ wants for her life do not match the life she wants to lead. Societal expectation is the main theme here, as an unmarried thirty-something is pressurised to give up the thing she loves. The author is a convenience store worker herself, and this intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the store shines throughout; you can almost smell the coffee. The writing is excellent, presented in an uncluttered manner. I read this book in an afternoon, and like good chocolate cake, it was rich, satisfying and I know I will come back for more from this author!
4) Hiromi Kawakami, and Allison Markin Powell (Trans.), The Nakano Thrift Shop, (Portobello Books, 2016).
Ostensibly, this a love story, but there is little caveat in this tale. A happy ending is not a given, and all the characters have to work at their respective relationships. Set against the backdrop of the Nakano Thrift Shop, Hitomi and Takeo struggle from the beginning. They struggle to understand one another, and sometimes fail completely, hurting one or the other without quite knowing what it was they did wrong. It is a human tale, and its human fragility is what stands out; the idea of love or being in love, not being as transformative as it is often made out to be. Sometimes the grass doesn’t look greener, nor the sky bluer. Sometimes, you still feel lonely, or misunderstood. I did get a sense of hope as I finished this book though, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to read an unconventional story.