Belka, Why Don’t You Bark?: Hideo Furukawa, trans. Michael Emmerich

cvr9781421549378_9781421549378_hr-1Fall is for science fiction! I am standing by this statement with more science fiction. Or rather speculative fiction? The question of whether or not Belka is science fiction kept coming up as I was reading. The publisher is Haikasoru, and their whole deal is science fiction and fantasy in translation from Japanese. But the events of Belka are pretty firmly grounded in historical events and don’t feel so science fiction-y or fantasy-y. Still, it delves deep into the psyche of dogs and pushes reality to some eyebrow-raising limits, so speculative it is? So let’s just change our reading/battle cry to fall is for SF and move on.

This is only one of Furukawa’s many books that I have read in the last month or am currently reading. (I may never finish the behemoth that is his translation of Heike Monogatari into modern Japanese, though.) Because I am interpreting for him during his upcoming appearances at the International Festival of Authors, and as I noted on Twitter the other day, interpreting for someone basically means you become their most devoted, secret stalker for a brief period of time. You find every interview they’ve done in any publication anywhere; you read everything they’ve ever committed to ink or pixels; you watch all the videos of them on YouTube, including their appearances on a terrible wide show twenty years ago that is probably not relevant in any way to the project at hand. And you never, ever tell them that you have done all of this. Because they would no doubt—and possibly rightly—feel that it was creepy. Because what you are doing is not so different from the sort of stalking that gets people to take our restraining orders. Only your motivations are different: You just want to be ready for when some rando from the audience asks a question about that terrible wide show and you have to interpret it for your artist. Continue reading

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Lagoon: Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon-imageCan fall be for science fiction? It appears to be turning out that way for me, so maybe we can just make it official, and everyone can dig into some seriously fine sci-fi. There’s this whole thing in Japanese where you say fall is for art, or fall is for food, or fall is for whatever you feel like doing, it seems. So I feel like we should jump on this bandwagon and declare fall for science fiction. Then we can get all cozy in our suddenly (in Toronto, at least) chilly homes and devour all the great SFF books hitting the shelves these days, like the latest from Ann Leckie. (If you haven’t already, you should seriously be reading all her books, by the way.)

Or this little number for Nnedi Okorafor, another author you should all already be reading. I fell in love with her a while back when I happened upon Who Fears Death, an incredible story about apocalypse and magic and Africa. So now she’s one of those authors I will pick up whenever I happen upon her, secure in the knowledge that she will give me things to really think about while entertaining the hell out of me. But even if she wasn’t on that list of favoured authors, I probably still would have grabbed Lagoon on the basis of the cover alone. I’ve said it more than once, I judge books by their covers, and this is a cover that screams, “Read me! You won’t regret it!”. So high fives to Joey Hi-Fi for some seriously evocative imagery. Incidentally, he also did the amazing UK (?) cover for Zoo City, another book I totally loved. I guess the lesson here is check out what other books he’s designed and read them too? Continue reading

Yume Miru Ashibue: Sayuri Ueda

Yume_UedaAs part of my mission to expand my reading horizons, I’ve been dipping my toes into the shallow end of the Japanese science fiction/fantasy pool. Ever so tentatively. I’ve been reading SFF in English since I was a kid, thanks to the reading proclivities of my nerd dad, but I read almost no SFF in other languages. The barrier for entry just seems too high. After all, SFF is basically the one genre where everything is totally made up. Sure, there’s some more grounded stuff, closer to magic realism than science fiction, but for the most part, this is a genre where authors delight in creating new worlds, new cultures, and new words even. And when you’re reading that in a second language, a language in which you are lacking the full vocabulary you have in your native tongue, all that newness can send you spinning off into a literary blackhole of doom. Is this unfamiliar word just one you don’t know or is it one the author made up? Should you look it up or just wait and see? Not to mention when the story is set in some entirely imagined world, you lose all the context you normally get from the world around you to help you decipher difficult passages and concepts.

So SFF is a daunting read for the non-native speaker. But from the peeks I’ve gotten here and there, through work in translation or the Japanese magazines I pick up from time to time, I know the world of Japanese science fiction is full of exciting and interesting stories that I want to read. So I have been mustering up my courage and prowling around the SFF sections of the bookstores I frequent, trying to find something really great and challenge my language skills at the same time. Some of the books I’ve stumbled upon have been hugely disappointing (I’m looking at you, Mirai e by Motoko Arai!), but I’ve happened upon a few treasures, including, of course, Sayuri Ueda’s recently published short story collection Yume Miru Ashibue. Continue reading

Jigokuyuki: Kazuki Sakuraba

Jigokuyuki_Sakuraba

It’s Women in Translation month! I am a woman in translation! I translate women authors! So basically, this month is my time to shine! Also: buy my books! There are a lot to choose from! But if you’re looking for some other translations to while away the lazy days of August with, you have so many options! While the majority of authors translated into English are men, the situation is getting better for us of the lady persuasion. Mostly because we keep yelling about it with things like WIT month. So come! Yell with me today, readers! Raise your voice for books by women from other lands translated into English! (Bonus points if the translator is also a woman!)

My brain tends to battle mostly books in Japanese here, but we have tackled more than a few translated works, and so many of them by women! Take a peek and find a new book to love. Or you can check out this great list from the always amazing Words Without Borders. How about a nonstop feed of lady greatness on Twitter? Maybe Tumblr is more your jam? Or do you like your info old school in the form of a blog post? Everyone everywhere is talking about women in translation this month! And my brain wants to be part of the fun! Continue reading

Tanizaki Mangekyo: Various

tanizakiFun fact: I learned the word “mangekyo” long before I started learning Japanese, along with “tsuki ni kawatte oshioki yo” and “henshin”. So when I spotted the lovely cover of Tanizaki Mangekyo in the bookstore, my first thought was an unconscious, thrilled “Sailor Moon!” This collection of short stories has nothing to do with that pretty sailor soldier, however. And yet every time I see the title, I start singing that song to myself. (I still sing it at karaoke with J-peeps. Nothing like singing anime songs in Japanese to knock J-socks off!)

My second thought, based solely on the erotic reveal of Asumiko Nakamura’s lady on the cover, was that this was a collection of erotic/definitely R-rated stories and therefore I should refrain from reading this volume on the train. Some salarymen might be cool with reading rape-y naked lady stories during their commute, but I like to keep my public manga reading PG. So this sat around for a couple weeks, waiting for a slot in my house reading schedule. And when that slot finally opened up and I actually read the obi, I realized that this is a collection of manga adaptations of stories by famed Japanese author Junichiro Tanizaki. And while he is known for his “destructive erotic obsessions” (thank you for that turn of phrase, Wikipedia editor), none of these stories is particularly dangerous to read on the train. Continue reading

i: Kanako Nishi

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Every so often, a book mirrors my own existence to the extent where it freaks me out slightly. Maybe it’s the surface details, maybe it’s the protagonist’s inner life, maybe it’s the world she lives in, but there are books that send a bit of a shiver up my spine when I think about how much I relate to them. The first book I remember being wholeheartedly and unstintingly devoted to in this way was the Trixie Belden series. Her poverty, her tomboyishness, her love of animals, her admiration of Honey’s beautiful blond hair, I saw myself in all of it. (Not so much in the farm part of her existence, being a lifelong city girl, but we pick and choose what to identify with in our art.) Then there was She Came to Stay, the book that swallowed my identity when I was nineteen or so. Ever since, there have occasionally popped up these sorts of books which make me gasp and look around my apartment for the secret cameras reaping the minute details of my life.

I never expected to have that feeling with a Japanese novel, given the many differences in my life and upbringing, and the way things happen on this side of the ocean. And yet. Here we are. A book whose protagonist is a foreigner living in Japan who speaks the language fluently and studies theoretical mathematics in university. A book whose title in fact, derives from those very mathematics. Seriously. The first line of the book is “There is no i in this world,” and our heroine gasps. This reader also gasped. The “i” the speaker is referring to is the imaginary number i, the square root of -1, a number and a world view I have spent a large part of my life with. But it’s also the name of our stunned protagonist. Ai. Her parents gave her this name in katakana, rather than assigning the kanji normally associated with it, to leave room for all the possible interpretations. The most obvious of which would be the word “love”, which is often a name for girls. So we have a hero whose name is caught in a Schrodinger-style uncollapsed wave of “love”, “imaginary number”, “English first person”, and more. And she herself is caught in a similar uncollapsed wave. Continue reading

Conbini Ningen: Sayaka Murata

Conbini NingenWARNING: Potentially controversial opinion ahead! Are you ready? Are you sure? Okay, here it is then…

I find the type of literature that receives accolades and awards in Canada to be very earnest and generally in a similar vein. I think everywhere in the English-speaking world, “serious” books tend to be favoured with the “serious” term “literature”, and that books written by men or books written about men or both tend to be deemed “serious literature”. But I feel like Canada has its own narrow and particular version of “serious literature”, and if someone is not living some kind of hard-scrabble life in the pages of your novel, you are not going to win the Governor General’s Award or even Canada Reads. There must be hard times or else how can we know it’s literature?

And this, friends, I find deeply boring. I don’t think you need Hard Times™ to make a work of fiction that is meaningful and relevant and life-changing. I even think that genre fiction is just as serious and meaningful as “literary” fiction. I know, I know. I hear you all out there, gasping and clutching your pearls. But I promise you, the way Ancillary Justice uses language to break down conceptions of gender is just as real and meaningful as the sparse economy of The Vegetarian in revealing the fundamental contradictions in the way society treats women. Continue reading