Category: Fiction

Ningyo no Ishi: Seia Tanabe

Scan 13I’ve been sitting on this book for a couple months now because I couldn’t quite figure out what I thought about it. This happens to me more often than you’d think, given the generally strong opinions of which I am possessed. Forming those strong opinions takes time, and until I have really let something simmer in my brain, I can be pretty wishy-washy on a topic. And so it was with Seia Tanabe’s latest novel, Ningyo no Ishi. I liked it? Maybe? I didn’t hate it? I kept reading all the way to the end? But why? What was the point? Which isn’t to say the book isn’t good or isn’t worth reading. I just couldn’t quite put my finger on why it was worth reading.

I picked this one up because Tanabe’s been on my mind a lot recently. She’s married to science-fiction author/former physicist Toh EnJoe, and that pairing has always made me wonder what dinner is like at their house. I mean, she writes ghost stories; quiet, atmospheric things about yokai and bakemono that go bump in the night. And he writes ouroboric stories about space and the future and who knows what else because sometimes I feel like I am not smart enough to read EnJoe’s work. I can understand how the two met; the literary world in Japan is surprisingly small (much like the manga world), and it feels like everyone knows everyone else somehow. But how did they make it to marriage?? And what must that marriage be like?? Who knows, maybe they’re both super into rom-coms, and their respective writing interests just never come up. But I doubt that, given that they jointly published a collection of essays last year called Shodoku de Rikon o Kangaeta, which roughly translates to “We considered divorce through our reading.” Uh. Is all not well in the land of Tanabe/EnJoe? (Yes, I have that book, and yes, I will almost certainly write about it when I have finished it.) (more…)

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Random Anniversary 4: My Brain

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Almost two years to the day since my brain last celebrated the end of a journal, a sign that me and my brain need to work on spending more time with our journal and less time on Twitter. But the gratification from Twitter is instant, while the journal is more of a slow burn, and present me always needs cookies right now, all too often to the detriment of future me.

What happened in these two years documented in a little purple notebook that I got in Singapore? Who knows?? The notebook in question is tucked away in my Toronto apartment, while my brain and I are here in Tokyo. Recent happenings that are most certainly included in the journal include interpreting at TIFF in September and for author Hideo Furukawa last month (reasons why posting here has been especially light), but further back than that, and my poor memory grows hazy. I was in Japan a lot last year? Maybe? I lectured a bunch of hapless university students in America about gender in translation? I had some birthdays and my body continued its relentless march towards our inevitable decline? (more…)

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. (more…)

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? (more…)

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. (more…)

Jigokuyuki: Kazuki Sakuraba

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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! (more…)

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. (more…)