Amedama: Seia Tanabe

Amedama_TanabeIt can be weird at times, being a translator of a variety of books with a brain that is a battler of even more books. By day, I read books I might never have otherwise read and turn them into English for all the monolinguals, and by night, I read all the books I dream of bringing to all the monolinguals in English. Naturally, there is overlap between these two selves. Sometimes, the dream of translating a beloved book comes true (like my precious baby Magician A, coming to Kickstarter backers very soon and to select bookstores later this year!), and sometimes, I discover that a book I’m translating is a true beloved (I will never stop pushing After the Rain and Requiem of the Rose King on everyone who asks me what they should be reading; they are perfect and true books in their own beautiful ways). And sometimes, translating something leads me to picking up other work by the same author.

After translating a short story by Seia Tanabe years ago for the Haikasoru collection Phantasm Japan, I kept my eyes open for more from this author of quietly frightening stories based on Japanese ghost and folk tales, eventually stumbling across her novel Ningyo no Ishi, a book I still reflect on surprisingly often two years after finishing it. Her prose is so sparsely moody and yet strangely down to earth for the tales of the supernatural that she tells.

And I know I should be used to this by now because authors stumble across my posts here about their work surprisingly often (and let this be a lesson to those of you who would use a foreign language as a secret code to gossip about people on a crowded train or some other such public place—there is inevitably a speaker of that foreign language somewhere near you who understands every word you’re saying and will no doubt take the first opportunity that presents itself to publicly shame/embarrass you if you are talking any kind of smack about anyone), but a few months after I posted about that novel, Tanabe reached out to me to thank me for reviewing the book and offered to send me some of her other books. Which was a delightful surprise and kind as hell, and you know that I gratefully accepted. (Thank you, Tanabe-san!) Continue reading “Amedama: Seia Tanabe”

Heaven’s Wind: Angus Turvill (ed.)

heavenswind_img2.jpgFrom desert to snow to the gentle warmth of late fall in Tokyo, I have experienced a lot of weather in the last couple of weeks. And a lot of jet lag. My body clock may never recover, to be honest. I am not meant for this jet-set life; there’s a reason I’m a freelance translator and not, like, the head of an international house of couture. (I imagine they fly a lot? I don’t know. I work at home; I’m very out of touch with the world.) So I’m more than happy to settle into Tokyo life for the next few months. Especially happy to pick up on my Tokyo bookstore life and get all the brand-new manga that I’ve been watching appear from my Toronto apartment.

But there is still a backlog of books to deal with before we get to all that juicy new stuff. Like this lovely bilingual collection of stories released earlier this year by the Japan Society! I ordered it straight away, but since its arrival, it has languished in the shelf of unread books because of the many other books in the queue before it, the general overwhelming busy-ness of the last couple months of my life, and a vague sense that this was not the book I wanted to read at that time. Sometimes, a book will seem like the perfect book for the moment on paper, but when you actually pick it up, it feels wrong in your hands somehow. And when that happens, I always respect what the book and the moment are saying and turn my attention to a different book. If you’re not in the mood for that particular book, you end up not appreciating it and really wasting everybody’s time. Continue reading “Heaven’s Wind: Angus Turvill (ed.)”

Satsujin Shussan: Sayaka Murata

ShussanSatsujinOver a delicious vegan lunch one recent sweltering day, my Japanese counterpart (freelance translator of comics into Japanese, random arts interpreter, staunch feminist, fujoshi—we are basically the same person) brought up the idea of vulnerability in contrast to all the powerful posturing and random attacking that seems to happen both on- and off-line these days, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. It’s been nagging at me in a way I find hard to put into words exactly. We’re all pulling up our big kid pants and trying to front like we’ve got it together, or we’re on top of things, or we’re better than someone somehow, or just trying to act like we don’t cry during motivational sports commercials (it can’t be just me, right?) when maybe what we need is to step right off of that high horse and admit that we’re barely functional or lonely or in need of some actual help. (Note: This is not a cry for said help, so please don’t put your Cardigan of Worry on. At least not for me. Look around you, though. Someone might need a kind word or two on a postcard from you.)

Perhaps these thoughts are unconsciously steering my reading choices. I’ve been picking up books on people in vulnerable places, work that gives other people gentle and kind consideration, stories that not only dip into but linger in the sphere of the domestic. And this is perhaps where Sayaka Murata shines brightest. Although I loved her Akutagawa prize winner Conbini Ningen (now available in English translation! Run out and get it and support good books in translation!) and its convenience store setting, I’m perhaps even more besotted with her 2014 work Satsujin Shussan and its deep dive into the doubly vulnerable world of pregnancy and murder. Doesn’t get more precarious than life or death! Continue reading “Satsujin Shussan: Sayaka Murata”

Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather: Gao Xingjian

Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather

If you are in Hamilton, Ontario, I would strongly recommend you go to this bookstore. I have been there a total of two times (in relation to this book I edited that you should totally get because it is funny and fun), and both times I walked away with more than one new books in my bag. It’s a used bookstore, one of those great places that always manage to collect all the books you were thinking of buying but missed out on when they were new on the shelves.

Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather is one of those books for me. It was definitely on my to-buy list when it came out, but I was living in Japan back then and my access to English books was generally limited to whatever they stocked at Tower Records or that one Kinokuniya with the good English book selection. And this Xingjian title never appeared on those shelves, and so it never made it to my shelves. Unlike his two other books that have been translated into English (also by the same translator, Mabel Lee), Soul Mountain and One Man’s Bible, which hold coveted positions of deep and undying love on my shelves. I could read Soul Mountain over and over and over and still want to read it again. The lyrical, flowing sentences, the shift between voices, the sudden merging of the voices, it is all too beautiful and just remembering it now is making me want to read it again.  Continue reading “Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather: Gao Xingjian”

The Future is Japanese: Nick Mamatas, Masumi Washington (eds.)

I’m not going to lie: the reason I bought this book was to read the lone Toh EnJoe story contained in its pages. Because although I liked the idea of a collection of short stories by Japanese speculative fiction authors, The Future is Japanese features only five Japanese authors—the “from” part of the “science fiction futures and brand new fantasies from and about Japan” in the subtitle—leaving the other eight authors in the collection to fill out the “about” part. And whenever I see stories “about” Japan, I get a little wary of the possibility of fetishization. (I say this as the non-Japanese author of a book set in Japan. Oh, the irony!)

To be honest, the other stuff Haikasoru, the fiction imprint of Viz Media publishing Japanese science fiction and fantasy, hasn’t really grabbed me with its releases. Maybe just because none of their stuff seems to make it to my local bookstore shelves for me to take in hand and flip through? Maybe because I just don’t like the type of “space opera. dark fantasy. hard science” that they publish?  Continue reading “The Future is Japanese: Nick Mamatas, Masumi Washington (eds.)”

Sabiru Kokoro: Natsuo Kirino

Natsuo Kirino is one of those authors that always manages to surprise me while still having a strongly identifiable voice of her own. Ostensibly a mystery author, she’s always struck me more as a painter of portraits. I mean, the mysteries she writes tend to start off with the solution to the mystery, like in Out or Grotesque, and she manages to zoom right in on the salient features of each character, deftly giving them depth and making them interesting with a few words on the first page. But she also has this distance from them, she steps back. She tends to tell her stories in the third person, although she did use the first-person to great effect in Grotesque (the hatchet job of the English edit/translation of which still makes me stabby).

Her use of the third person doesn’t mean she doesn’t get inside her characters’ heads, though. She creates opportunities for omniscience, moments to sneak in and see what they are thinking. But it always feels like she is watching from the sidelines, which is what makes her so effective at creating that haunted atmosphere you see in so much of her work. I’ve only ever read her novels, though, where she has plenty of time to build and create that atmosphere, so when I came across Sabiru Kokoro (roughly “Rusted Heart”), a collection of six short stories, at Book Off for only two hundred and fifty yen, I snapped it up, eager to see what she would do within the confines of the short story. Continue reading “Sabiru Kokoro: Natsuo Kirino”