2000 - 2007 Books in Translation

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World

Five words from the blurb: unicorn, librarians, descent, tradegy, detachment

Hard-Boiled Wonderland is my fifth Murakami (I’ve read Wild Sheep Chase, Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore) but although I loved the bizarre scenes, I think I understood this book less than any of the others I’ve read.

The book contained a dual narrative: one part set in an alternative version of modern Japan, the other in a mysterious walled city. These short, alternating chapters added pace and ensured the reader was never bored.

The plot revolved around unicorns; trying to avoid strange vicious creatures called INKlings; and bizarre experiments on the mind. I loved the first two aspects, but the third confused me. I also failed to understand the book’s concept. I think I’d benefit from reading a study guide, as far too much went over my head.

The writing style was simpler and less vibrant than the other Murakamis I’ve read and I initially struggled to connect with it. It took about 70 pages before I was gripped to the plot and there was one point, about 40 pages in, where I even considered abandoning it. Luckily I persevered and was rewarded with more of Murakami’s unique brand of weirdness.

“Your shadow is on the verge of death. A person has the right to see his own shadow under these circumstances. There are rules about this. The Town observes the passing of a shadow as a solemn event, and the Gatekeeper does not interfere.”

The joy of this book is the way it transports you out of your comfort zone. It is unpredictable, entertaining and completely bonkers, but I wish I there had been more adventure and less complex mind theory.

Recommended to those who are already Murakami fans, as I don’t think this is a good place to start.


Have you read this book?

Did you understand it?

Is it your favourite Murakami? 

To find more Japanese literature reviews head over to Tony’s January in Japan blog.

Books in Translation Thriller Uncategorized

The Devotion of Suspect X – Keigo Higashino

The Devotion Of Suspect X 

Translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith with Elye J. Alexander

Five words from the blurb: Tokyo, ex-husband, shattered, Police, genius

I hadn’t heard of this book until one of my sister’s friends recommended it to me, but I love Japanese thrillers and so decided to give it a try. I’m pleased that I bought a copy because I’ll be recommending this intelligent thriller to everyone.

The Devotion of Suspect X begins with a woman murdering her ex-husband with the help of her daughter. Their neighbour hears the crime and offers to help dispose of the body, beginning a gripping narrative that centres on the question: Will they get away with it?

The premise is very similar to Out by Natsuo Kirino (my favourite thriller), but The Devotion of Suspect X is a much lighter novel. It is quicker and easier to read and doesn’t contain the same level of violence or dark emotion. For this reason I’d recommend it to those trying Japanese fiction for the first time.

The plotting in this book is perfect. There are no unnecessary scenes and the pace is relentlessly intriguing throughout. The main battle of wits is between the neighbour, a maths genius, and a friend of the police officer who happens to be a physics genius. I admit that this scenario is unlikely to occur, but I didn’t care because it led to one of the cleverest series of twists I’ve come across.

The characters were all well formed, with interesting flaws. I didn’t develop an emotional attachment to any of them, but this ended up being a positive as I found myself rooting for both sides equally. This is quite unusual in a police procedural as I normally find myself less interested in one of the plot threads.

The Devotion of Suspect X is a perfect thriller. It isn’t particularly deep or meaningful, but it is endlessly entertaining. I can see why it sold 2 million copies in Japan and I hope that word-of-mouth spreads it around the world.

Highly recommended.



Things I Love From Japan

For the last two days I have been glued to the TV and Internet, watching the horrific events unfolding in Japan. It doesn’t feel right to let the situation pass without mention, but I don’t feel I can add much to the extensive media coverage that is already out there. Instead I’ll briefly explain why I love Japan and introduce you to a few of my favourite Japanese things.

I have been to Japan three times and so have spent a reasonable amount of time in the country. I love it there! The scenery is beautiful, the culture is fascinating and the food is delicious. Basically it has everything you could ever want in a holiday. I can only begin to imagine the suffering that is taking place there now. It is all so sad.

It will be a long time before I stop thinking about Japan so I thought I’d try to add some positivity to the situation and highlight a few things from the country that you can enjoy without going there:

Out by Natsuo Kirino

This is the best thriller I’ve ever read. It contains numerous moral conundrums on top of vivid characters and a compelling plot. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Sesame Sauce

I used to bulk buy bottles of this sesame sauce whenever I went to Japan, but I have now discovered that I can buy it at The Japan Centre in Piccadilly. This means I always have some available and can spread it all over my salads without fear of running out.  


I love Japanese mythology – their stories always seem so much more exciting than ours. Kodamas are tree spirits and they are so cute! Here is a short video explaining a bit about them.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

This was my first introduction to the bizarre world of Murakami. Weird and wonderful. Everyone should experience Murakami.

The Films of Miyazaki

The above kodama clip comes from Princess Mononoke, but I have loved every Miyazaki film that I’ve seen. You never know what will happen next and the stories are so different from anything I’ve watched before. Highly recommended.




 Which things from Japan do you love?

You can donate to the Red Cross Japan Tsunami Appeal here.

2009 Science Fiction

Paprika – Yasutaka Tsutsui

 Translated from the Japanese by Andrew Driver

I bought this book because I saw the following phrase on the cover:

A Japanese master to be ranked alongside Haruki Murakami

I hadn’t heard of the author, but I’m afraid I have no self control when I see the word Murakami – I just have to see if it is anywhere near as good as books like Kafka on the Shore or The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. I’m really pleased with my impulse buy – Paprika is as weird as anything Murakami has written!

Paprika is a science fiction novel, originally published in Japan in 1993. The book focuses on a group of scientists who have invented a machine which allows them to enter the dreams of others. The team use their invention to treat mentally ill patients, particularly those with schizophrenia. Everything goes wrong when one of the devices goes missing and is used as a weapon to turn people insane.

This book is very strange! Much of it is set within peoples’ dreams where anything can happen:

Atsuko was trying hard to vanquish the demons of sleep. “It’s just like a dream. A dream. No. This is a dream.”
Yes, I’m sure it is. ” The reporter suddenly sprouted a cow’s head, which flopped down low in front of her. The weight brought her to her senses with a sharp intake of breath, but the cow’s slobber still hung from her mouth. “Do excuse me. I’ve only eaten one helping of rice porridge this morning.” And she slurped the slobber back into her mouth.

Unfortunately most of the people have violent or sexual dreams and so scenes like the one above are quite rare. The tone is kept light so I didn’t find the book disturbing, but I know this sort of thing isn’t for everyone!

The plot was gripping throughout, but it wasn’t as thought provoking as I’d have liked. The book seemed to focus on the battles between good and evil instead of how much our dreams tell us about ourselves and to what extent we can be manipulated through unconscious thought.

I loved the way Japanese mythology was prevalent throughout this book and the fact that  you could never predict what was going to happen next.

Recommended to anyone who enjoys reading bizarre Japanese fiction.

Have you read any of Yasutaka Tsutsui’s other books?


The Japanese Literature Challenge IV

I love Japanese Literature and so enjoy browsing the reviews on the Japanese Literature Challenge site.

Bellezza has done a fantastic job promoting Japanese fiction and now that my Booker reading is coming to an end I’ll be spending more time reading books in translation.

I don’t think I’ll be able to read that many Japanese books before the challenge ends on January 30th, 2011, but I hope to complete these three:


Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui

Strangers by Taichi Yamada

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Have you read any of these books?

Which other Japanese books do you recommend I read?

2010 Booker Prize

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell

David Mitchell is one of my favourite authors, so I was very excited about the release of this new book. Unfortunately I think that David Mitchell has matured as an author very quickly and so this book will disappoint much of his broad fan base.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is set on the island of Dejima at the beginning of the 19th Century. Dejima is the Japanese trading post, the only place where Europeans are allowed to exchange goods with the Japanese. The small island is inhabited only by translators, prostitutes and traders; with access to mainland Japan over a small fiercely guarded bridge. To Buying or reselling authorized user trade Jacob de Zoet is a Dutch clerk trying to prevent corruption on the island, but his life is changed when he falls in love with Orito, a young midwife.

The first chapter is a gripping, but graphic account of a childbirth in which Orito breathes the life back into a seemingly dead baby. Unfortunately the next 150 pages of the book lack this vivid story telling and I found it very hard to understand what was happening. New characters seemed to be added on every page, their names changing based on who referred to them.  The added problem of the Dutch and Japanese misunderstanding each other only compounded my confusion.

As a piece of historical fiction this book is a masterpiece. It is very well researched, but at times I felt the accuracy was its downfall. It took me six weeks to read the first section as I had to re-read it several times. If I hadn’t been a massive David Mitchell fan then I admit that I might have given up at this point, but I am pleased I made the effort.

The next 200 pages were a big improvement. The story of Orito’s imprisonment in a monastery and the shocking baby farm that existed there was a satisfying read. I loved Orito and wish the whole book had concentrated on her.

I was quite disappointed by the ending, but I’m afraid I can’t let you know about that without giving things away. All I can say is that I wasn’t a big fan of any section including Jacob de Zoet. The complexity of the text meant that  I couldn’t generate an emotional response and so I didn’t connect with him. I found all his sections confusing and almost impossible to follow with a single reading.

Overall this is an impressive book which deserves to win the Booker prize, but I think the complexity will put off all but the most determined reader.

Are you a big David Mitchell fan?

Do you hope this wins the Booker prize?