Reading Japan: Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura

It’s been my practice with this blog to just read one book per country, since I’m already walking this long path at a very slow pace. But not for Japan!

After really enjoying my first selection, which I found courtesy of OhioLINK, I decided to check out my own bookshelves. I’m definitely a proponent of tsundoku, a Japanese word that roughly translates to buying a lot of books and leaving them stacked up everywhere, unread. It’s not just a habit for me; it’s a lifestyle. Because of that, my search yielded many excellent choices, but I went with Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura, translated from the Japanese by Mark Ealey.

A 16th-century Japanese Atakebune coastal warship.
A 16th-century Japanese Atakebune coastal warship. (Image in the Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Stark is the main word I would use to describe this book. Mr. Yoshimura is a masterful writer; the chilly tone and repetitive scenes he puts to paper convey perfectly the experience of the protagonist, a young boy named Isaku. I’ve not quite experienced such  brilliant use of language and structure like that in a novel; when I realized what he was doing, I almost stopped and clapped. The translator deserves a well-earned shout-out as well, for keeping that framework so beautifully intact.

As I often tell you at the end of my reviews, read this book!

 

Reading Japan: Woman on the Other Shore

So many choices for reading about Japan. Not only that, but I’ve already engaged with quite a few of the best known Japanese authors (Murakami, Ishiguro, Soseki, Kawabata), so that left me free to dig a little deeper. And I’m so glad I did.

The book I chose, Woman on the Other Shore  by Mitsuyo Kakuta is just beautiful. It made me realize how rarely you encounter a real telling of relationships between women; friendships, daughters and mothers, coworkers – all of these can be so impactful, but we’re often left to navigate the emotions they bring up all by ourselves. I recommend this book wholeheartedly; it’s well worth your time.

Image of Imaihama-Kaigan Station in Kawazu, Shizuoka, Japan
A location in the book: Imaihama-Kaigan Station in Kawazu, Shizuoka, Japan (Image by Okajun, via Wikimedia Commons)

Reading Portugal: Baltasar and Blimunda by José Saramago

What a beautiful, lyrical, strange, sad, piercingly funny experience this book is.
A week since I turned the last page, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

A love story, biting satire, melancholy musings on faith, loyalty, and the meaning of life. It’s all there. And a master writer like José Saramago makes it work. Hauntingly so. Go ahead, read it.

Enrique Casanova - Portugal Pittoresco
(Image by Creator:Enrique Casanova, Museu Imperial [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

 

 

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Reading About Hong Kong

I read two books for Hong Kong…and I while I didn’t intend to have a narrow focus, both were about a world that doesn’t exist anymore: British Hong Kong.

I really enjoyed the deeper dive in, though. I had the luck of encountering two authors who, while very different in many ways, created an almost magical sense of place.

The first book was Love in A Fallen City by Eileen Chang. I maybe cheated a bit with this one – the setting was just as often Shanghai as it was Hong Kong, but the title alone clinched the deal for me…I had to read it right away. As is often the case, fiction follows fact; Ms. Chang was originally from the mainland city, and emigrated to Hong Kong.

A collection of four novellas, this is writing at its best. Sharp-tongued and smart, melancholy without being sentimental – there were times my heart hurt with the beauty of the phrasing. It’s easy to understand why the author is a literary giant in Taiwan and China.

“Basically a woman who was tricked by a man deserved to die, while a woman who tricked a man was a whore. If a woman tried to trick a man but failed then was tricked by him, that was whoredom twice over. Kill her, and you’d only dirty the knife.” ~ Love in a Fallen City

Hong Kong Skyline
Hong Kong Skyline
(Image by Diliff (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons)

My second book was Golden Boy: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood by Martin Booth. Memoirs are not usually my literary jam: I often feel like I’m trapped with someone who, in the end, I really didn’t need to get to know…
But fortunately, that’s not the case here: I really, really enjoyed this book. The author got to experience Hong Kong as a free-range kid, and was there at just the right age, when a quick, sensitive young mind can truly be open to a fascinating place.

I know I should dig into modern Hong Kong, but I so enjoyed my journey into its 20th century history.

And here’s some mood music that I listened to while reading. Check out Bai Guang, if you aren’t already familiar…