[NOVEL] THE HOUSEKEEPER AND THE PROFESSOR – YOKO OGAWA

Summary: He is a brilliant math Professor with a peculiar problem–ever since a traumatic head injury, he has lived with only 80 minutes of short-term memory.  She is an astute young Housekeeper, with a ten-year-old son, who is hired to care for him.  And every morning, as the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to each other anew, a strange and beautiful relationship blossoms between them. And the numbers, in all of their articulate order, reveal a sheltering and poetic world to both the Housekeeper and her young son. The Housekeeper and the Professor is an enchanting story about what it means to live in the present, and about the curious equations that can create a family.

“A problem isn’t finished just because you’ve found the right answer.”

I read this story when I took a class in Japanese Literature, and I absolutely love it. Don’t be intimated by the math. It’s a perfect lazy Sunday morning read that is not just enjoyable but has meaningful take-away. A movie from this novel called was made in 2006 but sadly I couldn’t find the trailer :<

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[NOVEL] NORWEGIAN WOOD – HARUKA MURAKAMI

Summary: Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before.  Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable.  As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman Midori.

“What happens when people open their hearts?”
“They get better.”

11297Since Norwegian Wood is so popular, this is by no means a review, but just some thoughts on the novel. When I read this novel a year ago, my thought was basically: “What kind of story is this?” “Is this love or sex?” “Why can’t everyone in the book just make up their minds already?” Maybe it has too many layers of meanings that I couldn’t decipher? I decided, then, that Murakami was not the author for me. But people grow up, and so am I. When I read it again for one of my classes this spring, I realized that it’s not the multilayers of meanings that make the book popular. It is the power to touch people’s hearts.  Read More »

[NOVEL] THE WOMAN IN THE DUNES – KOBO ABE

Summary: After missing the last bus home following a day trip to the seashore, an amateur entomologist is offered lodging for the night at the bottom of a vast sand pit. But when he attempts to leave the next morning, he quickly discovers that the locals have other plans. Held captive with seemingly no chance of escape, he is tasked with shoveling back the ever-advancing sand dunes that threaten to destroy the village. His only companion is an odd young woman. Together their fates become intertwined as they work side by side at this Sisyphean task.

“Being free always involves being lonely.”

Many people said that this novel gives you a really “claustrophobic” atmosphere, with all the sand surrounding the main character. And it feels like the sand will eventually collapse on you. Admittedly, I feel the same. But don’t be discouraged! The Woman in the Dunes is an amazingly unique and intriguing novel I’ve read, since it leaves room for so many discussions and interpretations of its metaphors and images! A successful movie adaptation was made in 1964 by Hiroshi Teshigahara, and you can find the trailer here.
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[NOVEL] KOKORO – NATSUME SOSEKI

Summary: Kokoro—meaning “heart”—is the story of a subtle and poignant friendship between two unnamed characters, a young man Watashi (“I” in Japanese) and an enigmatic elder whom he calls “Sensei.” Haunted by tragic secrets that have cast a long shadow over his life, Sensei slowly opens up to his young disciple, confessing indiscretions from his own student days that have left him reeling with guilt, and revealing, in the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between his moral anguish and his student’s struggle to understand it, the profound cultural shift from one generation to the next that characterized Japan in the early twentieth century.

“You see, loneliness is the price we have to pay for being born in this modern age, so full of freedom, independence, and our own egoistical selves.”

I’m a little bit reluctant to call this a review or recommendation because Kokoro is one of the most famous work in modern Japanese literature. It’s like the American’s “To kill a mockingbird.” Still, I’m deeply impressed and movedby Kokoro, kokoroand I’d love to share my opinions! The novel has a film adaptation in 1955 and a less faithful anime adaptation in 2009 (episode 7 -8 in Aoi Bungaku). 

Historical context

I think a little historical background is crucial for this novel. Soseki is considered one of the major author of the 20th century, who is a pioneer in a Western-styled literature. He lives around the time of the Meiji period, which was marked an influx of Western influences including industrialization and culture values. The cultural and economic revolution in the Meiji era marked the beginning of modernization. Kokoro was published two years after the Meiji Emperor has died.Read More »

[NOVEL] TOTTO-CHAN: THE LITTLE GIRL BY THE WINDOW – TETSUKO KUROYANAGI

Summary: This engaging series of childhood recollections tells about an ideal school in Tokyo during World War II that combined learning with fun, freedom, and love. This unusual school had old railroad cars for classrooms, and it was run by an extraordinary man–its founder and headmaster, Sosaku Kobayashi – who was a firm believer in freedom of expression and activity.

Down through the ages and in the whole world, Watt and Newton cannot have been the only ones to notice the steam from a boiling kettle or observe an apple fall.

41iUvdQME+L._SX298_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgA children’s  book might be refreshing break from my reading routine. Although I’m a little hesitant to review such a popular book, Totto-chan is such a unique novel that no one can ignore! Plus all the amazing illustrations from Iwasaki!

Rich characters

In the first chapter, Totto-chan seems like a girl that can’t be fixed: just 1st grade and she was already expelled from school. She does not seem to be a ‘normal’ kid who would be a misfit into Japan’s strict and demanding educational system. But as the stories unfold, we see an intellectually curious, courageous and even humorous. A girl so unique, yet so lively, playful and real that is much different from the flat and monotonous characters usually seen in children’s books.Read More »

[NOVEL] JOURNEY UNDER THE MIDNIGHT SUN – KEIGO HIGASHINO

Summary: When a man is found murdered in an abandoned building in Osaka in 1973, unflappable detective Sasagaki is assigned to the case. He begins to piece together the connection of two young people who are inextricably linked to the crime; the dark, taciturn son of the victim Ryojin Kirihara and the unexpectedly captivating daughter Yukiho Nishimoto of the main suspect. Over the next twenty years we follow their lives as Sasagaki pursues the case – which remains unsolved – to the point of obsession.

“If a wild cat is adopted when she has grown up a little, although she is friendly, she never really lets her guard down.”

journey-under-the-midnight-sun-1100x1100-imaee2bxczwebz5x.jpegI know right away whenever I find another favorite author: Keigo Higashino just joined the list! Journey Under the Midnight Sun is one of Higashino’s most favorite novels and was made into a TV series under the same name, a Japanese film (Into the White Night) and a Korean film (White Night). You can find Into the White Night’s trailer here. One thing to notice that all the quotes are my own translations, because I read the book in Vietnamese this time. Read More »

[NOVEL] BLUE MOSHIKUWA BLUE – FUMIO YAMAMOTO

Summary: Souko at the age of 23 decided to get married with the amiable and liberal Sasaki who works for an advertising company, instead of the hard-working and loyal cook Kawami. Years later, Sasaki Souko meets her other self: Kawami Souko, the life that she gave up when she was young, is arm in arm with her former lover Kawami. Longing for a change, the two exchange lives for one month. In the search for new experience and meaning of life, Sasaki Souko has greatly disrupted the balance of her fate…

Her mouth tastes unpleasantly acrid and bitter. It is the taste of freedom she ever wished for.

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One small thing to note is that all of the quotes here are my own translation because I don’t think this book has an English version yet (what a pity). They also made a drama adaption for the book in 2003. Blue Moshikuwa Blue is a perfect fun read for a lazy Sunday morning.

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[NOVEL] GROTESQUE – NATSUO KIRINO

Summary: [Grotesque portraits] the malice and deceit that surround the female students of an elite all girls high school. ‘Here we have class based society in all its repugnant glory.’ [It tells the story of] the diabolically beautiful and nymphomaniac Yuriko and the isolated and aggressively competitive ‘outsider’ Kazue. Yuriko’s sister ‘Watashi’ (meaning ‘I’ – unnamed first narrator) feels deep resentment for the two, and tries her best to ruin them both. A monumental work of Kirino, which with overpowering literary style portraits the life of modern women (Øyvor Nybor’s translation of Grotesque’s summary Japanese version).

A woman who does not know herself has no choice other than to live with other people’s evaluations. But no one can adapt perfectly to public opinion. And herein lies the source of their destruction.

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I struggled a bit to find a nice summary in English that could sum up Grotesque; mostly because the English version has the tag “crime fiction,” and its summary makes the novel look like a thriller.

“Tokyo prostitutes Yuriko and Kazue have been brutally murdered, their deaths leaving a wake of unanswered questions about who they were, who their murderer is, and how their lives came to this end” (Grotesque’s summary English version).

There is really no detective game in this novel. Grotesque is about complex human relationships, especially women, in modern Japanese society. The author with her profound work has explored so many problems – feminism, prostitution, family and social hierarchy etc, so intricately weaved together to create a society that leaves our characters no way out. Instead of touching base on those problems, I will just talk about my impressions with Grotesque, and what sucked me in from the very first page. Read More »

[LIGHT NOVEL SERIES] BUNGAKU SHOUJO – NOMURA MIZUKI

Summary: Bungaku Shoujo series centers around Konoha Inoue, one of two members of his high school’s literature club, which he joined shortly after entering school, though the story begins when Konoha is already in his second year. The other member and president of the club is Tohko Amano, a third-year girl who loves literature. Tohko eats stories by consuming the paper they are printed on, and Tohko often asks Konoha to write her short stories as “snacks”.

“Why are you eating the parts that I balled up and threw away?”

Hinosaka.Nano.full.1238261This series of light novels got so popular that they have manga and anime adaptation, and art book. But the very first time I read them, I thought they were a little too much. The language was a little exaggerated, and the characters were unreal. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t expect everything to be real. In fact, I love unreal. I love mangas and books with mind games, strategy games, fighting scenes, exaggerated love story, etc. However, I wouldn’t expect such dramatic adventures from a series that starts with a two-member high school literature club. What makes Bungaku Shoujo worth reading, rather than real, is the ability to create to characters that any reader can resonate with.Read More »

[NOVEL] THE FRIENDS – KAZUMI YUMOTO

Summary: Curious about death, three sixth-grade boys decide to spy on an old man waiting for him to die, but they end up becoming his friends.

“…we human beings progress because we have the desire to know.”

Personal note: I read the book in Vietnamese, and I couldn’t find the 566c099b04567fe482233a1fdeab129e-w204@1xEnglish version online. So at first I thought I would quote some famous reviews below. But The friends‘ quotes are sooooo good, I will translate them from the Vietnamese version. Thus, the quotes below are not exact the same with the original English version. 

A beautiful friendship

When I first read the book, I thought it’s about the strong bond between Kiyama, Yamashita and Wakabe. There’s gonna be adventures, and fights, and lessons about friendship for those three. In short, a story for kids. However, my first impression was wrong.

Downright wrong.Read More »