Travel Diaries: Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings

Narrow Road to the Interior and Other Writings, written in Japanese by Matsuo Basho and translated by Sam Hamill,is published by Shambala Classics. Matsuo Basho is famous for reinventing the haiku and imbuing it with true qualities of simplicity and natural beauty. This book is a beautiful haibun that chronicles Basho’s travels to the northern parts of Japan in late 17th century. Haibun is a form of writing that combines haiku and prose. Essentially, Narrow Road to the Interior or Oku no Hosomichi is a travelogue wherein Basho beautifully pens down his thoughts and journeys in both prose and haiku. The haikus often remark on particular incidents or scenes that Basho found memorable.

Read more about haibun here.

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The travelogue begins with these inviting lines,

The moon and sun are eternal travelers. Even the years wander on. A lifetime adrift in a boat, or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.

Such an alluring beginning immediately pulls the reader in and reflect on the idea of journey itself.

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Ito Junji’s Cat Diary: Yon and Mu!

Ito Junji’s horror mangas are well renowned but this famous Cat Diary takes a step away from the usual gory affairs and gives an autobiographical look at how Junji warmed up to two pet cats his fiance got into their lives.

Cat Diary starts with the author moving into a new house in Gifu with his fiance.

And that turns his world upside because his cat loving fiance brings her parents’ cat, Yon, from their house in Chiba.

Yon is a scary cat nicknamed, “the cat with an accursed face”, since it has an eerie print of a skull on its back.

Horror may be his forte, but the accursed face scares the living daylights out of Junji Ito in Cat Diary!

Quite ironical, yeah?

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Kafka on the Shore

I am sure many hardcore Murakami fans will swear by the magic realism and surreal feel of his novel, Kafka on the Shore.

And it sure has a touch of the bizarre and the other worldly.

Kafka on the Shore starts with a 15 year old boy deciding to runaway from his father to live on his own under the pseudonym, Kafka Tamura. The novel than traces his journey where he meets other characters such as Sakura who is a hair dresser and who he thinks might be his sister. Then he stumbles on a job in the library that he had visited and finds a home there. At the library, he meets Oshima, who is the assistant, and the owner, Miss Saeki, who has her own melancholic back story.

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Parallelly, the novel touches upon a curious incident that happened in the Yamanashi Prefecture where a group of children suddenly became unconsciously. It then focuses on one of those students, Mr. Nakata, who after the accident lost the ability to read and write but could mysteriously talk to cats. Consequently, he was the cat finder of his area in Nakano where he stayed.

Talking to cats is just one in the series of bizarre things to pop up in the novel.

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Quick Reviews: My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness

With pale pink illustrations, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi, gives a sharp look at how one person deals with the demons in her mind that the world creates and painfully overcomes them.

What is the book about? 

The opening scene of the manga, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Nagata Kabi is like a film since it focuses on an unexpected situation that the female protagonist of this manga is in and then she talks about the scene and how she ended up there.

Next page though, we see the ghosts that haunted her in the past ten years that led her to that opening situation: ghosts that we may all face such as not knowing where to go, not having a “something I belong to”, to much more serious ones such as self harm, eating disorders and depression.

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Quick Reviews: I Hear the Sunspot

I Hear the Sunspot by Yuki Fumino is one of the sweetest and most beautiful story on queer love between two boys who are poles apart.

What is the book about?

The manga, I Hear the Sunspot, is a beautiful blossoming story of how two school boys meet each other and slowly, tentatively, hesitatingly fall for each other. One is Kouhei, quiet and composed, and the other is Sagawa Taichi, who is the exact opposite: loud, boisterous and ready to pick a fight!

Kouhei has a hearing disability which makes his college life difficult as it does not help him socialise easily and in turn leads to him being labelled as being aloof.

Intrigued? Read more!

When We Were Orphans

Typical of Kazuo Ishiguro’s themes, When We Were Orphans, which is set mostly in the 1930s England while also hovering over to Shanghai, deals with the diminishing of one’s memories and the protagonist, Christopher Banks, makes a conscious attempt to try and recollect them and tell his story.

Through these recollections we see how he lived in Shanghai and how he had to come back home to England due to his parents going missing.

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Vintage Minis: Desire by Murakami

Vintage Minis is a series launched in 2017 by Penguin that is characterised by its brevity and universal themes of what makes us human.

Desire is the theme the publishing house chose for Haruki Murakami’s five short stories that are taken from three of his following short story collections:

  • Elephant Vanishes
  • Blind Willows, Sleeping Women
  • Men Without Women

While I did not really go looking for the theme of desire in each short story, I did enjoy all five of them since each had its own unique tale to tell.

Starting with The Second Bakery Attack that is narrated as an anecdote of the past of how a newly married couple found itself gnawed by a hunger that they had never known before and which they could only satisfy through a curious robbery!

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Red Sorghum

The opening of Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum – a child of fifteen setting out to join his foster father’s mission to ambush the Japanese – sets the tone for the rest of the novel: not only violent but intensely detailed violence.

Within that violence is embedded the story of three generations of a Chinese family that lived before and through the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Cultural Revolution up to the 1970s.
The part which is most emphasised on is the first one: the life of the family before and through the Second Sino-Japanese War.

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Guest Post: The Thief

I have read just one other book that was translated from Japan – The Cape and Other Stories from the Japanese Ghetto written by the acclaimed author Kenji Nakagami, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

So when I saw a copy of a book that was a translation yet again from Japan titled The Thief  by Fuminori Nakamura; translated by Satoku Izumo and Stephen Coates, I jumped at it.

Was it worth my time? Yes and no – because this is a short and easy read.

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Women in Translation (WIT) Month

August is Women In Translation (WIT) Month

Why WIT?

But why not?

On a sincere note, it is because literature like many other domains has been dominated by men. This also includes works that are translated. Not many works written by women who write in languages other than English are translated.

Even if they are translated, they may not be as widely known or popular.

This is where WIT comes in!

It is a month which helps one to know and promote female authors who are translated into English.

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Catty Catty Bang Bang!

Does your heart melt when a kitten mewls at you?

Or when a cat follows you around and rubs your ankles?

Are a kitten’s paws your greatest delight?

If yes is the answer to all the above, then you are a certified cat lover!

For all fellow cat lovers, here are six great books to pick up that revolve around your favourite creature!

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Of Dogs and Walls

The Penguin Modern series presents a brilliant collection of stories from authors which you might not encounter in your everyday bestseller list. Plus it is super cheap! What more could you want?

One title from the series that I recently bought was two short stories by Yuko Tshuhima. I have never read this author before. I have heard of Yukio Mishima, but yet to read him as his books are so hard to get here! So I was excited to find this gem on an online website and its price was hard to resist even with the delivery charge!

The book uses the title of the second short story as its main title: Of Dogs and Walls.

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The Guest Cat

Fed up of dog related books? Are you a cat lover who is not appreciated because the world is gaga over dogs and their loyalty whereas cats are consigned to a manipulative caricature?

Well I am!!

I am a default cat lover since the time we got a pet cat quite out of pity. From then on, I have loved my own cat and cats in general to death. So when I came across the novel, The Guest Cat, by Takashi Hiraide on Amazon at a decent rate, I instantly bought it since it fed my two interests: cats and my nascent interest in Japanese literature.

Translated into English by Eric Selland, the story is a simple one about a couple who sort of adopt a cat but do not own her. It traces their relation with the cat while also commenting on other aspects of Japan.

Chibi, the cat, comes into their lives unexpectedly when they move into a small guestroom next to a bungalow in Tokyo in 1988. Chibi has her own quirky characteristics that the narrator describes at length. Chibi comes and goes freely into their modest abode, sets up a routine of staying in their house at night and leaving in the mornings to accompany her actual owners’ son to say goodbye.

Against this backdrop, the couple themselves go through their own daily lives and jobs. The woman works at a publishing house and the man quits his job at a publishing agency to write his own stories.

What stands out however is how the main focus is the cat’s quiet relationship with the couple and the house they live in. The descriptions of both Chibi and their house is poetic and academic perhaps keeping in mind the profession of the narrator.

Through these descriptions the narrator also conveys information and comments on the goings on in Japan and Tokyo, most prominently the real estate and the Emperor’s sickness and subsequent death. It is accompanied by a glossary at the end which gives good information on the Japanese references in the novel.

Another, truly unique aspect that stands out are the comparisons and references between the different emotions and moods of the narrator whether it is comparing a house hunt with Machiavelli or triangular surveying to measure distance to avoid grief!

All in all, the novel, The Guest Cat shines because of its talent to convey profound musings through the everyday. And whether you are a cat lover or not, this is a must read since the style and the writing is unique, sparse and down to earth.

Here is a link of the book on Amazon: