The End of the Japanese Literature Challenge 3

January 31, 2010 § 16 Comments

The Japanese Literature Challenge 3 was hosted by Dolce Bellezza, which ran from 30 July 2009 up till yesterday, 30 January 2010. There is also a review site, which has now become a list of sorts where a number of reviews of different titles by different authors can be found.

It has been great.

I’ve always been interested in the Japanese culture, and so when I found out about this challenge just as I started blogging, I knew this one was for me. And it did not disappoint.

For starters, despite my great interest, I just did not know where to start. Other than Haruki Murakami and Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, I probably didn’t know of any other Japanese author. I’m glad to say that now, a little more than half a year later, I’ve discovered just how wide the spectrum is, and I’m falling more and more in love with Japanese literature.

I’ve read quite a number of books for this challenge, though it only required that we read one.

I kicked off the challenge running, with Murakami’s memoir of sorts, What I Talk About when I Talk About Running. I’ve heard that some people have reservations about this book, despite being a Murakami fan, because they don’t run. Well, rest assured that neither do I, but I loved this very conversational book anyway.

Next on my list was another Murakami, this time a collection of short stories, after the quake. The common thread of the stories is that they are all set after an earthquake occured, but true to Murakami’s style, the stories are quirky and a little twisted. Another good one.

I then had my first taste of Kazuo Ishiguro with A Pale View of Hills. It’s a very subdued book, somewhat like what the title suggests. Nothing much really happens, but the writing style did whet my appetite for more Ishiguro.

Murakami, being one of my favourite authors, found a way to get Sputnik Sweetheart into my hands. A story that explores loneliness in such depth and detail, it became an easy book to love.

Another Murakami came next, this time a book by Ryu Murakami, Almost Transparent Blue. This book I found a little on the disturbing side, as it depicted the lives of a bunch of people who regularly consume drugs and alcohol. The prose was violent, as was the story itself, and I’ve been avoiding this Murakami for a while. Though for some weird reason I cannot fathom, I’m always picking up his books at the library, left standing and staring at his book, before putting it back down on the shelf after a long inner debate.

Ishiguro’s Nocturnes was a lovely collection of short stories about music and nightfall. This is probably the first short story collection I really loved, and got me interested in reading more shorts. I’m not sure if this should qualify for this challenge though, because although Ishiguro himself is Japanese, he’s British enough to write in English, and his stories were not set in Japan at all.

I’m actually starting to feel a little shy now, because my next book was another Murakami, After Dark. The whole book only spans one night, but the storytelling technique used here was a little different, and I found that it allowed a lot more space for our imaginations to take over.

My first Banana Yoshimoto book was N.P., and I’m not sure if I made the right choice. I didn’t quite enjoy this book as much as I had wanted to, and it has put me off from trying her other books, some of which have come highly recommended.

Shadow Family by Miyuki Miyabe is a murder-detective story that explores the idea of a family. What constitutes a family unit? It was an interesting book, but I’ve heard that she wrote another book that was better than this one. I might have to keep that in mind.

I had to come back to another Murakami this time, with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, easily one of my favourite reads so far. The bizarre things that can only happen in Murakami’s books, and the way he makes you believe everything despite how crazily impossible they are; they just prove what a great storyteller Murakami is.

At this point I said, no more Murakami for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, Yasunari Kawabata’s The Old Capital didn’t end my Murakami frenzy on too high a note. I was a little underwhelmed by it, probably because I was expecting quite a bit from it. It was too quiet, too subdued.

Kinshu: Autumn Brocade by Teru Miyamoto wasn’t all that great either, though it did have some interesting points to the story. Told via a series of very long letters, little gems were scattered here and there; you just had to be careful not to miss them.

Ryunosuke Akutagawa came next with Kappa. I had to try something from this man, considering that he’s considered one of the greats, and he has a literary award named after him. I found this satire very interesting, very funny, and am definitely going to try read more from him.

Kenzaburo Oe’s A Quiet Life was another book that came with praises, and so I started the book a little apprehensive, in case it turned out to be disappointing as well. Turned out that it was a very good book, very thought-provoking. One that leaves you thinking about it even after finishing it for a while.

Shusaku Endo was another author I was very keen to try out, and decided to start with a small collection of short stories by him, Five by Endo. A great introduction into his longer works, if I may say so, despite not having read anything else by him. This book has made me a fan already.

I then read I Am A Cat by Soseki Natsume for Tanabata’s Japanese Literature Read-Along. It was an interesting book, a fresh take on Japanese society and life in general from the POV of a domestic cat. It did get a little tiring at some places, but well worth the read.

I’m glad I ended the challenge on a high note, with Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor. This was another easy favourite; beautifully written, it is a book to love.


I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t read any from Tanizaki during the Challenge. And I would have loved to have read at least one of Endo’s novels. But I guess, just because the Challenge is over, doesn’t mean I have to stop reading Japanese Literature.

My many thanks to Bellezza for hosting such a great challenge. Not only did it open up a beautiful world, but this challenge is special to me because it was among the first challenges that welcomed me into the world of book blogging.

Also a little shout-out to Tanabata for hosting the Book Group and Read-Along. They’re giving me a chance to read and discuss books with other people who are interested in JLit as well.


§ 16 Responses to The End of the Japanese Literature Challenge 3

  • Wow! That’s a very impressive Murakami-heavy list. I feel bad now – i just read two books for this challenge! I thought What I Talk About When I Talk About Running was a good book, giving me an insight into Murakami. I could also relate to it at some level, as I swim pretty much as compulsively. No races anymore though…

    I think Kafka on the Shore will be my next Murakami, and I haven’t read an Ishiguro in ages. Must change that.

    • Michelle says:

      A little too Murakami-heavy, if I have to say so. I now almost wish I let his work spread out a little more, like what I’m planning to do with Sarah Waters. So I’m denying myself any Murakami for now, or at least until the next book comes my way..

      I’ve heard both wonderful and not so wonderful things about Kafka on the Shore. And like you, I want to read an Ishiguro soon as well. I’m contemplating An Artist of the Floating World.

      • kiss a cloud says:

        I didn’t realize you read so many Japanese books for the challenge! Wow. Unlike Mee, I did love Lizard and Kitchen, but not nearly the same way as I love Kenzaburo Oe (you already know he’s my personal fave Japanese author), who I plan on reading more of soon.

        I also have only read one Murakami, and that’s Kafka on the Shore, so I can’t very well compare it to his others but all I can say is it’s highly enjoyable. I don’t blame you for reading a lot by one author you greatly enjoy, because I can definitely relate.. I would even go so far as suggesting to finish them all rather than pursuing more, newer authors. That is, I wish sometimes, when I am reading books I don’t enjoy, that I should have been reading ones by authors who I already trust.

        • Michelle says:

          I know what you mean. That’s how I used to be: I finished all available works by an author I just discovered and loved, before moving on to someone else. I’m consciously trying to stop doing that though. I just want to discover more authors that I might love as well, and keep them in a special box in my heart, ready to take out when I need some ‘soul food’.

  • mee says:

    OMG you read so many books for the challenge! Amazing accomplishment 🙂

    A few of the books you read have been on my tbr list for a while, but I’m interested in Kappa and A Quiet Life after your reviews. I’ve read 2 other Banana Yoshimoto books (Kitchen and Lizard) and I did not like them. So I’m guessing if you didn’t like her N.P. you probably won’t the rest. I’ve decided not to read more of her books. A lot of people like her though.

    • Michelle says:

      I actually didn’t realise I read so many! Quite a pleasant surprise, I would say.

      I’m not sure I want to try Banana Yoshimoto any time soon, to be honest. But I found Oe’s style very nice, so I hope to be reading more of him soon.

  • Susan says:

    Michelle, you read a plethora of Japanese literature for this challenge!

    Like you, this was one of my first reading challenges, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I now know that I love this genre and will continue to seek out the work of Japanese authors.

  • chris says:

    Wow, Michelle!! You read some AMAZING books!!! I wish I would’ve read that many. Sadly, I only managed to read one this year which is such a shame because I absolutely love Japanese literature. But it was a good one. I’ve read one book by Ryu Murakami, In the Miso Soup. It was also very disturbing, but there was something about it that I just loved. I have another one that Bellezza passed onto me called Coin Locker Babies…I’m going to try it out. As for Haruki Murakami, I can see why you read so much 🙂 I’m a big fan too!

    • Michelle says:

      The one you did read for this challenge, Confessions of a Mask was one I wish I had time for during this challenge. I forgot to mention Mishima in the post, but he’s another author I wish I had tried. But I guess he’s just going to have to come to me in due time. =)

  • And I loved every discussion we had about Japanese books 🙂

    I’m REALLY looking forward to reading Nocturnes, but so far the only copy I see is the big hardcover edition. I do LOVE the cover, but I tend to like trade paperbacks… should I get the hardcover?

    • Michelle says:

      You wouldn’t believe it (because I didn’t at first), but I saw that Nocturnes is available in paperback already, with the same cover design! I’m really not too sure, but I can check for you if you want. The book is lovely.

  • Tony says:

    I also stuck to a few authors (well two: Mishima and Murakami) plus a scattering of others, but I don’t regret it! I have ‘The Makioka Sisters’ waiting to be read, and I may get a couple more Yoshimoto books soon.

    Let’s face it though; we’re all just waiting for the translation of ‘1Q84’ to come out…

    • Michelle says:

      I wonder when it’s going to come out? I’ve heard rumours that it’s only coming out in English in 2011? That’s a very long time……

      You’ve read quite a bit of Mishima. I’ve been wanting to try his books, and I have an uncanny feeling I’d love him, but somehow I keep missing him..

  • Tony says:

    I’ve read six so far (four from ‘The Sea of Fertility’ Quadrilogy), and they’ve all been excellent. I’d recommend ‘Spring Snow’, the first of that series, as a starting point; it’s a story in its own right, and it contains everything people love about Japanese writing.

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