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Japan 11: Book Reports

1. The Inland Sea, by Donald Richie (1971).

Richie, long based in Tokyo, explored the inland sea between Shikoku and Honshu some time in the sixties. The journals he kept during his travels were transformed into this eloquent travelogue. He describes in detail the islands he visits and the people he meets. He gives you historical background on temples, on myths; he ruminates on what it means to be Japanese …

Despite the breeziness of the writing, it all seems rather esoteric until suddenly he hits you with some straight-up, cold confessions of a highly personal nature. (Wow, wasn’t expecting that!) Always graceful and highly informative - he is a fluent Japanese speaker after all-, Richie’s emotional bluntness gives the book heft. It’s an elegantly written meditation on a unique place, and while it’s cliché to say so, Richie’s journey of discovery is also one of self-discovery.

2. After Dark, by Haruki Murakami (2004)

My students, who are not fond of ambiguous, open endings, would probably not be fans of this book. The novel tells the intertwined stories of several characters on a single night in central Tokyo. The commuter trains have stopped running, so everybody stays downtown. But why is Mari staying up all night, reading a novel at Denny's? Why must Shirakawa beat up the Chinese prostitute in a love hotel and steal her clothes? Why must Eri Asai, Mari's sister, keep on sleeping? For good-natured jazz musician Takahashi, what's the attraction of Mari? None of these questions are answered.

Nonetheless the book moves along at a brisk pace, like a detective novel, while pondering such metaphysical questions as the nature of time and the place of the individual in the city.


South of the Border, West of the Sun

I read this other Murakama novel yesterday. Couldn't put it down, meaning that it was almost 4 am before I finally turned the light off. "True love" may be a trite expression, but this novel milks the idea for all it's worth, and it turns out to be worth more than you might expect.

October 2018



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