Translated from the Japanese by Ross and Shika Mackenzie, ‘The Tokyo Zodiac Murders’ by Soji Shimada opens with the last will and testament of Heikichi Umezawa written in 1936. Heikichi is an artist obsessed with alchemy and astrology who outlines his plans to create the supreme woman Azoth by killing and dismembering his female relatives. However, the murders he had planned in his confession are carried out by someone else several weeks after Heikichi himself is murdered in a room locked from the inside. Having baffled investigators for decades, the case remains unsolved over forty years later in 1979 until Kiyoshi Mitari and his sidekick and narrator Kazumi try to crack one of the most intriguing locked room cold cases of all time. Continue reading
My next Women in Translation Month read is ‘The Nakano Thrift Shop’ by Hiromi Kawakami, translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell. I really enjoyed reading Strange Weather in Tokyo a couple of years ago (also known as ‘The Briefcase’ in the United States) and I was pleased to see another novel by Kawakami published by Portobello Books earlier this month with another excellent cover design by Natsumi Hayashi. Originally released in Japan in 2005, ‘The Nakano Thrift Shop’ tells the story of Hitomi Suganuma who starts working as a cashier selling second-hand goods in a thrift shop owned by the mysterious Haruo Nakano. He has several ex-wives and is having an affair with Sakiko while his older sister Masaya is an artist who regularly pops in and offers guidance. Meanwhile, Hitomi is largely preoccupied with another employee, the introverted Takeo, who helps Mr Nakano with house clearances. Continue reading
Translated from the Japanese by Deborah Boliver Boehm, ‘Death by Water’ by Kenzaburo Oe tells the story of Kogito Choko, an author aged in his 70s reflecting on his long career. For many years, he has struggled to write the “drowning” novel based on his father’s death shortly after the Second World War. Kogito returns to his rural home town to look at his father’s red leather trunk which his mother had instructed him not to open until ten years had passed after her death. However, it soon transpires that the contents of the trunk do not provide him with many answers, leaving Kogito limited time to unlock the secrets he needs to finish his book. Continue reading
Shortly after ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage‘ was published in 2014, it was announced that Haruki Murakami’s first two novellas ‘Hear the Wind Sing’ and ‘Pinball, 1973’ would be retranslated and reissued in English. Originally published in Japan in 1979 and 1980 respectively, the English translations by Alfred Birnbaum have long been out of print. Despite Murakami’s cult status followed by increasing commercial success across the world and with rare copies of the original translations selling for hundreds of pounds on eBay, it’s surprising that the novellas haven’t been reissued sooner. Last year, new translations by Ted Goossen were finally made available in one volume under the shortened title ‘Wind/Pinball’. Continue reading
‘The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance’ is Edmund de Waal’s highly acclaimed memoir tracing his family history through a collection of objects. In the early 1990s, De Waal studied ceramics in Tokyo as part of a two-year scholarship where he met his great-uncle Ignace (Iggie). Following Iggie’s partner’s death, de Waal inherited 264 Japanese miniature wood and ivory carvings known as netsuke often representing animals, people or mythical creatures. Traditionally used as toggles to attach carrying pouches to Japanese robes, netsuke were originally designed to be useful everyday objects rather than purely decorative ones. De Waal became intrigued by the story behind the collection and how it came to be passed down through the generations of his family across the world. Continue reading
After selling more than one million copies in its first week of publication in Japan in April 2013, ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’ by Haruki Murakami has been one of the most highly anticipated novels of the year arriving in bookshops in the UK earlier this month. It tells the story of Tsukuru Tazaki who had four friends in high school whose names all coincidentally contained a colour: Akamatsu (‘red pine’), Oumi (‘blue sea’), Shirane (‘white root’) and Kurono (‘black field’). During his second year of university, Tsukuru’s friends announce without warning that they no longer want to see him or talk to him ever again and refuse to tell him why. Now in his mid-thirties, Tsukuru meets Sara who thinks he should finally come to terms with what happened and find out why he was suddenly shut out by his friends all those years ago. Continue reading
Set in Tokyo, ‘Parade’ by Shuichi Yoshida tells the story of four twenty-somethings who share an apartment together. However, when a homeless teenager called Satoru moves in, nobody seems very sure who the newest resident really is, why he is living there or if he is connected with the shady activities of their neighbours and the recent violent attacks on local women. Or, as Yo Zushi writing in the New Statesman put it: “Imagine if Friends had ended with the revelation that Chandler was a psychopath – and that Joey, Monica, Ross, Phoebe and Rachel weren’t bothered by it.” Intrigued? I certainly was.