Thursday, September 16, 2010

BBAW: Forgotten Treasures

There are so many tempting contemporary books being published all the time in English, that it's easy to overlook books from other countries, originally written in other languages. Much like subtitled movies that sadly get less attention than their Hollywood blockbuster counterparts. I know I'm in a minority but I've always preferred those smaller, foreign films, and books with the magical words "translated from the ... by ..." always catch my eye. It's great to read books by English authors set in different countries, but I think it's even more enriching to read a book from the other culture's own perspective. Ideally, I would be able to speak, and more importantly read, in several different languages but unfortunately that's only a dream, so literature in translation is the next best thing. And as you know, my passion for world literature has become more focused on Japan these last couple of years.

For today's Book Blogger Appreciation Week topic on Forgotten Treasures, I had hoped to put together a list of Japanese literature that I think deserves more attention, but this has ended up being a rather busy week and time got away from me. So you'll have to make do with just a couple recommendations.

The Makioka SistersYou might have seen this book mentioned on here before as I'm currently re-reading it for the Japanese Literature Read-along discussion. The book is The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki. I first read it a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it then. Reading it again now, I'm loving it all over again. It's a wonderfully rich story of four aristocratic sisters in the years just prior to World War II. Japan is already changing and the sisters are holding on to tradition as best they can. The back cover blurb calls it a "poignant yet unsparing portrait of a family" which it most definitely is. It is a character-driven novel so while things happen, occasionally even dramatic things, it is the characters that make the story come alive. Truly a Japanese classic. Who do I think would like this book? Anyone remotely interested in Japan. Anyone who likes memorable, well-drawn characters. Anyone who has ever felt the tug of family obligation.  Anyone who has a sister.  And I could go on...

Beyond the Blossoming FieldsThe other book I'd like to remind you of is Beyond the Blossoming Fields by Jun'ichi Watanabe. This is the story of Ginko Ogino, Japan's first official female doctor. It's the fascinating story of her life as she continually challenged the male-dominated institution to allow her first to study to be a doctor, and then later to practice as one. Based on a true story, this is historical fiction at its very best, and it was one of my favourite reads last year. Here is my review of Beyond the Blossoming Fields. Again, I think anyone even remotely interested in Japan, or in history, or in strong women, should really enjoy this book.

So there you have it, two Japanese literature titles that I think deserve to be more widely read.  It doesn't matter if you've never read any Japanese books before.  These stories and these characters with their loves, and losses, and struggles, and successes, are universal. So please consider picking up one of these, or any other book in translation.  Your reading life will be the richer for it.  And if you have read either of these books, I'd love to hear what you thought. 

Tony of Tony's Reading List has also written a fantastic post on reading and reviewing foreign fiction today, so be sure to check it out if you haven't already.


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  1. wonderful all new to me ,great ,sorry not commented before have visited a few times but first comment

  2. Beyond the Blossoming Field is a book that sounds like a read for me.

    I have to tell you...I am very glad for your blog. You have opened my eyes to wonderful Japanese literature that I would not have otherwise ventured into.

    I thank you for introducing me to Haruki Murakami, Koushun Takami, Shusaku Endo. I have also been enriched by your Hello Japan! even if I had not participated...I plan on having a post this month. Also, I look forward to reading books by Yasunari Kawabata, and Kenzaburō Ōe.


  3. You probably already know how much I loved The Makioka Sisters. I haven't read Beyond the Blossoming Fields but it's going on my wishlist. I too love translated films and fiction! I haven't had a chance to join in your readalongs but hopefully I will in the future!

  4. In total agreement about reading more novels in translation & have chosen Underground as my Lost treasure.

  5. Thanks for the plug (and the birthday wishes earlier!) :)

    Currently reading more Tanizaki to try to get a post in for Hello Japan! by the end of the month...

    ...that is, if my arm doesn't drop off from all this bloging :(

  6. I don't know much Japanese literature, so I'm glad you chose to feature it! I'll have to check these titles out.


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