Book Review: Naoko

“What they were living through was certainly mysterious, but apparently not without precedent in the world.”

On a trip to a ski resort in the winter holidays, a mother and her daughter are getting seriously injured in a bus accident and are brought into a hospital. Naoko, the mother, suddenly dies. Monami, a girl at the age of fourteen, survives her injuries. When she wakes up from the coma, however, it turns out that she speaks odd with the voice of her mother, and she also behaves quite like her.

The daughter’s father is frightened, but soon it becomes clear that Naoko’s spirit has taken possession of the body of her daughter Monami and lives on. The husband/father makes some research whether this really can happen and comes across a scientific explanation. He is glad that his wife and daughter have survived, but unexpected difficulties are coming his way.

Higashino Keigo 東野 圭吾 was born in 1958. He is a famous writer of more than sixty books and short story collections in Japan.

Higashino Keigo was the president of the organization “Mystery Writers of Japan” 日本推理作家協会 (2009-2013) and is mostly known for his mystery novels such as “The Devotion of Suspect X” (容疑者Xの献身, Yōgisha Ekkusu no Kenshin), part of his Detective Galileo series.

The original title of “Naoko” is “秘密 (himitsu)” which stands for “secret”. It is a novel and was published in 1998. The English translation was made available in 2004. It was made also into a Japanese movie in 1999, and a European remake “Secret” was produced in 2007.

When I read the beginning, I rolled my eyes and thought, what a strange paranormal nonsense this book is. But when I accepted the premise, namely that the spirit of the dead mother takes possession of her daughter, a real dramatic story came to live.

This story is a tragedy. And even if you do not believe in paranormal conditions, then the story of “Naoko” is extremely exciting and remarkably real from a psychological point of view. The story is surprisingly good and has some touching moments in store.

Reviewed Title

東野 圭吾. Himitsu (秘密), 1998. (Japanese cover)

Keigo Higashino. Naoko. Translated by Kerim Yasar, Vertical 2004 (English cover).

Book Review: People from My Neighborhood

bookcover people from my neighborhood kawakami hiromi
The book contains 36 stories, “palm-of-the-hand stories”, so tiny they fit into a hand. Often compared to Kawabata Yasunari’s short story collection of 1971. Each story is about a person, an animal, a place in the neighborhood. Or it describes a phenomenon, a specialty, an occasion, or event that happened once in the neighborhood of the narrator.kawabata palm of the hand stories coverThe miniature stories are loosely tied together by a theme or a thought. Each can be read as a stand-alone short story with a punch line. Together they become a big picture of the neighborhood like in a hidden object game.

Some of the stories show elements of magical realism, others are narrated in simple language, and many are told like childhood memories. Things remain hidden in the dark or are presented as vague memories. Towards the second half of the book there are many surreal stories.

Kawakami Hiromi is a well-known author in Japan. Many of her books have been translated into English. Here are some examples:

The Briefcase
The Nakano Thrift Shop
Record of a Night too Brief
The Ten Loves of Nishino

With around 120 pages it is a small book, which can be read in one go. You begin to read and shortly after you are at the end.

First sentence: “A white cloth was lying at the foot of a zelkova tree.”

Last sentence: “I could have done without the strains of ‘White Butterfly Samba’ blaring from loudspeakers around the globe every morning and night, but as Kanae’s sister kept lecturing me, that was a small price to pay for world peace, so I held my tongue.”

It is more a literary poetic experiment. There is nothing more to say for me about the book. What have I just read? I have no idea but it was interesting and charming.

Reviewed Title
Kawakami Hiromi. People from my Neighborhood. Translated by Ted Goosen. Granta Books, 2020 (cover).

Book Review: To the Spring Equinox and Beyond

Cover To The Spring Equinox and Beyond
“Moreover, Keitaro was a youth with romantic cast to his personality and a hatred of mediocrity.”

Keitaro, a young man is living in Tokyo in the 1910s. He has graduated from school and is seeking for a job and his position in life. He is living in a boarding house where he meets a man who is totally different from him. He is an adventurer and takes many risks. He is called a “high-class idler.” Suddenly, he disappears without paying his rent and Keitaro is in trouble because he is associated with the troublesome man. He left a bamboo walking stick behind which Keitaro takes but is somehow ashamed of.

Feeling alone in the city he often visits a friend Sunaga and his family. There he meets his cousin Chiyoko a beautiful girl. She is supposed to marry soon. The novel is about the relationship of the family members and Keitaro’s observations and interactions with the people around him. The book is narrated from different perspectives in each chapter. The novel is about “ambiguities of self-identity, faith and love.”

Natsume Sôseki has written many books. He is probably the most famous Japanese writer in Japan. Several of his works have been translated into other languages. I mention only the most famous examples of English translations here.

  • I Am a Cat (吾輩は猫である. Wagahai-wa neko de aru. 1905–06)
  • Botchan: Master Darling (坊っちゃん. 1906)
  • The Three-Cornered World (草枕. Kusamakura. 1906)
  • Mon (門. Mon – The Gate. 1910)
  • The Wayfarer (行人. Kōjin. 1912–13)
  • Kokoro (こころ. Kokoro. 1914)
  • Grass on the Wayside (道草. Michikusa. 1915)

To the Spring Equinox and Beyond is one of the less known works and resembles “Sanshirô”. It is his sixth novel which was also serialized in the “Asahi Shimbun” in 1912. The novel is interesting because you get to know about the living habits and customs of the Japanese in the early 20th century. The story has some turns and twists you cannot foresee. Also, the change of the point of view in the narration is a good technique which makes the story richer. Natsume Sôseki is a very skilled writer who observes many details and has a deep understanding of the human heart.

Reviewed Title
夏目 漱石. 彼岸過迄, 1912.
Natsume Sôseki. To the Spring Equinox and Beyond. Translated by Kingo Ochiai and Sanford Goldstein. Tuttle Publishing, 2005 (cover).