Book Review: Record of a Night Too Brief by Kawakami Hiromi

Here is a collection of three short stories by Kawakami Hiromi 川上 弘美 (b. 1958) of her early career as a Japanese female writer, beginning in 1996. All were translated into English and published in 2017. Kawakami Hiromi is best known for her novels ‘The Brief Case’ (センセイの鞄) and Manazuru (真鶴).

In the title story ‘Record of a Night Too Brief’ Kawakami Hiromi describes dream sequences of a journey into an undiscovered land. It begins with the narrator becoming a horse and a stream of people leading her to a big banquet table with a buffet of delicious food. The scenery is depicted with surreal pictures and reminds me slightly of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. From there on the tale reads like a stream of continuing changes. It is a Kafkaesque metamorphosis of an indescribable plot containing elements of a locked-in situation, a monkey hunting the narrator and eventually a porcelain girl becoming a pearl.

The second story ‘Missing’ tells a family history from the perspective of a girl. One day her brother no. 1 disappears, but sometimes his voice can be heard and from time to time he makes himself visible to her. The narration is inspired by Japanese folktales including elements of magical realism.

‘A Snake Stepped On’ is one of Kawakami Hiromi’s best-known tales. 蛇を踏む (Hebi wo fumu) won the Akutagawa Award in 1996. It is a highly symbolic story about a struggle for independency with elements of folktales like the snake spouse. The narration follows the surreal paths as the first two stories in this collection. All three are well written and highly imaginative. Because of the experimental character of the stories they are sometimes difficult to understand.

Kawakami Hiromi: A Record of a Night Too Brief. Pushkin Press, 2017. Translated by Lucy North.

Book Review: The Ten Loves of Nishino by Kawakami Hiromi

Ten short stories loosely knit together. Ten Japanese women of different age and origin or social background tell their experiences of their love life with Nishino Yukihiko.

All women have known him in a different time of his life. Every woman describes him from a different angle, but all have one thing in common: they love him, but the love cannot last because Nishino is not faithful. Always torn between at least two women. Although he seems a perfect lover, he will stay not forever.

The tone is light and poetic. Each woman speaks with a melody of love in her voice. In the beginning it is unclear why no woman stays with him. He is a mystery. Each story is a glance at Nishino from a different perspective.

The book is short, and the reading is easy. Kawakami Hiromi is only scratching on the surface. The storytelling mirrors the superficial relationship with each woman. During the events Nishino is living through a development of his character. The reasons why Nishino is unable to love become apparent to the reader.

‘The Ten Loves of Nishino’ is an early work of Kawakami. I like the concept of getting to know a character by different persons. The stories are interesting to read and in the end the secret of the tragic of his life unravels before your eyes.

Reviewed Title
川上弘美. ニシノユキヒコの恋と冒険2003.
Kawakami Hiromi. The Ten Loves of Nishino. Translated by Allison Markin Powell. 2019. Europa Editions (Cover).

More reviews of Kawakami Hiromi’s books on this blog
The Briefcase
The Nakano Thrift Store
A Record of a Night Too Brief

Reading in October

In October people visiting Japan Kaleidoskop were mostly interested in Japanese Literature. As in the month before the two mostly read book reviews were the same as in the month before.

Men without women by Murakami Haruki  and Thousand Cranes by Kawabata Yasunari.

Two titles of Tanizaki Jun’ichirô  are on the third  and fourth place. Books I personally adore: The Makikoka Sisters followed by Naomi.

And  surprisingly for the first time people were much interested in reading the book review of Hiromi Kawakami’s The Nakano Thrift Store  which is a fun book to read.

I am currently reading Murakami’s 1Q84 and Yukio Mishima’s  Thirst for Love, probably I will finish the last soon and will write a review here.

My readers came mostly from this countries, in this order:

  1. The United States
  2. Phillipines
  3. Japan
  4. Germany
  5. Netherlands
  6. Canada

There were many searches on Japan Kaleidoskop and I am very happy, that you enjoy my blog and that it is useful for many readers.

Surprisingly ‘Dreaming of Kimchee‘ was searched for several times. And first I did not know, what is was. But then I remembered: It is a short story of Banana Yoshimoto in her book Lizard.

My favorite search term of October is ‘Japanese woman holding a lantern‘, which probably was not found, because there is no tag like this. But there is a very lovely picture of Suzuki Harunobu (c. 1725-1770) on this blog. It was on Art on Tuesday on January 7th, 2014.

Thank you for visiting and reading Japan Kaleidoskop. I wish you a happy autumn!


Book Review: The Briefcase by Kawakami Hiromi

briefcaseKawakami Hiromi 川上 弘美, born in 1958 is one of the most popular Japanese female author, who won the Tanizaki Jun’ ichirô Prize for her novel Sensei no kaban センセイの鞄 (The Briefcase) in 2001. This work was also published as Strange Weather in Tokyo in 2012.

The Briefcase is a love story of the middle-aged woman Tsukiko and her former Japanese teacher Matsumoto Harutsana. They first meet in an izakaya, a typical small Japanese restaurant, sitting at the bar eating tuna with natto and fried lotus with sweet soya sauce and pearl onions.
Descriptions of food become lovely parts of the reading experience, when the author explains delicious dishes as hot tofu, oden 御田, mountain vegetables, chicken, mushroom-soup, … it is as you were sitting at the bar yourself and Kawakami Hiromi is cooking for you.

The old-fashioned school teacher is called Sensei 先生 through the whole story. He is described as stiff and very polite. He is formal but with lovely crankiness, and his decision-making is wise as one will see later on in the story. Strange, that he is always carrying a leather briefcase with him! May it seems suitable or not for others, is irrelevant for him.

Tsukiko is lonely and so is the Sensei. Their meetings at the bar become a merry habit, that is sitting next to each other, chatting, sharing the same taste of food and also the delight of drinking hot sake. Sometimes a lot of sake.

Their friendship changes slowly into a delightful love-relationship. The reader gets to know the personal story of both characters as the story evolves: scenes of mushroom picking in the woods, going on a trip to a Japanese island and being on a cherry blossom party are only some of the scenes.

Although the story is told in a light tone, it is not shallow. Tsukiko and the Sensei are caring for each other respectfully, but with sense for fun and play, so they can open themselves up to each other, and so they overcome their difference of age.

川上 弘美. センセイの鞄, 2000. Kawakami Hiromi: The Briefcase, 2000.

Book Review: March was made of Yarn

March Was Made of YarnSubtitle: Writers Respond to Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Meltdown.

This is an anthology of contemporary Japanese authors and translators dealing with the disaster of March 11th  2011 published by Elmar Luke and David Karashima in 2012.

The Japan Foundation supported the publication and therefore proceeds will go to charities in Japan.

It is an inside view of Japan of the March 11th, the aftermath, and the consequences. The stories bear mixed emotions of sorrow, helplessness, love, and  loss, yet the desire to live on and cope with the situation.

It took me a long time to read this book with about 17 pieces of art and non-fiction articles of Yoko Tawada, Kiyoshi Shigematsu, Yoko Ogawa, Hiromi Kawakami, Mieko Kawakami, Shinji Ishii, Ryû Murakami and others. The stories are gripping, but let me feel powerless once in a while,  yet some of them are encouraging on the other side.

The Island of Eternal Life by Yoko Tawada presents a science fiction scene of 2017, where planes no longer fly to isolated Japan. A horrible scenario.

Hiromi Kawakami rewrote her well-known short story God Bless You of 1993 for this anthology.

The title is adopted by March Yarn of Mieko Kawakami about a couple. She is pregnant and has a surreal dream on the March 11th about giving birth to a baby of yarn.

All writers try to see the situation from a different angle. I recommend reading it and let the stories speak for themselves.