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
Manazuru
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).

Three Interesting Spring Novels by Japanese Authors

book cover collage“Spring” is called “haru 春” in Japanese. The spring season lasts from March to May with its peak in late April and early May. The highlight is the “Golden Week” which is a national holiday.

Spring is associated with a new beginning, starting a new life and nature awakening from sleep. In Japan you see cherry blossoms, plum blossoms and hear chirping birds.

It is the time of cherry blossom viewing called “hanami 花見”. There are a couple of seasonal festivals (“matsuri”) in Japan. Some of the best known examples are the following.

The Sanja Matsuri is a spring festival celebrated in Tokyo. It is one of the biggest festivals with about 100 floats and a big crowd around the Senso-ji, on the third weekend in May. (Here are some pictures to get an impression about the crowd and the festivities. Link to: https://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/sanja-matsuri-Tokyos-biggest-and-wildest-festival).

Aoi Matsuri is celebrated in Kyôto on May 15th at the Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine (for more information see pictures and explanations at https://matcha-jp.com/en/3892).

The charming Takayama Spring Festival is held on April 14th and 15th every year. See some pictures at  https://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/takayama-spring-festival and https://matcha-jp.com/en/4233.

Thinking of spring, the following Japanese novels come to mind.

The Old Capital by Kawabata Yasunari
What is it about?
It is the most famous Japanese book by the Nobel prize winner. The love story begins in spring and takes place in extremely popular places at Kyôto.
Title in Japanese: 古都, 1962
Read the full review on Japan Kaleidoskop

Spring Snow by Mishima Yukio
What is it about?
“Spring Snow” is the story of a young man, Matsugae Kiyoaki, placed in Tokyo of 1912. He has been raised in the family tradition of the aristocracy. He falls in love with the elegant and sophisticated Ayakura Satoko.
Title in Japanese:  春の雪, 1968
Read the full review on Japan Kaleidoskop

Hear the Wind Sing by Murakami Haruki
What is it about?
“Hear the Wind Sing” is the first novel of Murakami Haruki published in the literary magazine “Gunzo” in 1979 and won the “Gunzo Prize for New Writers”.
Title in Japanese: 風の歌を聴け
Read the full review on Japan Kaleidoskop

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!

Plumblossom