Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests








Saturday, January 1, 2011

Japanese Literature 2010-The Reading Life Year in Review-Part III

The Reading Life Japanese Literature Project-a look back at 2010

I have been enjoying reading the many 2010 year end reading summaries on the blogs I follow.      My reading can be  divided into four categories for 2010, Non-Fiction, Short Stories, Japanese Literature, and other novels.      So far I have already posted on Non-Fiction and Short Stories.     Part IV will be on everything else I read in 2010.

The Japanese novel is now a very important part of my reading life.    I just began reading Japanese novels in July of 2009.      I wish very much I had begun long ago but that is OK.    When I was in school, the translation of Japanese fiction had just barely begun.     There might now be more than 1000 Japanese works of fiction translated since 1970.  Not all are still in print, of course. .    Very few Japanese novels can be read online as the translations are not in the public domain yet.       One could start today and have a hope of reading them all in 7 or 8 years.   Your typical Japanese novel is not very long.     Currently about 20 works are being translated every year.    Many of the biggest name authors like Kenzaburo Oe still have many untranslated works.      I also think that the delay in English translations of Japanese novels was one of the  the long lingering effects WWII.    

I think that the Japanese novels I have read have common properties over and above being written in Japanese by a Japanese.    I have also read blog posts on numerous Japanese books I have not read yet.
I mean no offense by this but I think there is more sense to the term  "Japanese Novel" than say "Canadian novel".    Donald Keene, the dean of Japanese translation, has said that all novels are basically a European art form.     The Japanese novel has a great deal to offer the reader but an escape from the bounds of a western centered education is not among them.   

     If you look at "best novels",  "best 20th century novels" type list you will find no Japanese novels on the lists (or at least I have not and I like to look at such lists).    Leaving aside living authors I think for sure Junichiro Tanizaki, and Natsume Soseki belong uncontroversially on these lists.    I would seriously consider putting Kobo Abe on such a list also for A Woman in The Dunes.      One Man's Justice by Akira Yoshimura  is a simply brilliant post WWII novel that belongs on the top 100 list (for sure top 100 20th century above the mid-point).    There are easily near ten other writers worthy of consideration for such a list.   Many bloggers would include Silence by Susaku Endo though I am not real sure that this book is not admired for the religious implications of the story rather than the quality of the work.   Many would add as a canon status writer Yusunari Kawabata.     I am ready now to advocate that Yukio Mishima should be a high 20th century canon status writer.    There are three or four other writers that could easily be added to a top 100 20th century list. 

  Of course I do not know it for sure but I think one day when readers looks back at 20th century literature fifty years from now they will see the post WWII Japanese novel as one of the cultural glories of the century.   ( I will say if this does not happen then something very bad for the reading life will have happened in the coming years.)

In 2010 I read 33 Japanese novels.   In cases where I have read more than one book by a writer (Tanizaki, Murakami and Oe) I will mention just the work I like the most.   The list is in order read.



  1. Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki-a brilliant character study focused on sexual obsession.
  2. A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe-a good possible first Oe
  3. The Death March:  A Documentary Novel by Jiro Netti-good historical novel of the Japanese army in the early 20th century.
  4. Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino a look at the dark side of contemporary Japan
  5.  The Wind Up Bird Chronicles by Hariki Murakami-I think this will become a canon work
  6. Harp of Burma by Michio Takeyama -great WWII novel-will become a canon status work
  7. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa-I liked it but did not love it as much as others did
  8. Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse-must read novel set in Japan in WWII
  9. Fires on the Plain by Shohei Ooka-brilliant novel by Japanese combat veteran
  10. The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi-wonderful historical novel about marriage in 19th century Japan
If anyone has any suggestion as to Japanese novels I might read, please leave a comment.   

Mel u

16 comments:

Rebecca Chapman said...

Just wanted to say that I have really enjoyed following your enthusiasm for japanese literature this year. My only attempt at a japanese author was a book by Haruki Murakami and I really didn't like it at all - but I have the Housekeeper and The Professor, Hotel Iris and The Remains of the Day all on my shelf waiting to be read this year and I hope that improves my enthusiasm as well.

Mel u said...

Becky Page Turner-thanks very much and I will look forward to your posts on any topic at all in 2011

Fred said...

Mel u,

I have read _The Harp of Burma_ and I agree. It is a marvelous work. I have seen the film also and it captures the spirit of the novel. I have seen _Fires on the Plain_, but haven't read the novel yet. It too was a great film.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Suzanne Yester said...

Great job on the Japanese Literature Challenge this year! It's because of this challenge that I realized how much I really enjoyed the style of writing shared by many of the Japanese authors.

Happy New Year! I look forward to more great posts!

Mel u said...

Fred-I will look to see if I can watch these movies online-have you yet read One Man's Justice?

Suzanne-thanks very much and thanks for visiting my blog

Anonymous said...

Awesome achievements Mel. 33? you don't say! LOL.

I hope to read a novel by Junichiro Tanizaki, and Natsume Soseki. This ( I mean last now!) year was Yukio Mishima year, I hope to explore the two mention this year 2011. :)

Happy New Year!

Darlyn (Your Move, Dickens) said...

I'm unfamiliar with practically all of the Japanese novels you mentioned in your post, but I hope to read at least two of them this 2011. Happy New Year! I look forward to reading your coming posts.

Anonymous said...

33 J-Lit? wow...I envy you!!
I can only managed to read 9...my whole year books is only 32.i am such a slow reader :(

You're really fast Mel

Fred said...

Mel u,

I'm not familiar with the title. Who is the author?

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

33 Japanese Lit novels --way to go! I want to focus on some Asian Lit in 2011. Happy New Year Mel

Jamie said...

I haven't really read much Japanese literature but I'm very inspired by seeing all the gems you've read. I will be favoriting this post in my google reader and looking at some of your suggestions! I love challenges that really do challenge me by reading something I probably wouldn't have picked up before. So many of the challenges I see aren't reallyyy a challenge if you think about it. This one looked great!

Mel u said...

Fred- Akira Yoshimura is the author of One Man's Justice-I posted on it in 2009

Jamie-reading Japanese literature is one of my passions now-it all came from a reading challenge

Harvee, Book Dilettante said...

Nice wrap up, Mel. Will have to try Mishima! Happy New Year of reading!

Fred said...

Mel u,

I'll check it out. Thanks.

By the way, have you read Kawabata's _House of Sleeping Beauties_?

Or his _Palm-of-the-Hand Stories_? It's a collection of short-shorts, many only a page or two long.

Meytal Radzinski said...

I would say that most languages have delays in publication and limited exposure. You're right, though, that Japanese literature is distinct in that it has its own distinctly non-European writing style, one that the West hasn't been so quick to adopt. Which is curious, seeing as it's a Japanese novel that's credited with being the first work of fiction in mankind's history...

An interesting list. I haven't read books by any of these authors (I'm fairly ignorant of Japanese literature...), but I would say that The Wind Up Bird Chronicles will probably become a canon work for the simple reason that its author is most prolific and it's an incredibly popular book. The book has been recommended to me by many different readers with varying tastes - indication in itself.

Unknown said...

Hello, two Meiji period novels I would highly recommend are Three Cornered World (Kusamakura) and Sanshiro both by Natsume Soseki. Sanshiro is the first novel in a "trilogy".
Two other recent novels that you might find interesting are The Stones Cry Out by Okuizumi Hikaru and Woman on the Other Shore by Kakuta Mitsuyo.