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

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"Strangers" by Taichi Yamada A Japanese Ghost Story

Strangers by Taichi Yamada (2003-201 pages-trans by Wayne Lemmers) 

Strangers by Taichi Yamada is my fifth Japanese novel and my first Japanese ghost story.

This is very well told story captured and kept my attention all the way to the last page.    Of the five Japanese novels I have read this is the first one in which I could directly relate to the central character.    After Dark,  Goodbye Tsugumi, and Real World had female teenagers as their central characters.
My fourth Japanese novel The Crimson Labyrinth centers on a man who let one setback ruin his life.

In Strangers the central character,  Harada, is  forty eight year old TV script writer.   He is not a great success but he is also not a total failure.   His parents were killed when he was 12 but he coped.   His wife left him but he got on with his life without a lot of fuss.  He tries to enjoy the simple pleasures of life but he is not a slave to his senses.   He is alone a lot but he is ok with that and sort of likes it.  He lives in a big building that is mostly offices.   Basically he is a sensible normal person.   The story line does not depend or turn on him having glaring problems or issues with the world.

One day he decides to go down to the theater district of Tokyo where he lived with his parents thirty five years ago.  He meets a man that looks exactly as he recalls his father the last time he saw him.   He accepts the man's invitation to go home with him for a beer.   The man's wife has an uncanny exact resemblance to Harada's mother, as he recalls her.   She even  talks to him just like a mother would.   On his second visit the man is not there yet.   The lady notices he has a spot on his shirt and tells him to take his shirt off so she can wash it.   He is shocked-he thinks-what will the man think if he comes home and finds me with no shirt on?   He asks the lady her name.  She says, sort of annoyed, "Why would you ask your mother a silly question like that".   She thinks she is and seems to be his mother, dead since he was 12.   He at first begins to doubt his sanity.   Is he having a mental break down or has he come into contact with beings from another realm in the shape of his parents?
He begins to see them as the ghosts of his parents.   He knows he is risking his sanity but he continues to go back to see them, not knowing if they are real or not.  In the mean time he begins a romance with a strange acting woman who lives in his building.  People who see him start to tell him he is looking terribly sick as if he is on the door of death himself.   He looks at himself in the mirror and can see no changes.   He wonders if this is connected to the ghosts of his parents.   

The story keeps us interested and wondering right down to the ending.    All of the characters are well developed.   The dialogue is intelligent.   We get a feel for the theater district in Tokyo.   We learn a bit about how the TV industry works in Japan.   We visit some apartments of Tokyo residents, we go out for some meals.   

For me it did create a vicarious sense of fear without any special effects.   The fear that you are losing your mind or the fear that you have not.   The fear that what you  love the most will destroy you.
Anyone who has lost beloved parents will relate to this story.  I enjoyed the book a lot and think most people will.  

Mel u


Anonymous said...

FIVE books so far? Mel, I'm so impressed! Your enthusiasm is just magnificent, not only for the number you wish to read but for all the categories within the genre.

Your review completely entranced me. This line: "The fear that what you love the most will destroy you" struck me to the core, because that's far scarier than any monster ever could be. To me. I wonder if I'm brave enough to pick this book any rate, I think your review is excellent.

Suko said...

I, too, think your review is excellent. Your descriptions of the encounters with his parents remind me somewhat of a more serious Beetlejuice (which I've recently seen for the first time).

Isn't this a great challenge? I may not read 10 books, I won't be content with only one book, either.

Suko said...

May I add that it's remarkable how you find books which satisfy two challenges in one fell swoop?!

Mark David said...

Mel I think you just convinced me to pick up this book and read it. I don't think I can escape it anymore, I already have a few ideas on what could be going on and now I think I must know the ending. Perhaps when I finish the first five Japanese books I've listed I'll go and pick up this book... and you're doing really well with the challenge by the way, five already! Wow :)

Madeleine said...

I am definitely taking note of this novel. I also love the cover.

Paperback Reader said...

Mel, I plan to read this for both the Japanese Lit and RIP challenges too so most relieved to read a positive and intriguing post!

mee said...

I too plan to read this for both Japanese and RIP challenges LOL. Apparently a few people got the same idea.

Anonymous said...

I am glad to see you loved this story as much as I did -- it moved me to tears but I know readers (*whispers*) who really didn't like it... But those people still had both theri parents...

Great review! Getting more people to read it :)

Becca said...

This sounds like a great read for the Japanese Lit Challenge! I am adding it to my list!

Mel u said...

Dolcebellzza-I really love the this Challenge-

Suko-good catch on the Beetlejuice comparison-been a long time since I have seen that movie

Mark David-I hope to get at least 5 Japanese books at the book fair at Mall of Asia next week-

Madeline-yes the cover is interesting-

Paperback Reader-will look forward to your review-

Mee-I look forward to your thoughts on the book also

Gnoegnoe-very good point

Mel u said...

I have thought a bit more on this book-I think this and many ghost stories are about the power of the dead we love to pull us into the grave-metaphorically and in reality-

Mel u said...

Rebecca-I will look forward to your thoughts on this book-

Novroz said...

I like this book, it doesn't scare me like horror novel, but it gives warm. I think I read this for my 3rd J-lit challenge too.

There are some books by the same author in my Library. Will check one of them one day