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.
- Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki-a brilliant character study focused on sexual obsession.
- A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe-a good possible first Oe
- The Death March: A Documentary Novel by Jiro Netti-good historical novel of the Japanese army in the early 20th century.
- Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino a look at the dark side of contemporary Japan
- The Wind Up Bird Chronicles by Hariki Murakami-I think this will become a canon work
- Harp of Burma by Michio Takeyama -great WWII novel-will become a canon status work
- The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa-I liked it but did not love it as much as others did
- Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse-must read novel set in Japan in WWII
- Fires on the Plain by Shohei Ooka-brilliant novel by Japanese combat veteran
- 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.