May 3, 2011

Literary voices from Japan


Today Melville House is publishing The Lake, the latest novel by Japanese literary phenomenon Banana Yoshimoto. And, honestly, we couldn’t be more thrilled. Erin Kodicek’s review for Amazon’s Best Books of May sums up as well as anything why: “E.L. Doctorow‘s Ragtime begins with a Scott Joplin quotation: “Don’t play this piece fast. It is never right to play ragtime fast.” Not just a musical admonishment, it’s also cautioning the reader not to rush through the deceptively simple prose, which is packed with poignancy. I would caution any reader thusly when diving into Banana Yoshimoto’s The Lake. Mining conscious and subconscious worlds, this delicate and unusual love story finds two wounded souls slowly swimming to the surface of their grief. Yoshimoto unleashes “Banana Mania” every time a new work is released. The Lake will be no exception.”

Obviously we’re wont to toot our own horn about our books, so we try to keep the shilling to a minimum. But then, this is our book blog, thus our prerogative. Yet The Lake is a book that we aren’t really going to have to do too much shilling for. It’s one of those books that’s deceptively simple, that haunts your thoughts and dreams while you’re not reading it, it makes you reflect on the nature of your relationships, how they develop, how you feel when you lose someone close, and how all these things–in one way or another–defines you. It has darkness and mystery, but it has a lightness that carries you with it. And it’s one of those books people are going to evangelize to their friends about. Again, maybe all this is easy to say because we’re paid to, but it also happens to be true. (I’m sure my friends wish I’d shut up about it, but I digress.)

Banana Yoshimoto

Japan is fertile country for literary excellence. In a post by Kathleen Massara using the publication of The Lake as its occasion, Flavorwire featured Banana in a list of 10 Japanese authors worth paying attention to. As it happens, she is keeping company with some pretty amazing folks: Kenzaburo Oe (The Changeling), Haruki Murakami (Norwegian Wood, Kafka On the Shore, etc.), Ryu Murakami (Almost Transparent BlueCoin Locker Babies, Audition), Natsuo Kirino (OutGrostesque, Real World), Shintaro Ishihara (Season of the Sun), Mitsuyo Kakuta (Woman on the Other Shore, The Eighth Day), Teru Miyamoto (Kinshu: Autumn BrocadeMaboroshi no Hikari), Amy Yamada (Bedtime Eyes), and Kenzo Kitakata (City of Refuge).

It’s quite an amazing group of writers, displaying a breadth and diversity of talent that’s truly astounding. Needless to say, we’re elated Banana’s new book can provide the impetus for just such a list. And Japan could use the attention, so go read some Japanese authors this month. You can guess who (and which book) you should read first.