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Friday, January 25, 2019

The Tale of the House of Physics by Yoko Ogawa and translated by Ted Goossen

For my next JLC12 read, I went with my favorite - Yoko Ogawa. Her short story, The Tale of the House of Physics was selected for The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories edited by Jay Rubin. As soon as I saw her name included, I just knew that I was going to be in for a treat. I LOVE all of her work that I've read and am currently counting down the days until I can read her latest book, The Memory Police.  I was thrilled to get a taste of her writing with this short story - its only made me even more excited to read her new book.

The Tale of the House of Physics is a quiet story. Its slow-paced, aches with emotion, and leaves you wanting. Or at least that is how I felt. I couldn't help but get swept away into this tale of a retired book editor recalling the very first book he ever edited.  He's written down a list of the books he has edited throughout his career and thinks back to his first one.  He was a child.  Across the street lived a woman who no one liked.  She lived in an abandoned building that had once house a facility researching particle physics.  No one knew how she came to be there, she was just there.  She didn't talk to anyone and would walk on the edge of the sidewalk.  The children loved to play at the House of Physics.  They would play in the garden and sit out on the front porch.  They weren't afraid of the woman in the house.  In fact, they would listen to her speak about being a writer. You see, she would talk to them, but she would never look any of them in the eye. And she would tell them about being a novelist and how she had written many books. When the children asked for proof, she told them that her books had been burned in the war.  She had nothing left to show them.  The children laughed and didn't believe a word she said.  They continued to play in the garden and even buried a dead weasel they found one time. One day our narrator notices something slightly off about the House of Physics.  He walks over and looks around. He enters the house and finds the woman covered up in a bed in the middle of the front room. She is sick. He runs to get help.  She slowly gets better and he winds up spending time with her.  As he sits next to her, he hears her mumbling.  It finally hits him that she is mumbling a story.  So he writes it all down. He binds the copy he writes and leaves it for her.  And then one day, she is gone. The house is empty and no one knows what happened to her.  Our narrator is left with his memory of the woman, her story, and the House of Physics.

That's the story in a nutshell. There are details I left out, so you can definitely experience it all for yourself when you get the chance to read it. And let me say, you should most definitely read it. I absolutely LOVED it. I loved getting to know this character as he reflected on his career and the House of Physics.  Ogawa captured a feeling of nostalgia, authenticity, and innocence.  She wrote about him with such clarity and emotion - it was superb. I loved reading about his perspective of the woman in the House of Physics.  It made me think about so many things: how strangers can have an impact on your life sometimes; how relationships can develop out of nowhere; how people have histories we are not aware of; and how stories truly are magical. Plus, the simple and elegant style of the story provides such a rich depth to it. Its truly a treat to read.

I would definitely recommend The Tale of the House of Physics to fans of Ogawa and anyone looking for their next great read - especially, if you love short stories.

And now, I'm off to figure out which book to read next. Yoshimoto or Murakami? Perhaps, I should read something by a new-to-me author. Hmm...what do you recommend?

Happy reading!!

4 comments:

Mel u said...


Nadia, “The Tale of the House of Physics” sounds wonderful. Thanks for posting on it. Yōko Ogawa is also one of my favourite writers.

As to suggestions for additional Japanese authored short stories, I really like the short stories of Akiyuki Nosaka, set in the closing days of WW Two, focusing on children and animals. The story by Mishima, “Patriotism”, included in the Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories is very good.

If I were to suggest one book for all to read it would be Atomic Aftermath Short Stories About Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Japanese) Paperback Shinsho – 1984, selected and introduced
by Kenzaburo Oe (Edited and introduced). There is deep wisdom in these stories.




Yoko Ogawa  is a writer with a very subtle, powerful intelligence whose work I greatly admire.   I have previously posted on her most famous work, The Housekeeper and the Professor, a darkly cutting collection of short stories, Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales, and several longer short stories in her collection, The Diving Pool.  It would be difficult for me to say which if her works was my favorite but for sure Hotel Iris:  A Novel is the most disturbing.  It is disturbing not just for its subject matter, the severe sexual abuse and bondage an older man practices on a seventeen year old woman, but by our reaction to the  very graphic scenes.   Do we feel the proper moral indignation at the predatory sex or does our voyeuristic side enjoy them even wonder what it would feel like to be on either side of these scenes.?

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours said...

I enjoy this writer! and I see you are reading the latest by Murakami. It made my list of the top books for 2018. I really enjoyed it a lot

Mel u said...

Here is a link to my post on "The House of Physics", I owe my thanks to you for leading me to this story.

As to other works I can endorse, I loved The Great Passage by Yuchi Seirai

The stories of any short story by Akiyuki Nasaks

Nadia A said...

Mel u, thank you for the suggestions :) I love finding new authors to read. As for Ogawa, she is my favorite. Her writing is just superb. I have loved all of her books - novels and short stories. Hotel Iris was definitely one of my favorites - it was just so disturbing and dark. And yet, Ogawa wrote about it all in such a clear cut and graphic manner that didn't overwhelm or shock to just shock. It was definitely a fascinating read. I'm heading over to read your post about The House of Physics :)

Emma, me too! Her work is amazing! Yes! The last Murakami was terrific - one of my new favorites by him :)