The JLC12 is coming to an end and whilst I didn't read as much Japanese Literature as I had hoped, I did read quite a bit. I wound up finishing off the challenge with a few short stories from my copy of The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories.
Here are some quickie reviews of the ones I read:
Bee Honey by Banana Yoshimoto - A Japanese Woman is staying with a friend in Buenos Aires. She has broken up with her husband, so her mood isn't exactly jubilant. Her friend tells her about a procession of mothers that will be happening at 2pm and suggests her friend go and watch. The mothers wear white scarves and march in front of the government building in town. Their march is about the disappearance of the children - students who disappeared for protesting against the "Junta" who ran the country. These mothers want information about their missing children and they know they won't get it, so they march every year to show their solidarity and determination. The narrator watches and listens to an older woman tell her story to her. And she thinks about her own mother - a woman who took care of her and doesn't always agree with her decisions, but who has always been there. A mother through and through. She thinks about a drink her mother makes for her when she has a cold, a drink that she thinks should be called 'honey lemon', but that her mother calls 'bee honey'.
Its a story that offers a slice of life, but doesn't really go anywhere. Its purpose is to show how people go about their lives and when introduced to new history, culture, and customs they can be influenced/inspired to gain a clear perspective of their own life. The narrator reflects on her marriage, but she also thinks about her own mother as she watches these mothers marching. She thinks about the fact that moms are moms no matter where they are from - they are strong, caring, and determined. She thinks about if she will become a mother and what type of mother she would be. Yoshimoto writes a quiet and seemingly ordinary story, but the depth of its meaning and questions it sparks are what set it apart. This is truly food for thought. Another great story by Yoshimoto.
The 1963/1982 Girl from Ipanema by Haruki Murakami - is a simple piece by Murakami. Its purpose is to depict the feelings of a beloved song, The Girl from Ipanema. Our narrator recalls how the song takes him back to his high school corridor. He remembers the girl he would eat lunch with, the salads they would devour, and how this song just brings him back to that time. And then he's in the present and he's at the beach when he sees the "Girl from Ipanema" and offers her a cold drink. They sit and chat for a bit. She shows him the metaphysical soles of her feet. And then she's off, walking down the beach once more. Its a simple sort of short story that makes you wonder about memory - how a song, smell, or sound can transport you back to another time and place. Murakami takes a simple idea and uses it to explore the complex nature of memory. Love this!
Same as Always by Yūya Satō - The earthquake led to the power plant meltdown which led to radiation poisoning. Which means that the land and water are contaminated. People are moving abroad. They are searching for food from elsewhere, because the local produce is chock full of toxins. And yet, there is one mother who is using this disaster to her advantage. The mother in this story has recently had a child and she is not a happy camper. Nope, motherhood is just not her bag. She is trying to figure out a way to kill her baby. She goes through the options, but rationalizes that they will all lead to her getting caught. Until the meltdown. Finally, a way out. The mother decides to feed her baby the contaminated food and water. Yep, she decides that this is the way to get rid of her baby and not be caught. So, she uses the contaminated water to cook all of the contaminated veggies/fruit in. And she feeds her happy, laughing baby the contaminated food. She wonders how much poison is in her baby. Life moves along as she continues feeding her baby poison. One day, her mother-in-law comes to visit and announces that she is taking her daughter-in-law and grandchild to stay with her - far from these poisoned lands. Her son is so happy, because he has been worrying about his wife and baby. Our narrator is not so happy at first. However, when she sees how the toxins have spread across the lands all over and around, she realizes that she can continue to work on killing her baby. So she agrees to go.
What a story! Talk about dark and disturbing. Dystopian fiction at its finest. I found myself laughing out loud at the absurdity of the mother's rationale and the dark humor with which this situation is presented. The author has provided a narrator who is glib about her daily chores and activities - primarily working on killing her baby. Living in a land where there has been a tragic earthquake and then a nuclear meltdown is just too much for words, let alone rational thoughts. However, humanity prevails - people help one another, look to survive, and plan to move forward. This mother sees her life as being rather hellish and takes it out on her baby. She uses this disaster to her benefit in such a dark and twisted manner it is beyond comprehension. And therein lies the humor - the dark and twisted nature of humanity. Yep, in dark times, people can get even darker in their mindsets. And this mother takes the cake. I absolutely LOVED this story!
What do you think? A pretty neat trio of shorts, eh? I really enjoyed them all. And, I'm looking forward to reading more shorts from my copy of The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories.
I just wanted to say thank you to Meredith from Dolce Bellezza for hosting her amazing JLC12 - it was truly such a treat to participate in. I loved reading everyone's posts and getting to find new-to-me authors to fall in love with. Thank you, M!!