Summary in English, August – November 2021

In my blog I wrote reviews on four translations of contemporary Japanese literature during the period mentioned in the title. Two of them were by Yōko Ogawa, one by Sōsuke Natsukawa and one by Haruki Murakami.

Yōko Ogawa: Professori ja taloudenhoitaja. Tr. by Antti Valkama. Japanese: Hakase no aishita sûshiki (博士の愛した数式). English: The Housekeeper and the Professor.

Yōko Ogawa ( b. 1962) is one of the leading contemporary writers in Japan. She has written more than 50 works, most of them novels. She also has received all major literary awards in Japan as well as some international awards. However, so far only about 10 of her works have been translated into western languages. Hakase no aishita sûshiki was published in Japan in 2003, translated into English by Stephen Snyder in 2008 and into Finnish by Antti Valkama in 2016. This charming novel is an exception among Ogawa´s works, which typically have rather sinister themes. Her main themes are memory, loss, guilt and human psychology in general. In this novel she tells the story of a mathematician, who only has a memory of 80 minutes due to an accident. It is a heart warming tale of friendship and humanity where also mathematics plays a central role.
Read the blog article. (Find the Google Translate on the right sidebar of the blog)

Yōko Ogawa: Muistipoliisi. Tr. by Markus Juslin. Japanese: Hisoyaka na kesshō (密やかな結晶). English: The Memory Police.

The book Hisoyaka na kesshō was published in Japan in 1994 and it is one of the most acclaimed works of Ogawa. It took quite a while until it was translated into English. It happened 2019 and the translator was – of course – Stephen Snyder. And now the year 2021 saw the creation of the Finnish translation by Markus Juslin. In spite of the 27 years between the original and the Finnish translation, the book is still very relevant today. It is often called a dystopia and it definitely has such features. It describes the conditions on an island where things begin to disappear. And not only things but also the memory of them, except for the few, who still remember. But they are chased by the Memory Police, because remembering is strictly forbidden. In spite of the upsetting situation the story line is not so much concentrating on action, but rather studies the effect of forgetting and loss on human mind. So the apparent dystopia turns into an allegory of being a human at existential level. Also the importance of writing and reading in order to stay human is emphasized. Very recommended reading.
Read the blog article. (Find the Google Translate on the right sidebar of the blog)

Sōsuke Natsukawa: Kissa joka suojeli kirjoja. Tr. by Raisa Porrasmaa. Japanese: Hon o mamorō to suru neko no hanashi (本を守ろうとする猫の話). English: The Cat who Saved Books.

The author of the book is a doctor in Nagano who in his clinical work became frustrated by people´s selfishness and indifference and decided to do something about it. He started to write books. In this heart warming story of a young boy and a talking cat the author surely succeeds in presenting his ideas. The book resembles a fable with its magical elements but at the same time it convinces the reader about the importance of reading books and even more, of the importance of compassion in people’s interaction with each other. The little book has a big message.
Read the blog article. (Find the Google Translate on the right sidebar of the blog)

Haruki Murakami: Vieterilintukronikka. Tr. by Antti Valkama. Japanese: Nejimakidori kuronikuru (ねじまき鳥クロニクル). English: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle.

This huge novel (nearly 900 pages) was first published in three volumes in 1994–1995 and it is considered to be one of Murakami´s most ambitious works. It was translated into English 1997 by Jay Rubin. Here we have an enormous amount of guaranteed Murakami material: unbelievable personalities, breathtaking adventures, sex, violence, supernatural occurrences side by side with description of every day life circumstances experienced through the mind of the protagonist who is just an ordinary man living in Tokyo. All these things just happen to him. This time there is also a wider perspective in the form of a parallel story from Japanese history during the WW II period. Japan´s role in it is seen through critical eyes. The two stories, the present day one (1984) and the historical one are intertwined in a skillful manner and the combination becomes a magical and mysterious maze like life itself.
Read the blog article. (Find the Google Translate on the right sidebar of the blog)

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