Tag Archives: Translation

Solanin, by Inio Asano (2005)

Meiko Inoue is a twentysomething living with her boyfriend in Tokyo, working in an office, and wondering whether her life could be something more.  There’s a lot more to the story than that (hint: the “more” involves playing in a band), but this manga’s most profound moments come in the characters’ contemplations about the creative life versus a stable work life, along with the emptiness that comes from not having a passionate outlet.  It’s rougher and very different than Asano’s Nijigahara Holograph, though the images share the same majestic beauty and the story captures a similar sense of wonder.

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In the Woods of Memory, by Shun Medoruma (2009, translated by Takuma Smiley, 2017)

In the Woods of Memory tells of the rape of a teenage girl during the American occupation after the Battle of Okinawa and the subsequent attack on an American soldier by a young Japanese fisherman.  Though the novel begins in 1945, most of it takes place sixty years later as Medoruma places us in the perspectives of nine Japanese and American characters, bridging the events across time.  The novel’s real power unfolds as readers merge its events together on their own, pinnacling in the stream-of-consciousness Seiji chapter (originally written using Okinawan dialect) that evokes the most powerful modernist fiction.

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In the Woods of Memory at Stone Bridge Press

A Girl on the Shore, by Inio Asano (2011)

A ninth-grade girl wanders distraught after a subpar encounter with the class playboy, then seeks solace with another guy who likes her and a shit-ton of graphic middle-school sex ensues.

I’m not kidding—this manga isn’t for the squeamish, since there’s A LOT of sex here shown in close-up, and just when you think it can’t go any farther, it does.  In terms of story, Koume and Isobe’s relationship shows a lot about first love, disenchantment, and searching for something you can’t quite describe, and their confused realizations keep you guessing until the end, with stirring results.

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What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami (2008)

Every day, Japanese author Haruki Murakami writes and runs, each on a set schedule with set goals.  Most of this essay collection is ostensibly about running, but when Murakami talks about the discipline involved with marathon training he’s also talking about the discipline involved with writing, so that reading about his stretches and his Hokkaido ultramarathon provides insight into a disciplined creative mind.  He also recounts his transition from jazz club-owning twentysomething to focused writer, and the entire book forms a quiet, unpretentious reflection on what it means to pursue a skill—even if you don’t like sports.

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Nijigahara Holograph, by Inio Asano (2006)

Children speak of a monster in the drainage tunnel behind their elementary school while one of them sleeps in a coma; as adults, their paths cross in mysterious ways, and there are butterflies.

Nijigahara Holograph feels obliquely perplexing until it reaches its gut-wrenching conclusion, though on a second skim-through the connections felt clearer, revealing this to be a meticulously crafted manga that tells a powerful story.  The climactic reveal left me feeling uncharacteristically drained and somewhat disturbed—I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but that a manga can exert this kind of power means a lot.

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Sinbad’s Seven Voyages and Other Stories From the Arabian Nights, retold by Gladys Davidson (1974)

Things I learned from reading/rereading these four stories:

  1. In the original tale, Aladdin, far from being a purehearted street rat, is an “idle, careless” boy who through the adventure of the lamp becomes a responsible, skilled adult man.
  2. The forty thieves dismember Ali Baba’s greedy brother into four separate pieces so that the local cobbler has to sew him back together, which is badass.
  3. The Sinbad stories are kind of repetitive, and made me want to watch the Ray Harryhausen films.
  4. Like in all good stories, servant girls are always more clever than their masters.
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The Flowers of Evil (Vol. 1-11), by Shuzo Oshimi (2012-2014)

Kasuga, a shy middle-schooler obsessed with Baudelaire, impulsively steals his crush’s gym clothes only to be spotted by the class outcast and labeled a pervert, but is he really a pervert, or just looking to form a normal relationship?  Powerful stories never fail to make you care about their characters, and Oshimi pulls this off incredibly—his explorations of courtship, friendship, surviving adolescence, and fitting in capture his characters at their most vulnerable.  The series’ driving question is whether Kasuga will cave in to the adult world like a shitbug or find his own path—whatever that might mean.

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Golgo 13: Supergun, by Takao Saito (1979 & 1997)

Golgo 13 is Japan’s longest-running manga series, chronicling the exploits of super-tough, laconic sniper Duke Togo, alias Golgo 13.  The two jobs in this collection involve an Iraqi ballistic superweapon (a story where both Bill Clinton and Saddam Hussein feature prominently) and a mafia hit and run, plus a background dossier on Togo himself.  If you’re looking for an intro to pulp Japanese action manga, start here—the drawings are dark and the midnight cityscapes majestic, with plenty of guns, planes, action, and sex to capture the feel of an ‘80s action movie in comic form.

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Where I Got It

Christmas 2016, from a friend who knew I loved the Golgo 13 NES games. While every convenience store in Japan sells the Japanese manga books, I never got to the chance to check them out when I lived there since English translations are harder to find, .

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Wikipedia

Playthrough video of Golgo 13 – Top Secret Episode on the NES

1Q84, by Haruki Murakami (2011)

A man and a woman in different parts of Tokyo find themselves drawn into the bizarre world of 1Q84 (kyū is Japanese for nine) where everything looks the same but a sinister religious cult is wreaking havoc.  I enjoyed parts of this book immensely, but others dragged on through its 1,100 pages, and a lot of the slower portions could have been trimmed.  The novel explores the idea of parallel worlds in classic Murakami fashion, and though the ending makes the whole read worth it, I recommend starting with something lighter for your first Murakami experience.

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Where I Got It

Christmas, 2015.

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Haruki Murakami’s website

Murakami Interview about 1Q84, his early life, and running every day

The Epic of Gilgamesh (2100 BC), translated by N.K. Sanders (1972)

I like reading myths from other cultures because they capture the familiar spirit of the Greek myths with new sets of heroes.  Ancient Sumer’s Gilgamesh is no exception: our hero befriends a sidekick from the wilderness, journeys through forests to slay a deadly monster, grapples with a jealous goddess, and seeks the prize of eternal life.  There’s even an ancient flood that shares more than a few similarities with the Biblical one.  Editor N.K. Sanders also provides a lot of textual background in her introduction, padding out the Penguin edition since the myth itself is so short (60 pages).

Rating:

3-kafkas

Where I Got It

Bought used at a local book sale, October 2012, making it one of the longest-running books in the stack.

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Background to the Epic of Gilgamesh on Wikipedia

The entire Epic of Gilgamesh in PDF form

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera (1984)

Kundera’s prose is just plain beautiful: lyrical, thought-provoking, and melodic, divided into short, powerful scenes that make for lots of page-turning, so an extra kudos to translator Michael Henry Heim for capturing the power of the original Czech.  The plot involves a man who cheats constantly on his wife, but the plot comes second to Kundera’s other subjects: love, the 1968 Prague Spring/Communist invasion by Russia, more love, sex, communication, more sex, fate, dogs, fidelity, being an ex-pat, loyalty to one’s ideals, and old age.  A great read, though a quick warning: the philosophical reflections do get dense.

Rating:

4-kafkas

Where I Got It

Gift from a friend I visited in Columbus, Ohio who was downsizing his book collection and recommended it highly, Summer 2015.

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Milan Kundera on Wikipedia

How Important is Milan Kundera Today? (2015 article in The Guardian)

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, by Haruki Murakami (2014)

With fewer fantastical elements than Kafka on the Shore or Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Murakami’s most recent novel covers more realistic scenarios that still raise larger, otherworldly questions.  The title character, a quiet loner, becomes estranged from his four childhood friends without explanation, and embarks on a quest from Nagoya to Finland to find out why. We never discover the secrets of Tsukuru’s past exactly, but that’s never the point with Murakami.  My one qualm is the flat exposition in the opening chapters, though this (fortunately) gives rise to more significant scenes quickly enough.

Rating:

4-kafkas

Where I Got It

Impromptu Christmas gift (2015) from my brother, who got two copies and gave me the paperback edition while keeping the hardcover (pictured above, much cooler).

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Haruki Murakami’s website

Wikipedia page