Multcolib Picks: Beyond Murakami: Intro to Japanese Literature
Annotation:Follow a detached narrator as he wanders through Asakusa, a major entertainment district in Tokyo during its heyday in the ‘20s and ‘30s. Originally written as a newspaper serial, The Scarlet Gang is a beautiful and frenetic read about young female delinquents growing up in a modernized Japan.
Annotation:Back in the day the name “Makioka” used to mean something - class, manners, and riches. Fast forward to the ‘40s, the Makiokas are practically grovelling as they struggle to marry off their youngest (and aging) daughters. Anyone who has enjoyed Anna Karenina would appreciate reading about how the Makioka women navigate their lives in a strict, but rapidly changing society.
Annotation:Soseki occupies a seat of “grandaddy in Japanese literature” for me and definitely others. This is a great book for any reader looking to delve into a much different time period in Japan. “Kokoro,” which means something like “heart” or the “heart of things” is about an older man’s confessions and a retrospective of life to his friend, a young college student. Kokoro touches on interesting themes like loneliness and misanthropy, and growing up and growing old.
Annotation:Want to read about teenagers protesting and flipping their high school upside down in anarchic good fun? The year is 1969 and Japanese teenagers are no stranger to sex, drugs, rock n’ roll than teens in the West. Readers who liked Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger may become fans of 69.
Annotation:Upon learning that I liked Haruki Murakami, my Japanese language teacher insisted I read Yoko Ogawa, who she thought was a much better writer. While I can’t attest to really reading either in Japanese, I’ll tell you Ogawa writes the kind of fascinating stories that make my skin crawl. In The Diving Pool, Ogawa crafts three chilling and elegantly written novellas about the dark thoughts ordinary people keep inside.
Annotation:Sometimes compared to Haruki Murakami, I think Yoshimoto holds her own as a strong, but sweet and thoughtful writer. Popular with young Japanese readers, Yoshimoto’s stories often focus on the difficulties in growing up in modern Japan. Hardboiled & Hard Luck are two short novels, both about young women who are trying to make sense out of different relationships and dealing with tragedy.
Annotation:Mishima’s reputation may precede him as an eccentric nationalist that committed seppuku. His work, however, is equally as interesting as he is. This novel is roughly based on the true story of a young Buddhist acolyte who burned the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. In Mishima’s retelling, the monk is Mizoguchi, a psychologically and physically scarred man who has an obsession with beauty.
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When I was in high school I devoured Haruki Murakami books, which despite their Western influences, became my gateway to Japanese literature. Check out this list of authors who come from different time periods, have distinct styles, and write about vastly different subjects. Hopefully this list can help you explore more Japanese writers and also while away the time before Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage comes out! -Azalea E.