Oh So Odd: Now You’re One of Us

Now You're One of UsNow You’re One of Us by Asa Nonami

Here’s a story about a bride who’s no longer sure what to think. All families have their own rituals, secrets, and credos, like a miniature religious cult; these quirks may elicit the mirth or mild alarm of guests, but the matter is rather more serious if you’re marrying into a household. If its’s a Japanese one with a history, the brace yourself: some surprising truths lurk around the corner.

First Impressions: It read like a lot of contemporary Japanese novels. Perhaps not *quite* as engaging but there was more than enough to keep going.

Highlights: Even though this is a rather bizarre story in the end (of course it is!) I think the author really captured the difficulties of marriage for women in modern Japan. The family situation felt stifling and Noriko’s grappling with where her loyalties should lie was believable and I found it a little uncomfortable. Is there really nothing more important than her husband’s family? I was almost surprised the family let her meet with her friend Tomomi. I have since read that Asa Nonami has a decent female following in Japan as she provides searing critiques of Japanese society in her writings. Yes, definitely a feminist novel!

If I was an editor: Well, I knew it would get weird but the revelation was really out there. It wasn’t the supernatural explanation I was expecting and I still can’t decide whether this disappoints more or not. If you can believe it, the family secret is both so offbeat and underwhelming at the same time. There must be some cultural nuances and references I don’t understand (guilty!). Also, while it is a relatively short novel I think it could have been shorter – Noriko wavered one (or two) too many times with her feelings of loyalty to the family.

Overall: Odd but is seared in my memory.

Now You’re One of Us: 3 Stars


Frustrating Silences: South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the SunSouth of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

As a boy Hajime always felt detached from other children as being an only child felt like an affliction. When Shimamoto, another only child, joined his class they found a connection and spent afternoons together listening to records as her parent’s house.
Now in his 30s, Hajime is married with two children and owns two jazz clubs. His life seems idyllic but he is yearning for more. One day Shimamoto suddenly breezes into his life again…

First impressions: I’m not really a fan of journeys back to childhood but I found the first part of this short novel quite interesting, mainly because of the ‘only child syndrome’ Hajime experienced

Highlights:  The novel was easy to read and parts of it have kept me wondering, specifically the abstract enigmas that are Shimamoto and Hajime’s other ex-girlfriend, Izume. Interestingly, I felt little curiosity for his wife Yukiko. By the end of the novel there was so much more you could wonder about Hajime based solely on his adult relationship with Shimamoto.

If I was an editor: I would assume this novel embraces they ‘typical Murakami’ syndrome, although this is only the second one of his that I have read! The story tumbles into the vortex that is Hajime’s mid life crisis and I found the silences frustrating: the adult Shimamoto was so intriguing yet we know so little about her. This is the same for Izume. I also would have liked more information about the post-war Japan Hajime lived in as a boy. However, the point of the novel is to accentuate Hajime’s anguish so in that way it did succeed.

Overall: As Murakami is a Jazz connoisseur, is the novel part biographical, a personal indulgence, an easy to write setting, or a combination of all three?

South of the Border, West of the Sun: 4 stars


Japanese Sherlock(s): The Devotion of Suspect X

The Devotion of Suspect XThe Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

 Yasuko lives a quiet life in Tokyo with her daughter. Her ex-husband arrives one day to cause trouble and Yasuko takes the situation into her own hands. When Detective Kusanagi begins to investigate, Yasuko’s seedier earlier life is revealed and the case turns into a battle between two superior logicians: Yasuko’s neighbour and Kusanagi’s university friend. Who will be first to solve the cryptic crime?

First Impressions: I wasn’t sure if I would like this book in the first few pages as it seemed quite simplistic. However, very quickly began to like the tone of the story and the writing style.

Highlights: The Tokyo setting is great and I enjoyed the cat and mouse crime solving of two men worthy of giving Sherlock a run for his money. My favourite element of the novel was definitely the characters as they were all so unique and realistic, particularly Yasuko’s mathematician neighbour.

If I was an editor: I would think this was wonderfully translated. The ending is fitting for a Japanese novel but is probably too much an abstract statement for a lot of western readers. However, it is all tied up well and I didn’t feel disappointed.

Overall: A cryptic page turner that keeps you thinking. I will read more by this author.

The Devotion of Suspect X: 4 Stars