Thursday, March 3, 2016

Year of Requirement

Gimu no ichinenkan


A Tale for the Time Being is a book I read because it was recommended to me. I can understand why. It’s about a middle-aged Japanese-American writer who finds a diary written by a young Japanese girl. The Japanese-American writer finds the diary on the beach of an island off the Canadian coast, so it may or may not have been washed there by the tsunami on 3-11 (2011). So, the girl who wrote the diary may or may not be dead at the time the novelist finds the book. She’d be about 26 if she were alive. The girl grew up in the US (!) but abruptly moved to Japan at age 14 (!) or thereabouts because her dad lost his job and his savings when the dot-com bubble burst. She writes in her diary about how she can’t fit in (!) and how she’s bullied and how her dad is depressed and how her great-grandmother is a nun. So of course I’d be the girl writing the journal, right? Even though Ayako appears in the book as an older woman who’s nominated to decipher Japanese cursive writing, I’d be the diarist, right? And I would totally relate to her, the way I related to the coxswain character in  Flat Water Tuesday (even though I was far less talented and far less beautiful), right?

Except...not really. The diary reads like something a really talented writer who really cared about me and understood the basic premise of being transplanted to Japan would write, thinking that I would write a diary like that. The person who wrote the diary would understand me, but not actual life in Japan. They read up on it, and understand it better than most people, but there are distracting inaccuracies in the details. For example, sukeban (delinquent girls known for their overly long skirts) and maid cafes did not coexist in the same decade, and Melty Kiss chocolates are only sold in winter because, they’d, well, melt(y). 

The story involves every single possible bad aspect of Japan that it possibly could, including but not limited to bullying, child prostitution, wartime atrocities by Japan, and alleged cover-ups of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Of course, the whole premise is that this character doesn’t like living in Japan and longs for her old life in Silicon Valley, so of course she’s going to hate every aspect of Japan except for Zen Buddhism because, you know, Zen Buddhism is what her great-grandmother (and the author) is in to. Anyway, the little inaccuracies and the JAPAN IS EVIL overdose distracted me and kept me from really getting into the book the way I should. It’s an interesting book. I think most people would like it. I don’t like it, but it’s plasticized my neural networks, in a way different from Flat Water Tuesday.

One funny thing is that Nao briefly has a blog and she’s amused and disappointed that she got a total of about a dozen hits the entire time she had it. I currently get about a dozen hits every time I upload a post. (Sometimes I upload a scheduled post by mistake, or edit a previous post because I found a typo, and then I get an additional dozen hits, and then I feel bad about it, like I lied or something. Oh, and I was viral in Russia the month of February. Viral meaning I got like 30 hits a day. Which is impressive, since I average about a hit a day from Japan and two from the US. (How did you find me, Russia? I know you're not one person going through each post one by one...)

Since Rowing Ruminations (a.k.a. the longest book report Flat Water Tuesday will ever have) as a single continuous story finishes at #18, I’m going to make this my next little project: writing about my first, last, and only year of compulsory education in Japan.


Annie Crow said...

Wow, I totally hadn't thought about the (now) obvious similarities between Nao's life story and yours. I was thinking about how interesting it is to have a story that changes back and forth between the two countries, and then all of the stuff around time.

I did once buy a book for my mother where the main character has her husband die in the first pages from a heart attack - right after my father went into the hospital and rehab for weeks to treat an infection of the heart. My mom was so mad at me. But the manner of the man's death was irrelevant to the rest of the book (an exploration of the widow's life) so I just didn't think about it.

Clearly what catches my attention is not what necessarily catches other people's attention. But that's one of the fun things about books, you bring so much of yourself to it and it is a different book for each person.

But I'm glad if this spurs you on to write more about "what was when" for yourself.

Annie Crow said...
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pumpkinmommy said...

Oh my. I just deleted your second comment. I'm so sorry. To answer, I've never read Murakami, though I probably should at least once so there will be no discussion of revoking my Japanese citizenship. So interesting that you never thought of me as Nao the diarist. This proves that we all read books different ways, and even if we find the same books interesting, we will not find them interesting in the same ways. I wonder how authors feel about this? If someone interprets the book and feels it in a different direction, how does it make them feel?

Annie Crow said...

Oh, a lot of thoughts. I've started a letter to you, too much for here.