Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Why Japan's lit and culture are so vibrant today

The Times Literary Supplement: Japanese questions of the soul


At public readings, either in Japanese or English, the novelist Hideo Furukawa performs like a banshee. He voices his characters’ personae, tenor shifting from stentorian to hushed, growling, trilling, book held aloft in his quivering left hand. His compact frame rocks to and fro, slowly enlarging before your eyes as he rises on his toes and raises his arm into a broad arc, snug hipster beanie barely holding his cranium in place.

I have watched Furukawa read several times, in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Tokyo, and each time I have been unable to look away. At first I worried that his histrionics might be overkill. But then I re-read his prose. He writes like a banshee, too, forcing words into action, squeezing them for meaning, studding his lines with coinages such as “scootscootscoot” and “creekeek” when the words just can’t take it anymore.

At fifty-one, Furukawa is among the generation of Japanese writers I’ll call “A. M.”, for “After Murakami”. Haruki Murakami is Japan’s most internationally renowned living author. His work has been translated into over fifty languages, his books sell in the millions, and there is annual speculation about his winning the Nobel Prize. Over four decades, he has become one of the most famous living Japanese people on the planet. It’s impossible to overestimate the depth of his influence on contemporary Japanese literature and culture, but it is possible to characterize it.

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