book review
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I finished reading「彼女がその名を知らない鳥たち」by 沼田まほかる

I have finished reading 沼田まほかる’s novel 「彼女がその名を知らない鳥たち」. Reading this book took me a long time, but even though I struggled to go through some parts of it, I enjoyed reading it. I know that some passages were above my level, and even if I could follow the story and most of the dialogues without problems, I may have had a partial understanding of some narrative parts. As a consequence, I don’t feel qualified to write a review of this book. I think I missed some of its subtilities. I will, instead, write about how I read this novel.

The story turns around Towako, a young woman, and her relationship with men. Three male characters shape her life: Jinji, with whom she lives, Kurosaki, her former lover, and Mizushima, a salesman she meets in the course of the story. Right from the beginning, though, we feel that something will happen, or maybe has happened, that we, and Towako, still don’t know.

To be honest, I read the first half of the novel more with a sense of duty than a real pleasure. I saw the protagonist with detachment, and I was not able to sympathise with her feelings, her actions or her words. On the contrary, I felt immediate empathy with Jinji, the man who shares Towako’s life when our novel opens.

At this time, I felt a lot of doubts about whether I was understanding the novel correctly or not. I read some reviews posted on Amazon and, at first, felt that I was not at all having the same understanding of the novel than most of the reviewers, that maybe I missed something because of my Japanese level. But then, I read this other review. Someone said that because he was a man in his forties, he read the novel from the point of view of Jinji. I am not a man in his forties, but I did read the novel from Jinji’s point of view. It may sound strange, but I felt that I received some kind of approval for my interpretation because a native reader had it too. I also felt that the novel offered different readings and had a quality that I could not perceive.

When I reached the half of the story, however, things began to change. I saw Towako differently. She appeared to me as an actress who only got a minor role and watches from the backstage how others, play after play, perform the leading role that should have belonged to her. I saw that perhaps, this novel was not about Towako and men, but Towako and women, the women she is not and longs to be.

This revelation made me want to read the novel from the start again, to see what I missed (but I didn’t). I began feeling sympathy and concern for the protagonist and at the same time, the mystery really started to unfold, the tension steadily growing until the end. This is why I enjoyed reading the second half of the novel very much, much more than the beginning.

As for the Japanese, it was challenging. As I said in a previous post, all the dialogues between Towako and Jinji are written in the Kansai dialect. This was puzzling to me, and it added difficulty to a novel which was already complex.

This is an example of what I would qualify as “a difficult passage” but also considers as a beautiful one (though I still can’t judge the writing quality of a novel in Japanese):

(十和子・とわこ our protagonist、陣治・じんじ the man she lives with、黒崎・くろさき her former lover)

十和子がうんざりしきっているのにはおかまいなく、くどくどと愚痴をこぼすうちに、陣治の顔はどす黒くなっていく。鬱屈した憤怒に顔を歪めた陣治は、古代の仮面劇を演じる人物さながら、妙に鮮烈なオーラを放っていた。それほど直截で単純な喜怒哀楽を、人に対しても物に対しても、十和子は感じたことがなかった。黒崎への執着も、黒崎を失ったことの悲嘆も、悔恨や逡巡や自責や得体の知れない不安を含み込んでいて、十和子の芯を蝕みながらももっとへなへなと張りがなっかた。

– 沼田まほかる、「彼女がその名を知らない鳥たち」、幻冬舎文庫、p.49-50

I could not possibly translate such a passage. I looked up words, and I understand enough of it to know what message it conveys. Most of the narrative passages are much easier than this one, but the key to understanding the protagonist lies in this kind of description.

Now that I have finished it, I will pick a new book from my 2018 reading challenge list. I hope the next one will be easier!

7 Comments

  1. choronghi.WORDPRESS.COM says

    Haha. As a person who reached the end of the tunnel I will tell you that I know all the words and vocab in the passage from having read a lot of Japanese books and using anki. However I don’t have context since I just read that passage (i didn’t read your summaries because I don’t like spoilers. I find that reading summaries just ruins the book as in I’m bored having already read what will happen. I like going in as blind as possible) so I’m a little lost. Plus one of the sentences was long and convoluted so it’s tiring to read since you gotta keep track of stuff ( when this happens I usually blame the writing style or author rather than my Japanese abilities because I know my abilities are fine and I know what writing styles I like and I know how interest plays a huge role in my ability to comprehend Japanese )

    I will say that based off that passage you wrote her writing style is okay but I don’t like it or love it ( at the same time it’s such a short passage for me to pass judgement) . I know this because I know I like dazai and Honda takayoshi and otsuichi’s writing style. Writing styles I like are effortless to read just because me and the author are so compatible. The authors job is to make reading pleasureable and make it feel effortless

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    • choronghi.WORDPRESS.COM says

      From what you wrote you understand enough to decide if you like this author’s writing or not

      Like

    • Wow, so you really reached fluency in reading! I wouldn’t dream of reading Dazai, much too difficult to me.
      I think that I got used to the author style at some point because the second half of the novel was easier to read than the first. But with some other authors, it takes only a few pages to get used to their style, so, as you say, it certainly has to do with compatibility.
      I always tend to blame my ability rather than the author’s style when I struggle, but that’s because I’m still far from reading fluently.

      Liked by 1 person

      • choronghi.WORDPRESS.COM says

        YOu should start blaming the author when you struggle lol. You don’t have understand stuff 100% or 90% etc to judge whether or not you like something. You can also read 1 or 2 star reviews on Amazon to confirm that other people don’t like the author’s writing lol. Sometimes there are really funny or harsh reviews criticizing how the author is so popular yet their writing is so bad.

        Like

      • choronghi.WORDPRESS.COM says

        As for Dazai I read it on the kindle since his stuff is available for free on aozora bunko and I like looking words up while reading. Depending on his work it can be easier. I remember this one story he wrote had really long ass sentences which made it harder to read but his other story wasn’t full of long convoluted sentences. But you can never reach a point where you know every word on a page in a book ( unless it’s one of these easy to read fiction books just because writers have huge vocabularies) and you certainly don’t need to know every single word to understand the story ( im sure you’ve had that experience with English or french )

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: 2018 Reading challenge! | Inside That Japanese Book

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