My goal for December was to complete my 2020 reading challenge. In order to do this, I needed to read the last book of the Kaga series by Keigo Higashino and a literary award winner. I did both, and I read two more books as well: one is a novel, one is nonfiction.
『蛍川』 by Teru Miyamoto (宮本輝)
The edition I have contains two novellas from the Rivers series: 泥の河 and 蛍川. When I read 泥の河 earlier this year, I found it difficult to read it in Japanese, so I bought the translation by Roger K. Thomas and Ralph McCarthy (Rivers, Kurodahan Press, 2014). I am glad that I did because I don’t think that I could have fully appreciated this novella without the translation.
I would have understood the story without problems, but with literary fiction, just understanding what happens is not enough. If you cannot appreciate the author’s literary style or understand metaphorical descriptions, you miss a great part of the book.
To give you a concrete example, this description is much too difficult to me:
There is no way that I can appreciate this description by just reading it. If I look up some words, I can understand the meaning of it, but I cannot grasp how refined and elegant it is.
On the contrary, the English translation immediately struck me by its beauty. It is the kind of description that is so beautiful that you immediately need to re-read it:
“What they saw, suspended over the basin of a well-hidden waterfall, was an eerie, desolated dance of ghostly phosphorescence. It was as if an immeasurable silence and the stench of death had condensed into particles of light that aspired to heaven, rising up in brilliance, dimming as they fell, and shooting upward again, like sparks from a frozen fire.”
Roger K. Thomas and Ralph McCarthy’s translation is truly wonderful with breath-taking descriptions like the one above.
『祈りの幕が下りる時』 by Keigo Higashino (東野圭吾)
This is the last book of the Kaga series and with 443 pages, it is also the longest. There are a lot of characters in this novel so it’s best to write them down as they appear.
To me, this is one of the best books of the series. Higashino even said that:
It is true that this book explains a lot of things and wraps up the series, echoing in a subtle way the first one 卒業. Still, I hope that there will be more Kaga to come…
In any case, this book was a fantastic read, I personally found it easy to read, because I am used to the author’s style. It is not, however, the easiest Higashino I have read because the story is rather complex and the book quite long.
『恋する寄生虫』 by Sugaru Miaki (三秋縋)
I think that overall, this book was not for me, even though I love Miaki’s style and fictional world. I loved the first half of the book, but contrary to 『いたいのいたいの、とんでゆけ』, the mechanism behind the story did not work for me.
But what really surprised me in this novel was the Japanese level. This book is not as easy as you might think by looking at the cover. I have read other books by this publisher (メディアワークス文庫) and it is the most difficult I have read so far.
I already noticed that 『いたいのいたいの、とんでゆけ』 was not as easy to read as I had imagined, but this one is even more difficult. There are not a lot of dialogues, there are some long narrative passages that might be difficult for Japanese learners, and there are difficult descriptions about parasites with specialised vocabulary. If you have a good N2 level or above, you will be able to read this book without much struggle. But I would certainly not recommend it as a first book if you are looking for easy books to read in Japanese.
This being said, there is a manga adaptation of this novel, and a film adaptation is coming in 2021. This obviously can help with reading the novel if you really want to read it, and the story was great (just not fitting my personal taste).
『殺人犯はそこにいる』by Kiyoshi Shimizu (清水潔)
I have a lot of things to say about this book, but I’ll keep it for my book review. Let’s just say that I loved this book at first and then started loving it less and less, even though I still think that this is a very important book totally worth reading.
It was easier to read than I thought at first. I have never read true crime, and this being a nonfiction book, I was afraid that it would be difficult to read to me. The first half of the book, however, was very similar to books of crime fiction that I am used to reading. It was the same vocabulary and the beginning was very similar to a novel I have read recently: 『罪の声』. In both books, a journalist is asked to work on an old, unsolved case, with no particular means or connection to help him.
However, the second half was more difficult to read with a lot of DNA testing explanations that I found difficult to understand in Japanese. The narrative that used to be linear and straightforward also starts to be all over the place. The first half read like a novel with a chronological frame, but the second half was more difficult to follow and I found harder to understand what the author was pointing at.
As a result, I often left the book untouched for 4 or 5 days in a row, which was a very bad idea because it was very hard to get back into it. As I said, the narration in the second half or last third of the book tends to be more fragmented, and I when I picked up the book again I had a hard time remembering what we were talking about, or why the author was telling this, or where exactly we were in the chronological course of events.
So while the book started as an easy read, it ended up being the most strenuous read of the month…
I am so glad that I finished all my 2020 books before the end of the year (at least, the Japanese ones). I feel like I can make a fresh start in 2021, and it feels really good!
Happy New Year!