The year started with an excellent reading month for me! I loved every book I read in January and I am doing well with my various challenges.
Mystery Writers of Japan Award – Project
Read all the available winners of the MWJ award for fiction (in chronological order).
1947:『本陣殺人事件』by Seishi Yokomizo (横溝正史)
『本陣殺人事件』is a classic locked-room mystery, and I had no difficulty reading it (apart from one scene or two that were more difficult). Overall, it did not feel different, in terms of Japanese level, than the Kogoro Akechi series by Edogawa Rampo.
Moreover, the book is very classic in its composition: the story, the setting, the characters and the mystery feel very familiar if you like locked-room mysteries. The narrator of the story is a writer of detective fiction who is influenced by authors like John Dickson Carr or Gaston Leroux, which I think, made this novel easier to read to me.
This book is the first mystery novel to have been rewarded with the Mystery Writers of Japan Award (even though the award had another name at the time), and it is also the first book I read from this long list. It was a great way to start this project, and I will certainly read more books by Yokomizo in the future.
This novel has been translated into English by Louise Heal Kawai under the title The Honjin Murders.
1948:『不連続殺人事件』by Ango Sakaguchi (坂口安吾) | Meurtres sans série translated by Estelle Figon
Contrary to Yokomizo’s novel where our narrator tried his best to give us a smooth reading and made sure that we follow all the clues, Ango Sakaguchi’s first and only detective novel leaves the readers on their own to decipher a huge amount of clues, alibis, and characters.
Most of the characters belong to the literary circles of post-war Japan, they are decadent, disillusioned and they cannot stand each other. They are rude, sarcastic, insulting, and utterly disagreeable. They also have complex relationships, mostly based on desire and resentment. In short: everything they said seemed strange to me, and the dialogues were particularly difficult to understand, which is the reason why I decided to read this book and its translation in parallel.
If I am not mistaken, 『不連続殺人事件』has never been translated into English. Thankfully, there is a French translation published in 2009, which allowed me to fully enjoy this complex but exciting murder puzzle.
Read one book per month in your target language (I chose Korean). Check out the prompts here.
A book I meant to read in 2021: 재능의 불시착 by 박소연
One funny thing with this book is that I kept seeing it in bookstores, but I was not interested in reading it because I thought it was SF, a genre that I don’t really like. Fortunately, I did end up looking at it more closely and realised it was exactly the kind of books I like: a realistic depiction of the different struggles people face at work, with their colleagues, with their families.
The level was perfect for me: overall relatively easy to read with some stories that I could read without looking up any words, but challenging too with other stories that had me re-read some paragraphs several times in order to understand them.
The author also wrote self-development books, but this is her only work of fiction. I am looking forward to more novels or collection of short stories!
20th Century reading challenge
Read a book set in each decade of the 20th Century in chronological order (publication date does not matter).
1900s (Boxer Rebellion): Sandalwood Death by Mo Yan, translated by Howard Goldblatt
This is my favourite read of the month, this book really blew my mind. The book is set during the Boxer Rebellion, but we don’t learn much about the Rebellion itself (but I did a lot of Wikipedia readings while reading the book!). Our characters each play their part in the tragedy, while the Qing Dynasty and the Imperial system are collapsing in the background.
Magistrate Qian Ding and his brother were the characters I found the most tragic and interesting. One holds on to the old system and traditional values, the other stands against them, but they both fight in a world that is falling apart. It is also through the character of Qian Ding that we get to feel the most the political changes of the time, so his parts were the most fascinating to me.
I think that the book can be a little difficult to understand for people who don’t have any knowledge of the period (that’s why Wikipedia was a good companion here!). I also think that this book should have a content warning, because it contains scenes or descriptions of executions that I found extremely hard to read.
Verbrechen by Ferdinand von Schirach
In 2022, I want to read in more languages, so I picked a German book. This is a collection of cases that the author worked on as a lawyer. I overall found all the stories very engrossing, and it is hard to believe that these are real cases.
There is an interesting reflection on what is guilt, and how the law should punish criminals. Given that the law judges people’s guilt rather than their actions, it is both a fairer system but also more difficult to implement.
This book was perfect for my level, overall easy to read, but I had to look up some words, especially those related to law and court.
『七つの会議』by Jun Ikeido 池井戸潤
I am very excited to have started a new Jun Ikeido. I started it when I was reading 『不連続殺人事件』, because this book was so complex and difficult that I wanted to read something easier and contemporary.
Funny thing is that I used to consider Jun Ikeido more difficult to read than the average detective novels I was mostly reading. This was mainly due to the many words and concepts related to bank loans and how to run a business in general. But compared to 『不連続殺人事件』, Jun Ikeido feels extremely easy to read! Sure, I need to look up words from time to time, but that is nothing compared to the struggles I felt while reading Ango Sakaguchi.
This shows that it is always beneficial to vary the level of books we read.
That’s it for January! I hope you all had a good reading/studying start in the year!