I read 7 books in February, and I don’t know if I have ever read that many books in a month before! I must say that two Japanese books, 狐の鶏 and 顔・白い闇 and the Korean book 초급 한국어 were all very short (around 200 pages). I also had already started 七つの会議 in January, and I read one book in my native language.
Mystery Writers of Japan Award – Project
Read all the available winners of the MWJ award for fiction (in chronological order).
1956:『狐の鶏』by Jokichi Hikage (日影丈吉)
This is a collection of short stories and the first one, 狐の鶏, won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for short fiction. I liked all the stories of the book, but 狐の鶏 is certainly the most impactful one (it was also the most difficult to read!).
Overall, most of the stories were a bit depressive. 狐の鶏 is set just after the war, and ねずみ, which has a terribly sad ending, follows a Japanese squad deployed in Taipei during the war.
Compared to the other award winners I have read so far, this book belongs to the most difficult in terms of language level. The stories set in the countryside like 狐の鶏 and 東天紅 were the most difficult.
1957: 顔・白い闇 by Seicho Matsumoto (松本清張)
Compared to 『狐の鶏』, this collection of short stories by Seicho Matsumoto was much lighter and entertaining. No wonder that Matsumoto is known for popularising detective fiction. All the stories of this collection are engrossing and easy to read.
Again, I found that the short story that won the prize, 顔, was the best one of the collection, but by a short margin. The stories are a good mix of suspense, psychological tension, and investigation with complex and tortured characters at the heart of the mysteries.
So far, the two authors of the project that I plan on reading more are Seishi Yokomizo and Seicho Matsumoto.
Read one book per month in your target language (I chose Korean). Check out the prompts here.
A book under 200 pages: 초급 한국어 by 문지혁
The more I think of this book, the more inclined I am to lower my rating. On the one hand, I think that it is a great book for language learners because it is easy to read, it is short, and it contains a lot of relatable and funny anecdotes about language learning.
On the other hand, there are numerous things that I disliked in it as well. I found it very self-centered, and I could not help but finding the author a little too full of himself, which was irritating. In the end, the story felt a bit desultory, like a juxtaposition of autobiographical essays, rather than a whole, coherent novel.
I am certainly being too picky, as this book receives excellent reviews overall. It’s worth giving it a try I think, especially if you are looking for an easy book to read in Korean.
20th Century reading challenge
Read a book set in each decade of the 20th Century in chronological order (publication date does not matter).
1910s (WWI): Le Feu, journal d’une escouade by Henri Barbusse | Im Westen nichts Neues by Erich Maria Remarque
For my challenge of February, I wanted to read a book that describes the life in the trenches during WWI and chose to read a French and a German book.
While they both describe similar things, the two books differ in structure. Im Westen nichts Neues is a well constructed novel, and it is centered on a protagonist, Paul, whereas Le Feu has more a journalistic flavour, the narrator describing what he sees and reporting discussions of his fellow soldiers, but without real plot in it.
I personally preferred Le Feu, which is my favourite read of the month, because I learnt so much through it. I liked to read about details such as how soldiers protected themselves from the cold, what they carried in their pockets, and more generally, I learnt a lot through descriptions about the constant struggle of life in the trenches, not because of the fightings, but because of the rain, the cold, and the continuous, crushing fatigue. Barbusse describes the war as an ”endless monotony of miseries”, and the whole novel shows it plainly in a very realistic manner.
But while the soldiers in Le Feu can sometimes dream of going back to their lives when war is over, Paul and his camarades cannot. They are 19 years old when their professor persuade them to enrol. War is their first experience in life, and the novel points out the effects it has on Paul’s generation who is ”lost like children and experienced like old people”.
Paul talks about the danger of putting his war experience into words, while the soldiers in Le Feu are afraid to eventually forget, because, as they say, if no one were to forget the horrors of war, surely, there would be no war anymore. And so, Remarque and Barbusse have put war into words, and their testimony seems today more important than ever.
Im Westen nichts Neues was very difficult to read for me, my German level is not that high and war-related words were quite a challenge. Being native French, I had no problem reading Le Feu, but I can see that it is a very difficult book in terms of language. The soldiers speak a language specific to the trenches, a mix of dialect and military jargon, and I imagine that the dialogues must be extremely challenging to read for French learners.
『七つの会議』by Jun Ikeido (池井戸潤)
This is the third book by Jun Ikeido that I read, and while I devoured the other two, it took me more than a month to read this one. It is very good, but I liked it less than 『アキラとあきら』and 『空飛ぶタイヤ』. I found that it lacks this sense of fighting for justice that I loved so much in the other two, and it was harder to identify with one character as we follow a different character per chapter. As a result, I found the story less engrossing, and it took me longer to read.
Compared to the other two books, this one felt easier in terms of language. It is certainly because there is nothing related to bank and loans in this novel, which is always the most difficult part to read for me in Jun Ikeido’s books.
『獣の奏者I 闘蛇編』by Nahoko Uehashi (上橋菜穂子)
This is the first book in the Beast Player series. I rarely read fantasy, but with the depressive stories of 『狐の鶏』and the two books on WWI that I read this month, I wanted to also have something different and comforting that I could switch to when needed.
The beginning of the book is extremely addictive, and even though I found that the book had some strange pace irregularities (some long, uneventful episodes, and some compact ones that introduce new characters, tons of information or decisive events), I loved reading it, and I will certainly continue the series, though I don’t know if I will jump into the next one right away.
The book is relatively easy to read (apart from one passage that described at length the history and political tensions between the two territories), and instead of making a character list, I just referred to the anime site whenever I needed to check a name. It was quite useful!
The illustration is my attempt at drawing a Royal Beast (王獣) 😅