February wrap-up

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.

#22tlreadingchallenge

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.

Other books

『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) 😅

8 responses to “February wrap-up”

  1. Thanks I learned desultory from reading this entry. Do you know how many Japanese books you’ve read in total? I’m sure you hit at least 100? 200? Ive been reading like 6 Japanese books very slowly and sporadically- two are non-fiction/essay types so the burden of remembering intricate details and plot development isn’t too high and one is manga that is pretty much episodic. I think I’ll make a blog post if I ever hit 300 books logged on dokushometer. I am at 216 currently

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello! I have no idea how many books I read in Japanese… It is certainly over 100, but I don’t think that I am close to reaching 200 yet.

      I have been in a reading slump lately though. I haven’t enjoyed the last couple Japanese books I read, and the Korean book I chose for this language challenge is not for me. Generally speaking, there are tons of Japanese novels that I want to read, but I really have a hard time finding Korean novels that sound appealing to me, and I have often been disappointed in the ones I chose (the last one is 불편한 편의점, I gave up after reading half of it).

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m in the middle of two disappointing books for English. They are Eleanor oliphant is completely fine and Hail Mary project which is written by the guy who wrote the Martian. Both started off good and now they’re both just okay. I picture myself finishing these 2 books very slowly. Eleanor oliphant is a very popular and well known book I believe. I think it was featured in Reese Witherspoon’s book club. Speaking of slowly I finished reading 빛의 제국 by 김영하 finally. It took me months to finish for sure since I read it so sporadically. I like the book so it wasn’t a drag I just didn’t feel like reading it in one hour blocks or whatever it takes to read it quick. I read like 20 minutes once twice or zero times a week. The book is dense and demanding to read in some ways so I guess it was inevitable that it took a while. The way he writes isn’t straightforward or easy to follow which demands more effort from the reader to follow and infer stuff. I like his writing style with the sentences but I don’t like the vague nature of his writing where I have to figure out what’s going on from the dialogue and descriptions because certain things aren’t explicitly said. Anyways I started another Kim youngha book called quiz show. That will probably take me months too since I’m juggling a bunch of books. I still feel like starting a new book like a nonfiction book in Japanese since they don’t require me to remember plots and characters. I certainly didn’t have to remember anything when I read 光り輝くクズでありたい by しみけん.. it’s a book writtten by a Japanese male porn star lol. The book was fun and easy to read and the reason I read it was because I saw shimiken on a japnese talk/variety/quiz show (I don’t watch Japanese porn so that’s how I found out about him). I add books to my Amazon wishlist and his kindle book went from $14 to $4 so I bought it. It was a good use of four dollars

        Liked by 1 person

        • I didn’t read Eleanor Oliphant, but looking at the reviews on Goodreads, I don’t think I would like it. People who did not enjoy the book say that the character is irritating, rude and unlikable, which is something I usually dislike in novels.

          I read Quiz Show in the French translation because I tried to read it in Korean but it was too difficult at the time.
          I just finished a book by 김초엽 and I really don’t understand why she is so popular. I don’t really see the point of her short stories. I know that I am not a big fan of SF to begin with, but her readers often say that they are not SF lovers either, yet they enjoyed her books.

          I am doing this reading challenge on Twitter for Korean, and the April prompt is non-fiction. I also find that non-fiction is easier to read than literature, so hopefully I can pick an easy book.

          I also just finished Fumiko Kaneko’s memoir, but it was not really what I expected. She does not talk about her political or social views and activities, which is what I wanted to read about.

          Anyway, I hope I’ll be reading interesting books next month, because I was mostly disappointed in the books I read in March…

          Liked by 1 person

          • I googled that korean book to find negative reviews and all I found were two 3 star reviews. It seems like most people love the book. Usually with Japanese books I can find a bunch of one star reviews on amazon japan and I commiserate with the people while reading their reviews lol. I just love how amazon reviews tend to be long and detailed. There’s always fantastic words, phrases, and expressions for talking smack about a book.

            Here’s one amazon review for one of 김초엽‘a books from amazon japan . I think only one book was translated to Japanese.

            2 star review

            あまりにレベルの低いSF
            Reviewed in Japan on January 7, 2021
            叙情散文詩としてはまあまあだが、SFとしては問題外。後書きによると作者は「SFを勉強」したらしいが、基礎教養が欠如しているため、描写が滅茶苦茶で見るに耐えない。基礎的な軌道工学を理解せずギャグのような背景になっている表題作(肉視可能な距離の人工衛星がほぼ同一軌道のステーションを追い抜く事はあり得ない)から、偶然不時着した(!)星が呼吸可能な大気と摂食可能な生態系を有している作品、高加速度に耐えるための人体改造で何故か深海で生存可能な鰓を追加する最終作まで、科学描写は一貫して滅茶苦茶である。
            また、より大きな問題として、文章のレベルが低く、ちょくちょく引っかかる。例えば、主人公が「姉」と呼びその「姉」が「母」と呼ぶ人物について、突然その直後に第三者として描写される(あとから「姉」は単なる幼なじみとわかる)と言うような意味不明の文章が頻出する。これは韓国語と日本語のニュアンスの違いをすっとばして訳したせいなのかもしれないが、どちらにせよひどい文章である。そもそも、韓国名をカタカナ表記されても、本来の読者なら読み取れる性別等の感覚がつかめないので、翻訳はド下手としか言いようがない(関係性を書かずにいきなり固有名詞だけ出す文が多く、そもそも原文も酷いのだと思うが)。
            いずれにせよ、せっかく選んだSFという題材を扱うのに相応しい知識や描写力はなく、散文詩としてみると文章が所々ひどい。ハヤカワは最近この手の政治スタンス重視の駄作を娯楽に紛れ込ませて盛んに訳しているが、もう少し真面目に目利きをして欲しいと思う。評価軸を思想に寄せて面白さに欠ける作品ばかり前面に出るようになってしまった、アメリカの真似をすることはないだろう。
            20 people found this helpful

            Liked by 1 person

            • Haha, thank you so much for the link, I feel better now!

              I also looked for critical reviews of all her books in Korean, but could only find very few of them, with people only saying that it was not interesting. Seeing that almost everyone seems to enjoy her books, I really felt alone and unsure of my abilities to juge a book.

              I also tried to read her very first book some time ago, but DNFed it after only two stories. I personally find that her stories are not SF at all, even though they are sold as “Korean SF”. It’s not realistic, she does not describe technology that could exist in the future, she just incorporates “SF” elements (like time travel, other inhabited planets, robots, etc.) in her stories. I haven’t read the book reviewed by this Japanese reviewer, but I think that it’s similar. In my book, people simply travel from planet to planet, we don’t know if people from other planets have a human form or completely different form, people from different planets simply communicate with each other and so on.
              And the descriptions! They are almost inexistant! I found it very hard to picture myself the environment, where the characters are exactly, what it looks like, what technology is used. I would say that if her books are SF, then you have to say that The Little Prince is SF as well.

              The stories also do not lead anywhere. I always wait for a twist or an unexpected end that would make me think, that would open my mind to things I have never even considered (like speculative fiction usually does), but the end is always flat and underwhelming.

              You could say that the stories tend to be more contemplative and poetic than thought provocative, but even then, the conclusion or message of each story is rather naïve, I found it almost embarrassing at times.

              Anyway, I thought that maybe I just don’t get it, but reading this review makes me feel better.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m not into books/ stories aimed at language learners usually because I need the writing and content to be very good and compelling. Their idea of easy to read is torturously dull and monitors and tedious to me… also the novelty value of OMG korean culture etc wore off a long ass time ago haha. It has to be actually good and resonate with me and I have a better chance of encountering that among books written for korean people

    Like

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