Mid-month update

Once again, I am reading too many books at the same time 🤯 I’ve decided to write a mid-month update because I need to try and focus on finishing my current books before starting new ones. I also need to finish some of them before the end of this month.

Books I’d like to finish this month

First of all, I am not really liking The Quiet American by Graham Greene, which is surprising because the books I choose for my 20th Century Reading challenge are all great works of literature, and I have loved every one of them so far. Another problem is that I don’t feel like I am learning much about Vietnam through it, but the story is also not compelling enough that it makes me want to do my own research. (For example, I read every single Wikipedia article related to the Boxer Revolution and the main actors of the time when I was reading Sandalwood Death). The novel is very short though, so I really want to finish it.

I am only at page 43 of 175 pages. I still have 132 pages to read, so roughly 9 pages per day. Given that it is in English, it should not be a problem.

I am loving the book I read for the #22tlreadingchallenge, which is 기억 서점 by 정명섭 (Jeong Myeongseop). I first picked another book for this challenge, but it was not for me, and I gave it up and chose another one. I am glad I did, but it also means that I started it a little bit later in the month. It is easy to read and the story is engrossing (a story of vengeance that takes place in bookshop? sure!), so I have no doubt that I will be able to finish it on time. I just need to prioritise it a little over other books.

I am at page 116 of 281, so I still have 165 pages to go. It’s only 11 pages a day, but it’s in Korean so… focus focus.

Finally, I really want to read at least one winner of the Mystery Writers of Japan award per month, but I still haven’t started one yet… The next winner on my list is 殺意という名の家畜 by Tensei Kono (河野典生). It is described as hardboiled fiction which is really not my favourite genre when it comes to crime fiction, so I have not been very motivated to start it. It is short (259 pages), so if I started it today, I would have to read 17 pages a day to finish it in June, which is going to be tough, especially given that I have the other two books to finish too. It really depends on the book I think, both the level and the story.

These are the books I would love to finish this month. Obviously, nothing bad will happen if I don’t, but I would feel better if I do, so I’ll try!

Other books

One of my favourite books from my current reads is 白光 by Mikihiko Renjo (連城三紀彦). I am really loving it though I also wonder if it will be able to stay engaging until the end. I am about halfway through, and I feel like we are going over the same things again and again. We’ll see!

I am also reading two books in Korean that are translated from Japanese. This is part of my project to read Japanese fiction in Korean translation to improve my Korean through novels that both correspond to my level and trigger my interest. I really have a hard time finding good and easy crime fiction written by Korean authors, whereas there are tons of entertaining detective/mystery novels in Japanese that are easy to read.

오 해피 데이 by Hideo Okuda (奥田英朗) (translated by 김난주, original title 家日和) is not a mystery though, but I absolutely loved another book I read by Hideo Okuda in Japanese, so that’s why I picked this author. I must say that I don’t love 家日和 as much as the other one, but it is still fine… and easy to read. Good thing is that the book is a collection of short stories so I can put it aside for longer periods of time, come back to it, just read one story and move on to other books. I read 3 out of the 6 short stories, so I am exactly halfway through it.

At the beginning of the month I also started 밀실살인 게임 by Shogo Utano (歌野晶午) (translated by 김은모, original title 密室殺人ゲーム). I have never read Shogo Utano in Japanese yet, but I will for sure, given that one of his novels have won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award in 2004. As for 密室殺人ゲーム, it is okay but not as exciting as I thought it would be. It is also very long (475 pages) so starting it when I have so many other books to read was certainly a mistake. I am only at page 82, so what I should do is to read a little bit regularly to not forget the story.

And finally, I decided to learn Chinese because… why not? I studied it at school, but I haven’t touched the language for years now, and I have forgotten a lot. I still remember most of the grammar though, and I have kept in touch with characters through Japanese, so I figured I could just pick a novel and use it to study the language and learn new words. I chose 13•67 by Chan Ho-kei (陳浩基). The first chapter was really difficult and I had to look up tons of words, but the second one was much easier. It is a slow progress though, I guess that it will take me several months to read the whole novel…

My favourite books so far are 13•67, 白光 and 기억 서점.

I will try to finish the “June” books, but I doubt that it is realistic to start and finish the winner of the MWJ award 😬

In any case, I won’t start another book unless I finish at least 3 or 4 books from this list!

May readings

A good part of my readings of May have been about WW2, mainly because my 20th Century Reading Challenge has brought me to the 1940s this month. I only read one winner of the Mystery Writers of Japan Award, so that is a bit of a disappointment, but I am keeping up with all the challenges!

20th Century reading challenge

Read a book set in each decade of the 20th Century in chronological order (publication date does not matter).

I chose to read about the Pacific War, mainly because this is an area that I am less familiar with than the war in Europe. When I read about WW1 in February, I chose to read a German and a French book together, and I loved the experience, so I decided to do the same for the Pacific War, choosing a Japanese and an American book.

“They died gloriously on the field of honor for the emperor”, is what their families would be told. In reality, their lives were wasted on a muddy, stinking slope for no good reason.

With the Old Breed, Eugene Sledge

『野火』by Shohei Ooka (大岡昇平) | With the Old Breed by Eugene Sledge

As I feared, 『野火』was very difficult to read for me, and unfortunately, I was not able to finish it. I read it very slowly and made it to about half of the novel.

The novel is really a big surprise to me. I was expecting Shohei Ooka to describe the training, the combats, the harsh conditions of living, the comradeship between the soldiers… but our protagonist, Tamura, is completely and utterly alone. This makes for long description of the nature around him and thoughts about life and death which were hard to read in Japanese.

With the Old Breed was an incredible read, it is both very detailed and easy to follow for someone who is not familiar with military tactics and jargon. Eugene Sledge describes how the prolonged shelling, the stress and the conditions in which they were fighting (the rain, the mud, the stench of dead bodies…) affected the men and pushed them to the boundaries of sanity. But something remains unshaken until the end: the comradeship between them. Sledge talks of “loyalty”, ”devotion” and ”love” and ends his memoir saying ”That esprit de corps sustained us”.

It is that ”esprit de corps” that is lacking to Tamura. Rejected by his company because of his illness but not admitted to the hospital either, Tamura is alone. Harassed by the constant shelling, Eugene Sledge made a promise to himself: he might die, but he will not loose his sanity. Tamura is not under enemy fire, he is not fighting, but his mind starts to break. The two books are like a reversed image of each other.

I will try to find the English translation of 『野火』and read in parallel to finish it.

Facing the Mountain by Daniel James Brown

I did not read Facing the Mountain as part of my 20th Century Reading Challenge, but as it was also about WW2, I will include it here.

Facing the Mountain will certainly be the most important book I have read this year. Daniel James Brown gives a fantastic account of how the attack on Pearl Harbor affected Japanese-American families living in the US, mainland and Hawaii. I feel ashamed because I never really thought about it before, and even if I had, I would never have been able to imagine the extent of the discrimination and the injustice they suffered. I also didn’t know about the 442nd Battalion who fought in Europe.

The book is fantastic, so well written and based on so much research. I listened to the audiobook version read by Louis Ozawa, and it was so intense, I could not put it down.

Mystery Writers of Japan Award – Project

Read all the available winners of the MWJ award for fiction (in chronological order).

I only read just one book this month, but it was such a good one!

『夜の終る時』by Shoji Yuki (結城昌治)

This book is a 警察小説 or police procedural, and this might be one of my favourite sub-genre when it comes to detective fiction. Shoji Yuki describes in a very realistic manner the work of the police, the problems that arise internally, and the conditions in which the detectives work (long working hours, low pay). We learn about the hierarchy and how much easier it is to achieve a higher rank through education than through internal promotion, which leaves some veterans bitter. Another interesting fact, was the difference between the older generation of policemen who are entirely dedicated to their work but whose methods are not always ethical, and the younger generation who is not ready to give up their personal life and hobbies for their job.

The different short stories emphasise a lot the relation between police and yakuza, how they inevitably come to work together, and how it can also lead to corruption or difficult choices.

The first story, 夜の終る, which is more a novella than a short story, was by far the most impactful and engrossing. The other stories, much shorter, felt a bit repetitive after a while, but they were all equally good.


Read one book per month in your target language (I chose Korean). Check out the prompts here.

The prompt for May was ”a translated book” so I chose to read a Japanese book I had on my reading list for a while.

여섯명의 거짓말쟁이 대학생 (六人の嘘つきな大学生) by Akinari Asakura (浅倉秋成), translated by Sohyeon Nam (남소현)

I did not really like this book, but I think that it was not a book for me in the first place. I might have let myself be influenced by all the hype around it. The cover is awesome, the setting interesting, and after all, it is a mystery.

But in terms of mystery, this one was rather a light one. I did not find the premise on which the mystery is based to be very exciting, but the problem is that the whole novel revolves around it. Of course, there are numerous twists and we get to see things from different angles, but there are not really new elements or new events added to the first mystery.

I also found that the book tended to explain things that were obvious, which was a bit annoying. The first part, which might be the most interesting one, felt very frustrating to me, because, from my point of view, the characters’ actions and decisions were all wrong. The second part was a bit weaker in my opinion, again, certainly because the novel keeps on exhausting the same premise without adding enough new elements. Finally, I really did not like the end, not that it is bad, but it showed that this is not the kind of book that I enjoy reading.

There are numerous other little things that I did not like, but I don’t think that it is worth pointing them out. The book was simply not for me. If you like a lighter mystery (no murder, nothing really bad happening), you will certainly find this book great. It has numerous twists, characters that you are bound to grow attached to as the novel progresses, some good moments of deduction, interesting reflections on the absurd competitive marathon students must go through to find a job, and even a heart warming touch here and there.