wishfulclicking: books flying with pale blue background (books: flying)
[personal profile] wishfulclicking
(I want to apologize for the lateness of this post. I'm sick and this is the clearest my head has been recently.)

This is a post for the book club some people on my circle run every year. It's very fun and lowkey; and I've found some good books to read. The theme is changed every year.

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura was originally written in Japanese and translated to English. It was very successful in Japan, winning its prestigious Yomiuri Literature Prize.

This novel is a retelling of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, a book that was pretty popular in English courses in the United States (at least when I was in high school) and often misidentified as a love story because the central characters of Heathcliff and Cathy take up so much space throughout the tale.

In short: I do recommend this book, with a note that it is quite long. This post will focus on the first part ‘On Long Island’ in Volume I.

Having the setting be in a 1960s New York with upper middle class Japanese immigrants dealing with the culture shock of America is fantastic in that it allows the novel to make the class contrasts vivid in multiple areas-- Minae, the Cathy counterpart, is the younger daughter of the upper middle class family and is an outsider because of her nationality but not because of her economic standing. This axis is well established in her narration and how she views others.

On her view of herself as immigrant: “But because I had been removed from my own country that world of mine was steeped in nostalgia, and because I had no friends from my own generation, it was anachronistic to the point of comedy, and because I made myself so isolated, it was unusually intense.

Miane’s view as an outsider also highlights cultural class differences of the wealthy Americans she encounters

“Mr Goldberg, an East European Jew who had arrived in New York in a boat full of immigrants, was the antithesis of Mr. Atwood.” Atwood is the gateway to the Heathcliff character, Taro Azuma.

Because Minae and Taro are Japanese, their immigrant status is apparent also by racial markers to others in the novel. In the first chapter Minae relates a story where a girl she knew in Japan contacts them in America after going through poor treatment from an American family that did business with the girl’s family when they were more economically secure. The family treats the girl, formerly the daughter of a business associate, as a servant. From this story, Minae realizes: “From their point of view, there was no difference between Taro Azuma and Miss Sone. They were just Japanese. No, not even that. They were just some Asians.”

Taro Azmua does make an appearance, but only first through side conversations with Minae’s father, and he is a subject of interest because he is so different from Minae--he is poor, without a high school diploma, and working as a private driver for a rich old money American, Atwood. For Minae, he is a figure of intrigue and receives her internal condescension for what she sees as his poor lot in life. By the end of the first chapter their situations have reversed, their pathways sharing inverse fates, and Minae and Taro meet once again, him as an extremely wealthy businessman, and her with no marriage prospects, an ill father, and removed from the wealth she experienced early on in the novel. Even with his newfound wealth, or maybe because of it, Taro is eyed with suspicion among the Japanese community Minae still inhabits; there is questions regarding where he truly is from, with some suggesting he’s not completely Japanese and could be Mongolian, Vietnamese, or Korean.

The first chapter ends there: with Minae recalling meeting Taro again. Much of the first chapter sets up the conflicts of class, culture, and the pull individuals can have on each other. I have not finished the book yet, but I do plan to eventually finish. The book is quite long, so it will take me a while to actually finish it but I do recommend it to anyone who would be interested in a book examining a new immigrant experience and how varied that can be, books that deal with class conflicts.

Date: 2017-01-21 11:15 am (UTC)
blnchflr: Captain America Civil War (Pamela)
From: [personal profile] blnchflr
Minae, the Cathy counterpart,
Ah, I thought she was Lockwood!

Some of my thoughts:

More than anything, I feel as if I'm reading an American Novel, not a Japanese one, the language/expressions being so American. My assumption is that it's due to the translator, but maybe it's very Americanized in the original, too?

[Mrs. Cohen] was a woman of uncomplicated feelings. She was blissfully lacking in introspection
One of my biggest pet peeves is people who are so self-centered that they think they are part of a small elite who has Deep Thinky Thoughts about Things, and this quote smacked of that to me.

I was still at an age when I believed my real life lay in the future
This, however, resonates with me (as I'm sure it does with most) - I'm glad I am no longer at that stage (though of course I'm still guilty of thinking that Soon I'll start to eat better, exercise more, etc.).

if my mother hadn't been trying so hard to make the most of her remaining years and vitality.
Good for the mom!! The narrator seems to condemn her mom, though.

He'd been back to Japan and seen the woman
Wait, I've been reading this in bits over several days, so I forget if we have already heard about this woman before? At either rate, its meant to elicit curiosity, and it does!

Noooot enough for me to finish, I think. I may give the first chapter of the novel in the novel a go, but I dislike Wuthering Heights to begin with, and I'm not enthralled by the characters or writing style enough to continue.

But! I didn't dislike this as much as I expected (my baseline is expecting not to like/get modern literature), and I feel my horizons have been expanded, so thanks for picking this :) !!

ETA: Came across a review written by a university student of literature, and have to share my shock and consternation:
whereas Wuthering Heights is a romance novel, and pretty much only that, A True Novel is the story of so much more—family rivalry, economic turmoil, loss, and the growing modernization of a country coming into the 20th century at full throttle.
She obviously has not even read Wuthering Heights to be able to claim something as asinine as it being a romance novel. Well, I for one am shocked at what they're teaching kids at uni these days :)
Edited Date: 2017-01-22 08:31 pm (UTC)


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