As one who bases a good deal of my worth and purpose on my expansive knowledge and love of literature, I’ve realized it’s a shame I know so little of my adopted country’s. I’d only read a small handful of Japanese classic novels before: Murakami Haruki’s Norwegian Wood, Mishima Yukio’s Sea of Fertility series, Endou Shusaku’s Scandal, Natsume Soseki’s I am a Cat, Dazai Osamu’s No Longer Human…
But as I meet more people, and often get asked about my college, it becomes embarrassing to say that I was a comparative literature major and yet unable to talk in depth about it. I could rattle on about Russian literature, and have had a few nice moments of recognition with Japanese people who at least have heard of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. I want to be able to return the favor, so I’m making a dedicated effort to work my way through other well-known works.
In America, I would never read an “I Novel,” unless maybe if it was a non-fiction memoir of someone I really liked. A first-person novel would never have been on my reading list. I can’t explain that prejudice, exactly, they just always struck me as awkward. In Japan, however, they are a integral genre, and manage to be less self-conscious and more subtle.
The other weekend I consumed Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in a couple of sittings on a park bench. Now I’m on Yoshimoto Banana’s Goodbye Tsugumi:
“I guess when you’re out on the ocean and you see the piers way off in the distance, shrouded in mist, you understand this very clearly: No matter where you are, you’re always a bit on your own, always an outsider.”