Category Archives: Japanese

what did you eat yesterday? (vol. 1) by Fumi Yoshinaga, translated by Maya Rosewood

What Did You Eat Yesterday 1Before you open this tasty title, ask your stomach if it’s full. Any hint of hunger and you just might embarrass yourself salivating. The cover is already a toothsome teaser: salmon-and-burdock seasoned mixed rice, boiled bamboo shoots with konjac and wakame seaweed, eggplants and tomatoes with Chinese-style spicy pork. Oh, be still my growling belly.

While the food here is the obvious temptation, the narrative is not without considerable substance. Meet “tall and handsome” Shiro Kakei, who is “that pretty at forty-three” as to be deemed “creepy” by one of his jealous colleagues. As successful a lawyer as he is by day, he eschews long hours to pick up the freshest ingredients – always at the best prices so as to keep within the household budget – which he’ll transform into his next gourmet meal. He cooks with devotion for his boyfriend Kenji who is as carefree and fun-loving and as Shiro is disciplined and practical … especially about money. “Since we gays won’t have any kids to look after us in our old age, money is all we can count on,” Shiro chides Kenji when Kenji complains about Shiro’s “love” of money.

Blended in with tempting recipes (complete with enough detailed instructions to suggest you, too, could try this at home), each savory chapter reveals Shiro’s life as an attractive gay man in contemporary Japan. He’s in a committed relationship, although he had a past before he and Kenji set up house. He is out to his parents, dines with them regularly, but they’ve yet to invite Kenji to their home. “Your mother is prepared to accept all of you, whether you’re gay, or a criminal!” she assures Kenji, to which he silently retorts, “So I’m the same as a criminal in Mom’s eyes …”

He has a cooking buddy, Kayoko, a housewife whose family also enjoys Shiro’s chef-ly exchanges, to whom he confides his wish that his mother would “interact quite naturally” with him as Kayoko does. Her response is surprisingly disturbing: “It’s not like you’re my son. If my daughter suddenly told me one day that she’s a lesbian, I can’t say for sure that I’d be able to take it in calmly,” she admits. Well, with friends like that …!!

Volume 1 has certainly whet the appetite with bittersweet tensions and challenges, not to mention ever more delectable dishes to try. Will Shiro ever show his true self to his colleagues? How will his parents react to finally meeting Kenji, hopefully sooner than later? And will Kayoko and Shiro continue to make enticing meals together? Get your tastebuds ready: volume 2 hits shelves later this month.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2007 (Japan), 2014 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

Insufficient Direction by Moyoco Anno, translated by Satsuki Yamashita

Insufficient DirectionIf you can get over the initially disturbing caricatures of a toddler and bearded man as the two married-to-each-other protagonists, you’re in for some ingenious, goofy fun. [Having had a parent at our kids’ school be convicted as one of the country’s worst child pornographers – a high-power civil rights lawyer, egads! – I admit my cynical wariness remains on high alert, even over a decade later.] Admittedly, the toddler/adult trope aptly represents the comical relationship here: both wife and husband are elite members of the manga/anime industry, but the husband happens to be inarguably legendary while his younger wife perceives herself to be still in training.

Insufficient Direction begins with a disclaimer: “All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.” Don’t believe too much of that: wait for the disclaimer to the disclaimer at title’s end. Let the first sentence of the second paragraph be your guide: “To have your life exposed to the public is the fate of anyone who marries a manga artist.”

Creator Moyoco Anno, aka Rompers, is that manga artist, who portrays herself here with just a sprout of hair, bouncing across the pages in a onesie and bib. In real life, her immature self-portrait is a bit misleading: Anno is an award-winning, bestselling manga star in her own right. Her bearded other half is not quite a decade older, whom she addresses as ‘Director-kun,’ which recognizes both his elevated public status as well as her affection for him with the ‘-kun‘ suffix. In real life, hubby is the animator and film director Hideaki Anno who, for anyone familiar with anime, will recognize him as the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion, one of history’s most successful series ever.

Regardless of their fame outside the walls of their home, Rompers and Director-kun are also just regular folk – who happen to communicate via manga and anime scripts and lyrics, decorate their space with plastic imaginary friends, and forgo sleep far too often to watch cartoons all night. Somehow in between their otaku obsessions, the rest of life occasionally demands attention –wedding plans, food, weight gain, house-hunting, work, and other such mundane pursuits. Complementary lovebirds that they are, somehow they manage to have way too much fun. Take a peek and join in.

Tidbit: For potential readers who themselves are not otaku, no worries! You can choose to read this as a purely entertaining, rather funny love story. For those with varying degrees of knowledge and interest in manga and anime, your reading might be that much heightened (and/or tested), depending on how high your fandom meter might go. For maximum enjoyment, an exhaustive, almost-30-page “Annotations” section appears at manga’s end, co-compiled by publisher Vertical, Inc.‘s own Ed Chavez. Now you know – as much as you might want to!

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2005 (Japan), 2014 (United States)

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Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano, translated by Matt Thorn

Nijigahara HolographLong before the latest translated-into-English title from award-winning transgender manga creator Inio Asano is due to hit shelves (fabulous Seattle-based publisher Fantagraphics lists an unspecified February pub date; Amazon lists March 19, 2014 and B&N March 5 for available shipping), the internet has been abuzz for years with fascinating discussions attempting to piece together what happens here. The Japanese original debuted in 2006; I’m not sure how long an English version has been available in the virtual world [forget Google –support the book!], but guessing from the dates of the substantial postings, I would say at least a couple of years, if not more. Having now read the book through thrice, I’m still not certain as the order and details of all the events, but I can say without a doubt that this is one head-spinning, un-put-downable, almost-300 pages of disturbing intrigue.

Composed as two overlapping narratives set some eleven years apart, the first page begins with butterflies, a set of crying twins, an open notebook, and a dark tunnel to nowhere. Dreams and reality become interchangeable over the decade-plus that separates elementary-school-aged childhood from adulthood for those infant twins who will witness mysterious, brutal occurrences that define their lives.

When a body turns up in the entrance to the Nijigahara (literally ‘rainbow meadow,’ certainly rife with meaning!) tunnel, rumors start circulating. The town’s young children insist that a monster lurks deep within: in a fit of terrifying violence, they decide to ‘sacrifice’ Arié – the daughter of a single father and the just identified corpse – and throw her down a long well.

While Arié lies in a coma, a new boy joins her fifth grade class; Amahiko, too, has survived violence, hospitalization, and is trying to fit in as the ‘new boy.’ Their teacher Miss Sakaki recognizes Amahiko as a troubled soul, and attempts to offer him special care. She has secrets of her own, however, least of all the cumbersome bandaging over one eye (again, certainly rife with meaning!) due to a recent injury.

Butterflies abound on many, many pages, fluttering in and out of the panels as if to gather the narrative threads together when they might seem to wander off too far. The winged prove uplifting and threatening both, children can’t fly, adults aren’t reliable, and the dead can still speak. Feeling lost? Go back to that first page to the bottom-left panels: the Nijigahara tunnel entrance with the handwritten journal pages. There you have the eponymous Nijigahara holograph: what follows is for you to decipher … do let me know what you find.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2006, 2014 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida, foreword by David Mitchell, translated by KA Yoshida and David Mitchell

Reason I JumpAs spare as this book is, it’s turned out to be one of the most bookmarked (with skinny stick-its) titles I’ve recently read. Written by an autistic Japanese then-13-year-old, the English translation arrives six years later courtesy of parents of an autistic child – internationally bestselling author David Mitchell (yes, he of Cloud Atlas-mega-fame) and his wife KA Yoshida. “The Reason I Jump was a revelatory godsend,” Mitchell writes in his “Introduction.” What began as “an informal translation of Naoki’s book into English so that our son’s other carers and tutors could read it, as well as a few friends who also have sons and daughters with autism in our corner of Ireland,” has resulted in this full translation – an international gift to the English-speaking many. [According to a March 2013 report from the Center for Disease Control, an estimated 1 in 50 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a 300% jump from 2012! ]

Especially for Mitchell and Yoshida, Jump provides two important epiphanies: 1. it “… offers up proof that locked inside the helpless-seeming autistic body is a mind as curious, subtle, and complex as yours, as mine, as anyone’s”; and 2. it “… unwittingly discredits the doomiest item of received wisdom about autism – that people with autism are antisocial loners who lack empathy with others.”

While spoken communication is “pretty much impossible, even now” for Higashida, he’s learned to write and blog by spelling out words directly onto an alphabet grid – he points out letters which a helper transcribes to “build up sentences, paragraphs, and entire books. Jump is composed of 58 questions with answers, interspersed with short-short stories, ending with a longer “I’m Right Here” – “I wrote this story in the hope that it will help you understand how painful it is when you can’t express yourself to the people you love.” In just over 100 pages, Higashida shares resonating inspiration …

  • We know we’re making you sad and upset, but it’s as if we don’t have any say in it, I’m afraid, and that’s the way it is. But please, whatever you do, don’t give up on us.
  • True compassion is about not bruising the other person’s self-respect.
  • [W]e really badly want you to understand what’s going on inside our hearts and minds. And basically, my feelings are pretty much the same as yours.
  • [B]eing able to share what I think allows me to understand that I, too, exist in this world as a human being.
  • I can’t believe that anyone born as a human being really wants to be left all on their own, not really.
  • We are more like travelers from distant, distant past. And if, by our being here, we could help the people of the world remember what truly matters for the Earth, that would give us quiet pleasure.
  • And when the light of hope shines on all this world, then our future will be connected with your future. That’s what I want, above all.

Although Mitchell writes that Jump contains “the answers we had been waiting for,” I find myself thinking ‘beware,’ as what little I know about autism has shown me that the spectrum is dramatically vast. What might be the answer for some, might not be helpful to others; indeed one size can’t fit all. That said, all parents and caregivers – even those whose lives have not been touched directly by autism – will find plenty of thoughtful, important messages to ponder over between these pages. Most importantly, the young Higashida surely has plenty to teach us about being just plain human.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2007, 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, .Translation, Japanese

Sickness Unto Death (vols. 1-2) by Hikaru Asada, illustrated by Takahiro Seguchi, translated by Vertical, Inc.

Sickness Unto Death 1.2

Determined to become a clinical psychologist, young Futaba arrives in an unnamed city to begin college. Before he even gets to his lodgings – arranged through a friend of his father’s – he helps a young woman who collapses in a crowded plaza. While he can’t deny her strange beauty, he’s more struck by her lifelessness: her colorless hair, pale skin “like glass,” her “mannequin’s” hand, her body “so frail it could snap.”

When he reaches his lodgings-to-be, he’s not only surprised he’ll be living in a mansion, but that the owner is none other than the sickly young woman. “Miss Emiru suffers from a terminal illness of the spirit,” Kuramoto – the mansion’s butler and only other resident – explains. Surrounded by nightmares, monsters, and death (oh, my!), Emiru proves to be an irresistible psychological challenge. How could such a caring (testosteroned!) young man turn away from someone so gorgeously needy …? Doctor/patient distance be damned (uhhh, he’s still just a student, so that’s okay?!). Will Futaba be able to save his own sanity as he battles her past?

The title is a nod to Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, who originally published the text in 1849 under what seems today to be a comical pseudonym, Anti-Climacus. You probably don’t need to read the eponymous psychological treatise on despair to get full benefit of this two-volume manga. That said, while Sickness might be less venerable than its namesake, it’s also not without subtle depth.

Take names, for example – a whole meta-narrative is happening in their possible literal meanings. As a new student, our young man Futaba (‘a bud, a sprout’) is a vessel for potential when he presents himself at the Ariga mansion. There he first faces Kuramoto (‘the foundation of darkness’) who has faithfully served the young heiress through dark, difficult times. Futaba next formally meets Emiru (‘to look at the picture) Ariga (‘to be a picture’), who is a mere semblance of who she once was; Ariga could also mean ‘to be congratulatory,’ perhaps a reference to her outcome as a result of Futaba’s intervention.

What happens to Emiru certainly raises thought-provoking questions, especially about (possible spoiler alert!) so-called ‘true’ identity in the case of multiple personalities, and who gets to determine who is ‘real’ and who is not. After reading both volumes, try this: line up the covers side by side and ask – whether doctor or patient, what would you do?

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami by Gretel Ehrlich

Facing the WaveBefore discussing content, I must start with a warning about presentation – think of it as a public service announcement: Choose the page, choose the page, choose the page!

Although narrator Sumalee Montano (an American actress of Filipina and Thai/Chinese descent with a Harvard degree) lists Japanese as one of her specialty accents on her résumé – she also lists “Asian gibberish,” I kid you not! – any supposed proficiency disappears with actual Japanese names and words: “Junie-cheeeeero” in spite of the distinguished first syllable in Jun’ichiro, “Koh-BEE” instead of Kobe, oh my. That said, to blame the narrator is ultimately misdirected; irresponsible (lazy?!) audible producers who are incapable of employing a reader who is actually familiar with the language featured in a title seem to be the norm. Again and again, careless casting does grave injustice to otherwise well-written, important titles. Might I repeat: choose the page!

Gretel Ehrlich – award-winning journalist, novelist, poet of 15 titles, and a rancher and filmmaker, as well – travels to Japan three months after the tragic March 11, 2011 Tōhoku earthquake that triggered a powerful tsunami which then caused one of the world’s worst nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima. The devastation is understandably wrenching as she travels along the Tōhoku coast, sharing with survivors their overwhelming losses of home, possessions, and friends and family.

Beyond the harrowing tragedies, however, Ehrlich finds the most life-affirming stories amidst so much cataclysmic death and destruction: a mother who lost her daughter obtains a backhoe license so she can dig for the still-missing; horse and dog rescuers who realize that “many people died … but the animals didn’t even have a chance to run for their lives'”; a stranger who, when he learns Ehrlich is American, asks her to thank the U.S.Navy for providing food, clothing, and water right after the tsunami when no one else could reach his village.

Perhaps the most memorable of all features 84-year-old geisha Tsuyako Ito, “the ‘last geisha of Kamaishi.'” Geisha rarely travel, and “[e]ach region of Japan holds on to its own traditional acts, and they are never passed from one region to another,” Ehrlich explains. “But the March disaster changed protocol and erased territorial boundaries.” The tragedy of the wave brought Tokyo geisha Megumi Kumura to Ito-san’s village bearing a new shamisen after she read how Ito-san lost everything. Megumi-san left with the “Hamauta, the Bay Song,” which only Ito-san knew in all the world; back in Tokyo, Megumi-san taught her four apprentices. “‘Even though the girls aren’t from here, at least the song will be carried on … As long as someone owns it, it can’t be stolen, or forgotten. I’m so grateful,'” Ito-san exclaims.

Such moments of human connection carry Ehrlich’s memoir forward with hope. She finds the unexpected moments of bonding and laughter, of happy memories and promises for a recovering future. “The Wave was … both destructive and beautiful,” she writes in her “Epilogue”; her eyewitness memoir – chilling and inspiring – captures the same.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Japanese, Nonethnic-specific

Wandering Son (vol. 6) by Shimura Takako, translated by Matt Thorn

Wandering Son 6Our daughter, now a senior at one of the most progressive of progressive schools where she’s been a ‘lifer,’ was recently trying to explain the specifics of what ‘gender-fluid’ means using a classmate’s evolving, changing behavior as descriptive examples. We old folks were still a bit baffled, but I think I understood enough to recognize a definitive example right here in the first pages of the latest volume of this delightful gender-bender series. In case this is all new to you, be sure to click here to catch up: for your own good, don’t jump ahead!

Nitori Shuichi – the boy who wants to be a girl – confesses with blushing difficulty to Takatsuki Yoshino – the girl who wants to be a boy: “I [boy Shuichi] want you [girl Yoshino]… to … to look at me as a girl! You see? Because … I look at you as a boy.” As they stammer along with matching flushed cheeks, the two lifelong best friends manage to repair their awkwardly estranged relationship that loomed over the last three volumes. That re-established (sigh-inducing) equilibrium, however, is especially difficult for their classmate Chiba Saori, who once encouraged and enabled their gender-bending experiments, but now looks on in anger and frustration as her desperate attachment to Shuichi grows and her envy toward Yoshino becomes blinding.

Meanwhile, the whole class is preparing to put on a surprising version – adapted by Shuichi and Saori (with ulterior motives) – of that centuries-old (originally) cross-dressing classic, Romeo and Juliet, for the upcoming culture festival. Special guests, including gender-defying adult friends (and sort-of mentors) Yuki-san and Shii-chan, have even been invited. The perfect casting would, of course, be Shuichi as Juliet and Yoshino as Romeo, but that’s not exactly how it plays out …

Gender-exploration is not limited to the starstruck duo, of course, as Saori’s wannabe boyfriend decides he’s “definitely cuter” than Shuichi in headband and towel-wrap, and adorably defiant Ariga Makoto can’t resist his mother’s bathing suit (“It’s that darned A-line! It’s too cute!”). In the flurry of everyday lives, adolescence waits for no one: Yoshino is determined to find a flattening bra while Shuichi worries about body hair and voice changes, not to mention what he’s going to tell his older sister about the “so cute” lingerie set he finds in her drawer.

With wide-eyed innocence, uncomfortable angst, and unexpected shocks, creator Shimura Takako provides her young protagonists ample room to explore and experiment. Given so many choices, can growing up get any more challenging? Read on …!

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2014 (United States)

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Author Interview: Nina Schuyler (Part 2)

TranslatorFollowing is Part 2 of an extensive interview with author  Nina Schuyler. Click here to read Part 1. Click here for the Schuyler feature.

As a writer who is a woman, who also happens to be a mother of two small young kids – do you feel that motherhood has specifically influenced your writing? And if so, how?
My quick response: Writer’s block? I don’t have time.

On a more honest note, I have a two-and-a-half year old, and the world for him is full of wonder. A toddler’s way of moving through the world is slow, full of curiosity, and easily and delightfully dazzled.

An artist, any artist, works to see the world anew. Having a young son who naturally sees the world with bright eyes, well, it’s a blessing. He’s pointing out to me so much beauty and mystery.

Finally, I’ve learned to get the writing done any way I can. I am so flexible now I should be a contortionist. I have no rituals, no lighting of candles or music or anything. I manage to write nearly every day. If it’s only a sentence, or a revision of a sentence, I call that writing and let it feed me.

And are you and Mr. Timer still good friends?
We are. But I can now go for about 45 minutes instead of just 30. My two-and-a-half year old is older now. I wrote that [blog post] when he was just 1. Now I have more energy and can focus for longer periods of time.

Mr. Timer is still my buddy. He helps me bake and he helps me write.

You mentioned in an interview that you’d “love to read more novels with female characters that shake up and out of the stereotype. More females who experience anger, raw ambition, intellect, sexual hunger, arrogance, a solid ego, authority, power.” Who are some of your favorite women characters who fit such a description? Who are some of your own favorite writers (NO gender specified here on purpose!) who have created such women?
Lily Briscoe in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse for her ambition and passion for her art, painting right to the very end of the novel. J.M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello in the book of the same name for her intellect, her honesty, her solid ego. Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge in the book by the same name is dear to me. Olive gave me permission to go ahead and create a complex female character, full of impatience and patience, who is stern, driven, and utterly devoted to her art and her children. Leda in Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter, for her brutally honest ambivalence toward motherhood. Grace Paley’s first person narrators, especially in her short story collection, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute.

Do you think writers who are also women (won’t dare use “women writers”!) need to create more female characters like those you describe above? Just as authors get outed, noted, criticized, or applauded for writing beyond their ethnic box, do you think authors can or should write beyond their gender?
Absolutely. In my first novel,  The Painting, I wrote my way back into the 19th century in Japan and Paris during the Franco-Prussian War, inhabiting both men and women. It was thrilling.

Now that I’ve outed that word—sex, albeit via “gender”—I have to mention your blog post, “Writing Sex,” in which you confess, “I have to write a sex scene. It’s inevitable.” I love that “inevitable.” In the post, you channel the words of Edmund White (“Most sex is funny…”) and Ernest Hemingway (“…and for her everything was red, orange, gold-red from the sun on the closed eyes, and it all was that color, all of it, the filling, the possessing, the having, all of that color, all in a blindness of that color”). How come no exemplary scenes by writers who are women?
You’re right. I’m not sure there’s one author, but let’s add the “Song of Solomon” from the King James Bible. Anaïs Nin. Marguerite Duras’s The Lover. I’m thinking of writers who do sex in an interesting way. Oh, Toni Morrison’s scene in Beloved between Sethe and Paul D. Garner.

I’d love to hear from your readers about their favorite sex scene in literature.[…click here for more]

Author interview: “Q&A with Nina Schuyler (Part 2),” Bloom, January 8, 2014

Readers: Adult

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Filed under ...Author Interview/Profile, .Fiction, Japanese, Nonethnic-specific

Author Interview: Nina Schuyler (Part 1)

TranslatorWith all the vastness of the internet, I had quite a difficult time finding answers to the sorts of questions I had about Nina Schuyler and her relationship to her fiction – most especially regarding race and identity. (I know, so loaded!)

In both of her lauded novels – The Painting (2004) and The Translator (2013) – Schuyler takes a giant leap into a country, culture, language, even gender into which she was not born …and unlike some who have attempted such chameleonic feats (and succumbed wholly to cringe-inducing exotic pandering), Schuyler is sensitively attuned, carefully authentic, and thoroughly convincing.

So when I wrote the feature about Schuyler, I felt a bit restricted because I couldn’t write what I didn’t know. How grateful was I to get the chance to find out more from Schuyler herself! (Her name, by the way, is pronounced NIGH-nah SKY-ler, and not “Nee-nah Shoe-ler,” as narrator Kirsten Potter mistakenly refers to her in the audio version of Schuyler’s The Translator. Choose the page!)

Let’s start with some obvious questions about language … how many do you speak, read, or write?
I speak enough Japanese to be dangerous. On a recent visit to Japan, I asked an elderly Japanese woman for directions to a tea house and ended up at a cemetery. Long ago, I learned Spanish. Now that my two sons are learning it, I, thankfully, am finding my way again in that language. When I lived in Denmark as a university student, I learned Danish. Unfortunately, that language has faded and I’m left with only one phrase: “May I have a cup of tea?”

Might I assume that English is your first language? Your last name is Dutch – is that also your family’s background?
It is. I’m Dutch on my Dad’s side. Pennsylvania Dutch, actually. I grew up knowing a little bit about my heritage, but it wasn’t dominant by any means. My father talked to us early on about the intersection of the Dutch and the Japanese, how the Dutch were one of the rare groups of foreigners allowed to live in Japan, though in confined quarters.

What drew you to learn other languages?
I think the allure of languages is intertwined with my love of words. In my novel The Translator, my protagonist, Hanne Schubert, says she learned seven languages, not to converse with the world, but to make an array of sounds. I understand this appeal.

Unlike my protagonist, however, I want to converse, to reach across the silent, lonely gap and speak, not in my native tongue, but in someone else’s. My attempts, however faulty, always unfold into something memorable.

And being so facile with languages – and your latest novel bears the title The Translator – have you ever considered taking on translating projects?
With my Japanese teacher, I’ve translated Japanese poetry. My small, feeble efforts have shown me how much skill and art there is in moving from one language into another.

Both your novels have been woven around an intersection of East and West – certainly the twain meet in your work. Where did that impetus come from?
When I was growing up, my father often traveled to Japan for work. He’d bring back the usual souvenirs – Japanese fans, geisha dolls in glass boxes, origami birds, chopsticks, and the occasional bonsai tree. The aesthetic was so different from the West, pared down, simple lines. It seemed the embodiment of grace, and I was transfixed. I began to read about Japanese art and artists, and from there, I wanted to learn the language, which I studied in college and then after I graduated. I embarked on that adventure, not knowing I’d be learning three alphabets, and that it would take about 3,000 kanji to read a newspaper. I also studied Japanese economics, with a fabulous professor who wove in psychology, society, and Japanese culture.

Because I am from the West, I see how much the two worlds – East and West – could learn from each other. I know that sounds idealistic – so be it. In my novel, Hanne Schubert moves from her isolated, lonely state to awareness of community and the other. This movement is, in some sense, representative of how the West could stand to absorb some of the lessons of the East. That is, the West, with its hyperbolic emphasis on the individual and individual rights, and the East, with its emphasis on community and harmony and the public good. […click here for more]

Author interview: “Q&A with Nina Schuyler,” Bloom, January 8, 2014

Readers: Adult

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Filed under ...Author Interview/Profile, .Fiction, Japanese, Nonethnic-specific

Author Profile: Nina Schuyler

Translator“Like most writers, I work at the edges of the day”

Wife, mother, teacher, poet, writer – Nina Schuyler wears many labels. Her youngest is still a toddler, she balances multiple part-time jobs, keeps up with the daily-life expectations of cooking and laundry, soccer and basketball mom-ing, not to mention the care and feeding of the family’s dog and fish.

In the midst of all the multi-tasking, Schuyler has managed to write three novels, with a fourth in progress: her debut, The Painting, hit shelves in 2004 when she was 41; she wrote a second novel that she hasn’t yet shared with the world; her latest, The Translator, pubbed in July 2013, almost a decade after her first; and she’s already blogged about the sex scenes in her latest book-in-the-making.

“Like most writers, I work at the edges of the day,” Schuyler confesses in a recent blog post on her author website. “Early morning. Late at night. A babysitter who comes and watches the little one, giving me the luxury to stretch out in a big acre of time.” Although she refers to “discipline” as “an archaic word,” she relies on a $5.00 kitchen device to keep her writing. Literally.

[M]y friend, my enemy, my companion, my task master is the Timer . . . it sits on my desk and I set it for thirty minutes. The implicit agreement between Timer and me is that I cannot move from my chair until the beeper goes off. … A new novel, page by page, hour by hour, something – a story? … I sit and write until I hear the beep.

Schuyler had much to do before settling into writing fiction full time, including the study and mastery of many languages. Before, during, and after studying economics and human biology at Stanford University, then law at University of California Hastings College of the Law, Schuyler also acquired Spanish, Danish, and Japanese. She honed her writing skills as a journalist at a legal newspaper, where she dealt with facts. “[A]s I gathered stories for the paper, so much was left on the cutting floor, so to speak,” she told Amy Sue Nathan of the Women’s Fiction Writers blog. “A newspaper article uses a specific form that delivers information efficiently and concisely to the reader. Yet I met so many fascinating characters, characters in the true sense of the word.” That fascination sent her back for a third stint at school, this time to San Francisco State University’s graduate creative writing program: “When I was accepted, I got enough validation to keep writing.”

By the time Schuyler finished her MFA, she had what would become her first published novel. That debut – Schuyler’s thesis after many revisions – “had a speedy entrance into the world—in a matter of weeks, I got an agent, and she sold it quickly.” The Painting was the result of a confluence of sights, sounds, and smells during a Japanese language class in her teacher’s home. On Backstory, Schuyler recalled her introduction to ukiyo-e: “It means ‘pictures of the floating world,’ [Schuyler’s sensei] said, smiling faintly, as if she’d just laid down a winning card. She knew I dabbled in painting and she’d probably found a way to spark her flailing student’s interest.” During an afternoon redolent with green tea, mochi, and the scent of fresh-cut grass outside intermingled with the musty pages of books inside, Schuyler listened to her sensei explain: “’For the first time, art being created for [the] everyday person.’”

These popular paintings of “almost everything” produced during the 17th to 19th centuries became a major export item when Japan capitulated to the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854, which opened Japan’s trade routes to the West after 250 years of isolation. That ukiyo-e prints traveled far and wide through open borders was especially fascinating to Schuyler:

I was struck by the image of colorful paintings flying through the air from East to West. Over the next weeks, I found myself thinking about these paintings, broadly, in history, and I couldn’t shake the questions: what is the purpose of beauty? The purpose of art? What if the world was knit together by beauty?

In seeking answers, Schuyler wove a resonating story spanning cultures, oceans, time. [… click here for more]

Author profile“Nina Schuyler: ‘Like most writers, I work at the edges of the day,'” Bloom, January 6, 2014

Readers: Adult

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Filed under ...Author Interview/Profile, .Fiction, Japanese, Nonethnic-specific