Review: The Woman in the Purple Skirt by Natsuko Imamura

There is a growing interest in a behavioral phenomenon the Internet has dubbed “main character syndrome”. Whether motivated by narcissism or a healthy sense of self-worth, some people live as though they were the hero in a fictional story and interact with the world around them as though they were its center. The narrator of The Woman in the Purple Skirt is not one of these people. She barely sees herself as a character at all. 

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Review: Things Remembered and Things Forgotten by Kyoko Nakajima

Things Remembered and Things Forgotten is a collection about memory, but it is also a collection about grief. Gathered from author Kyoko Nakajima’s published work, the stories assembled here speak about loss—of a loved one, of a place, of a culture—and what comes next.

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Review: Heaven by Mieko Kawakami

Fans of Breasts and Eggs, Mieko Kawakami’s first novel published in English in 2020, might be expecting another women-centered narrative. Heaven is radically different. This time, an unnamed male narrator describes his appalling position in the social hierarchy of his junior high school…

…But though the graphic bullying is the novel’s context, at its heart is an enduring question: what does a human being make of suffering?…

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Review: Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura

…The narrator offers tantalizing references to other children’s books with magical escapes into other worlds. But the Wolf Queen’s mirror world is fundamentally different. Narnia, Oz, and Wonderland bring adventure to children whose lives are more-or-less ordinary. In Lonely Castle in the Mirror, the villains and challenges the children face are in the real world. It is the castle that is the refuge, the place where they are safe…

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Review: Terminal Boredom by Izumi Suzuki

The stories collected in Terminal Boredom take up themes that might feel familiar to readers of contemporary Japanese fiction. The characters criticize, challenge, or defy social conventions. Narrators raise questions about identity and agency. But unlike, say, Mieko Kawakami or Sayaka Murata, author Izumi Suzuki died more than three decades ago.

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Review: Touring the Land of the Dead by Maki Kashimada

There is certainly no shortage of novels about hotels with complicated histories, but Touring the Land of the Dead is fairly unique in its execution. Natsuko doesn’t mourn for the past or become trapped in the past; her visit to the hotel helps her to escape from her family’s toxicity and move forward with her own life.

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Review: Soul Lanterns by Shaw Kazuki

By placing the action at a generation’s remove from the actual events, Kuzki blunts some of the harshest edges of the story—and this is one of the novel’s strengths. Soul Lanterns isn’t so much about August 1945 as the trauma it left behind. Nozomi and her friends begin to grow up when they begin to understand the interior lives of the adults around them… The novel’s ultimate message is that growing up means becoming aware of the world around you.

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Review: Tono Monogatari by Shigeru Mizuki

Shigeru Mizuki’s Tono Monogatari has a complicated lineage. During Japan’s rapid modernization in the early 20th century, a man named Kunio Yanagita set out to preserve Japan’s cultural heritage of magic and the supernatural. Along the way, he met a young writer, Kizen Sasaki. Together they traveled Japan’s Tono region, today about five hours northeast of Tokyo by train, recording folktales and evaluating whether they might be true. 

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Review: There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura

The unnamed narrator in Tsumura Kikuko’s There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job quits a job she loves after developing “burnout syndrome”. Her first career (the reader won’t find out what it was until the novel’s final pages) has sucked up “every scrap of energy” she had. She asks a recruiter to find her an easy job—something along the lines of “sitting all day in a chair overseeing the extraction of collagen for use in skin care products”, she suggests…

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