Summer Reading

I just finished Amélie Nothomb's novella, Tokyo Fiancée. I found it by happenstance at the San Diego library. I didn't know that she had written a new work. I remember reading Fear and Trembling and The Character of Rain. Of course, she writes in French and these are English translations that I'm reading. Nevertheless, I always find a sort of understanding in her words -- she has a way of describing one's inner thoughts in fresh ways. I find myself surprised sometimes to know that a feeling I once thought was private and unique has been felt by her. 

She writes what I guess would be called autobiographical fiction. She writes in the first person and the main character usually has her name, Amélie, but it's not labeled as memoir-- it is "a novel." I would like to think that this is the way I do/would write - from autobiographical truth comes a bigger truth when it is dramatized  into fiction. 

I wouldn't say that Tokyo Fiancée is the best work-- I found moments where she could have edited down some passages, toward the end, the organization of her ideas seem to be jumbled a little, but I read it in a breezy week just enjoying the moments she captured that reminded me much of my own time in Japan. Her climb and descent of Mt. Fuji brought me back to my climb of Mt. Fuji, which is 3,776 meters. Although her climb was more rigorous and energetic than mine as I did not reach the top, she described the descent much as I experienced it: 

I stood facing the sun, and at five-thirty exactly I flung myself onto the slope. I had removed my brakes. What I experienced was beyond grandiose: in order not to fall, I had to keep my legs in constant motion, running through the lava, moving my brain as quickly as my feet, never allowing for one second my madness to interrupt my vigilance, laughing to keep from falling whenever, inevitably, I began to slide down the slope, thus accelerating my rhythm; I was a hurtling meteor beneath the rising sun, I was my own subject for ballistic studies, I was shouting fit to wake the volcano.

Unfortunately, my edition had several typos which makes me wonder if the last line contains a typo: "I was shouting fit." I'm not quite sure what that means. It is supposed to be "I was a shouting fit ..."?

She also addresses a unique bond that is not so much a love bond, but something else. The jacket cover explains it well, that Nothomb explores "the possibility of love as a form of limitation." In the end she revisits the relationship she had with Rinri, "So that is what it was, Rinri and I: the fraternal embrace of the samurai. Infinitely more beautiful and noble than some silly love story." Here is another passage that struck me:

Between the two words, koi and ai, there is no variation of intensity, but an essential incompatibility. Can one fall in love with a person one has a liking for? Unthinkable. One falls in love with a person one cannot stand, a person who represents an unbearable danger. Schopenhauer saw in love the ruses of our reproductive instincts ... 

I may come back to add more thoughts later. 

Now onto my next library find: Yoko Ogawa's The Diving Pool: Three Novellas translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder, a translator who seems to get it right every time - all works that I've read of his, I like. Kenzaburo Oe says, "Yoko Ogawa is able to give expression to the most subtle workings of human psychology in prose that is gentle yet penetrating."



All the dead melt, 

And summer grass stands in clumps. 

(Am I coming and going 

inside a dream?) 

The Chinese bellflower lifts its pale blue flame. 

Hens kick up sand with fierce claws. 

Unable to bear it, 

small insects contract their bodies in. 

In the background, my mother is crushed. 

I become like water. 

The cat with the bulging eyes 

stares fixedly at this.

from Nine Poems 

by Aoyama Miyuki 

translated by Malinda Markham

also from Antioch Review, Winter 2004


"To Translate the Shaking"

I've been inspired by this essay by poet and translator of Japanese poetry, Malinda Markham, "To Translate the Shaking: Contemporary Japanese Women's Poetry (And Coaxing it into English)." It appeared in the Antioch Review, Winter, 2004. I came across it as I started researching contemporary Japanese women's poetry--something that I've never explicitly sought out before. One day last month I had this overwhelming question-- why don't I see a lot of contempo Japanese women's poetry translated into English? After some googling, I found this essay and the book I cited in a previous post. 

It is not easy for me to connect to new poetry (I can flip through anthology after anthology and not be particularly struck by any one poem), but I found kindred spirits (I don't know just yet how to describe it any other way). I don't find poems like these often--ones where I live in them or feel as though I have lived them--but even more so--spoken those same lines but in my own way. 

After reading Markham's narrative of her experience translating Japanese poetry, so many questions that I had about the language (but couldn't articulate because of my own myopic, strange insider/outsider relationship with the language) were answered. I also felt a kinship with these poets, recognizing poems that I have never seen in the English language, but feel very familiar to me. It helps me explain, perhaps why or how I write poetry the way that I do with my own personal experience-- being half-Japanese and not quite fluent in the language yet eerily fluent in the cultural behaviors.

My response is all very general right now, but eventually I want to cite specific poets, poems, and lines. 

Arabic Translations

On my first day of substitute teaching, I noticed a student from Saudi Arabia reading one of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poems in the computer lab. I was so excited to see that-- turns out he studied poetry and literature (although arabic lit in particular) at university. I asked him to suggest some arabic poets to me-- especially ones that he felt hadn't been translated well. I thought maybe that could be a future collaborative project. He suggested Al-Mutanabbi. Although the repetitive rhymes that come naturally in arabic can not possibly be transliterated into the english language-- most arabic translations lose a lot in this way. 

Four From Japan: Contemporary Poetry & Essays by Women

I have to return this book to the library tomorrow, but I need to buy or make copies of it -- invaluable book of Japanese poetry translated into English with the original Japanese included. 

Backside by Chika Sagawa



Night eats color,
Flower bouquets lose their fake ornaments.
Day falls into the leaves like sparkling fish
And struggles, like the lowly mud,
The shapeless dreams and trees
Nurtured outside this shriveled, deridable despair.
And the space that was chopped down
Tickles the weeds there by its feet.
Fingers stained with tar from cigarettes
Caress the writhing darkness.
And then the people move forward.