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It’s Time For The Japanese Literature Challenge

It’s been a few years since I joined the Japanese Literature Challenge hosted by Meredith at It just so happens that this month’s book club read is by an author from Japan so the coincidence is too great to ignore.

The challenge runs for three months until 31st March and is the kind of reading event I like because it doesn’t involve any requirements to read a specific number of books. Plus it’s perfectly in line with my decision to have a more flexible approach to reading this year. I’m going to count it as one of the six reading events I take part in this year.

So what could I read? I’m restricting myself to books I already know but I found plenty of candidates when I did a rummage around the bookcases (physical and electronic) today. Here are my shortlisted candidates.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa is a cert since that’s the book club choice. I’ve read two other books by Ogawa and had mixed reactions — Revenge which was quite a dark and macabre novel and I much preferred The Housekeeper and the Professor. Memory Police, which was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2020, takes place on a mysterious island where the locals are afflicted with a strange phenomenon (objects drop out of their memories overnight. )

I’m less convinced that I’ll get to read Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama, a novel revolves around the disappearance of two teenage girls 14 years apart.. It was published with considerable buzz in 2016. But it’s a massively chunky book.

My only non fiction contender is A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa, an account of how he fled North Korea. It might be stretching a point to include this -Ishikawa is of Japanese/Korean origins, born in Japan but taken to North Korea when he was five years old.

My e-reader has many more options which I’m shortlisting down to three books.

The Great Passage by Shion Miura chronicles the construction of a dictionary that will be a comprehensive catalog of the Japanese language but it’s theme is the way in which words affect the human experience.

I’m also drawn to A Man by Keiichiro Hirano. It has many of the elements of a detective story including a dead man, a lawyer and some strange coded letters. But the novel goes outside the genre to look at questions about identity, artistic creation and the very practice of novel writing. .

Until now I’ve avoided most of Haruki Murakami’s big title novels (like IQ84 and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle) because they have elements of magical realism which I don’t enjoy. But I do have a non fiction book that I bought thinking it would be good preparation for some new work responsibilities. But I never got around to reading Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche . It’s a series of interviews that Murakami conducted with victims and perpetrators of the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway.

What do you think of my options for the Japanese Literature Challenge?. If you’ve read any of them would you recommend them? Are you planning to take part in this celebration of Japanese Literature?

You can also leave thoughts on social media using the hashtag #JapaneseLitChallenge14.

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