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A True Novel Paperback – November 12, 2013
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Minae Mizumura writes beautifully about the life of Taro Azuma. Taro’s a man who intrigues her family with his enigmatic and sometimes dark personality. Mizumura meets this man as a private chauffer for her father’s boss. As time goes on, the only chattering heard about Taro is that he’s slowly making a name for his self and acquiring massive amounts of wealth. The information of Taro’s history is unknown until Mizumura runs into a past student who tells her the story he’s heard of the cryptic Taro Azuma. This handsome man who hails from Japan and is talked about as if a legend, is Mizumura’s starring character in an attempt to write a “true novel”.
Mizumura explains in the prologue (perhaps the longest one I’ve ever read) that “Inovels” are very popular in Japanese literature and are primarily stories that are true to life and neither have a beginning or end since that is of course how true to life they are. Mizumura found that the classic novel Wuthering Heights was a story that is so true to life and told thousands of times. This is where she got the idea of how to structure Taro’s life into a “true novel”. “True” in the sense that it is based off of an actual true story or a man’s wonderful rise in a new world that would not let him remain unconscious to that fact that he was an outsider.
Yusuke happens upon a cottage in a remote part of Karuizawa. His bike is in disrepair after a torrential rain leaves him stranded, keyless, and at the mercy of two strangers. These strangers turn out to be Fumiko, a woman assumed to be the maid, and the legendary Taro Azuma. Yusuke is offered lodging at this home and is baffled by the presence of a woman and man.Read more ›
No matter how hard we try, it is often difficult, if not impossible to truly understand the lives of others. Regardless of the intent of our motivations, there will always be veneers of persona, let alone nearly impervious barriers of anima that will frustrate our every attempt. To be certain, there is all of this in A True Novel. But what makes the story so enticing is the ease with which you so gently slide into the tale and embrace it. Or is it that it deceptively embraces you for almost 900 more pages?
Any quest for "understanding," especially as we in the West might know it, is challenging enough. Factor in a different time and place, and the disparate elements of a foreign culture, with all its complexities, and you have an amalgam so nuanced that only a master word metallurgist can discern and relate her findings as to the nature of the chemistry which bonds them.
More than all else then, this is a story that seduces and enthralls you. The seeming simplicity deludes you into a willingness to enter both physical and psychological winter dark forests, live in squalid, claustrophobic surroundings, and endure these conditions with the fragile promise of fulfillment, or perhaps the stoical acceptance that it will never come.
If absolutely nothing else, this is a tale which will remind you of why you are a reader. It will compel you to get to sleep late, forgo otherwise necessary errands, and cause you to become somewhat less mindful of your lunchtime eating decorum. Unfortunately, you will rush to the end, and then become disappointed that you've reached it.
I intend to read another book by this writer.
Second, the translation from the Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter is lively and engaging. It does not read like a translation. (Occasionally in other books, it is possible to recognize where the translator nodded.) The author, Minae Mizumura, was born in Tokyo, moved with her family to Long Island when she was twelve. She studied French Literature at Yale College and after finishing her M.Phil. program, returned to Japan to devote herself to writing. She's taught modern Japanese literature at Princeton, the University of Michigan, and Stanford, and was a resident novelist in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.
Finally, the novel itself is wonderful. A True Novel, as Mizumura acknowledges in the first section of the book, is a retelling of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights in postwar Japan, featuring a half-Chinese, half-Japanese Heathcliff, Taro Asama. We have a Japanese Catherine, Yoko Utagawa, and a "Nelly" Dean: Fumiko, a maid who tells most of the story. But while there are superficial resemblances to Bronte, which added to my pleasure in the book, A True Novel is its own story, told in its own time (roughly 1945 - 2005) with its own characters and its own setting.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is an outstanding book with very rich character development and compelling story lines. In just a few words the author can paint a whole mood and visual image of a scene. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Rebecca
The story seem to seep into me and the culture, characters, their lives and choices are something I am still musing over two weeks later. To me, that is the mark of a good book.Published 3 months ago by Pyles
I think it is an interesting story and enjoyed learning something about Japan about which I knew very little.Published 4 months ago by Judith W McKernon
This is a very interesting book in that it gives one great insight into Japan and the Japanese after WWII as they moved fro devastation into a period of great prosperity. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Deannanel
This book is very difficult to read. The author clearly did not edit for meaning. The transitions between the different sections of the book are very vague. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Karen Lee Roberts
This is a fine novel filled with interesting and complex characters. I think it is better than Wuthering Heights and well worth your time. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Jim Roche
An engrossing story of love and perseverance. A book you dread finishing.Published 8 months ago by hss