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Latest Review: "The Lake" by Banana Yoshimoto

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Will Eells on Banana Yoshimoto’s The Lake, translated from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich and available from Melville House Publishing.

This is Will’s second review in a row, so I’m not sure how much of an introduction he really needs . . . He’s a graduate of the University of Rochester, where he majored in Japanese and received a certificate in literary translation. I believe he’s also looking for a job in publishing . . .

Banana Yoshimoto is maybe the most popular female Japanese author whose works have been translated into English. She’s the author of seven books of essays and twelve novels, eight of which have been translated into English, including Kitchen and Goodbye Tsugumi. Michael Emmerich—who, as Will points out, is one of the great Japanese translators of our time—has translated most of these.

It’s been a while since we last reviewed a Melville House book, so this is a great time to point out that they do a ton of great stuff, both in translation and originally written in English, and their Melville International Crime series seems very cool, as does the Neversink Library collection. Also personally very thrilled to see all the Heinrich Boll reprints, although to be honest, I haven’t read any of these because I can’t decide which to start with . . .

Anyway, back to Yoshimoto. Here’s the opening of Will’s review of The Lake:

“The first time Nakajima stayed over, I dreamed of my dead mom.”

This is the first sentence of Banana Yoshimoto’s latest novel to be translated into English, The Lake. I vaguely recall learning or reading somewhere some sort of creative writing related piece of wisdom—or maybe it’s just some advice, or simply someone’s particular philosophy. It might not even be very good advice, or a generally accepted piece of thought. It could be the most common idea in all fiction writing. I’m not sure. It’s just something I sort of remember coming across. (And now that I’ve demonstrated my impeccable credentials for book reviewing, let’s continue).

Anyway, the nugget of wisdom was that the first sentence of a novel should sum up the essence of the work to follow, to lay it all out on the table. It might not be obvious as to how that sentence relates to the following work, and of course the reader will probably forget it on the journey, but the first sentence, as important as it is, should tie the whole piece together in some way. And Yoshimoto does just that.

Although the one line summary on the back cover would summarize it a little differently (more on that later), The Lake is about Chihiro, an up-and-coming mural painter who was born out of wedlock, but by loving if unusual parents: her mother was a bar owner and her father a patron, and although they were in love and had a child together, they never actually got married. Her family life was happy, if not normal, but it was that abnormality that marked Chihiro as different her whole young adult life.

Click here to read the entire review.



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