As in years past, we will be highlighting all 25 titles on the BTBA Fiction Longlist, one by one, building up to the announcement of the 10 finalists on April 10th. A variety of judges, booksellers, and readers will write these, all under the rubric of “Why This Book Should Win. You can find the whole series by clicking here. And if you’re interested in writing any of these, just get in touch._
We, the Children of Cats by Tomoyuki Hoshino, translated from the Japanese by Brian Bergstrom and Lucy Fraser and published by PM Press
This piece is Clark Allen, an artist living in New Orleans, LA who works as a book buyer at Maple Street Used and Rare Books.
I think cognizant persons, those who can see even an inch beyond their own arm’s length, generally have some awareness of this massive oaf, the human condition, something vast and quite unnameable in any perfected sense. We are each individually imprisoned in the obvious confines of the self, an incredibly annoying facet of existence for all sorts of reasons, but primarily inasmuch that it creates a serious hindrance in universal communication when we try to define what we observe—love, art, beauty, humor, despair, this fat stupid thing that can’t be seen but can be abstractly “felt,” just out of reach of, of . . . oh, I don’t know. The task of the artists, novelists and poets (so I’ve read) is to find it within themselves to converse with this condition, open a dialogue upon its table and share their perspective in a veritable pot luck of musing.
In Tomoyuki Hoshino’s recently translated collection, We, the Children of Cats, the reader is invited to his end of the banquet. Five short stories and three novellas written in a span scattered across near ten years, with each tale sidestepping any particular categorization. Magically real, surreal, sometimes humorous, sometimes scary, and by all proper accounts just plain bizarre, the characters in Hoshino’s stories each orbit one similar theme—the confrontation of something at once unnamable and all too human, and their (most often failed) attempts to transition beyond and transcend. To become something other than the self they perceive.
So how does this manifest in Hoshino’s stories? Genital mutilation? Mysterious child-run death cults? First to third world relocation? Well yeah, those are some starts. It is a book which involves sex and privilege, murder and dance, betrayal and longing, drugging and starving all seamlessly. His characters are affected with such invisible problems that it is beyond their ability to contact a solution. Not that it is a hopeless collection of course, but the few who happily make their way to the other side seem merely lucky. More often the reader is drawn into a venn diagram of desires prescribed by multiple narrators that whorl and tangle, forced compatible merely by the fact that they are occupying the same landscape. It is a book populated with mystic sickness and confusion, its characters living strangely and often dying in their own way.
Such are the final words of the protagonist in the story “Paper Woman”
. . . there is no paper, no words that exist in a state of perfection, pristine and hidden from human eyes, such paper is not really paper at all . . .
And yet Hoshino still attempts to confront these human impossibilities. The barriers of perspective and language, how they bleed together and intermingle despite how often they are oil and water. Through his fiction he asks where we are meeting and how we are different, and what is it that can bring us all the closer? It is, in a sense, a collection of stories that serves as a perfect example of why we desire translation in the first place.
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One hundred pages into Birth of a Bridge, the prize-winning novel from French writer Maylis de Kerangal, the narrator describes how starting in November, birds come to nest in the wetlands of the fictional city of Coca, California, for three. . .
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