It’s always nice to return to the office (last week I was in NY for a New York State Council on the Arts panel) to a copy of Contemporary Japanese Writers Vol. 2 from the Japanese Literature Publishing and Promotion Center (a.k.a. J-Lit).
J-Lit is an organization in Japan dedicated to publishing and promoting Japanese literature throughout the world. The mainstay of their program is the Japanese Literature Publishing Project, through which, on an annual basis, ten-plus Japanese books are translated into English and placed with publishers. Not only does the JLPP identify top-notch translators to work on these projects, but they also facilitate the sale of rights to American/British publishers and then, when the book finally comes out, they purchase 2,000 copies and distribute them to libraries throughout the world. Overall, a very admirable project that greatly benefits publishers.
(I do have my questions about the way the publishers of these books take advantage of this program, but in relation to this post that’s neither here nor there.)
Recently the JLPP announced it’s fourth list, which is centered around the theme of “travel.”
The connections between travel and literature are profound. People go to places removed from their daily experience, make new discoveries, and imagine new things. From the time of early works like the Man’yoshu poetry anthology and the chronicles of the Kojiki, there has been a wealth of travel literature – not only travel accounts per se, but also novels, dramas, and essays that depend on the experience of travel. Some works, like Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, have described fictive travel, of journeys to impossible places. Travel may further encompass not just actual, physical journeying from one place to another, but also travel through time, or the viewpoint of human life itself as a journey. Some travel might consist mainly of subtle shifts in consciousness. Literature itself could be thought of as intellectual travel.
I’m personally not familiar with any of the authors on this new list, but based on past experience with the JLPP, I’m sure there are one or two real gems that are included.
In addition to this fourth list, the JLPP recently released Contemporary Japanese Writers Vol. 2. This is a beautiful book providing overviews of 50 contemporary Japanese writers, ranging from Ryu Murakami to Yasutaka Tsutsui to Hideo Furukawa. (Just to clarify, a lot of the authors in here were born in the 1930s, so “contemporary” includes anyone working in the latter-half of the last century.)
There are also three special reports in the book: one on the Morning International Manga Competition, one on retranslations of world classics (such as The Brothers Karamazov, which sold 500,000 copies last year), and the “top ten mysteries” of 2007.
(Unfortunately the website hasn’t been updated to include info about this book, but there is some stuff on Vol. 1.)
For anyone interested in contemporary Japanese literature, these books are invaluable. The Japanese literary scene is so expansive, and turns over so fast (it’s unbelievable how many books are published there on a monthly basis), that overviews such as these are truly the best way to get a sense of what’s going on there. As I go through this volume, I’ll definitely write about any authors that really stand out. And I really hope the J-Lit Center keeps publishing these on an annual basis. And maybe someday there will be online samples to accompany these author overviews . . .
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .
Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .