15 July 2011
My Thoughts on Banana Yoshimoto, The Lake
Title: The Lake (click on the link to purchase from Powells)
Author: Banana Yoshimoto
Publisher: Melville House
Genre: Literary Fiction, In Translation
Where I got it: I was provided a copy for review by the publisher through Net Galley
Challenges: East and Southeast Asia Challenge (finally, yea me); I Want More Challenge
I know that I have read a book by Banana Yoshimoto before, but I can't remember what it was. When I picked up The Lake her sparse prose and almost brutal forwardness were familiar. The Lake begins in bed, with the narrator and her unusual boyfriend Nakajima. The book chronicles the strange closeness that develops between these two characters as they reveal their pasts to one another and try to leave them behind for a future together.
I find the pacing of the dialogue strange in most books translated from Japanese, but what I also find is a a great attention to the detail of human experience. Although Chihiro (the narrator) and Nakajima's love is unconventional in many respects, the ebb and flow of their feelings, the pressures of accepting another into one's life, along with their undesirable pasts are relatable themes, and that banality lays the groundwork that allows for some of the more magical, mystical elements. The book is partially a mystery, and it is through solving the mystery of Nakajima's past, that Chihiro realizes she is also on a journey to come to terms with her own. In fact, although the focus of the book is on Nakajima, Chihiro's is the story that grows and changes. It is her past that is disclosed from the first page, and her future that hangs in the balance.
The book is short- fewer than two hundred pages- and yet it fluctuates often- from mystery, to love story, to horror, even to political meditation on the role of art. It is sometimes funny and often strange. I recommend it for fans of Yoshimoto and of Japanese literature in general. Also, part of the proceeds for the sale of the book will go to Japan disaster relief, so it is a good, charitable purchase.