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Posts tagged novel

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms

The Street of a Thousand BlossomsLess than a week after starting The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama I have finished reading it. The book isn’t short at over 400 pages, but I found it hard to put down. That, coupled with having to wait for breakfast in bed on father’s day for three hours 😉 , allowed me to finish The Street of a Thousand Blossoms in little time.

As mentioned in my prior blog entry on the subject, I really enjoyed the Yanaka setting. I felt like I could connect with more than just Yanaka though. For instance, I spent a day in the late 80s watching Sumo at Ryogoku Kokugikan. The highlight of the day was witnessing the great Chiyonofuji’s bout in person. So all of the Sumo dialogue in this book brought back pleasant memories. I’ve always been fascinated with Japanese masks (check out this blog daily for some outstanding photography and discussion) so Kenji’s story held my interest. And, of course, there is the trip to Hakone which I have also made. Basically everything felt familiar and resonated well.

The story is compelling, drawing on the themes of renewal and hope. I don’t want to give away too many details for those of you who haven’t yet read The Street of a Thousand Blossoms.

The occasional errors in Japanese are my main criticism. Although Tsukiyama has a Japanese name, she doesn’t understand Japanese. This won’t be noticed by readers who are in her same shoes, but those who can speak the language will cringe at times. One example is her use of hai. She uses it far more frequently and in situations in which Japanese would not. Another is her use of the unconjugated verb hairu (to enter) as a command. She should have said something like haitte kudasai or o hairi kudasai instead of just hairu. A final one (there are others) that I’ll offer as an example is the Hakone Lake which she calls Ashino. In English it should be called Lake Ashi. In Japanese it is called ashinoko (芦ノ湖). The “no” indicates it is the Lake (ko) called (no–shows possession like ‘s in English) Ashi. Put another way, one could translate Lake Tahoe as “tahoe no ko” in Japanese but you would never call it “tahoeno” in English or Japanese.

She gets Japanese culture and customs wrong on some counts as well. For example, she has the school year starting in September like it does in the U.S. In Japan, though, school years, company fiscal years, etc. start in April–not September.

These minor critiques aside, this book is very enjoyable even if you haven’t been to Yanaka, Sumo, Hakone, Nara, or even Japan.

Here are a couple more pictures I took last year from areas mentioned in The Street of a Thousand Blossoms.

ashinoko Lake Ashi hakone japan mt. fuji

This is Lake Ashi with Mt. Fuji, mostly shrouded in clouds, in the background. The place on the right may be where Tsukiyama envisions Hiroshi and Aki staying.

hakone jinja 箱根神社

This is another picture from the ferry on Lake Ashi. The kanji say 箱根神社 or Hakone Jinja. “Jinja” means Shinto Shrine or Temple.

Music & Silence

When I found out late last year that I’d be living in Denmark this summer I determined to learn a thing or two about a country I knew little about. Music & Silence by Rose TremainI’m not sure quite how I came upon this book; perhaps it was a Google search of something like “best Denmark books.” In any event, Music & Silence was available at my local library. Now that I think of it, I probably just typed “Denmark” into the keyword search of my library’s database.

Anyway, this book, being “historical fiction,” probably isn’t the best source to learn about Denmark, but it was entertaining. For me, Music & Silence went through three phases.

The first was confusion as I tried to figure out who the characters were. The descriptions are rich, but there are so many characters, and the author bounces back and forth between them; she also doesn’t go with a linear time line. This made for somewhat difficult reading, but it was exciting at the same time as the reader has to stay alert and try to piece things together.

The second phase was non-stop pleasure as you finally get your mind wrapped around the characters and become deeply involved in the plot. While this portion of the book is certainly the best, I don’t recommend entering this phase if you have other things you are supposed to be doing. You will find it hard to put the book down as you have to see what will happen with the next twists and turns of the story.

The final phase, for me anyway (I think my wife and other readers may disagree), was disappointment. For all the subtleties, complications, and richly woven plot lines of the bulk of the book the endings were all too clean, predictable, and perfect for my taste.

At least that’s my memory. It’s been five or six months since I finished this book so things are foggy at this point. Rose Tremain certainly painted some pictures in my head, though, of Copenhagen, the Denmark countryside, Rosenborg, and Frederiksborg. I’m anxious to see the real things.