Friday, January 22, 2010

Strangers by Taichi Yamada... A Review

A Japanese Ghost Story that will Haunt you...

One of the things I love about the Japanese Literature I've discovered this year is its ability to weave the present day with the spirits of the past so matter of fact. Spirits are accepted as existing. Strangers by Taichi Yamada is such a story. It's a ghost story, but more than that. There is an underlying layer that makes this a much more complex story, one that will have you questioning your own heart...

Imagine meeting your parents when they are a young married couple... The exact age they were the last time you saw them... That is what happens to our main character, Harada, who is 47, recently divorced and pretty jaded. His parents were killed in an automobile accident when he was 12, and he was raised by his grandfather. One night he is compelled to visit the part of Tokyo where he grew up. He visits a theatre there, where he meets a man that looks exactly like his long-dead father... He can't believe his eyes, but he is compelled and soon obsessed to find out who this man is... How could you not be curious? And then as Harada is invited to the man's home and meets his wife, who just so happens to look just like his dead mother, how can you not be compelled to stay... even if you know none of this can be real. Or is it real?

Taichi Tamada's prose is sparse but moving. He slowly builds the story around Harada, painting the story with a lost love & his divorce, new love, a demanding job, an estranged son and a strange building where Harada lives. But it also is a story about the love one has for ones parents. As Harada deals with life as we all know it, there is this other surreal world that is wrapping itself around him, pulling him away from everything else. How can Harada resist the love of his parents that he was cheated from as a small boy... even if it's slowly draining the life right out of him. The story is simply wonderful, with unexpected twists and turns that bring the story to a wonderful ending. It will haunt you after the last page...

I read this book is part of The Japanese Literature Challenge, which ends at the end of this month. I really enjoyed this book! What looked to be a simple story was not, and because of that it kept me turning the pages. Not to mention that Taichi Yamada writes well. It's a great introduction to Japanese Literature if you haven't read any yet, and at only 203 pages it's a reasonable time investment!

*BTW, Strangers, by Taichi Yamada, was awarded the first Yamamoto Shugoro Prize, for the best human-interest novel. Shūgorō Yamamoto ( June 22, 1903 - February 14, 1967) was the pen-name of a novelist and short-story writer active in Showa period Japan, noted for his popular literature. His real name was Satomu Shimizu. His literary legacy is the Yamamoto Shūgorō Prize, which was established in 1987 on the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the Shinchō Society for the Promotion of Literary Arts. It is awarded annually to a new work of fiction considered to exemplify the art of storytelling.

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