I have to admit, I’ve never read Murakami. Or Soseki. Or even Lafcadio Hearn.
I know. I know. What kind of Japanophile am I?
The kind that also finds authors like Steinbeck and Joyce too dense for my liking, and they wrote in my own language. I definitely enjoy a good nonfiction tome but when it comes to my escapist prose, a good mystery or crime drama is more up my alley. (Or Harry Potter. Who doesn’t like Harry Potter?)
Happily, there are some excellent non-Japanese authors out there who have turned out fiction stories that will keep you turning the pages long after bedtime. Here are some of my recommendations:
1. The Sano Ichiro series – Laura Joh Rowland may be the daughter of Chinese and Korean immigrants, but it was feudal era Japan that drew her in. She writes the incredibly engaging, it at times a bit repetitive, Sano Ichiro series, which follows the exploits of an Edo-era detective. The crimes are unique and tinged with Japanese nuance and her characters are strong. There are 17 books in the series so that should keep you going for awhile.
2. Japantown – This is a solid thriller from first time author Barry Lancet, an American who has called Japan home for several decade. You jump in immediately with a gruesome murder in San Francisco’s Japantown (hence the title), but the story also travels to Tokyo, New York and rural Japan. Fast paced and with a few twists I didn’t quite see coming, this was one I couldn’t easily put down. JJ Abrams has already optioned the book for a possible movie/TV series.
3. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden’s novel about a girl sold into the geisha trade, her rise through the ranks and her love of a patron can be a bit dense at times but the words paint scenes as beautiful as Kyoto itself. For those not looking for a straight-up autobiographical account of the “floating world”, this is a fantastic introduction.
4. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – In the mid 1600s, the Tokugawa shogun expelled nearly all foreigners from Japan and forced the Dutch – the last remaining traders – to live on the tiny island of Dejima in Nagasaki Harbor. Jacob de Zoet chronicles his life in the confines of this European enclave and tries to survive the double dealings around him. David Mitchell’s story line is at times slightly fantastical but his prose is enviable. That man has a way with words I would love to emulate.
5. Shogun – Shogun is not for the faint of heart. It’s thick – xxx pages to be exact – and requires an interest in feudal Japan. It’s the first novel in James Clavell’s Asian Sage so if you can make it through this, you have some more material waiting for you. It took me awhile to plow through Shogun, but having some familiarity with Tokugawa Ieyasu (on whom one of the main characters is loosely based) made this a more enjoyable read.
Honorable Mention: The Cherry Blossom Murder – I admit that I don’t follow many other Japan-related blogs. Itineraries and my toddler keep me away from my computer quite a bit and when I do sit down in front of the screen, it’s usually to blog here. So it was a nice surprise to see that fellow blogger and Japanophile Fran had self-published a mystery novel centered around the Takarazuka Revue, an entertainment troupe little known outside Japan. My initial reticence with the book (self-published works can be … less than stellar at times) soon gave way to pag- turning enthusiasm, as the very readable story kept me guessing “whodunnit” right up to the very end. Fran plans on more mysteries set around Japan and I’ll definitely be checking out her subsequent efforts.
What about you, readers? Any suggestions for more tomes to add to my bookshelf?