BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter and Ann Sherif [in Library Journal]

A Japanese writer, also named Minae Mizumura, recalls her privileged expatriate New York childhood, then witnesses her family devolve in adulthood. A Tokyo-based editor takes a countryside vacation and meets an older woman who shares fantastical memories of some of the inhabitants. A village girl becomes an indispensable maid to two intertwined families and spends decades in their service.

These narratives converge to reveal the “real story” of enigmatic businessman Taro Azuma, who overcomes impoverished origins and achieves international wealth but remains forever desolate because societal pressures separate him from his only love. Sound familiar? Mizumura affirms some 150 pages in that Azuma’s story “recalled…a literary classic set on the wild Yorkshire moors and written…by the Englishwoman E.B.,” clearly Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.

Verdict: Buried in almost 900 pages of unnecessarily convoluted layers is a sharper, worthier novel about class, gender, mixed-race issues, postwar Japan, generational metamorphoses, cultural influences and exchanges, the definitions and limits of fiction, and more. Though the book won the prestigious Yomiuri Literature Prize – Mizumura is considered one of Japan’s most important novelists – few readers will have the patience or stamina for this double-volume challenge.

Review: “Fiction,” Library Journal, September 1, 2013

Readers: Adult

Published: 2002, 2013 (United States)


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