Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Review: A True Novel, by Minae Mizumura

 A True Novel, by Minae Mizumura. Fiction. Translated from Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter. 2013, Other Press.

I've had A True Novel on my shelf more or less since it came out in 2013; I bought it at Porter Square Books, in Cambridge, where I used to work, and it's followed me to New York and New Jersey. It's intimidating; at two volumes and over 800 pages, it's not a quick read, or a light one. And yet it read quickly, and it felt relatively undemanding at that.

At its most basic level it is a 20th-century Japanese retelling of Wuthering Heights; Heathcliff is Taro Azuma, a poor boy who becomes wealthy and hopes to win Yoko, a woman from a wealthy family adjacent to Taro's. The two grow up together but social mores keep them apart as well as Taro's itinerant life and search for wealth. Until they don't anymore.

The story is told in a circular fashion, first through the eyes of a young Japanese girl living in the United States who knows Taro as a young man working as a chauffeur for a wealthy Long Island neighbor. In volume 2, the focus, and the narration, shifts to Fumiko, a servant working in one of the Taro-adjacent wealthy homes. She and Taro form a bond; she's a young woman when he is a child but their relationship lasts for years. She tells Taro and Yoko's love story in a somewhat dry, detached manner, observing here and speculating there, but mostly she is around for everything she narrates. That doesn't make her a reliable narrator, though.

I read the book relatively quickly for such a long book, in a little over a month. I burned through the first 200 pages in a weekend at my in-law's house. After that I just read steadily and like I said it's not a difficult or challenging novel but it is very engaging and stuffed with details of Japanese life and the changes in Japanese society over the 20th century.  The first part is also a meditation on writing and fiction.

I would definitely recommend it to literary fiction readers, maybe a nice thing to take on vacation or read over the summer when you have some time to stretch it out. I'm glad I finally got around to it.


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

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