Tag Archives: Taichi Yamada

Strangers – Taichi Yamada

StrangersStrangers by Taichi Yamada is touted as a ghost story.  Although the story does feature spirits, describing it as a ghost story is oversimplified; this is not a creepy or even remotely scary tale, it is much deeper than that.  In this book memories of things past and the loneliness they spawn manifest themselves as spirits, eating at the core of the main character turning him into a shell and shadow of his former self.  It is haunting, but not in a creepy or frightening way, it is more about the mental weight of grief and loneliness and how it can cause a physical reaction.

48 year old Harada has been an orphan since he was 12.  He is recently divorced, almost estranged from his 19 year old son and feeling some dissatisfaction with his work as a television scriptwriter.  He lives alone in his office/apartment in a block overlooking a busy highway.  During the day, the block is occupied by office workers, but at night there is only Harada and a strange young woman called Kai who live there.  Yamada manages to capture the eeriness of being practically alone in a large building really well.

…This feeling of too much quiet first came over me on a night near the end of July as I sat working at my desk a little after eleven.  A chill ran down my spine, and I felt as though I were suspended in the middle of a vast dark void, utterly alone..

Hmm, I’m not sure I would cope with that very well.

One day Harada decides to go back to the run-down district where he grew up.  Something draws him to a theatre where he encounters another customer who resembles his late father as the time he died, he feels very uncomfortable about the whole episode, but when invited to leave with the man, he follows.  Here begins the re-kindling of Harada’s relationship with his long-dead parents who look the same as they did the day they died in a motorcycle accident.  He knows this encounter is somewhat strange, but he is also overjoyed to see them.  He has missed his parents, he has been lonely without them and cannot help but visit them regularly.

At about the same time Harada strikes up a relationship with the only other night resident of his building, the mysterious Kai, who is as lonely as he is.  As he spends more time with Kai and his parents, he looses focus on his work, but he begins to feel less alone in the world, as though his life might be getting back on track.  Little does he realise his problems are only just starting.  Yamada adds great twists and suspense just at the point where you wonder where the story is leading.  I don’t know if it is a Japanese thing, but the ending is quite downbeat, not in a disappointing way, just leaving you wondering whether Harada could ever be happy again

This book is surreal at times, not least the thought of a grown, sane man entertaining the idea of spending leisure time with his dead parents.  However, there is something quite mesmerizing about this it.  The prose is sparse but pacey.  Yamada builds Harada’s story with authenticity, you can understand how his grief, loneliness and disappointments may lead him to unravel and become slightly unhinged.  I haven’t read that much Japanese literature, so I can’t make comparisons, but it reminded me a little in tone of Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of the Hills which I absolutely adored.  Strangers is equally as interesting and will keep you wondering long after the last chilling scenes.

I read this book as part of January in Japan hosted by Tony’s Reading List

January in Japan

January in Japan

What better way to start a new year than to join a shared reading/blogging event to blow away the cobwebs of the festive season and begin the year with real purpose? With that in mind and having enjoyed German Literature Month in November, I signed up for January in Japan, hosted by Tony from Tony’s Reading List.  He’s even created a dedicated blog for the event, so if you are interested in finding out who’s taking part and what they are reading here’s where to go: January in Japan.  Tony has also added some very comprehensive write-ups on Japanese writers, all so helpful if you are embarking on your first major foray into Japanese literature!

January in Japan

The great thing about joining a shared reading event like this one is that the hosts don’t mind if you read one book or several.  Lucky for me, because as much as I would love to read lots of Japanese books this month I am limiting myself to a more realistic two titles!

StrangersStrangers by Taichi Yamada

This is essentially a ghost story about a middle-aged, jaded and divorced, TV scriptwriter who returns one night to the rundown district of Tokyo where he grew up.  He meets a man who looks exactly like his long-dead father. And so begins his ordeal, as he’s thrust into a reality where his parents appear to be alive at the exact age they had been when they had died many years before.  Could be creepy.  There is a huge following for this book.  I first heard it mentioned by the publisher and blogger, Scott Pack.  Since then I’ve heard lots of praise for it.

imgres-2South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

Hajime, an only child growing up in post-war Japan had a friend in Shimamoto, also an only child. Together they spent long afternoons listening to her father’s record collection. But when his family moved away, the two lost touch.  Now he is in his thirties. After a decade of drifting he has found happiness with his wife and two daughters, and success running a jazz bar. Then Shimamoto reappears and Hajime is catapulted into the past, causing him all sorts of problems.

This book has been sat on our shelf for some time, so reading it not only adds to January in Japan, but also helps towards reading some of the neglected books in my house.

I will post the first review for January in Japan in the next few days and look forward to finding out what other contributors have chosen to read.