Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

A New York Times Bestseller, Pachinko is a work of historical fiction set in Korea and Japan that follows the lives of one family and how their circumstances and choices continue to reverberate through the generations.

It demonstrates how discrimination towards ‘perceived outsiders’ and their descendants becomes so deeply ingrained within a culture it distorts the way people live, even when from the outside there is no visible difference.

I won this book from the publisher after answering the question, “What do you think Min Jin Lee wanted to express with her first line of the book?” I hadn’t read the book then, but I liked how thought-provoking the first line (below) was. I’ll share my response at the end of the review.

History has failed us, but no matter.


Photo by Jayant Kulkarni on

When we meet the family it is 1910, an ageing fisherman and his wife live in Yeongdo, a coastal village near Busan in Korea. They decide to take in lodgers for extra money. They’ve had three sons, but only Hoonie, (27) the eldest and weakest survived.

Hoonie was born with a cleft palate and a twisted foot; he was however, endowed with hefty shoulders, a squat build, and a golden complexion. Even as a young man, he retained the mild, thoughtful temperament he’d had as a child.

1910 was the year Japan annexed Korea. After years of war, intimidation and political upheaval; the country would be considered a part of Japan until 1945.

Hoonie went to school long enough to learn to read and write Korean and Japanese well enough to manage the boarding house ledger and do sums so he wouldn’t be cheated in the market. They raised him to be clever and capable ensuring he’d manage when they weren’t around. One day a matchmaker paid them a visit.

We cannot help but be interested in the stories of people that history pushes aside so thoughtlessly.

Marriage in that era was like a business transaction, a person’s chances were attributable partly due to physical attributes and mostly by their family’s potential for a dowry and gifts. Hoonie was fortunate, he married Yangjin who after losing her first three, gave birth to Sunja, her fourth child and only girl. When she was 13 her father died of tuberculosis.

Photo by James Lucian on

Sunja and her mother work hard running the boarding house; her life is turned around when at 16, she is cornered by a group of boys on her way home from the market. Husan, a man twice her age, intervenes and forms a friendship with her, eventually seducing her; she believing he will marry her.

When she learns of his wife and family in Osaka, she severs contact and accepts an offer of marriage from a Isak, a gentle, young man recovering from illness in their boarding house, soon to depart for Osaka to be with his brother and take up a role as assistant minister in the church.

Isak noticed that when Sunja worried,  she furrowed her brow like she was trying to see better. He liked being with her;  she was capable and level-headed.  She was not helpless, and that was appealing because, although he wasn’t helpless himself, Isak knew that he was not always sensible. Her competence would be good for what his father had once termed Isak’s “impractical nature”.

The couple move to Osaka and live with Yoseb and his wife and discover life is more difficult than Isak realised. Survival is already a challenge, but being outside their native country they encounter for the first time that they are foreigners, perceived differently.

Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.

After giving birth to her son Noa, they have a son together and the boys are raised as if Isak is father to them both. Sunja’s affinity for hard work and her ability to negotiate and stand up to situations, leads her and her sister-in-law into working to support the family despite resistance from her brother-in-law.

Isak knew how to talk with people, to ask questions, and to hear the concerns in a person’s voice; she seemed to understand how to survive, and this was something he did not always know to do. He needed her; a man needed a wife.

Photo by Linn Htut on

The women in this lengthy saga are stalwarts, it is their story, their trials and tribulations that carry the narrative and make it unique. This could easily have been a story about the underworld inhabited by men who survive and thrive on the other side of the law; instead the author ventures into the lives of women, showing how they support and strengthen families.

It is a story of their endurance and survival and how perceptions change as one generation segues into the next and yet shame and stigma continue to exert their undermining influence.

I loved the book and the immersive experience it offered due to the combination of carefully drawn characters, the attention to the detail of their lives and the expectations under which they lived.

It is clearly a work of great dedication and love, the author originally wrote a version called ‘Motherland‘ which was completely rewritten after living in Tokyo for five years, meeting and interviewing many Korean-Japanese people, discovering how much more complex their lives, identities and connections to both countries were. It necessitated a complete rewrite, taking the story back to 1910, resulting in this extraordinary, all-encompassing, immersion into a rich cultural and familial history.

The Title

It is not until page 142 that we come across ‘pachinko’, the Japanese name for pinball, a huge industry in Japan at the entry into the workforce of Sunja’s son Mozasu.

We discover the difficulty Korean-Japanese citizens have in the workforce, unable to work in ordinary professions, pushed out to the margins of society where they become street traders or involved in ‘less than ideal’ industries such as pachinko parlours. Many  Korean-Japanese person she met had a historical or social connection to pachinko.

It is a metaphor for the predicament of Koreans in Japan, caught in the aftermath of historical conflicts as they win, lose, struggle to survive, sometimes thrive and sustain their gains.

I did not know until I lived in Japan that it was a business dominated by the Korean Japanese. It’s also seen as very second class and kind of vulgar and dirty and dangerous business,” said Lee, adding that these sorts of words and attitudes are still commonly associated with Korean Japanese, even those who have lived in Japan for decades.

My Response to That Question

On the opening line of the novel: History has failed us, but no matter.

History refers to the past and it seems that there are situations or circumstances that have been lived through before, whose lessons have not filtered through to future generations. Tragedy, destruction, suffering and corruption continue. Certain people of every generation encounter inequality and discrimination, no matter what they do to blend in.

However, we should not lose hope, as somewhere in our subconscious we carry the will to survive and thrive no matter what the circumstance. The future belongs to all of us, as yet unknown, to be ventured forth into without preconception.

Further Reading

YouTube – What is Pachinko? Japan’s Strangest Obsession

Business Insider Article – Japan’s pinball gambling industry rakes in 30 times more cash than Las Vegas casinos

Buy a copy of Pachinko via Book Depository


Masks by Fumiko Enchi tr. Juliet Winters Carpenter #WITMonth

MasksA mysterious novella that begins in a quiet humble way as we meet the young widow Yasuko whose husband, the only son of Meiko Togano, we learn died tragically in an avalanche.

Yasuko has stayed close to her mother-in-law who in the early chapters seems like a peripheral character, however as the story ventures further, it is suspected that she may be manipulating events and that this is not the first time in her life she has done so.

“A woman’s love is quick to turn into a passion for revenge – an obsession that becomes an endless river of blood, flowing on from generation to generation”

Yasuko is ready to move on with her life and the two men who are in love with her become part of a triangle of deception, where the motives take some time to become clear.

Mieko is a poet and an essay she wrote called ‘The Shrine in the Fields‘, resurfaces, intriguing the two men. The shrine is a reference to a location in the Japanese classic The Tale of Genji that is mentioned in connection with tone of the characters in that novel the Rokujo lady.

“She has a peculiar power to move events in whatever direction she pleases, while she stays motionless. She’s like a quiet mountain lake whose waters are rushing beneath the surface toward a waterfall. She’s like the face on a No mask, wrapped in her own secret.”

Tale of GenjiIt is worth knowing a little about the plot of The Tale of Genji and the ‘Masks of Noh’ from the dramatic plays, as we realise there are likely to be references and connections to what is unfolding here. And not surprising given Fumiko Enchi translated this 1,000+ page novel into modern Japanese.

It may be that Masks, is an allegory to one or more chapters of The Tale of Genji, and in particular in relation to the story of the Rokujo lady, something that made me remember reading Sjon’s The Whispering Muse which did a similar thing with the Greek poet, Apollonius of Rhodes, and his epic poem The Argonautica.

Masks is an enchanting read, that begins as a straightforward narrative and becomes an intriguing multi-layered tapestry of long held deceptions and narcissistic conspiracies that will haunt the lives of these characters.

An intriguing, thought-provoking read, that expands our horizons, introducing us as it does, to classic works and theatre from the long Japanese literary culture.

Fumiko EnchiFumiko Enchi was a Tokyo born novelist and playright, the daughter of a distinguished philologist and linguist. Poorly as a child, she was home-schooled in English, French and Chinese literature by private tutors.

Her paternal grandmother introduced her to the Japanese classics such as The Tale of Genji, as well as gesaku novels,  kabuki and bunraku theatre. Her  adolescent reading included the works of Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe, Kyōka Izumi, Nagai Kafū, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, and especially Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, whose sado-masochistic aestheticism particularly fascinated her.

Much of her work explores female psychology and sexuality, while three of her works have been influenced by The Tales of Genji, – Masks, The Waiting Years and The Tale of An Enchantress.

Buy a Copy of Masks via Book Depository (Affiliate Link)


Nagasaki by Éric Faye

Thanks to Gallic Books, another recent English translation of a French literary work is being published in 2014, Nagasaki, a slim novella inspired by a newspaper cutting of real life events.

Belgravia Books

Belgravia Bookshop offering Gallic Books and other translations

Shimura Kobo lives alone in a quiet suburban street, by day he works as a meteorologist, he rarely socialises with his colleagues, nor does he see family much, his life causes fewer ripples in Nagasaki than the weather he forecasts for it.

“There comes a time when nothing happens any more. The ribbon of destiny, stretched too wide, has snapped. There’s no more. The shockwave caused by your birth is far, oh so far, behind you now. That is modern life. Your existence spans the distance between failure and success. Between frost and the rising of sap.”

Recently there have been a few barely detectable disturbances to his inanimate way of living. A container of fruit juice seems to have lost a few centimetres, and isn’t there one yoghurt pot less than was there this morning? He begins to take extra care securing his home, yet still has the feeling of something not being quite right.

Nagasaki (2)He sets up a webcam in his home and sits at work watching his kitchen as if studying the meteorological charts, waiting to detect any sign of disturbance.

It is a brief story where the revelation comes early, its slow residual effect only beginning in the aftermath. About halfway the narrative shifts, adding to the mystery of how the revelation impacts Shimura, as we no longer have access to his thoughts.

That it is based on a true story is enough to haunt the reader, but the way Eric Faye narrates it, contributes to the way this story inhabits the mind as we read. Like the best stories, it stays with you long after reading and invites discussion with others about how such a thing could happen in our society.

And it will make you check your door locks more carefully.


Note: Thank you to Gallic Books for providing a copy of the book.

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa (Japan) – Eleven Dark Tales

RevengeWow! Those of you who have been reading this blog long enough to remember my post on Why People Don’t Read Short Stories may remember that they are something I usually savour, rarely devouring an entire collection in one sitting, but Yoko Ogawa breaks the mould and her newly published book Revenge is full of hooks and devices that stopped me putting it aside and saw me instead ploughing on to read one after the after.

Like a curious sea creature taking the glistening bait, after reading the first story, I dove into the next, caught in the deft grip of Ogawa’s clever and haunting narration, each story carrying the slimmest thread into the next, sufficient to keep the reader interested and more than that, inquisitive to continue and see what she would come up with next.

I first read Yoko Ogawa last year, attracted by her slim collection of three stories contained within The Diving Pool and then her novella The Housekeeper + The Professor, they are very different books, so I was interested in how this collection would compare.

tristes revancesShe has written prolifically over the years and much of her work has been translated into French, very little thus far in English, though perhaps that will change as her short stories are increasingly appearing in contemporary English language publications. The Nobel Prize winning author Kenzaburō Ōe when speaking about her work said:

‘Yoko Ogawa is able to give expression to the most subtle workings of human psychology in prose that is gentle yet penetrating.’

Revenge is an apt title, there are traces of it in every story, calculated revenge, obsessive revenge, inexplicable revenge and cold-blooded revenge. Each story exists on its own, but I read it like a novel, not wanting to pause between titles and feeling right from the end of the first story a tightness in the solar plexus and realisation that I had been holding my breath.

It’s not just the story, it’s awe at how she can write in such an engaging way, where very little actually happens, but we begin to understand more about what is going on in the mind of the character from all the little details she gives, creating a growing image in our own minds, just before she delivers the final blow. And even when we don’t know much about a particular character, someone on the periphery perhaps, not important to the story, chances are we are about to find out more about them in the next story. And so we read on to find out if we guessed right or if she will insert some other connection.

I share this from the blurb, which encapsulates something of these stories in a more concise manner than I ever could:

An aspiring writer moves into a new apartment and discovers that her landlady has murdered her husband. Years later, the writer’s stepson reflects upon his stepmother and the strange stories she used to tell him. Meanwhile, a surgeon’s lover vows to kill him if he does not leave his wife. Before she can follow-through on her crime of passion, though, the surgeon will cross paths with another remarkable woman, a cabaret singer whose heart beats delicately outside of her body. But when the surgeon promises to repair her condition, he sparks the jealousy of another man who would like to preserve the heart in a custom tailored bag. Murderers and mourners, mothers and children, lovers and innocent bystanders—their fates converge in a darkly beautiful web that they are each powerless to escape.

Ogawa is certainly not the first writer to do this, to infuse stories with their subtle threads and connections, Alice Hoffman does it with Blackbird House, Colum McCann did it with Let The Great World Spin and I believe Cloud Atlas (which I have not read) has something that makes it too, more like vaguely connected stories than a novel.

jigsawRevenge isn’t a complicated kind of clever though, there’s no need to question or ponder too deeply over it, the links are clear, but it will leave you wondering how she does it, how she maps out those stories and creates those links. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle with multiple subjects, the letters R E V E N G E scratched across the surface.

Note: This book was an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

1Q84 The Finale

Foyles bookshop, Southbank Centre, Royal Festival Hall, London

It’s been a busy month and my reading has suffered for it, not to mention having to take a break 400 pages into a historical novel about the French revolution, but a visit to London and another wonderful bookshop, Foyles on the Southbank helped, tempting me with Book 3 of Murakami’s trilogy and promising to be even more of a page-turner than the first two books.

If you haven’t read it already, I suggest you begin with Book 1 &2, which I read in the summer and review here.

In essence Book 1 and 2 follow the lives of the two main protagonist’s Aomame and Tengo, who were in the same class at primary school, twenty years before the episode the book narrates occurs.

In these first two books, we follow the two characters into the alternative world of 1Q84, where everything appears normal, until they notice the presence of the two moons. Tengo has ghost-written what he assumes is a fantasy novel, however the presence of the two moons suggests otherwise. Aomame is a sports instructor with a penchant for carrying out untraceable acts of revenge.

By Book 3, we are just waiting for these two to meet as they seem to be on a collision course for doing so and Murakami seems to delight in teasing the reader, as this reunion almost happens on more than one occasion. He adds tension and pace by introducing Ushikawa, a private investigator searching for leads after the murder of the leader of a cult, an act that has yet to become public. He has sniffed out a connection between the two, before they have realised it, Tengo and Aomame are relying on and following an instinct, Ushikawa deals only in facts and is closing in on them both.

In times like these Ushikawa didn’t like to have a set objective. He let his thoughts run free, as if he were releasing dogs on a broad plain. He would tell them to go wherever they wanted and do whatever they liked, and then he would just let them go. He sank down into bath water up to his neck, closed his eyes, and, half listening to the music, let his mind wander.

Yet again, I am in awe of the grand imagination of Haruki Murakami in conceiving this extraordinary plot and notice once again the mirroring effect in the separate lives of two characters who have not yet met up and yet who encounter equivalent or parallel situations. I am sure I am only skimming the surface of what lies beneath this narrative, but it was a joy to find Book 3 as enticing as and perhaps even more exciting than the book preceding it.

The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

Appreciating the rain is something I have learned relatively recently and how appropriate that I have a vision of it today, accompanied by the growing rumble of distant thunder and the occasional flash of lightning.

Until I lived in the south of France I had never experienced a period of two months continuous sunshine without a drop of rain or threat of a grey cloud on the horizon and so I began to understand and live with the dry and dusty consequence, those vast blue skies compensating for the lack of green, for without moisture there is no grass, no lush green of the variety that grows, horizontal, vertical, almost everywhere in that land of the long white cloud of my past, Aotearoa; growth that without vigilance would suffocate all that man has tried to impose in its place.

Children here are a reminder of this different relationship to rain, they adore it and can relate to Tess, the protagonist of Karen Hesse’s wonderful children’s book Come on, rain!  Tess pleads to the sky as she, her friends, her mother and all the plant life around them swelter and suffer in the interminable heat, hoping for some respite.

I stare out over rooftops,

past chimneys into the way off distance.

And that’s when I see it coming,

clouds rolling in

grey clouds, bunched and bulging

A creeper of hope circles ’round my bones.

“Come on, rain!” I whisper.

The Gift of Rain however is the title of Tan Twan Eng’s debut novel.  His second novel The Garden of Evening Mists’ was short listed for the Man Booker Prize this year and after reading a review of that book, it was suggested I should start with his début novel The Gift of Rain, longlisted for the Booker in 2007.

An ancient soothsayer once told Philip Arminius Khoo-Hutton, the half-Chinese, youngest son of a British business man:

You were born with the gift of rain. Your life will be abundant with wealth and success. But life will test you greatly.

Remember – the rain also brings the flood.

She also tells him that his companion Endo-san, his Japanese sensei, a Japanese diplomat, mentor and master of Aikido, that they have a past together in a different time and that they have a greater journey to make after this life. These are words the young man has no wish to hear, nor believes, though they will stay with him and he will see them with greater clarity as an old man, the man we meet in the opening pages in fact, as the story is narrated from dual perspectives, one as an older man recounting his life and relationship with Endo-san to an elderly Japanese widow who once loved Endo-san and has travelled from a small village in Japan to seek him out before her own death, and the second perspective when is that young man.

As Philip shares his and Endo-san’s story, we meet him as a young man living in Penang, a Malayan country ruled by the British with strong Chinese, Indian and Siamese influences.

His story unfolds in the wake of the Japanese occupation of Malaysia in World War II when Philip finds that his knowledge of Japanese culture and his close friendship with his teacher can be of benefit to protect his family, though that is not how they or many others in this mixed community see his actions and involvement. He is not always convinced of his own argument and there will be much suffering in consequence.

The story navigates a complex web of connections that crosses cultures and countries, tests friendships, loyalties, duty, offers opportunity and witnesses’ betrayals. It will keep you thinking for some time after the last page is turned.

Duty is a concept created by emperors and generals to deceive us into performing their will. Be wary when duty speaks, for it often masks the voice of others.

The weird and enigmatic world of 1Q84

Haruki Murakami’s work was introduced to me by my Uncle, he is a designer and as such, in my eyes at least, is often at the leading edge of new trends. He gave me Dance, Dance, Dance to read and off I went twirling and spinning into the world of this unique author who takes you in and out of reality with such ease, you soon fall into his writing’s magic – at least if you allow yourself to just go with it.

I was a little unsure after the first novel, it was so unlike anything I’d ever read, but I was curious to know how he continued and whether there was some common thread among his novels, so I went for his well-known classic The Wind-up Bird Chronicle next.

In this volume Toru Okado is looking for a job, and while living through this in-between stage, in between jobs – his wife doesn’t return home one day thus he enters into a strange period where each of his interactions take on questionable qualities as he tries to navigate his days and understand what is happening around him.

If it sounds somewhat surreal, it is – but then aren’t those periods in life when we are neither here or there, in between one thing and another?  He finds an empty well in a yard near his apartment and enters it, just to dwell. Revelations come to him from people, from being in the well and from situations he encounters, even reading about this world and its strangeness almost normalises it, we adapt to it as readers.

Revelations came to me also, weird dreams of deep wells and immersing in blue pools of water and seeing things clearly.

And so to 1Q84, my beach read this summer. 1Q84 is an alternative world (and there we have the reference to George Orwell’s 1984 another alternative world). Murakami by now I have discovered is a creator of these worlds that look and feel exactly as the world we know, they are inhabited by the same characters, their protagonists have the same life, but reality has been altered somewhat and they usually spend the story trying to discover what that is and why things have suddenly changed.

Having now read three of his works, I have found in each of them a kind of ascent or descent involved in entering this parallel universe; in Dance, Dance, Dance it was the lift/elevator, in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle it was a descent to the bottom of the well and now in 1Q84 Aomame climbs down an expressway stairwell to street level, which seems to have been the portal to 1Q84 (although Janáček’s sinfonietta playing in the taxi may have had something to do with it).

Aomame is a loner, growing up in a Jehovah’s Witness family she had no real friends and rejected her family’s way of life early on. The one true friend she did have later in life met a tragic end which changed Aomame’s life; she couldn’t save her friend but through her skills and work she ensured that many other women were saved from a similar fate.

In alternate chapters we meet Tengo, an aspiring writer who agrees to edit and improve a book that has been nominated for an award. Naively he agrees, though he also feels something is compelling him to become involved against his better judgement. The stories of Aomame and Tengo follow a similar trajectory, there are many parallels between the two, not just their previous lives, but in the way events seem to happen simultaneously.

By the conclusion of Book Two Aomame’s and Tengo’s worlds are coming together again (as they did when the two were 10 years old). Tengo realises he too is in 1Q84 and it all has some link to the book he has edited, a world of two moons, where The Little People exist and the purpose of their air chrysalis has not yet become clear.

After 623 pages, I must now read Book Three to learn what happens next and tie up the threads of the story which certainly feel as if they are working towards some kind of weird revelation.

For a surreal trip, one almost guaranteed to affect your dream-life, pick up a Murakami if you dare, he is strangely addictive.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Meet 'Noisette' our mischievous cat

This book was chosen by a local book club, although I didn’t make it to the discussion, but I like to read along anyway especially as they introduce me to books that I am often not aware of; so far it is thanks to this group that I read La Seduction – how the French play the game of life, and Abraham Verghese’s wonderful Cutting for Stone’
one of my favourite reads this year. Next month it is ‘Death at Chateau Bremont’, which is going to be a rather special read as it is set here in Aix-en-Provence. The author M.L. Longworth is from Toronto but now works between Paris and Aix, how she arrived in France is also an interesting story.

Jamie Ford’s debut novel ‘Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet’ is a wonderful story of childhood friends in Seattle, second generation immigrants caught up in the brutal reality of being perceived as untrustworthy, having the skin of an enemy. The discovery of personal effects of Japanese families in the basement of an abandoned hotel, stir up memories for Henry and lead him on a search into the not quite forgotten past.

It seems there is unavoidable suffering, whether due to ethic origin or some other thing that cast children as being different from their peers. Henry is one of those stuck in the middle, not like his parents and not like his peers; he’s an in between, a third culture kid. He wears a badge his father gave him that reads ‘I am Chinese’, what it really means is ‘I am NOT Japanese’ for it is 1942 in Seattle and anyone who looks Japanese is being sent away to a special ‘camp’.

This little badge actually existed and belonged to the author’s father; inspiring him to write this story after learning his father wore it following the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Equally, The Panama Hotel still stands today, at the heart of what was once the thriving community of Nihonmachi, Seattle’s Japantown.

Jamie Ford depicts Henry’s friendship with Keiko and the jazz player Sheldon with understanding and compassion. Whether it is facing bullies at school and in the street or the emotional demands of his well-wishing parents, Henry exhibits both courage and stubbornness, leaving the reader content that he is not to become one of life’s victims, he makes choices and will find his way.

An interesting insight into what how it is be from your own country but not look like your fellow countrymen and women. A fascinating and thought-provoking read.

The Housekeeper + The Professor

Having recently discovered and read Yoko Ogawa’s
‘The Diving Pool’, I was further intrigued when I saw this novella displayed in my local bookshop and couldn’t resist another of her works with its beautiful cover and the promise of an alluring story about a woman who visits an eccentric mathematics professor each day to clean his home and cook his meals.

Reading ‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’ is a little like a meditation in mindfulness; although we might escape into the book, we are held in its present, for each day is a repeat of the previous and follows a pattern, such as we might too if our memory were constantly erased after eighty minutes, the habits we would continually follow, because we have been reduced to the very core of our nature, without the accumulation of memory from yesterday, last week or last year.

The Professor is a mathematics genius, whose memory ceased functioning after an accident some years before, so while he retains his mathematical genius and his long term memory before the accident, he has lost his short term memory.  It lasts only eighty minutes and so he has devised crude methods to remember things, such as pinning small pieces of paper to his suit to remind him of important facts, otherwise he starts every day anew.

The housekeeper arrives each morning and introduces herself as if they have never met. Slowly, she and her ten year old son, whom the Professor refers to as Root – a reference to the square root sign and his hair, are drawn into the Professor’s reduced world where numbers reign supreme and the two visitors begin to understand the magic and meaning behind what they had always thought of as ordinary numbers.

Whether you hated mathematics at school or loved it like I did, you will find yourself attracted to the arithmetic secrets the Professor unveils, which stir more than a mild curiosity in the significance of certain numbers and the challenge of elegant equations, as both the housekeeper and her son discover to their own delight.

Eternal truths are ultimately invisible , and you won’t find them in material things or natural phenomena, or even in human emotions.  Mathematics, however, can illuminate them, can give them expression – in fact, nothing can prevent it from doing so.

In essence, it is a meditation on the simplicity of life and an introduction to the complexity and significance of numbers; it is about letting go and accepting things the way they are and deriving small pleasures from the mundane.

Yoko Ogawa’s writing and storytelling flows like a sparkling river, it draws you in and carries you along; there are few surprises just gradual awakenings. There is a vulnerability to each of the main characters that we pick up on, which forewarns us, characters we become sympathetic to, whom I was sad to leave behind but will be revisiting again for sure.

Eerie, Evocative, Engrossing – The Diving Pool

I picked up this slim volume of three enticing novellas during one of my scouts of the excellent Oxfam bookshops in London recently. I was intrigued by the cover and the discovery of an international author I had not read before whose credentials intrigue but I was sold by the quote on the cover by Nobel Prize-winning author Kenzaburō Ōe.

“Yoko Ogawa is able to give expression to the most subtle workings of human psychology in prose that is gentle yet penetrating.”

Yoko Ogawa for those like me who have not come across her before, has published more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, she has won every major Japanese literary award and her fiction has also appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space
and Zoetrope.

From unknown to me until the last couple of months, I wander into my local bookshop this week and see Ogawa’s more recently published novella ‘The Housekeeper and the Professor’ sitting on a small table next to Murakami’s big fat ‘1Q84’ and Jonathan Franzen’s sizeable ‘Freedom’, names that need no introduction. So in anticipation of reading a second of her lovely slim books, I will tell you about the first.

‘The Diving Pool’ is both the title of this collection and the first of three novellas contained within; it introduces us to Aya, an introverted teenage girl with foster orphan siblings who feels distant from her family, yet finds a closeness being in the proximity of and observing her foster brother without his knowledge – she sits in the bleachers and studies his form, watching him with obsessive infatuation as he executes each flawless dive with his smooth, sculpted body. The depths of her infatuation rarely break the surface and spill over into engagement or physical contact though she desires it; she does not provoke, she wills it.

Ogawa depicts the girl’s keen observations and cruel impulse with the precision of a surgeon’s knife, slicing into the mind of a daughter with a disturbing transparency that entices the reader to continue to see just how far she will go.

It is a story that is worth rereading a second time from a writing perspective, not just the carefully crafted words, but what it is that the author does to create that effect of getting under your skin when reading it. I’ll definitely be adding her next book to my collection, her evocative style is addictive indeed.