The hero and narrator of Spring Garden is a lonely young man who lives in a rapidly emptying building that is scheduled to be demolished soon. He and one of his neighbors become obsessed by the house next door, which was the subject of a book of photography, and they gradually gain access to the house to become voyeurs from the inside. That’s the entire story, which is charming and slow-moving.
Tag Archives: Japan
I greatly enjoyed other books by Buruma (here and here) and I was very disappointed by A Tokyo Romance, in which the author moves to Tokyo in 1975, officially to study cinema, and in reality to hang out with avant-garde theater troupes, watch porn movies, drink a lot, and occasionally play a gaijin vignette in small plays.
It’s all quite dreary.
If, like most of us, all you know of Hokusai is the iconic wave that adorns the cover of this book, you will enjoy Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave. It turns out that Hokusai lived a long life, during which he traversed through many different styles of painting and illustrating, and that he correspondingly changed his name from time to time, becoming “the artist formerly known as Hokusai” at the end of his life, a title that I found particularly delightful.The gorgeous illustrations, always positioned right next to the text, are also a delight.
Please Enjoy Your Happiness is a dreamy memoir of an unlikely encounter between the author, then a 19-year old sailor in the US Navy, and an older Japanese woman (she was only 30, but much more mature than him at the time) in Yokosuka, Japan in 1959. The two quickly discover a shared love of literature and the art and the woman encourages him to pursue a career as a writer. But slowly he discovers her complicated past, complete with yakuza entangling.
The book moves between the present, the encounter, and the period before it to convey a sense of uncertain time and truth for a moving historical, literary, and personal story.
Listening to Stone: The Art and Life of Isamu Noguchi is a biography of Noguchi, sculptor and designer of gardens, furniture, and more. I find biographies challenging to read, as lives often proceed like DNA, with lots of junk between interesting genes, and this one was no exception, even with a remarkable subject. I thought that his childhood story to be very intriguing: his American mother abandoned while pregnant by his Japanese father, who took only a very small interest in him (and her), his being sent alone, age 13, from Japan to a US boarding school, and his deciding, after high school, to pursue education outside a conventional academic education. Another aspect of his life that the author explains well is his continuous, and successful search to renew himself, all the way into old age. If you can endure the multiple moves from continent to continenent, the many love affairs and, once he got successful, his bossing around everyone around him, you will do well with the “junk” pieces too.
In Death by Water, an aging novelist struggles with an abandoned novel, undertakes a difficult collaboration with a theater group that wants to dramatize his work, and lets himself be coddled by his wife, sister, and everyone around him it seems. And this self-involved aging man makes for a slow and, to me, pretty boring story.
Savage Park: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans Who Are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die is as meandering as its subtitle. To simplify, one might say that the author and her two young children visits a playground in Tokyo where children are allowed, even encouraged, to play with dangerous tools, jump down from considerable heights onto cheap mattresses, and play with fire — and she becomes fascinated by the contrast between the playground and the ultra-safe environments in which American children (of a certain economy class) play.
I would have preferred a more structured approach but enjoyed the author often funny asides, such as her reaction when seeing an older gentleman who regularly visits the playground and carves sticks for the children: New Yorkers would overwhelm the 911 system if such a character appeared in their playgrounds!