Strangers by Taichi Yamada – Review

StrangersTaichi Yamada  山田 太一

Translated from the Japanese by Wayne P. Lammers

Faber and Faber (2006), 203 pages

Country: Japan  Japan

Awards: Yamamoto Shūgorō Prize (山本周五郎賞) Winner 1988

Originally published as Ijin-tachi to no Natsu, 異人たちとの夏, in 1987

I love Japanese fiction.  I love the clearness of the prose, it’s ability to make the ordinary seem incredibly strange and terrifying.  In film form The Ring is perhaps the classic example of this skill.  A commonplace modern object, the video cassette tape, is transformed into a terrifying vehicle of death.  Like many people my favourite Japanese author is Haruki Murakami.  The mundane and the miraculous mesh seamlessly in his novels.  Japanese authors seem to have the amazing ability to allow the reader to suspend disbelief in a way that doesn’t seem forced.  The universes they create are wonderfully elegant, their simplicity belies the deeper meanings hidden within.

Sensoji-Temple-Tokyo

Strangers also finds the extraordinary in the everyday modern world but in this case the ghosts are the protagonist’s (Harada) parents.  The story is a first person narrative with only a few main characters.  Yamada successfully makes an apartment block seem the perfect location for a ghost story as it emerges that there are only two residents in the building at night.  Harada is a scriptwriter struggling to come to terms with his divorce and his best friend’s (Mamiya) admission that he wants to start seeing Harada’s ex-wife.  Harada’s existence is portrayed as a lonely one as he struggles to find an identity as a solitary person in Tokyo.  Harada was orphaned as a child and rarely sees his own son.  Perhaps due to the stress of his divorce Harada begins to develop a relationship with the ghosts of his dead parents.  But this relationship is seen to have a physical cost.  Straddling the border between life and death is shown to have physical consequences for Harada.  He also starts a relationship with Kei, the only other night time resident of the apartment block.  Yamada explores the effect that the unresolved past can have on the present and how the modern world has altered the notion of familial security.

Strangers ends with a surprising twist that makes the reader question all the events that have gone before.  It’s also a love story of sorts as Harada bonds with his parents and begins to fall in love with Kei.  Despite the dark subject matter Strangers is never depressing.  For fans of Japanese literature Strangers is definitely worth a look.

8/10

Related Links: JLit, Books from Japan – Website dedicated to Japanese literature

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