A True Novel By Minae Mizumura
2nd Dec 2014
Minae Mizumura’s third novel, A True Novel is finally available to English-speaking readers in a beautiful two-volume, illustrated edition by Other Press. It was published in 2013 as part of the Japanese Literature Publishing Project, and won the 2014 Book Indie Book Award, and was long-listed by the University of Rochester for its Best Translated Book Award. The Japanese version won the Yomiuri Literature Prize in 2002.
A True Novel is described as a rewriting of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights set in postwar Japan. However, new characters, places, and historical and cultural contexts make this novel a unique work completely different from Brontë’s classic. Still, the spirit of emulation lingers throughout the story and a familiar reader with Brontë’s work will easily identify winks at characters and echoes of its dramas.
A True Novel is described as a rewriting of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights set in postwar Japan. However, new characters, places, and historical and cultural contexts make this novel a unique work completely different from Brontë’s classic.Mizumura’s writing style is a constant interaction with other texts, stories, characters and authors. In the prologue, she meditates on the act of writing and literature, and delves into the distinction between a “true novel” (honkaku shosetsu), a category that aims towards a realistic depiction of characters and society and usually designates the tradition of Western classics, and the “I-novel” (shishosetsu), a Japanese literature genre with a confessional tone, that includes both autobiographical and fictional elements. This division also points out to a broader distinction: the West and Japan.
Mizumura masterfully questions this division, blurring the line between the two, and in fact weaves them together by drawing on a Western classic as well as on Japanese history and literary traditions. Mizumura tries to convince us this story is based on a true story and/or novel; and in a way, it is. So she is also pushing the limits between fiction and nonfiction.
The prologue is not just an introduction to the novel, but it is its very beginning. Without even noticing, the main characters are introduced: the author herself and Azuma Taro, and the nature of their relationship. This novel is about a story that passes from narrator to narrator until it reaches us; the readers. Fumiko (Azuma’s maid and mother-like figure) tells it to Yusuke (young man working at a literary journal), who retells it to the author.
Mizumura (character/author) hears about this story when she was thinking about writing her third novel about her childhood, and finally ends up writing a novel about the story of Azuma and Yoko—as it not only resembles Brontë’s classic but also the Japan of the author’s own childhood.
The story of Azuma Taro, an orphan, from an impoverished background who got rich and successful, and was in love with Yoko, a girl that came from a wealthy background and an upper-class family. The whole story spans from 1950s postwar Japan until the 1990s. Azuma’s economic rise, overlaps with the recovery of Japan and its establishment as an economic power.
Racial prejudice, class discrimination, the American dream, the role of immigrants in the United States, women’s position in society and the westernization of Japan are some of the themes addressed by Mizumura through a powerful story about love and loss between Azuma Taro and Yoko.