There are two novellas in Maki Kashimada’s Touring the Land of the Dead and both are…interesting.
Both novellas have been translated into English from Japanese by Haydn Trowell and I would be curious to know if these translations are true to Kashimada’s writing or if they have been reworked to suit what would be pliable to a North American audience. I do hope the stories are true to the author’s intent as the reason I love reading is to hear different voices and perspectives.
In Touring the Land of the Dead, we meet Natsuko’s husband Taichi, who hasn’t worked for years due to an illness that involved a complicated and dangerous surgery. (The disease could have been epilepsy, although they never gave a name to it.) The couple get by on Natsuko’s part-time job. When we meet the pair, Natsuko has booked a night away at what was once a luxury spa, one that her grandfather took her mother to when she was a little girl.
We learn through Natsuko’s memories and internal monology – the couple doesn’t talk to each other that much – that her family had money, but the fortune dried up during her childhood, but she, her brother and her mother lived beyond their means because of her mother’s refusal to accept their new life.
I didn’t like the mother or the brother that much, but perhaps that is the point. I never figured out Taichi, mainly because while he was important – sort of – to Natsuko, he really was just there, a figure to pity, but perhaps also envy.
Natsuko was an interesting character, who is badly treated by her family, but comes to realize, over the course of the trip, the importance of her husband.
“Their costly sojourn triggers hard but ultimately redemptive memories connected to her family’s complicated history.”
According to the book flap, Ninety-Nine Kisses was modeled on The Makioka Sister’s, “Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s classic story.”
I am not sure what the later book was about, this one was bizarre. It follows the story of four unmarried sisters “in a historical, close-knit neighbourhood of contemporary Tokyo.” The four sisters are close, with one sister having a “sister complex” as a friend told her. When a stranger comes into town, the sisters go boy crazy and we watch as this man unintentionally tears the relationship apart.
Bizarre might be the correct world for this novella. I am not sure I loved any of the characters, although I did enjoy the look into their lives and their thought processes.