An avid reader, my usual genres of choice range from historical to literary fiction, epic sagas and espionage and psychological thrillers as well as, obviously, books either set in Japan or written by Japanese authors. So, that gives me plenty of scope to hit, and usually exceed, my annual Goodreads challenge of 100 books. Not included on that list is either fantasy or science fiction but I will make an exception if there’s a crossover with one of my other genres of choice. Therefore, I recently read ‘Klara Under the Sun’ by Kazuo Ishiguro a novel about Artificial Intelligence and in particular Artificial Friends or android. It was his first published novel since he received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017.
Kaz, or, to give him his full name and title, Sir Kazuo Ishiguro OBE FRSA FRSL, was born in Nagasaki, Japan in 1954 and moved to England with his parents when he was five years old. Now, a naturalized British citizen, he writes in English and much prefers to talk in my mother tongue rather than Japanese. His books range from post-war novels set in Japan (A Pale View of the Hills), to the fictional memoir of an English butler in a stately home (the Booker prize winner, ‘Remains of the Day’) to historical fantasy (A Buried Giant), to the more speculative works such as Never Let Me Go and now Klara Under the Sun. Despite my misgivings about the latter’s subject matter, the purity of his prose had me entranced from the beginning. Told through the eyes of Klara who is chosen from a shop window to be an Artificial Friend to Josie, it explores the developing relationships between Klara and her adoptive family. Suspenseful and at times emotional (yes, robots do have feelings), it’s easy to understand why the author has won some of the world’s top literary awards.
When he won the Nobel, Japanese TV news programmes interviewed residents of Nagasaki for their reaction. Few had read his books, which would have to be translated into Japanese in order for them to do so but most were proud that a native of their city had reached such literary heights.
Unlike Haruki Murakami, another Japanese author whose books I’ve read and thoroughly enjoy who is a long-term contender. Despite having had his books translated into many languages and being the recipient of many prizes, he’s always missed out on the ‘big one’ much to his fans’ disappointment. Although his best known books are probably the earlier ones such as ‘Wild Sheep Chase’ and ‘Norwegian Wood’, one of my favourites is ‘Kafka on the Shore’.
Murakami is a great music fan. A former owner of a Jazz café, music often features in his writing, and as the day of the announcement of the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature approaches, his fans ( known as Harukists) gather in Jazz bars waiting to celebrate the success of their hero, whilst bookstore owners prepare to stock the shelves only to have to put his books away until the next year. Divine help is also called upon, as some will visit the Hatanomori Hachiman shrine, tucked away in side street close to the National Stadium to pray for the result. Maybe, his next novel and his first for six years, the publication of which (theme and title unknown) has been announced for 13 April will prove to be the trigger that will bring him and his loyal band of fans the ultimate prize.
A modern day ninja waits for the message to call her into action:
But win or not, I shall certainly buy the English version once published as well as other novels written by a growing list of Japanese authors whose unique style is increasing in popularity and meeting my reading needs as well as filling my bookshelves.