Sunday, December 7, 2008

『Tokyo Island』 by Kirino Natsuo

What a fun book. Someone should make a career of translating Kirino Natsuo (桐野夏生). She's prolific, her prose is straightforward and her subject matter is always just racy enough for an audience. Rebecca Copeland and Philip Gabriel translate some, but there's room for a lot more.

This one, Tokyo Island (『東京島』), won the Tanizaki Prize for 2008. I think of this novel as a modern version of the Kojiki, Japan’s creation myth, depicting the making of the myth itself as a tool in the struggle for survival and power on a Hobbesian island in the Pacific. The book reads like an imagination experiment, sussing out plausible scenarios in that proverbial State of Nature. A Japanese Lord of the Flies. But it’s more about the accretion of half-successful solutions to those problems, than the horror of the problems themselves. And the author seems, at least to me, particularly interested in Japanese solutions to these problems.

One interesting twist is that the chief protagonist Kiyoko, at age 46, is the only woman on the island. The other inhabitants, two dozen Japanese and Chinese men, are barely half her age. The author clearly enjoys watching Kiyoko use her sexuality, and her gender, to secure her survival. One interesting sub-plot is how Kiyoko competes with one of the men to build a shamanistic religion on the island with herself, not him, at its center. Interestingly, again, she’s only partly successful. Any reader familiar with Japanese history will wonder whether the ancestors of Japan’s first emperor, Amaterasu Ohkami, a woman, struggled in similar ways to bring Amaterasu to power.

It’s a real treat to see this familiar vehicle, the allegory of survival on a forsaken island, re-explored by a contemporary Japanese writer concerned with the issues of her time

1 comment:

namesRhard said...

Do you know if this book has been translated or not?