Book Reviews

At least we can apologize by Lee Ki-ho

I just finished reading this the other day and it’s probably my favourite book of the year [only contender being Erlend Loe’s “Naive. Super] but admittedly I’ve read very little overall. It focuses on Jin-man and Si-bong, two young men who’ve spent a considerable amount of time in a mental institution. Eventually they’re released but with few life skills at their disposal, they’re at a loss as to how they should contribute to society. They move in with Si-bong’s sister, Si-yeon, who is keen for them to find work, and finally they come up with an idea inspired from their time spent in the institute: a service which apologizes on behalf of other people, for a fee.

This novel has very dark humour, I found myself laughing often and at times feeling rather guilty about it…

Kokoro by Natsume Soseki

It’s actually been a while since I’ve read this as I gave it to a friend of my brother’s, and I never got it back… but it’s one of my favourite books. It tells of a nameless young student who develops a friendship with an older man, Sensei – that’s all he’s ever called. The student becomes obsessed with Sensei, who really lies at the heart of this brilliant novel, and as the story progresses you become aware of a certain incident in Sensei’s life, you don’t know what it is, but it causes the man a great deal of guilt. Other people are introduced, Sensei’s wife and a friend from his past, and Soseki’s writing is just brilliant in its subtlety, definitely one of my all-time favourite books. Every chapter is extremely short, usually running around 1-2 pages, which makes it very easy to run through, and it’s divided into three sections, later I heard Soseki didn’t originally plan to write all of them, I think at the start only the final part was going to comprise the entire story.

No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai

Perhaps the primary example of the Japanese I-novel, Dazai’s No Longer Human is still one of the biggest selling novels in Japan, and has sporned a manga and anime series in recent years. An autobiographical story which tells of Oba Yozo’s failures to connect to his fellow man, and in doing so puts on the mask of a clown to hide his alienation. Through life he struggles with alcoholism, depression, and makes multiple attempts on his life with lovers he’s with at the time. The novel itself is of course not a pleasant read but Dazai is such a talented writer you can’t help but be absorbed by his story. Read this book and some passages will stay with you for a very long time, powerful book.

Wonderful Fool by Shusaku Endo

Takamori receives a letter from his pen-friend from France, Gaston, a descendent of Napoleon. He informs him he’ll be arriving in Japan by ship which causes a great deal of ruckus in their household, particularly on behalf of Takamori’s sister, Tomoe.

Gaston is not your usual tourist, he’s not interested in seeing Mount Fuji, upon arrival he starts befriending prostitutes, gangsters and the homeless. He is innocent, kind, and naive, and his character reflects many of Endo’s life experiences and Christian beliefs.

Above all it’s a wonderfully engaging story from one of my favourite writers, you don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy the works of Shusaku Endo.

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