Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Review: A True Novel by Minae Mizumura

A Japanese retelling of my favorite classic Wuthering Heights? Where do I sign up?

Minae Mizumura writes beautifully about the life of Taro Azuma. Taro’s a man who intrigues her family with his enigmatic and sometimes dark personality. Mizumura meets this man as a private chauffer for her father’s boss. As time goes on, the only chattering heard about Taro is that he’s slowly making a name for his self and acquiring massive amounts of wealth. The information of Taro’s history is unknown until Mizumura runs into a past student who tells her the story he’s heard of the cryptic Taro Azuma. This handsome man who hails from Japan and is talked about as if a legend, is Mizumura’s starring character in an attempt to write a “true novel”.

Mizumura explains in the prologue (perhaps the longest one I’ve ever read) that “Inovels” are very popular in Japanese literature and are primarily stories that are true to life and neither have a beginning or end since that is of course how true to life they are. Mizumura found that the classic novel Wuthering Heights was a story that is so true to life and told thousands of times. This is where she got the idea of how to structure Taro’s life into a “true novel”. “True” in the sense that it is based off of an actual true story or a man’s wonderful rise in a new world that would not let him remain unconscious to that fact that he was an outsider.

Yusuke happens upon a cottage in a remote part of Karuizawa. His bike is in disrepair after a torrential rain leaves him stranded, keyless, and at the mercy of two strangers. These strangers turn out to be Fumiko, a woman assumed to be the maid, and the legendary Taro Azuma. Yusuke is offered lodging at this home and is baffled by the presence of a woman and man. He was certain there was no one else at this small home. He inquires to Fumiko about the presence of these other people. She explains they are the ghosts of Taro’s one true love and her husband. It’s here she takes over the novel and narrates the past life of the infamous, mysterious Taro Azuma and how these ghosts came to be.

From page one A True Novel is enthralling and hard to step away from. Although I’ve read Wuthering Heights many times, I was more interested in the lives of these characters than comparing what Mizumura kept from the original Bronte novel or decided to abandon. Similar to the original 19th century novel, there is so much more to this novel than the surface of a love story.

Essentially, there are many true loves in this novel. Mizumura mentions the talk of a Japan that she longed for dearly as a child growing up in New York. She tried to hold on to the memories of that Japan for as long as possible only to find the Japan she once knew was no more. This place of her childhood was now a westernized-concrete jungle. She’d lost her true love to time and change. Similarly to Taro Azuma who lost his one love to the same circumstances.

Taro’s enduring love for Yoko pushed him to the limit and embodies the true agony of not being loved wholly in return. He was raised in a home where he suffered abuse, was undereducated, poor, and essentially cast off as a non-person because of his questionable heritage. His only salvation from this hell was in the old woman Mrs. Utagawa, the wealthy grandmother of Yoko. A he matures into an adult, it is in this world Taro realizes he doesn't belong. After an abhorrent fight with Yoko, Taro journey's to the land of opportunity in the hopes of someday returning a man worthy of her stature. Upon his arrival, he finds that she is married with no plans of ever leaving her husband.

I could go on and on about the characters, the plot, the themes, and how much I love A True Novel by Minae Mizumura but… that would be a disservice to future readers. Ultimately, this novel explores the circle of love and how time is unwilling to allow anything to remain the way we hope they would. *****

FYI: This novel also has photos of the different scenery!

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