Set in Japan

Read FeedShaw/Watha T. Daniel Library

Set in Japan

As a group, these novels do not have one thing in common, other than all being set in Japan. Most, but not all, were written by Japanese authors. Most, but not all, were written in the 20th century. Most, but not all, are narrated by a female character. All of them are commendable though, and I learned something about Japanese history or culture from each one.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This moving saga spans four generations of a Korean family over most of the 20th century. Sunja is born in a small fishing village in occupied Korea. Pregnant under scandalous circumstances at 16 years old, she immigrates to Japan. The challenges Sunja and her family face there include ethnic discrimination, religious persecution and wartime deprivation, which they survive with resilience and hard work.

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Kitchen consists of two introspective and intense stories, both told by a young woman who is recovering from a tragic loss. In "Kitchen", Mikage finds comfort in cooking and the friendship of Yuichi and his transgender mother after her grandmother and only living relative dies. In "Moonlight Shadow,"  20-year-old Satsuki has lost her boyfriend of four years in a tragic accident. Her grief is transformed by a mystical experience.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

In a small village in contemporary Japan, a single mother and her ten-year-old son form an unlikely family bond with an aging professor for whom she is housekeeper and caregiver. Because of a car accident many years before, the professor’s short- term memory is limited to the past eighty minutes and he still thinks it is 1975. Despite his disability, the professor connects with the housekeeper and her son over a shared enthusiasm for mathematics and Japanese baseball. This is a sweet story, and for those who have a fondness for numbers and mathematics, there is that to enjoy too.

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
As Etsuko processes the suicide of her troubled daughter Keiko, she looks back on the time in her life when she was pregnant with Keiko and living in post-war Nagasaki. She recalls her involvement with neighbor Sachiko and her neglected daughter Mariko. The characters are tense and mysterious, traumatized by their wartime experiences but attempting to move forward with their lives. This is Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel.

Silence by Shusaku Endo
Soon after Christianity was introduced to Japan by Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century, it became outlawed. Suspected believers were persecuted, tortured and put to death if they refused to renounce their beliefs. Silence tells the story of two Jesuit priests who are sent from Portugal to Japan to find out what happened to their teacher, Father Ferreira, who is rumored to have renounced his faith. This novel is a fascinating but brutal exploration of religious faith and doubt.