cover image A True Novel

A True Novel

Minae Mizumura, trans. from the Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter and Ann Sherif. Other Press, $25 two-volume boxed set (876p) ISBN 978-1-59051-203-6

The story-within-a-story-within-a-story at the heart of this novel features a doomed, Wuthering Heights romance set in postwar Japan, with the 20th-century Heathcliff riding the Japanese-American economic wave. Concentric narratives connect and transform into a critical appraisal of commercial expansion and cultural decline. Narrator-novelist Minae begins by recalling her younger days as the daughter of a Japanese businessman on Long Island, where she meets 20-something Taro Azuma, then a chauffeur for an American. It’s the 1960s, a time of opportunity. Years later, Minae meets Japanese émigré Yusuke who describes his encounter in the states with Azuma, now a wealthy man in mysterious seclusion. Yusuke also relates the life story of Fumiko, Azuma’s friend. In a flashback to Japan, we see 17-year-old war orphan Fumiko working as a maid for a woman whose family, in 1956, takes the orphaned boy Azuma under its wing as part servant, part protégé. Azuma grows up hopelessly devoted to Yoko, the illness-prone daughter of Fumiko’s employer. Yoko in turn loves but rejects Azuma, propelling him to America and prosperity, then back to Japan and to her. The Japanese tradition of burning fires for the dead suits the ghostly Brontë-esque finale, but far more notable are Minae’s edgy insights into class distinctions, trans-Pacific cultures, and modernization’s spiritual void. A transparent translation and the author’s stylistic clarity smooth navigation between storylines. Photographs create the sense of browsing through an album—a nearly 900-page album encompassing two continents and several decades. (Nov.)