[2024] 多読/extensive reading challenge

I’ve completed my 2021 goal of reading 12 books! I initially thought it was a stretch, but as my reading speed increased it turned out to be very achieavable. I’m still not that fast but I also have a decent amount of free time to read daily.

冷たい密室と博士たち

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Mystery novel, second volume of the poorly named “S&M series” that we’re reading with the book club. I enjoyed it, it has a lot of similarities with volume 1 but I thought it was a bit better. Easy to read.

人間失格

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A classic of Japanese litterature, I read it with the advanced book club. I found the writing style interesting, but I don’t think it’s my type of book. The story feels a bit pointless and the main character is quite whiny. He(/the author) did have a hard life, but he’s also very self-centered and doesn’t seem to realize that life is not always easy for “normal” people either.

海賊と呼ばれた男(上)

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Wikipedia describes it as a “best selling Japanese historical novel […] loosely based on the story of Sazō Idemitsu, the founder of Idemitsu Kosan, a Japanese oil company.” It won the bookseller’s award in 2013.

The first book (of 2) is divided into two parts: the first part starts at the end of WW2 (when Japan is under american control, there isn’t a drop of oil left in the country, and the main character’s oil company has lost most of its assets), and covers the 2 subsequent years. The second part goes back in time to the main character’s birth in 1885 and follows him until the end of WW2. Book 2 (which I haven’t read yet) picks the story back up in 1947 and ends in 1974. So you get to live through a good chunk of recent Japanese history which I found really interesting.

HOWEVER, you should be aware that this is Japanese history from the somewhat biased point of view of a right-wing nationalist. Wikipedia does say that “The book has patriotic themes that would more commonly be associated with the Japanese right wing, but has been popular with the mass market.” I wasn’t sure what that was about at first, but now I know.

Although the main character doesn’t necessarily approve of everything going on in Japan, like the rise of militarism at the expense of democracy, he’s also shown as being a fervent patriot. He’ll do anything for his country, and values long working hours and self sacrifice. Which is all fine I guess, but the narrator, who really should be neutral IMO, is subtly biased. One of the clearest examples is the omission of the Nanjing massacre, which is not surprising since the author is a Nanjing massacre denier.

Towards the end, he tries to justify Japan’s imperialism: 鐵造(main character)が生まれた明治十八年から日本はずっと富国強兵で突き進んできた。欧米の列強がアジア諸国を植民地化していく中で、日本が生き残る道はそれしかなかった。もしも日清戦争日露戦争で負けていれば、日本は他のアジア諸国同様、ロシアや英米に植民地化されていたに違いない。Basically, he’s saying Japan had no choice, othewise they would’ve been conquered by Russia or the UK/US. I don’t know enough about history to be able to say that it’s completely wrong, but I don’t think it justifies Japan’s later expansionism.

Language difficulty: grammar wise it’s pretty simple (there’s a bit of 方言 but it’s pretty intelligible). However, be prepared to encounter a lot of place/people/company/school names, and quite a lot of long strings of kanji like 国務院総務長官. There’s also some technical vocab around oil, the army, railways, etc. but not that much. There are a lot of characters but most of them don’t stick around very long.

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