Home > Books/Magazines, Reviews > Book Review: ‘Things Remembered and Things Forgotten’ By Kyoko Nakajima

Book Review: ‘Things Remembered and Things Forgotten’ By Kyoko Nakajima

More usually a fan of non-fiction books about Japan it was with some uncertainty that this book was purchased on the back of the author’s reputation alongside a love of Japanese mystery in the vein of Studio Ghibli’s air of other-worldly imagination and incipient magic, and Kwaidan’s and Lafcadio Hearn’s tales of the Japanese supernatural.

What a pleasant surprise! The award winning author Kyoko Nakajima’s book, ‘Things Remembered and Things Forgotten’, translated by Ian McCullough McDonald and Ginny Tapely Takemori, and published this year, is a very welcome addition to the ever growing body of works of this oeuvre originating in Japan which are now available in English. Without adding spoilers of her stories the best way to illustrate and hint at the other worldliness of loss and remembrance that haunts Kyoko Nakajima’s stories is to reflect perhaps on the lamentable tendency in Japan for things, especially buildings, to be disposed of, seemingly just for the sake of it, after having been around for a relatively short amount of time. The sudden disappearance of a real favourite, the historical haunt of the poet Masaoka Shiki and author Natsume Soseki, the two-hundred year old teahouse and dango (sweet rice dumplings) shop ‘Habutae Dango’ near Nippori Station made for a somewhat hauntingly unreal visit to the area afterwards. Then a short story of a ghostly bar in Nezu which only appears at night the book containing it once read disappeared, just like the bar (and Habutae Dango), never to be found, seen or read again. To paraphrase Roy Batty’s character in ‘Blade Runner’ ‘all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain” is to evoke a sense of memory, its loss and invocation maybe best reflects this collection of Koyoko Nakajima’s stories.

Though not essential a familiarity with Tokyo and it’s neighbourhoods, each with its own flavour and character, certainly helps, as well as at least some familiarity with Japanese thinking which goes a long way to grasping the ephemeral and shifting nature of ‘reality’ as it is occasionally perceived by the Japanese. For instance things that we might, in the context of our own societies, look upon as inanimate objects and indefatigably soulless, in Japanese society can take on a whole new meaning; after 100 years the process of Tsukumogami Emaki kicks in and those same inanimate objects are imbued with a soul. That those same constructed inanimate objects and the built environment can become, in some way, alive and invested with worthy potential and spirit (in a way that non-Japanese can oftimes find difficult to understand) is eerily invoked.

Of the evocative themes mirrored in these ten short stories perhaps the one that felt most invoked, à la Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu), was that of involuntary memory and its consequences both for the stories’ protagonists, intending also to potentially evoke on the part of the reader their own unconscious involuntary memories that may require at least some self-reflection and emotional responses; perhaps even more so than that depicted as undertaken by the protagonists themselves.

If perhaps this review is subjective and allusive it is intended that way to reflect the nature of this selection of Kyoko Nakajima’s stories; a thoroughly interesting, somewhat surreal collection, and with often unexpected twists and turns. Fascinating!

‘Things Remembered and Things Forgotten’

Kyoko Nakajima

Sort of Books 2021

ISBN 978-1908745965

Kyoko Nakajima

Author Biography

Kyoko Nakajima is a multi-award-winning author of novels and short stories. She was awarded the prestigious Naoki Prize for her novel, The Little House, and her sort story ‘When My Wife Was a Shiitake’, won the 42nd Izumi Kyoka Prize for Literature in 2014. She has also won the Shibata Renzaburo Prize, the Kawai Hayo Story Prize, and the Chuo Koyon Literary Prize.  The Little House was made into a film by the Director Yoji Yamada. She was born in Suginami, Tokyo.

Reviewer Profile:

Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.

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