Japanesque

Enter into one of the most fascinating cultures in the world through the world of fiction.

Kangaroo Notebook

By Kobo Abe

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"In the last novel written before his death in 1993, one of Japan's most distinguished novelists proffered a surreal vision of Japanese society that manages to be simultaneously fearful and jarringly funny. The narrator wakes one morning to discover that his legs are growing radish sprouts, an ailment that repulses his doctor but provides the patient with the unusual ability to snack on himself. In short order, Kobo Abe's unraveling protagonist finds himself hurtling in a hospital bed to the very shores of hell. Abe has assembled a cast of oddities into a coherent novel, one imbued with unexpected meaning.”

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The Birth of Venus

By Sarah Dunant

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"Alessandra Cecchi is not quite fifteen when her father, a prosperous cloth merchant, brings a young painter back from northern Europe to decorate the chapel walls in the family's Florentine palazzo. A child of the Renaissance, with a precocious mind and a talent for drawing, Alessandra is intoxicated by the painter's abilities. But their burgeoning relationship is interrupted when Alessandra's parents arrange her marriage to a wealthy, much older man.

"Meanwhile, Florence is changing, increasingly subject to the growing suppression imposed by the fundamentalist monk Savonarola, who is seizing religious and political control. Alessandra and her native city are caught between the Medici state, with its love of luxury, learning, and dazzling art, and the hellfire preaching and increasing violence of Savonarola's reactionary followers."

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The Snow Fox

By Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

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"...a sweeping novel about three characters in medieval Japan: Lord Norimasa, whose highest love is to reunify his country and restore peace; Lady Utsu, one of the supreme poetic geniuses of her time, as famous for her cruelty as for her beauty; and Matsuhito, a samurai who apprentices himself to Lord Norimasa. When Matsuhito and Lady Utsu fall hopelessly in love, the lives of these three are forever changed. Separated for years by warfare, Matsuhito and Lady Utsu reunite but their joy is shadowed by the cruelties and the caprices of passing time."

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The Samurai's Daughter

By Sujata Massey

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"Antiques dealer Rei Shimura is in San Francisco visiting her parents and researching a personal project tracing the story of 100 years of Japanese decorative arts through her own family's experience. Her work is interrupted by the arrival of her boyfriend, lawyer Hugh Glendinning, who is involved in a class action lawsuit on behalf of aged Asian nationals forced to engage in slave labour for Japanese companies during World War II.

"These two projects suddenly intertwine when one of Hugh's clients is murdered and Rei begins to uncover unsavoury facts about her own family's actions during the war. Rei unravels the truth, finds the killer, and at the same time learns about family ties and loyalty and the universal desire to avoid blame."

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The Pearl Diver

By Jeff Talarigo

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"In 1948, a nineteen-year-old Japanese pearl diver is in her fourth season of perfecting the techniques of her age-old occupation. But her dreams of spending her life diving in the waters of the Inland Sea are shattered when she discovers that she has leprosy. She knows that the shame attached to the disease is inescapable: rejection by her family is imminent, exile unavoidable.

"No more than two months elapse before authorities send her off to a leprosarium on the island of Nagashima, and although it is only seven miles from her home, it is a world away from all that is familiar to her. At once, she is instructed to forget her past, to strike her name from the koseki, the family register, and ordered to choose a new name. As 'Miss Fuji' looks around her, she sees her own future in the debilitated bodies and the lives of the more than two thousand other patients. But her 'future' never comes; her own case of leprosy remains a mild one owing to the discovery of a medicine that impedes the disease’s progression in its victims."

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Shinju

By Laura Joh Rowland

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"When beautiful, wealthy Yukiko and low-born artist Noriyoshi are found drowned together in a shinju, or ritual double suicide, everyone believes the culprit was forbidden love. Everyone but newly appointed yoriki Sano Ichiro.

"Despite the official verdict and warnings from his superiors, the shogun's Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations, and People suspects the deaths weren't just a tragedy -- they were murder. Risking his family's good name and his own life, Sano will search for a killer across every level of society -- determined to find answers to a mystery no one wants solved. No one but Sano..."

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The Devil of Nanking

By Mo Hayder

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"...takes the reader on an electrifying literary ride from the palatial apartments of yakuza kingpins to deep inside the secret history of one of the twentieth century's most brutal events: the Nanking Massacre. A young Englishwoman obsessed with an indecipherable past, Grey comes to Tokyo seeking a lost piece of film footage of the notorious 1937 Nanking Massacre, footage some say never existed. Only one man can help Grey. A survivor of the massacre, he is now a visiting professor at a university in Tokyo. But he will have nothing to do with her. So Grey accepts a job in an upmarket nightspot, where a certain gangster may be the key to gaining the professor's trust."
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Snow Falling on Cedars

By David Guterson

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"San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder. In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than a man's guilt. For on San Pedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries--memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and the Japanese girl who grew up to become Kabuo's wife; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched."

Also available on audio.

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Slatewiper

By Lewis Perdue

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Lara Blackwood, genetic engineering entrepreneur and presidential advisor, receives a call from an old college friend who asks her help in solving a ghastly epidemic in Tokyo. She agrees to help and, with a single phone call, sets in motion a chain of death and mayhem stretching from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., Amsterdam, and Japan. To her horror, she discovers her life's work has been perverted to produce a revolutionary new genetic weapon that kills by turning people's own chromosomes against them.
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Pastries: A Novel of Desserts and Discoveries

By Bharti Kirchner

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"Sunya Malhotra, a young American woman whose parents had migrated from India, is the head baker and owner of Pastries, a warm and cozy bakery in Seattle. Sunya loves baking and has transformed her fabulous cakes and tarts into delicious works of art. The success of her beloved bakery is put in jeopardy, however, when a chain bakery threatens to open up down the street from her. To add to her misery, Roger, her hip, Japanese boyfriend has left her for a "perfect" Japanese girlfriend and her mother has just become engaged to a man Sunya detests. Sunya hasn't yet reconciled to the mystery of a father missing since her birth. Even a new relationship with a hot, young film director who is in town to cover the 1999 World Trade Conference, can't help Sunya with her biggest worry - she has lost her touch for baking.

"Overwhelmed, Sunya is surprised to find herself listening when her new Japanese baker offers her a solution to her problems - enroll in a baking school in Japan! Of course, this isn't just any baking school. It is run by a famous Japanese baker, Mori Matsumoto, and is based on the principle of mindfulness. Soon Sunya finds herself learning the basic skills of baking all over again. Is this what she needs to rediscover herself?"

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