“Kanazawa” David Joiner, 2022
This is a novel written in English by David Joiner, an American writer living in Japan, and it is set in Kanazawa. It is said that he was inspired by Kyoka Izumi. I felt it was more like Japanese literature than anything written by any Japanese author. Even though it is a modern story, it has such a dense atmosphere of the Showa era that I almost forgot that I was reading a novel in English. This is a valuable work of English literature that will help the reader discover the charm of Japan. I also feel that Japanese people should read this book.
Emmitt, a 36-year-old university lecturer in English, lives with his Japanese wife, Mirai, at his parents-in-law’s house in Kanazawa. He is fed up with his job and is about to quit. He is considering buying a 120-year-old townhouse in Kanazawa and has decided to spend a year renovating it himself while taking his time, thinking about what to do next. Meanwhile, Mirai, a flower arrangement artist, dreams of working in Tokyo, which her husband hates. She feels vaguely uneasy about her husband quitting his job. She does not show up for the signing of the townhouse contract and so the deal falls through, and Emmit is forced to give up his dream house.
Emmitt is a lover of old Japanese culture such as classic novels, paintings, ikebana, Noh, haiku, sumo, and anything traditional and Japanese. So he is an ideal companion for Mirai’s parents. Mirai’s mother is a member of the local literary club and asks Emmitt to translate an untranslated novel by Kyoka Izumi. Out of work, Emmitt takes on the job.
The story is a slow and gentle portrayal of family drama, centered on the conflicts between Emmitt and his wife, and the secrets his in-laws are hiding from him. It is like one of Yasujiro Ozu’s films. I was impressed by the way he was able to perfectly express the intimate relationships and subtle emotional changes within a Japanese family in English. The conversational sections reminded me of Japanese.
The strong influence of the great writers of the Showa era, such as Kyoka Izumi, Yasunari Kawabata, and Yukio Mishima can be seen. The beautiful descriptions of Kanazawa’s cityscape and natural scenery are very appealing. There are points of interest that are unique to a foreigner so you can enjoy the difference in perspective. In addition, there is an abundance of classical Japanese culture and entertainment, and Joiner’s understanding of Japanese culture is perfect. I highly doubt that the majority of modern Japanese writers know this much about Japan.
There is a minor flaw, in that some parts are overly descriptive of classical Japanese culture. This is probably unavoidable since the book is aimed at foreign readers, but these details could have been consigned to footnotes. There was a scene where they were eating gyoza at a ramen shop, and Joiner gave a detailed description of the act of mixing soy sauce and spicy sesame oil. No Japanese writer would ever have thought of including this.
Reading an English novel written by a Westerner, who is more devoted to Japanese culture than the Japanese, is an unusual experience and is truly fascinating. Even the small parts of the story that I felt did not quite fit in, such as the one mentioned above, seemed rather exotic and fascinating when read in English. So “Kanazawa” is a five-star novel for me. And it really made me want to go to Kanazawa.