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[personal profile] naukhel
I have to admit, I have never really succeeded much in reading Japanese literature. At least, not in its original source language; I have read the English translations of Koushin Takami's Battle Royale, and one of my favourite crime authors is Natsuo Kirino, whose books I would never be able to enjoy on the same level if I was trying to dig through them in Japanese.

I've always wanted to read Japanese books, though. It's good practice and I love reading, so it seems perfect. However, I never got very far. I bought Kafka on the Shore (or, more precisely, I bought 海辺のカフカ) but I didn't love it, so I trailed off reading it. Yesterday, though, I found a book I'm actually excited to read.

On The Way To A Smile is a book of short stories about Final Fantasy VII characters. Namely, Denzel, Tifa, Barret, Nanaki, Yuffie, Shinra, and a short collection called "Life Stream Black 1-3 White 1-3". If I am a fan of anything, I am a huge fan of FFVII. So the subject interests me enough, and the book is easy enough for me to read without resorting to looking anything up all the time, which really takes the fun out of a book.

However, the difficulty with reading Japanese books, I've found, is not simply a question of understanding the words that are written on the page. The biggest problem for someone like me who is very deeply versed in Western literature is in following the structure of the writing. The very way in which Japanese authors tell a story to their readers is so vastly alien to me that sometimes I find myself wondering "wait, whose voice is this? Are we in first-person narrative here? Or is this the author's voice?". Sometimes it can be frustratingly difficult to tell.

For example, I found this paragraph frustrating for me when I first read it:


Now, unless I'm mistaken there are two voices at work there. "A customer arrived. He was still a child." is in the past tense, and to me sounds like the authors voice narrating. But then immediately afterwards, "It's unusual to see a kid around on his own.." is a first-person inner monologue, as is the following sentence: "Oh-hoh, if it isn't Denzel." But then the sentence immediately following that one is in third person again: "To Johnny, Denzel was a special kid."

The way it flicks around like that is hard to follow, and I find myself going back and forth re-reading things to try and work out from whose viewpoint they're being said. It can't just be that Johnny refers to himself in the third person during his inner monologue, or it would presumably happen all the time, instead of only occasionally.

Similarly, this paragraph holds no obvious indication of time or place switch, to me:

*   *

I understand that the asterisks mark a passage of time of some sort, but how can you tell who is speaking when you've just jumped to another time with absolutely no indication of scene? I mean, if we put it into English:

There's no meaning in a life without laughter. They're just trying to freak me out again.
"I don't believe either of you!"
*   *
"Troublesome parents, huh?"
"They just liked to joke around."

I can tell, eventually, from context what time the second part is from and who's talking. But it takes some getting used to, and I find it hard to automatically tune in to where the narrative is flickering back and forth to. The perspective changes so often and so fluidly that it's very difficult to instinctively take it in, for me. Often swathes of dialogue will have no narrative at all surrounding it; like the second part of the above quote, dialogue will just go on and on like that without the "he said" "she said" we're used to in English language books.

I'm enjoying reading this book so far, though, even if I do have to keep going back and wondering who/what/when/where/why, and perhaps if I can find something else where the subject matter interests me enough to keep reading, I'll gradually get used to the style in which it's written. :) Just thought it was an interesting point to get down somewhere.

* I've tagged this entry with "entry: in japanese" simply because while it doesn't require Japanese knowledge to understand my points, they would be easier grasped by the ability to read and understand the above passages autonomously.

Date: 2009-06-01 02:00 am (UTC)
redmisoplz: 1月 (Default)
From: [personal profile] redmisoplz
And just when I thought reading actual books in Japanese might help me improve my grammar. Oh well, screw that!
*goes back to manga*


naukhel: (Default)

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