A plume with a hue

Archive for the tag “Masuji Ibuse”

My reading weeks: 33-34/52

Currently Reading

My current read is The Vegetarian by Han Kang.

Recently Completed

My first completion was Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami. The blurb says:

On a sweltering summer’s day in a poor suburb of Tokyo we meet three women: thirty-year-old Natsuko, her older sister Makiko, and Makiko’s teenage daughter Midoriko. Makiko, an ageing hostess despairing over the loss of her good looks, has travelled to the city in search of the breast-enhancement surgery she thinks will change her life. Accompanying her is Midoriko, who has recently stopped speaking. In Natsuko’s rundown apartment the three women slowly confront their individual anxieties as well as their relationships under the weight of Midoriko’s punishing silence.

Eight years later, we are reunited with Natsuko. She is now a writer and finds herself on a journey back to her native city, returning to memories of that summer and her family’s past as she faces her own uncertain future.

I found this a very readable novel, although it’s almost two books between one set of covers. Both have Natsuko as their first person narrator. In Book One, her older sister and her niece visit her. It is apparent that Makiko (her sister) has become obsessed with the idea of breast enhancement surgery, a concept that her teenage daughter is struggling to comprehend as she fights her own battles with the changes happening in her body. Book Two takes place eight years later but here the sister and niece slip into the background and the plot centres on Natsuko’s issues of asexuality and her desire to have a child.

One thing that struck me about this novel is the way it highlights just how much our bodies – as they first mature into adulthood and then age – impact on our life and our identities. It is almost a constant battle with time: the biological clock, the impact of an ageing body on our status in society, the dissatisfaction with the way we look. The novel also raises the issues surrounding fertility treatment, in particular whether having a child is a right, to what extent is it it a selfish act, and the impact on a person of not knowing who their biological father is. Different characters express their varying opinions on these ethical issues, although I did feel that this was at times too self-consciously and conspicuously executed rather than being woven into the text in a more subtle manner. The main character is also a blocked novelist, and this struggle with creating her work mirrors her struggle to create a child.

The novel is very much about women and the impact of growing up in poverty. Fathers tend to be either abusive or absent and there is a general dissatisfaction with men and the questioning of to what extent they enhance a woman’s life. At times, this left me feeling quite uncomfortable by the lack of balance in this argument, but I guess Kawakami was emphasising a point.

Overall, this was a very interesting and thought-provoking read and provided ample material to discuss at the Japanese Literature book club; in fact, there was so much that we didn’t get round to talking about. I hadn’t finished the novel when I attended the book club but a number of people expressed dissatisfaction with the ending. Although I then expected to be disappointed with it, I thought it was quite satisfying, despite not taking the route I had anticipated.

Another novel I finally finished was Blindness by José Saramago. From the blurb:

No food, no water, no government, no hierarchy, no obligation, no order. This is not anarchy, this is blindness.

A driver waiting at the traffic lights goes blind. An ophthalmologist tries to diagnose his distinctive white blindness, but is affected before he can read the textbooks. It becomes a contagion, spreading through the unnamed city. Trying to stem the epidemic, the authorities herd the blind into a mental asylum. The wards are terrorised by blind thugs. And when fire destroys the asylum, the inmates burst forth and the last links with a supposedly civilised society are snapped.

This was the August read for the No Book No Life book club, which unfortunately I couldn’t attend as it would have been great to hear other people’s opinions of it.

It’s a unique novel: intriguing and disturbing, but also promising hope. Written around 1995, it is incredibly relevant to today’s world with observations such as: …some theatres, the larger ones, had been used to keep the blind in quarantine when the Government, or the few survivors, still believed that the white sickness could be remedied with devices and certain strategies that had been so ineffectual in the past against yellow fever and other infectious plagues… (p228)

I think our current situation caused me to read the novel quite literally whereas I would imagine the author intended the blindness to be a metaphor for a moral blindness or a blindness to what is truly happening around us. We go through life with our eyes closed and it takes extreme circumstances to open them.

The novel centres around a collection of unnamed characters, who find themselves imprisoned in an asylum as a result of contracting ‘blindness’: the doctor, the doctor’s wife (the only character who retains her sight), the girl with dark glasses, the old man with a black patch over one eye, the first blind man, the wife of the first blind man, the boy with the squint, and the dog of tears. The question here is when we cannot be seen, do we lose our identity?

Life in the asylum quickly degenerates in a way that societies seem to – this brought to mind novels such as Lord of the Flies. It made me consider how much we take for granted, not least of all our sight, but also electricity, water, food, our homes, and all the basics of everyday life that are so essential for our existence. When everybody is blind, society ceases to function.

This is a very unusual novel, not only in subject matter but also in structure. Dialogue is not started on a new line but runs on within long paragraphs, separated by commas, so at times it is difficult to keep track of who is talking. This probably imitates the disorientation created by blindness. It’s a thought-provoking exploration of what happens when society as we know it crumbles into disorder. I enjoyed it.

I finally completed Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse. The blurb states:

‘Black Rain’ is centred around the story of a young woman who was caught in the radioactive “black rain” that fell after the bombing of Hiroshima…The life of Yasuko, on whom the black rain fell is changed forever by periodic bouts of radiation sickness and the suspicion that her future children, too, may be affected.

Whilst I was of course aware that the bombing or Hiroshima took place, I had never read anything about its aftermath and the effect on the people. From this point of view, the novel was interesting, albeit harrowing, and is a well-written story that needed to be told.

However, I did have major problem with it: it doesn’t quite read like a novel and yet it wasn’t written as a work of non-fiction. It falls uncomfortably between the two, as though Masuji Ibuse couldn’t quite decide exactly on the kind of book he wanted to write. I was expecting a novel: it clearly states ‘a novel’ on the cover, and yet I had to keep checking and reminding myself as at many times I felt as though I were reading eyewitness testimony accounts of this shocking event. Also, the it doesn’t, in my opinion, focus on the life of Yasuko as claimed.

However, I then find myself questioning whether this approach was intentional – the destabilisation of genres mirroring the destabilisation of the people, and raising the question of how you fictionalise a real-life event of such horrific and devastating impact.

Reading Next

I think my choice will be Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat, which forms part of my exploration into magical realism.

My quotation this week comes from Breasts and Eggs, and is a response to the question of why people get drunk:

You’re always yourself, right? From the second you’re born, you’re you. Sometimes people get sick of that. I guess that’s why…Life is tough, but you gotta keep living until you die, you know what I mean? Sometimes you just need to escape from your own life…I guess that maybe people need to escape from themselves…Or from all the stuff they carry around – the past, memories, all that. For some people, though, that kind of escape isn’t enough. They never want to come back to themselves, so they decide not to live anymore.

My reading weeks: 28-32/52

My much-loved, battered copy of Lady Oracle

This is a catch-up post as I’ve been away. Unusually, I didn’t read as much as I normally would so there’s not quite as much to report as might have been expected.

Currently Reading

My current read is Blindness by José Saramago, which is the August choice for the No Book No Life book club. Unfortunately, the meeting is today and I have other commitments, plus I have only just started this intriguing novel. From the blurb:

A driver waiting at the traffic lights goes blind. An ophthalmologist tries to diagnose his distinctive white blindness, but is affected before he can read the textbooks. It becomes a contagion, spreading through the unnamed city. Trying to stem the epidemic, the authorities herd the blind into a mental asylum. The wards are terrorised by blind thugs. And when fire destroys the asylum, the inmates burst forth and the last links with a supposedly civilised society are snapped.

I’m listening to Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood, which I first read many years ago.

I have Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse on hold, having almost completed it. It was last month’s choice for the Japanese Literature book club and tells of the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing and its effect on the survivors.

I started The Vegetarian by Han Kang but have had to leave it for the time being as there are other novels that require reading.

Recently Completed

Since my last update a month ago, I have only finished three books.

The first was Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood, which was a reread of an all-time favourite.

From fat girl to thin, from red hair to mud brown, from London to Toronto, from Polish count to radical husband, from writer of romances to distinguished poet – Joan Foster is utterly confused by her life of multiple identities. She decides to escape to an Italian seaside resort to take stock of her life. But first, she must plan her death…

I enjoy novels that explore the question of identity and I particularly like the way Atwood does this. We are not one person that can be pigeonholed but complex with multiple identities existing simultaneously. We are different people to different people and there is something alluring about escaping this confusion and reinventing ourselves although, as Atwood shows, it is more difficult to leave behind the past than we might think; it has a nasty habit of joining us on our journey. I’m noticing recurring motifs as I listen to Cat’s Eye and it’s interesting to encounter both novels in close proximity.

Although I planned on having a break from literature courses, with their consequent pressure to read texts by certain dates, I couldn’t resist a two week exploration of cholera in novels, particularly as I was already planning on reading Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez as part of my foray into the realm of magical realism. I listened to the audio version but this might have been a novel better read. I have an uneasy relationship with García Márquez. I enjoy his work but paradoxically have trouble maintaining my concentration, and I frequently found my mind drifting elsewhere. I think his novels need to be studied rather than read. I was surprised that cholera sat in the background and the focus was on Florentino Ariza’s lifelong obsession with his childhood love, Fermina Daza. At times, it felt like a middle-aged man’s fantasy about numerous affairs with a range of women; at others, it seemed to offer an interesting commentary on the subject of love and human nature. Although it appears on many lists as a great classic of magical realism, I had to look hard and use a degree of poetic licence to find this element. I have the seminal novel One Hundred Years of Solitude on my TBR pile, but I think I will have a little break before I tackle this one.

The second novel on the cholera course was The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham, which I also listened to.

Kitty Fane is the beautiful but shallow wife of Walter, a bacteriologist stationed in Hong Kong. Unsatisfied by her marriage, she starts an affair with charming, attractive and exciting Charles Townsend. But when Walter discovers her deception, he exacts a strange and terrible vengeance: Kitty must accompany him to his new posting in remote mainland China, where a cholera epidemic rages…

Cholera plays more of a role in this work but even here, relationships are more prominent. Perhaps when death is heightened, there is a corresponding desire to make sense of and counter the fragility of life, here through a spiritual awakening. I found this an enjoyable novel, well suited to audio, and found the development of Kitty’s character particularly satisfying. I’d never read Maugham (and probably wouldn’t have been drawn to it) so this was a gem of a find.

Reading Next

I’ve just ordered Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami for the Japanese Literature book club that takes place next weekend. I don’t know when it will arrive and it’s around 450 pages so I have no idea whether I’ll complete it in time. No matter as I wanted to read it anyway.

My quotation this week has to come from Lady Oracle: it’s the opening line, which I love.

I planned my death carefully; unlike my life, which meandered along from one thing to another, despite my feeble attempts to control it.

Margaret Atwood

Intentions: review and setting (week 28)

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Health and Wellbeing

Last week: My intention was to scale down the number of items on my to-do list in an attempt to decrease that feeling of overwhelm and stress. It worked! I highlighted one or two tasks to focus on each day, which made life far more manageable.

This week: As part of the above effort to cut down on stress, I am practising extreme self-care by taking time out for a one day yoga retreat. It’s been a tough eighteen months so this feels much needed. Hopefully, the weather will brighten up as there is an outdoor pool and it would be great to have a swim as well. It seems to have been cloudy and rainy all summer so far.

Intention: Relax and refresh at yoga retreat.

Personal Development

Last week: I decided to make a start on the embroidery ordered from Craftpod[1]. I’m new to this so had to go on Youtube to find out how to do the stitches but the instructions were clear and this lack of experience didn’t prove to be a problem. It’s relaxing and strangely addictive, and I’ve almost finished. I’ve ordered another kit and, in a familiar fit of over-ambition, some materials to create my own design. It’s good to get back into a creative mode and I’ve been inspired to sign up for a fabric art and stitching workshop.

Intention: Finish the Craftpod embroidery.


Last week: I had two novels to read, both for book clubs; the first, The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley, I’ve finished; the second, Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse, I’m about halfway through.

Intention: Finish Black Rain.


Last week: I had planned on spending the London Writers’ Hour session working my way through the Making People course I signed up for with Writers’ HQ. However, dog-sitting got in the way. I did, however, attend an online Flash Fiction course with City Lit, which was amazing. In just a few hours, I drafted five pieces, which I can now start revising.

Intention: Review the Making People course content.


Last week: The idea was to tidy and organise my desk and surrounding area. This is almost completed. However, I’m off on holiday next week and so need to focus on preparing for that.

Intention: Get organised for holiday.


My reading week: 27/52

Currently Reading

My current novel is Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse, which is this month’s choice for the Japanese Literature book club. It tells of the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing and its effect on the survivors.

Recently Completed

I finished listening to The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey. Set in the Caribbean, it tells the story of David, a fisherman who rescues and falls in love with Aycayia, the mermaid of the title. The mythic quality of the novel particularly lends itself to the audio version, which is beautifully narrated and transports the reader to the town of Black Conch. I love the fact that Roffey has created a mermaid far removed from the blond-haired beauty stereotype, and hers and David’s story is painfully touching to witness. This is an unusual and hypnotic novel.

I also finished reading/listening to The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley. This is one of those novels that seems incredibly popular, appearing everywhere, so I had high hopes. A group of friends spend the New Year in the Scottish wilderness but things go horribly wrong when one of the party is found dead. This is not just a story about identifying the killer, who is one of the group, but the identity of the suspect is also withheld. Potential motives abound, which made me question why these people wanted to spend time together at all. I guessed the victim early on but had no idea as to the perpetrator, and by the end of the novel I honestly didn’t care. I found the characters irritating and paradoxically although the novel centred around their back stories, it felt very much plot-driven. I can understand its popularity but as I prefer a character-driven novel, it wasn’t for me.

Reading Next

My next choice is Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez, which I’m going to read and listen to. It’s part of my exploration into magical realism and is also one of the set texts on a two week literature course next month.

I’ve chosen this week’s quotation as I’m always fascinated by the ways people use journals. It comes from Black Rain.

Her way of keeping a diary was to deal with the day’s events in a brief five or six lines for four or five days, then, on the fifth or sixth day, to devote one entry to describing the past few days in greater detail.

Masuji Ibuse

Intentions: review and setting (week 27)

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Here is a review of last week’s intentions, and my aspirations for this week.

Health and Wellbeing

I ate healthy snacks in the evening and went to ballroom and Latin dancing. I also did more yoga and walking than usual.

I’ve noticed that my to-do lists and becoming too long and overwhelming, causing unnecessary stress.

This week: Reduce the number of items on my to-do list.

Personal Development

I made a list of the outstanding reading from my Critical Reading course, which has now finished. I will work through this in my own time.

Although I haven’t done any art journalling for a long time, I have been feeling a spark of creativity return but have a desire to explore with fabric and stitch rather than paint and paper. Inspired by this post on the Willow in Winter blog, I ordered the Craftpod summer box:

This week: Make a start on the embroidery in the Craftpod box.


I finished listening to The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey. The next books I need to read are The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley and Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse.

This week: Read The Hunting Party.


I finished working through the first section of A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Saunders and wrote an outline for a short story I’ve already drafted in order to give it more structure. I’ve also signed up to a Making People course with Writers’ HQ.

This week: Begin working through the exercises in the course, applying them to my short story character.


I managed to tidy the spare bedroom and the kitchen.

This week: Organise my desk and workspace.

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