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Little Pieces: This Side of Japan

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Michael Hoffman admits in an “Author’s Note” – or perhaps he is boasting – that the Japan in which the six short stories in his book, "Little Pieces: This Side of Japan," are set is “not the Japan of the Japanese, not quite the Japan of the non-Japanese, maybe nobody’s Japan but mine.”

In “First Snow,” the book’s opening tale, a chance encounter between a floundering middle-aged man and a woman who turns out to have been his childhood babysitter rises to a false climax, then settles into a not quite explicable dénouement: “Strangest of all was that he felt happy. There was no accounting for happiness at such a moment…”

In “Dragonflies” an aging writer struggling to turn out a commemorative essay on Japan’s short fiction maestro Ryunosuke Akutagawa finds himself in an uncannily Akutagawa-like situation and learns… well, nothing, except that yes, he does, to his surprise, want to live after all.

Then there’s “Sonoko,” whose main character spends half her life in 11th-century Japan and the other half right here, right now. “Is there a freedom more complete,” she asks herself, “than that of being beyond the reach of other people’s thoughts? I don’t believe there is.”

In “The Concussion” the narrator, age 87, addresses the reader directly: “Destruction... yes, in the course of my long life I have destroyed many things, the inexpressible joy that accompanied my rampages being intense enough, deep enough, to be called sacred. I am not joking, and you who laugh know neither joy nor sacredness; you don't even know that you don't know, because you think you do know.”

Which is, of course, the point.

Michael Hoffman was born in Montreal and moved to Japan in 1982. He lives in Hokkaido, where he ekes out a living as a freelance translator and writer of fiction and non-fiction. His previous books include “Birnbaum: A Novel of Inner Space” (2008), “Nectar Fragments” (2006), “The Coat that Covers Him & Other Stories” (2004) and “The Empty Café” (2001). Recent non-fiction stories include “Children of Japan” (Japan Times, May 2010), “In the Land of the [Shinto] Kami” (Japan Times, March 2010) and “Haruki [Murakami] World” (Japan Close-Up, December 2009).

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8 Comments
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Having read this twice I still don't know whether this book is recommended or not.

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I believe Mr. Hoffman wrote it so, yes, it's recommended.

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This sounds interesting. They say not to judge a book by its cover, but who decided on that typeface??

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It does sound interesting.

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You can use the "Chopsticks" typeface, or you can give it a title like "Year of the Dragon" so that people will know it's set in Asia.

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In “First Snow,” the book’s opening tale, a chance encounter between a floundering middle-aged man and a woman who turns out to have been his childhood babysitter rises to a false climax

what is the meaning of "an encounter that rises to a false climax"? Does this mean they had an affair or something else?

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Why are women so focused on scandalous affairs?

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...nobody's japan but mine....I like that line!

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