Sunday, January 22, 2006

Yes, We Have New Banana

Banana Yoshimoto is one of my favorite authors, so much so that I tend to buy her new books the very day they hit the bookstore shelves. So it was somewhat to my chagrin that I happened to spy her "new" Hardboiled & Hard Luck while browsing the Union Square Barnes & Noble this morning. Given that it came out last June, I'm rather surprised that I didn't even know it existed. So I bought it. And read it in two sittings. Today.

Given that these two stories were originally published in 1999 and the 149-page book was not translated into English until last year -- 2005! -- I'm a little curious whether Yoshimoto is as prolific as she might be... and whether her relevance in the United States is such that she doesn't warrant more timely translation and publication. How often does she deliver new work in Japan? Why such a long delay to reach American shores? Even though I missed out on this book's release date, I wonder whether the book's publication is anticlimactic. Because there's not a lot here.

Two stories, one accounting for three fifths of this edition, in fact. While the second story, "Hard Luck," is your basic Yoshimoto -- sadly reminiscent familial- and relationship-oriented fiction dealing with loss and yearning -- the first piece, "Hard Boiled" continues in the softly occult direction represented by Asleep -- as well as a possible parallel read, Haruki Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart. I'm not sure I'm overly keen on the increasingly fantastic aspects of Yoshimoto's work, but it's still a worthwhile read.

In fact, Yoshimoto makes for a perfect wintry Sunday afternoon indulgence. Read her with tea. Take a nap in the sunlight and breeze between pieces. Her writing, like a watercolor painting, is subtle, slight, sleepy, scant, simple, and somewhat naive -- all things I love about her (and to some extent, Murakami's) brand of modern Japanese fiction. Yoshimoto blends regret and redemption, loneliness and loving relationships, pop culture and the personally intimate.

Publishing gossip hounds: When is the next Yoshimoto work expected? I need more sooner than later, and these slim, short volumes -- while cute and cozy -- aren't overly satisfying. Let's get a Yoshimoto-style book like Murakami's The Elephant Vanishes -- or more frequent shorter translated packages like this piece of work. The slim volumes speak volumes, but a slip case of three books like this would be way welcome.

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