Readers in the West are embracing Japan’s bold women authors

From The Economist:

Murata sayaka has long kept company with imaginary friends. She first conjured them up as a child, while enduring bullying at school and hectoring at home. Her parents forced her to practise cooking and encouraged “girlie” behaviour, thinking that would one day help attract a rich husband. “I didn’t feel like my body, my life, belonged to me,” Ms Murata (pictured) says. She dreamed of flying away, on a spaceship with her fantastical companions, to a planet where she would belong.

Throughout her fiction, Ms Murata questions what it means to be “normal” and writes sceptically about family life. Her work has struck a chord in Japan, her conservative home country. Her semi-autobiographical novel, “Convenience Store Woman”, won the prestigious Akutagawa literary prize in 2016. It has since been translated into more than 30 languages and sold over 1.5m copies.

Ms Murata’s work has helped usher in a new era of Japanese literature in translation. “Convenience Store Woman” came out in English in 2018 and its feminist undertones may have resonated amid the #MeToo movement, thinks Ginny Tapley Takemori, its translator. In 2020 “Breasts and Eggs”, a novel about pregnancy and beauty standards by Kawakami Mieko, another female Japanese author, also became an international bestseller. “Publishers used to ask for the next Haruki Murakami,” says David Boyd, a translator who has worked on Ms Kawakami’s books. “Now they ask: What’s going to be the next ‘Convenience Store Woman’?”

Though the settings may be unfamiliar to Western readers, these books examine universal themes, such as the challenges of family life. In “Weasels in the Attic” (2022), a novella made up of interlinking stories, Oyamada Hiroko portrays an unhappily married couple who seek fulfilment by having a baby. “In Japan, it seems as if women are seen as incomplete unless they have a child,” says Ms Oyamada. Her short story “Spider Lilies” explores the related obsession with breastfeeding. “When I had a baby, I felt like my breasts were a public asset,” the author says. “Strangers kept asking me: ‘Is the milk coming?’”

Ms Murata’s view of motherhood is even more caustic. The women in her fiction are often “monstrous”. In “Nothingness”, a short story, the female protagonist is incapable of maternal affection. Ms Murata once hoped her own mother would shower her with unconditional love. She now says the mother-daughter relationship usually involves “beautified abuse”.

Link to the rest at The Economist


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