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Review: Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

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My Interest

I’ve enjoyed most of the Japanese literature I’ve read in the last few years, so this year I signed up for the Japanese Literature Challenge and the Year of the Asian Challenge. This book fits the criteria of both and I do not see a problem with crediting it to both challenges since they are only for fun.

The Story

“I began to understand that we were born in order to see and listen to the world. And that’s all this world wants of us. It doesn’t matter that I was never a teacher or a member of the workforce, my life had meaning.” (p. 199)

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Released from prison for a routine drug offense, Sentaro has been working in a very small pastry shop selling pancakes filled with sweet bean paste. His life is dull, he has debt, and nothing changes. Then one day an elderly woman, Tokue, asks him to let her make the sweet bean paste. She keeps asking–finally bringing a Tupperware bowl full of the sweet bean paste she’s been making for 50 years. In spite of her crippled hands and her advanced age, Sentaro agrees to hire her. Life begins to change.

“I made all those sweet things for all those who lived with the sadness of loss.” (p.202)

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My Thoughts

“The only way to get over barriers…is to live in the spirit of already being over them.” (p. 210)

I did not expect to be so moved by this little book! Wow, it packs quite an emotional punch.

Nor did I expect an education in Hansen’s Disease, aka “Leprosy.” Before reading this book I knew only that it featured in an episode of Call the Midwife and that, back in the day, Queen Elizabeth beat Princess Diana by decades in shaking hands, gloveless, with a patient of a fear disease. When she shook hands with a “Leper,” it lessened public fear of what was by then a treatable, and curable, disease.

Tokue’s memories of her life in the Lepers Sanctuary from age 14 to her present advanced age, evoked images of concentration camps. state mental hospitals, and a lot of other institutions to which people are forced. I was left staggered, trying to imagine knowing no one outside the colony,  never seeing family again and, of all things, having to accept a new name. This last reminded me of colonial children, such as Nelson Mandela, being forced to use a new name to go to school at mostly mission-run schools or of the children stolen from conquered nations and given to SS families by the Nazis.

Tomorrow I have a post on novels set in some of those places (but not in concentration camps).

I’m told the movie adaptation of Sweet Bean Paste [movie link] is also very good.

Now, if I could just taste one of those pancakes with Tokue’s style of Sweet Bean Paste! Or that New Year’s dish!!

My Verdict

4.5

Possible favorite book of 2020, too!

Sweet Bean Paste [book link] by Durian Sukegawa

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March Madness Nerd Style! Readathons, Challenges and more!

Yes, this is a very long post. Thankfully, it is mostly book lists!

Last month I completed the challenge of reading a book from each of the 50 states, Puerto Rico and D.C.  You can read that post here. This month I’m starting two challenges, Read Ireland Month and the Welsh Readathon. Meanwhile, I’m finished with the Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight challenge and will end March by wrapping up the Irish, Welsh, and Japanese challenges!

The Welsh Readathon

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#dewithon20

Readathon link

I accidentally returned the read-along book, the English translation of Un Nos Ola Leuad (One Moonlit Night) by Caradog Prichard (1904-1980). So, that leaves me scrambling. I own, and have not read, How Green Was My Valley. I’ve tried it before and didn’t get very far, so I may be a failure at this readathon. As for Welsh literature/Welsh authors I’ve read, it’s a short list: Going Solo by Roald Dahl.

Reading Ireland Month

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Readathon Link

#begorrathon20  #readingirelandmonth20  #readingirelandmonth

Because I’m at the mercy of our regional library for most of my reading, I had to read two of my Irish books in February but will be posting my reviews during March. If I read another Irish book this month it is likely to be one of two McCarthy books that I already own.

What I’ve Already Read from the 100 Irish Novels List on 746 Books

or from the list 100 Books By Irish Women Writers also on 746 Books

This list includes both books set in Ireland and books written by Irish authors.

  1. Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith
  2. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  3. Magician’s Nephew and Lion Witch & Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  4. Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy [and many, many others]
  5. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
  6. PS I Love You by Cecelia Ahern Read instead:  Love, Rosie and the Book of Tomorrow both by Cecelia Ahern
  7. Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
  8. Room by Emma Donghue  Read instead: Akin by Emma Donghue My Review Link
  9. Light in Amsterdam by David Park
  10. Aren’t You Somebody? Accidental Memoir of A Dublin Woman by Nuala O’Faolain
  11. The Group by Mary McCarthy and Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood by her
  12. Damage by Josephine Hart –well, ok, I haven’t read it but I’ve seen Jeremy Irons in the starring role in the movie! Jeremy Irons!
  13. Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney TRIED to read instead: Normal People by her, but DNF couldn’t stand it
  14. ONE OTHER to be reviewed this month
  15. ONE OTHER to be reviewed this month

Others Not On Those Lists

  1. An Irish Country Doctor [series] by Patrick Taylor (Which I loved until he started cranking them out and lowering the quality. I quit after #9). Set in Northern Ireland.
  2. Ballroom on Magnolia Street; Teahouse on Mulberry Street; and The Tavern on Maple Street all by Sharon Owens
  3. Trinity by Leon Uris

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Japanese Literature Challenge 13

at dolcebellezza.net

Readathon Link 

#JapaneseLitChallenge13

Unlike the other challenges, which run for a month or less, the Japanese Literature Challenge runs the whole of the first quarter of the year.  I’ve already posted my first review–of Strange Weather in Tokyo (aka The Briefcase). I’m behind on my second book, but will finish it along the way. My big feat will be completing the read-along of The Makioka Sisters, a dear friend’s favorite book. I want to succeed at reading it this time!

Books by Japanese authors regardless of the setting or novels set in Japan

links are to my reviews

When the Emperor Was Devine by Julie Otsuka

Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Strange Weather In Tokyo [aka The Briefcase] by Hiromi Kawakami

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro [Japanese author]

Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa

The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Buried Giant by Kazu Ishiguro [Japanese author]

Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

 Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Do you like readathons or reading challenges? Are you doing any this year? Leave me a comment, or link to your own post.

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Review: Strange Weather in Tokyo [aka The Briefcase] by Hiromi Kawakami

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My Interest

As you’ve learned if you have read my blog for a while, I love a good older man–younger woman romance. No Sugardaddies! No gold-diggers! No pervs! Just a sincere older man, younger woman pairing.

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Map Source

The Story

Tsukiko is an office worker in early midlife. One evening at a bar she encounters a teacher from her high school. They develop a close, loving relationship. “Sensei” as she continues to call him is much older, but they find they order the same foods, like drinking together, and enjoy each other’s take on the world.

“Would you consider a relationship with me, based on a premise of love?” he asks a few years later.

My Thoughts

Hopefully, no spoilers. I hate them. Sorry if I give something away without realizing it First, let me say that I loved the sound of the food–I want to try ALL the food in this book!

I’ve only read a handful of Japanese books, so I probably missed miles of symbolism in this one. For example, Sensei always carries a briefcase and in the end, we find something out about it, but I’m still unsure what it means. Some of his pronouncements, some of her acts–surely there was supposed to be more meaning than I understood in them?

This is one of the few older man/younger woman relationships that I accepted and liked but found “off.” Not pervy, not desperate, not cringe-y, just “off” somehow. I found myself hoping Tsukiko would take off for America or move-in with her high school classmate or just adopt a pet. I did not “feel” the relationship between her and Sensei in the way I believe the author intended. I found Tsukiko’s only true-to-life emotion was in the cringy last part where she wonders if a physical relationship even matters.

My Verdict

3 Stars

Read all of the reviews of Japanese Literature Challenge 13 here

#JapaneseLitChallenge13