Today, I’m going to do something a bit unusual… As I said before, I’m actually a French native, and therefore read quite a lot in French. Even though I most of the times read & talk about books that are translated/originally written in English, I must do an exception for today’s blog issue. The book I’m going to talk about today is written in French by a Belgian author, Amélie Nothomb. Some of her books are translated in English, though, but the one I read this week isn’t yet. But well, let’s say this is a critic for those who can read French (and there’s a Spanish version too, I believe), and for those who’ll wait for it to be translated in English so they can read it. Yes, I reckon, it’s weird and maybe not so useful for most of you… but well, you might be interested in the author herself & check out what other books she wrote! And, moreover, this is actually part of my 2015 Reading Challenge for the category : A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit. Know that I can also help you fulfill one goal of your reading challenge, if you’re participating too, as it could be your book that was originally written in different language! 😉
Without further ado, I’ll be talking about…
A Happy Nostalgia
(La nostalgie heureuse being the French title).
Amélie Nothomb is a Belgian author, writing in French. Born in Belgium, she left at 2 for Japan, and then later on for other worldwide countries, as her father was an ambassador. She left Japan when she was 5 & went back after she finished her higher education, working in a Japanese industry. She wrote one of her books, Fear and Trembling, on that subject. She went back to Japan years later, as she was filmed by Laureline Amanieux for a documentary on her childhood… and this journey inspired the novel I am going to talk about.
She published her first novel in 1992 and, after that, published at least one novel per year. Her work is translated in 40 languages and she received multiple prizes such as the prix Chardonne, the Grand prix du roman de l’Académie française, the prix de Flore,and the Grand prix Jean Giono.
(I’m sharing that for the pictures, as it is in French, but I can make a transcript if you want to xx)
Tout ce que l’on aime devient fiction.
Everything we love becomes fiction.
As said right before, in this book, Amélie Nothomb writes about herself going back to Japan some 20 years long after the last time she went (and she talks about that particular period in Fear and Trembling, if you’re interested!)… This time, she’s going to record a documentary on the path of her childhood in Japan. We therefore follow her thoughts and feelings as she goes back in time, goes back on some places such as her primary school, as she meets her ex-fiancé one more time and as she sees her old nanny that loved her so much. All in all, it’s going back with her on old memories.
It’s only the second book of Nothomb that I’ve read – and therefore, I’m not able to judge the author in its whole, or the writing style she has in general – it is quite precisely my opinion on this novel and this one only. Hold me no grudge if you disagree with my thoughts dear ones.
So. What did I think of this novel? To be honest, I quite liked it.
It’s the kind of book that is read in an hour or so-so, that has some pretty beautiful sentences – maybe too beautiful? As in, to prepared, to stylized, not natural enough? As in, too much effort in the style sometimes the meaning is not even truly here? well, yes, that did cross my mind a few times while reading the book but whole in whole, it’s greatly written and appreciable – but not really deep, in my opinion.
Moreover, as it is a biography, everything resolves around her, her, and her only. I don’t read much biography, and some people were criticizing the fact that this book was a bit too much narcissistic and self-centered. Well, then, I must say: it’s a biography. Of course, she’s going to be the main. If you don’t like the character, the woman she is, it is highly undoubtedly that you won’t be liking this… But, well, thinking back on this, I believe that despite the fact that it is true it’s about her, and somewhat you have difficulties identifying to the character in a way it will make you feel like you’re really living all of this with her or as her, there are some moments when I thought “oh, that is so true.” or “wow, this is real”. There is one moment in particular when, as she goes back on the track of her childhood, she ends up in the city she used to live in as a child, and she can recognize almost nothing because of an earthquake that destroyed a lot & the fact that, well, in almost 40 years, things surely did change… there, she felt kind of despaired, depressed, as her memory was fading away, as everything seemed to say to her what you believe to be the truth never did happen, she ends up seeing a sewer on the road at the exact same place, looking exactly the same – and when she gets hyper about this, feeling touched, realizing that it did happen, it IS true, well no one understands her feelings. She looks like a crazy one, looking at something that has no importance whatsoever as it is, let’s be honest, only a sewer. But, heck, as I read her writing her thoughts on that moment, as I read her joy, her feeling of existence and comprehension and memory, I really felt something clicking in me and responding to that. So yes, maybe a lot of the book can’t be related with, but there are some parts to which you can relate.
Even though it’s not my story, even though I never met the ones she’s writing about, even though they are real existing people and it’s kind of weird to think that… I really came to appreciate the people she was meeting back there in Japan. Be it either her ex-fiancé, who looks totally charming, polite, perfect gender-to-be, cultivated, with no remorse, or either her nanny, that took care of her as she was a child and to who she wants to say so much – while she cannot do so as Japanese are very humble and reserved in their emotions and feelings. The scene when she meets her again, one last time, when she realizes she grew old, and still is as lovely, of course you’d get a little pinch in your heart and melt at what you read. This is ultimately well done.
J’ai fini par comprendre que ce qui m’a fondé n’est pas le Japon, mais le manque du Japon.
I came to realize that what created me was not Japan – but the lack of Japan.
Learning about Japan
I am a great fan of Japan, I am fond of their culture, their politeness, their country, their traditions, and all of these. Reading a book about Japan always makes me feel all excited, as I am always pleased to learn more and more every time. When I read Fear and Trembling I discovered the side of industries in Japan – a side that is not pleasant for woman -, this time however, I understood a lot more about the way Japanese people think, how they react to event such as Fukushima, how they are during lunches, during meetings, during friend meet ups. Always this politeness, this reserve – I’m always amazed by that. I do not know if it’s a myth that is cultivated by the author or if Japanese people truly are this respectful in all (like, really each single one) situations, but I love to think so and remain in my fully-polite-humble-reserved image of them.
Enjoyable as a sequel
I don’t know if it’s due to the fact that I read Fear and Trembling before this one, but I feel like I would have appreciated this novel a little less if I hadn’t read the other one beforehand. (There’s also a third book of her writing about Japan which I have not yet read, but I guess I’ll be doing so in the weeks to come!) The fact that I was able to read again on her going to Japan, which is how I discovered her, is mostly what pleased me. I liked knowing more of her life, her adventure, and particularly in Japan as, like said before, I have a particular fascination for Japan. However, if we’re not acquainted with the author and a bit of her past life, I believe a lot of the book will simply pass through us and not get us like it did to me. It’s a book read as in the expectation to know more about her life back then in Japan, to come to know how it feels to go back on the tracks of things we all kind of forget, as childhood is not the most easy to remember – it’s not a book that is read on its own. Or so I believe.
And so? Read it or not?
I’m glad I read it. It’s not a super deep book, but it’s not a loveydovey random romantic drama whatnot. It’s greatly written, though sometimes a bit too much. It’s too focused on her, sometimes uneasy to identify, but some moments touched me deeply. The characters are agreeable, moving, and a lot of little tips are given about Japan, which is a plus. So, all in all, I would definitely recommend reading it – though not as Amélie Nothomb’s first book you’d read! (There, I’d go for Fear and Trembling).
Sooo, I guess that if you can read either French or Spanish (or find an English version, and if so, do say it in the comments section below!) you definitely have to go and check out that book & this author – hopefully my review gave you the urge to! If it did, why not share you thoughts on it, and maybe even tell me if you read it or plan to do so, in the comments? I’d love to know about your thoughts, lil’pies!
Until next week,
Loads of lil’kisses from a