From her early interest in Russia’s hinterlands to her recent focus on the culture and places of Japan, German poet and novelist Marion Poschmann’s writing continues its eastward drift. Her latest novel (and first in English thanks to Jen Calleja’s translation) The Pine Islands, which recounts the tragic-comic journey of a middle-aged German university professor who decamps to Japan (he dreams that his wife is cheating on him) and undertakes a Bashō-inspired journey once there, has been shortlisted for the German Book Prize (2017) and Man Booker International Prize (2019) and hailed as a “masterpiece” by Germany’s esteemed newspaper Die Zeit.
A Japanese American war hero has a secret. A secret so awful he’d rather die than tell anyone—one so entwined with the brave act that made him a hero that he’s determined never to speak of the war. Ever.
With her sinuously taut sculpture “The Arch of Hysteria” (1993), French artist Louise Bourgeois addressed deep-seated Western cultural associations between women, hysteria, and sexual dysfunction. Drawing on the ideas of 19th-century French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, under whom Freud had studied and whose ideas enjoyed a great deal of currency among many Surrealist artists years later, Bourgeois re-fashioned what had become a prototypical image of the hysterical woman in the Western imagination, writhing and with arched back, into a headless, genital-less, bronze male body suspended by a wire. It is a potent visual metaphor and the subversiveness of Bougeois’s gesture laid the groundwork for subsequent artistic re-evaluations of this specious aspect of European cultural history.
Fifteen-year-old Aiko Cassidy, a bicultural girl with cerebral palsy, grew up in Michigan with her single mother. For as long as she could remember, it was just the two of them. When a new stepfather and a baby half sister enter her life, she finds herself on the margins. Having recently come into contact with her biological father, she is invited to spend the summer with his indigo-growing family in a small Japanese farming village. Aiko thinks she just might fit in better in Japan. If nothing else, she figures the trip will inspire her manga story, Gadget Girl.
“Pardon me for asking,” says an elderly lady called Kaoru (a unisexual Japanese name meaning “perfume” or “fragrance”) to the protagonist, Mitsuki Katsura, and another hotel guest, “but has either of you come here to commit suicide?”
Recently wed—and quickly divorced—twenty-four-year-old Sarah Coomber escapes the disappointments of her Minnesota life for a job teaching English in Japan. Her plan is to use the year to reflect, heal and figure out what to do with her wrecked life while enjoying the culture of the country where she had previously spent a life-changing summer that included a romance with a young baseball player.
“Sensei”, a diminutive older woman, teaches Janet Pocorobba how to play the shamisen, a traditional three-stringed Japanese instrument. It is hard to tune and exactly how much “ma” or dead space to leave between the notes is constantly vexing. Sensei is of the view that the shamisen, and traditional music in general, is much neglected by the younger generation little interested their own culture. Disgusted by this attitude, Sensei turns to teaching foreigners to keep the music alive.