A True Novel

Written by Minac Mizumura
Review by Viviane Crystal

Japanese readers fell in love with 19th-century western literature because it strove to transcend daily life to focus on the “ideal” existence. However, when striving to imitate this form, Japanese authors struggled with how to avoid the traditional form of the “I” novel, in which one wrote about one’s “real” life with its fragmented, confusing, suffering, joyful and elusive, everyday elements. It is this mixture of both styles for which Mizumura strives and brilliantly succeeds in creating within A True Story.

This is the story of Taro Azuma, who in reality Mizumura’s family knew. Taro as a young man appears in California working as a chauffeur for an upper middle-class family (1960s), avidly studying English, and ultimately becoming a rich man through investing in medical equipment like the endoscope. He displays evidence of darkness, unhappiness, and violent anger. The plot about this young man then shifts backward and forward to the Karuizawa vacation area in Japan, following the vicissitudes of the Saegusa and Shigemitsu families and their puzzling interaction with Taro. We tensely follow the ups and downs of his first and only very serious love affair with Yoko, as narrated by the maid Fuyue. But the novel also charts the changing times (spanning the mid-1940s to 1998) in culture, language, geography, dress, and socially acceptable standards.

Reality blends with a haunting, surrealistic quality that grips the reader on every page. A True Novel is classic Japanese literature that is a sheer delight to read!