Wednesday, 11 February 2009

My kind of love story. . .



There was a recent article in The Globe and Mail about Michael Ignatieff, our Leader of the Opposition, and how he and his Hungarian wife Zsuzsanna, recently read War and Peace to each other (a similar article definitely couldn't be written about our Prime Minister Stephen Harper - he'd doubtless think reading books was too elitist, never mind reading them aloud). Meanwhile, single booklovers across Canada are sighing, and suddenly a dozen roses on Valentine's Day looks pretty ho-hum.

I've always thought the most interesting love stories are cross-cultural, especially when literature becomes a common point of reference. Such is the case with Tokyo Fiancée by Amélie Nothomb, translated by Alison Anderson. It's published by Europa Editions, which is also responsible for translating Muriel Barbery's wonderful The Elegance of the Hedgehog and the two novels, though very different, make wonderful reading companions. Again we have the story of a friendship between a French woman and a Japanese man, though Nothomb's story involves younger characters who are more romantically involved, and instead of sharing a passion for Tolstoy, it's Marguerite Duras's Hiroshima mon amour that is referenced(about yet another French/Japanese couple).

Amélie first meets Rinri when he answers her ad offering French lessons. She has come to Tokyo to work, learn about the country and improve her Japanese, and while their initial encounters are full of cultural and linguistic misunderstandings, they quickly become a couple and end up spending a lot of time together, though never at Amélie's own flat. But even as she revels in the beauty and customs of the Japan that Rinri introduces her to, her increasing uneasiness about the future of their relationship dampens her enthusiasm and independent spirit. In the end, she is forced to make a decision about both the man and the country that she loves.

This is a lovely, wistfully funny novel for world travellers, romantics and those who ponder (or obsess about) the "what ifs" in life. There's a beautiful chapter describing the climb up to the summit of Mount Fuji (definitely high on my list of things of things I want to do someday) and an instructive chapter on why tiny live octopuses are best avoided on the menu. Nothomb has a very breezy, personal style of writing - I read most of this delightful tale in one sitting. She's definitely an author I want to read more of, but I think I want to try and tackle her next in French. I have a copy of her earlier novel Stupeur et tremblements (actually referenced in Tokyo Fiancée) sitting on my shelves.

1 comment:

_lethe_ said...

I read a review of Stupeur et tremblements a couple of years ago and thought it sounded intriguing. She seems an interesting author (and a fascinating personality). I have put Stupeur et tremblements on my TBR list, but not in French! Dutch will have to do for me. :)