Thursday, 11 October 2012

Amelie Nothomb “Tokyo fiancée” and “Fear and trembling”

In the previous post I talked about Sei Shonagon, a Japanese court lady, who lived over a thousand years ago. I focused on her sense of Beauty. It seems this sacred attitude towards beauty is still strong in Japan.  One of my acquaintances while he was in Tokyo was invited by a Japanese family.  He was presented to all members of the family except the grandmother who preferred to stay in her room – she thought she was not beautiful enough to appear before a foreign guest. What a perfectionist country. My thoughts jumped from Beauty to Japan and I remembered few books about Japan written by a strange and talented writer.
Tokyo fiancée” and “Fear and trembling” are two episodes of Amelie Nothomb’s life in Japan. I strongly recommend reading these two books one after another. The books could have been called “White” and “Black” as they demonstrate love and hate faces of modern Japan.

After graduating from the University in Brussels young Amelie (Belgian writer) returns to Japan where she spent her childhood (she is a daughter of a Belgian diplomat). Amelie is in love with the country and she is determined to stay there. She gets a job in the famous Japanese corporation....

That year becomes hell and paradise for Amelie – she lives awful humiliating days in the Japanese corporation, whereas the nights she spends in the arms of her Japanese boyfriend (perfect like mount Fuji) who apologizes for his country. Amelie constantly gets trapped because of not knowing or of misunderstanding customs of Japan, but she manages to make the benefit of what has happened and treats all with an indescribable optimism.

Tokyo fiancée”

The novel focuses not so much on man-woman as on East-West relationship. It is very interesting to read about cultural differences that surprise you from the first pages. I noted one observation about Japanese’s attitude to beauty (I'm still immersed in the subject of Beauty). She says that in Japan movies with scenes of violence and sex are not subject to censorship, but the woman's pubic area is shrouded in mist, because hair - it's ugly.

It is a beautiful story, full of exquisite details, precise observations, and marvelous landscapes. One of the most exciting scenes is the sunrise on the top of Mount Fuji. It was also interesting to learn about the concept of love in two languages. Amelie says that a partner in current Japanese young unmarried couples is named exceptionally "koibito" (desire, liking, inclination, taste). Deep inner scruples exclude the word "love”, whereas French is full of love language.  Her boyfriend played with love, getting drunk by the novelty, and Amelie reveled in the notion of the "koi", which shows how much they were both open to foreign cultures.

The book reminds you of reckless years of youth when you shake the world and do not have that feeling of super-responsibility. The heroine is young, so she can risk her life in the winter mountains, she can afford bothering the heart of a young Japanese, for whom everything is just too serious (and indeed, he seems, like all Japanese, dealing with most of the issues with an excessive formalism, though he is a representative of the "progressive" youngsters - he is looking for a foreign wife).

The story is filled with the scent of plum flowers, flavored frozen persimmon, hot tubs and steam and, of course, with feelings of  the young Japanese man to Amelie.

"Fear and Trembling"

The second story shows another side of Japan and Japanese society. Do not forget, the events take place simultaneously with Tokyo fiancée”. Amelie Nothomb reveals the "secret" of corporate life in Japan. Adventures, which happened to her in the Japanese corporation, shocked the public so much that the French Academy, in compensation for her moral damages, awarded Amelie Nothomb with the Grand Prix :). The book is captivating, a true documentary thriller full of humor and tension. It was written much earlier than Tokyo fiancée” and I advise you to start with it. Japan presented a truly generous gift to Amélie Nothomb - in one year, she had experienced emotions at 360 degrees. Both books are very easy to read, both are ironic, sometimes sad, but the sadness is not heavy, she is still very young, and she has a life before her.

You can learn a lot about Japan, but these books are primarily about a young European woman in “perfect” Japan. It is with these autobiographical books I began acquaintance with Amelie Nothomb.

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