First, the good news. My bathroom renovation is finally, after 9 weeks of crazy, finished. I hope that means my life will return to normal and I’ll get back to regular reviews. (If not…oh well. ^_^)
Today I want to rave about the book that sustained me through the last few weeks, Red Girls: The Legend of the Akakuchibas, by Kazuki Sakuraba, translated by Jocelyne Allen.
The novel follows three generations of a rich manufacturing family in remote western Japan: Illiterate, clairvoyant, Manyo, a daughter of the mountain people who was abandoned as a child, her daughter Kemari, who ruled the girl motorcycle gangs of western Japan, then left it to become a famous manga artist, and her daughter Toko, the narrator of the book.
The synopsis had me intrigued. But you know I keep my expectations low, and I’ve read a lot of Japanese novels, so I’m aware of the slow-to-fast pacing that dominates their writing style. I did not expect to love this book.
I loved this book.
I enjoyed reading it so much, I did something that is unheard of for me – I stopped reading quickly. I started parsing out chapters, then half chapters, slowly, night after night, so I wouldn’t finish too soon.
The language in the book is quirky and strange. My first thought when I started reading was that the translator was a genius – how exciting for me, then to find that the translator was my friend Jocelyne Allen! What a fabulous job she did, communicating the richness of the words, the tones of the speech, and the all-out strangeness of the book. Did I forget to mention that it’s strange? It is. It’s really, really strange. Captivatingly so.
The isolated location, the overview of Japanese 20th century history as seen through the eyes of utterly unaverage, but completely sane, people, coupled with the fantastical visions, and fictionality of their lives, tied together with unnerving precision of description of humanity makes for a fascinating read. This is a super, dark, super, rich, super bitter dark chocolate of a book. The flavor is complex and delightful, but it requires an adult palate to appreciate it.
That said, I found the book especially delightful when it wandered directly into my own playground full of girl gang manga. I’m not going to lie – those bits were extra specially tail-wagging for me. ^_^ Kemari’s manga, Iron Angels! bore a striking resemblance to Hana no Asuka-gumi, which put a smile on my face through that whole section.
But what surprised me most was how good (strange, but good) the ending was. It had been such a delightful read that I had no hope at all that the ending would be good. It was perfect. Strange, but perfect.
This is the first Haikasoru book out of Viz Media that I had ever read. If this is the kind of stuff they are putting out, I’m going to have to go browse through their catalog. This was an amazing bit of summer reading, a great translation and a damn fine novel.
Overall – 10
I couldn’t have imagined a book this perfect for me to read this summer.