Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto
(Grove Press, New York: 2000)
Japanese version originally published 1989
Translated by Michael Emmerich
READ: March-April 2005
OK, I admit it. I initially bought this book because I kept seeing it in the deeply-discounted Bargain Books section every time I went to Chapters (which is probably more often than I should go). And I think "Banana Yoshimoto" is one of the coolest names an author could ever wish to have. So I bought it.
I have since learned that Yoshimoto is in fact one of Japan's better-known contemporary writers. And Asleep is in fact a lovely book. It's a bit strange. As a translation, and from Japanese no less, where the pace of story-telling can be different from what readers are used to (at least readers like me, who perhaps overdose on Canadian literature now and again (though reviewing my book list of books read-to-date, I seem to be expanding those horizons this year)), the book feels slightly magical and other-worldly (though again, if you've ever been to Japan, that assessment isn't too far off the mark). In a way, speaking of Can-lit, Yoshimoto reminds me of Alice Munro (at least in the earlier days before I realized I was confusing Munro's books because they all dealt with women in unusual or awkward situations).
Asleep actually is three novellas about three very different women who have strange spiritual connections to sleep and all that it entails. And here I unashamedly steal from the jacket dust-cover: "One, mourning for a lost lover, finds herself sleepwalking at night. Another, who has embarked on a relationship with a man whose wife is in a coma, finds herself suddenly unable to stay awake. A third finds her sleep haunted by another woman whom she was once pitted against in a love triangle." There is a dreamy quality to the book itself - you could almost be reading some form of long poem. I took my time with this book, not wanting to spoil its sometimes near-perfect balance, but often was compelled to read "just a few more pages" to see what would happen next.
Yoshimoto has written a few other books which have been translated from the Japanese; of these, I think Kitchen will be the next one I search out (even if it isn't available on discount.