The Japanese Answer to Rod Serling: Otsuichi's New Collection is a Literary Twilight Zone of Stories
Imagine eating macaroni and cheese every day—after a short time, you’d begin craving some variety in your diet. That’s how it is with my reading fare. I read and review novels predominantly written in English but I frequently experience a yen for something different—that is, novels or anthologies written in a foreign language and translated into English.
I wrote about my fascination with translated fiction in a blog earlier this year when I read and reviewed Alex Pehov’s Shadow Prowler, an adventure fantasy written in Russian that had been recently translated to English and released in the States:
“There’s something exhilarating about reading a novel that has been translated into English—I feel like an explorer who has stumbled across an invaluable foreign (literary) treasure. And it can be incredibly insightful from a cultural perspective as well...
The number of exceptional foreign novels translated into English that have not only entertained me but also conveyed some kind of global consciousness or awareness are virtually endless—Andreas Eschbach’s science fiction masterwork The Carpet Makers (originally published in German in 1995), Miyuki Miyabe’s intense police procedural Shadow Family (translated from Japanese in 2005), the young adult medieval fantasy Grimpow by Rafael Ábalos (translated from Spanish), Olivier Pauvert’s Orwellian thriller Noir (translated from French), the list goes on and on…”
While this collection is a bit inconsistent in terms of quality, there are numerous simply brilliant selections contained within. “The White House in the Cold Forest” is a chilling story with a Grimm’s Fairy Tales ambiance that chronicles the life of a boy abused his entire childhood—made to live in a horse barn, beaten by his cousins, etc.—who grows up to be a nightmarishly disfigured and emotionally twisted man who builds a house made out of freshly murdered bodies deep in the wilderness. “I built a simple house, the shape of a rectangular box. To make the walls I stacked up bodies with no gaps between them. Some were male and some were female. Some were villagers and some were travelers. When I got them to the forest I removed their clothing. They were all naked and very white…” When his house of corpses is finished, he is soon visited by a small girl in search of her lost brother who will do anything to return him to his grieving family. “ZOO” is a bizarre story of a young man who has received photographs of his dead girlfriend in his mailbox every morning for months. Each picture shows the body in a slightly more advanced state of decomposition. Without going to the police, the man vows to singlehandedly find the sadistic madman who is tormenting him—and is shocked when he discovers the identity of the killer. The darkly humorous “In a Falling Airplane” is set in a plane hijacked by a suicidal maniac bent on crashing it into Tokyo University and revolves around a conversation between two hopeless passengers, one a failed salesman planning on killing himself on his ex-wife’s doorstep and the other a woman plotting revenge on a man who sexually brutalized her. But my favorite story was “Song of the Sunny Spot,” a melancholic look at a future where most of humankind is extinct. A man, infected by “the germs,” builds a female android to take care of him and to bury him when he dies. But as the man nears death, the nameless robot experiences some very human existential revelations about herself and her maker…
Tired of reading mac and cheese stories? Got a yen for some international literary cuisine? Check out this decidedly Twilight Zone-esque short story collection, replete with jaw-dropping plot twists and bombshell endings... You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into the wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead—your next stop, Otsuichi's ZOO!
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.
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