Saturday, August 4, 2012

I Am A Japanese Writer

by Dany Laferrière

There are certain things that I've come to expect from a Dany Laferrière novel, and this novel did not deliver any of them.  I haven't decided if that's a good thing yet or not, as I do like my traditional Laferrières, but that doesn't mean I think the author shouldn't change and grow.

I Am a Japanese Writer doesn't really have a plot - it weaves and meanders, and contradicts itself at times, and is really more about identity than it is story.  The narrator (who for a change I don't feel is really Laferrière) sells his publisher on his new novel just by giving him the name - I Am A Japanese Writer.  It's a bold statement for a Haitian-born writer who has settled in Montreal to make, and it has unexpected consequences.

Having decided that he is a Japanese writer, the narrator sets about making it true, which means he spends long stretches of time reading Basho, the 17th Century Japanese poet, and musing on the writings of Yukio Mishima.  He also decides to meet some real Japanese people, and becomes a little fixated on a group of university-age girls.

His story becomes known to the cultural affairs people at the Japanese embassy, and soon enough the narrator has become a cultural phenomenon in Japan itself, despite the book's having never been written.  People begin calling him from Tokyo nightclubs, and he is interviewed for the television.  Through all of this, all he wants to do is give his landlord a hard time about the rent and read for hours on end in the bathtub.

As I said, Laferrière is all over the place with this book.  About thirty pages in, I was convinced that I was reading a book by William T. Vollmann and not Laferrière, as he was rambling in a very Vollmann-esque way (I think it was the introduction of the Japanese girls that did it).  Still, I found it very easy to get wrapped up in Laferrière's odd ideas, and enjoyed the notion that, in our increasingly cosmopolitan world, a Caribbean writer can declare himself an Asian one.

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