February 15 Book Club (2018)

Today, this very day – although the notion of time becomes quite blurry after a while – brave souls wandered into the Argo Bookshop lounge to discuss Natsuo Kirino’s The Goddess Chronicle.

While at first glance a feminist noir retelling of the creation myth of Japan may have seemed alluring, our readers ended up with an intriguing tale of treason, revenge, and ‘women’s unfortunate lot in life’, set in a nondescript fictitious past, with an interlude that followed fairly closely the classic story of Izanami and Izanagi (or Izanaki?).

On a teardrop-shaped (and poverty-stricken) island in southern Japan, two sisters are destined to become priestesses of life and death, following in the footsteps of their ancestors– that is, until one of them is betrayed and ends up in the underworld, where she becomes the servant of Izanami, goddess of creation and death. A mythical (and slightly didactic-feeling) interlude helps introduce the countless gods that rule over Japan. While we felt that a fresh twist on that classic tale would have helped tie the mythical element to the main plot, reading the original story of Izanami and Izanagi made us feel thankful that babies are not born on fire.

From our analysis of the sisters’ names (Kamikuu and Namima), we got the impression that some nuances from the original text were perhaps lost in the translation process. We also felt that some characters’ choices could have been explained in greater detail, such as Yakinahiko and Unashi (whom we lovingly referred to as Yakitoriya-san and Funassyi) deciding to become Stab Bros™. Finally, we briefly discussed Japanese customs related to death and dying, including the practice of ancestor worship done at the Buddhist altar in traditional households. Of note was the argument against ‘Screw you grandma, I’m having the cookies first’.

To cleanse ourselves from this gruesome trip into the underworld of Japanese mythology (and hoping we don’t end up nibbled by fish at the bottom of the sea), we have decided to pick a gentler, lighter read for our next Japan Book Club: we will discuss Yôko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor, with the date tentatively set to May 10. We look forward to seeing you there!

Books Read So Far