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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
Be With You by Ichikawa Takuji 
10th-Jan-2007 11:58 pm
Ichikawa, Takuji. Be With You. Trans. Terry Gallagher. San Francisco: VIZ Media, 2006.
          Summary: Originally titled Ima, Ai ni Yukimasu. Sickly young widower Takkun with his six-year-old child is suddenly reunited with his deceased wife Mio for the duration of the rainy season. As the days and weeks progress, he recounts their history together and they fall in love all over again. Mio then disappears, but Takkun learns from a posthumous letter than she had in fact traveled forward in time for a brief period--and it was this afterdeath swan song that convinced her to choose him for the rest of her life.
          Comments: Ugh. After reading the utterly-delightful Kamikaze Girls, I was hoping that the lackluster Socrates in Love was an aberration and that VIZ Media's SB Fiction imprint was destined to offer readers a parade of wonderful contemporary Japanese fiction. Sadly, with three titles now safely stowed away on my bookshelf, we're two for three on the proverbial wrong side of the stacks. Be With You was pretty all-around awful. What do you get when the protagonist is a Kurt Vonnegut fan (weird plot conceits and a couple of lousy sketches do not a Vonnegut-worthy novel make) who is so unbelievably sickly and agoraphobic that it's ridiculous? Nothing good. And it really is too bad that he loses his oh so perfect little wife who cooks, cleans, and extracts earwax from his son's ears--not to mention teaches her son to take care of Dad in her absence--but I can't bring myself to care. The love isn't romantic; it's just tedious. If it were me, I'd divorce him in a heartbeat. Hell, I wouldn't have married him in the first place.
          Gallagher's translation is passable, though it does occasionally read like a literal translation. Ichikawa's prose style still manages to shine through into English (at least to someone who knows Japanese), and it's not anything impressive. Just stiff and blocky. Over-reliance on dialogue (one of the sins of contemporary Japanese literature in general) makes this melodramatic novel read like a manga without pictures. Which I suppose is good since the book gets shelved with the manga at most bookstores. But it's not good from a literary standpoint, and that's the standpoint that counts.
          Notes: hardcover, first American edition, 1st printing; first printed in Japan in 2003
          Rating: 4.5/10 - "Popular" fiction and "literary" fiction are so often mutually-exclusive. No exceptions here.

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