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Novel set in JAPAN

24th July 2023

Four Seasons in Japan by Nick Bradley, novel set in Japan (mainly Onomichi, Hiroshima and Tokyo).

Novel set in JAPAN

[Trigger warning: suicide]

Four Seasons in Japan is an intimate look at life in contemporary Japan, as seen by both locals and outsiders. It’s a gently paced book that takes place over the course of a year, as the title suggests. It highlights the differences between city and rural life and contrasts traditional culture and attitudes with modern ways. The author, Nick Bradley, has lived in Japan for many years, and it shows. He is able to highlight things that are of interest to readers who are new to Japan while writing authentically about his characters. And his cats! There’s some fun word play and well-rounded characters, with suspense maintained until the end. The book includes some delightful line drawings and calligraphy, which added to the experience.

Flo Dunthorpe is an American translator living in Tokyo, who is at a crisis point in her life. Her work has dried up and so has her relationship with her girlfriend, Yuki. She is a gloomy character when we meet her, but she has loyal friends who believe in her, which is cause for optimism. (I loved that she looked up her own reviews on TrashReads – a sort of in-joke for those in the book world!) She needs to find work and to decide whether to follow Yuki to New York or stay put. Fate conspires to put a novel in her path, Sound of Water by Hibiki. Flo becomes engrossed with the story of Kyo and his grandmother, Ayako. She begins translating the book and we read what she has written, so Four Seasons in Japan becomes a meta novel – a book within a book. Flo is desperate to ensure her editor will like her translation of Sound of Water – but can she find Hibiki, the mysterious Japanese author, and get permission to publish it in English?

 

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Bradley divides Four Seasons in Japan into sections according to the seasons that Kyo and Ayako experience in Sound of Water, which mirror those that Flo is living through as she translates their story. Kyo has failed his exams and become a roninsei: he attends a cram school in order to retake and go on to the career in medicine that his family wants for him. Meanwhile, he must live with his grandmother, who he barely knows. He is tormented by the death of his father when he was a baby – as is Ayako, who is strict and traditional and determined not to let her grandson down in the way she feels she let her son down. She secretly admires Kyo’s skill as an artist but both characters are so repressed that they don’t show their true emotions. Kyo’s dilemma is whether to fulfil his family’s expectations or follow his heart and become an artist.

Locations are vital to the book. Kyo becomes attached to life outside Tokyo, and it becomes apparent that the mountains and water are more than just part of the scenery; they’ve played an important part in the story of his family. Kyo is the respectful grandson, meaning that he won’t ask questions of his taciturn grandmother, and their shared history is only gradually revealed. You’ll want to keep reading to discover how Flo, Ayako and Kyo change over the course of the four seasons and whether they achieve their respective aims.

Sue for the TripFiction Team

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Catch the author on Twitter @nasubijutsu

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