Fiction, Young Adult

Mini Reviews: In Translation

My book club is following along with KCLS’s 10 to Try challenge, which aims to expand reader horizons. This month’s theme was “In Translation.” Check out two of the titles I picked up, both originally published in Japanese!

Shuna’s Journey

Cover image for Shuna's Journey by Hayao Miyazaki

by Hayao Miyazaki

Translated by Alex Dudok de Wit

ISBN 9781250846525

Prince Shuna’s people live hardscrabble lives, working themselves to the bone for an ever more meagre harvest. When a dying traveler tells Shuna of a legendary distant land with endless fields of plump, golden grain, Shuna travels west in search of the source of this bountiful crop. Along the way, he rescues Thea and her sister, who have been sold into slavery, before continuing his journey to the Land of the God-Folk and discovering the source of the golden grain. Originally published in Japan in 1983, about two years before the founding of Studio Ghibli, this early work from animation master Hayao Miyazaki was released in English for the first time in 2022. Based on a Tibetan folktale about the origins of the barley crop, Shuna’s Journey is akin to the environmental stories Miyazaki tells in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and Princess Mononoke (1997). The illustrated watercolour story seems to contain all the seeds of Miyazaki’s signature style and themes, including several elements that appear directly in his later films. For Miyazaki fans, this provides a fascinating glimpse into his nascent style.

How Do You Live?

Cover image for How Do You Live? by Genzaburo Yoshino

by Genzaburo Yoshino

Translated by Bruno Navasky

ISBN 9781616209773

Following the death of his father, junior high student Honda Jun’ichi, known to his friends and family as Copper, finds himself drawn into philosophical questions about the meaning of life and how to live well in pre-war Japan. How Do You Live? is a thoughtful, slow-paced novel about a fifteen-year-old boy, his misfit group of friends, and the uncle who has made it his mission to guide Copper’s intellectual and philosophical development through letters and conversation. This didactic novel for young people was originally published in Japan in 1937 by a political dissident who couched his ethics and philosophy in a storybook at a time when it was illegal to publish criticisms of Japan’s increasingly militaristic government. How Do You Live? was translated into English for the first time in 2022 in anticipation of its use as the source material for Hayao Miyazaki’s forthcoming, and supposedly final, animated feature, which may be released this summer in Japan. A Japanese classic from Miyazaki’s youth, and resonant with the themes of many of his other works, I look forward to seeing how he adapts this story from the perspective of someone who grew up in post-war Japan.

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