“. . . I mourned not only for Japan. I mourned, I grieved, for landscapes with distinctive faces — faces marked by the singularity of their histories — that were vanishing moment by moment from the Earth.”
When Minae Mizumura was twelve years old her family moved from Japan to the United States. Twenty years later, after twenty years of an American education, she wants to write a novel — in Japanese. The “why” of this decision — Japanese rather than English — is the core of this brilliant auto-fiction, which was translated into English after 15 years.
I am gobsmacked by the brilliance of this novel, which is also the story of two sisters uprooted from their native land, and the story of race in America, written not with an American audience in mind — let alone a white one — but a Japanese audience. To get to read this in English is a privilege, and I’m still riding high from the experience.— Morgan
Minae Mizumura's An I-Novel is a semi-autobiographical work that takes place over the course of a single day in the 1980s. Minae is a Japanese expatriate graduate student who has lived in the United States for two decades but turned her back on the English language and American culture. After a phone call from her older sister reminds her that it is the twentieth anniversary of their family's arrival in New York, she spends the day reflecting in solitude and over the phone with her sister about their life in the United States, trying to break the news that she has decided to go back to Japan and become a writer in her mother tongue.Published in 1995, this formally daring novel radically broke with Japanese literary tradition. It liberally incorporated English words and phrases, and the entire text was printed horizontally, to be read from left to right, rather than vertically and from right to left. In a luminous meditation on how a person becomes a writer, Mizumura transforms the "I-novel," a Japanese confessional genre that toys with fictionalization. An I-Novel tells the story of two sisters while taking up urgent questions of identity, race, and language. Above all, it considers what it means to write in the era of the hegemony of English--and what it means to be a writer of Japanese in particular. Juliet Winters Carpenter masterfully renders a novel that once appeared untranslatable into English.
About the Author
Minae Mizumura is one of Japan's most respected novelists, acclaimed for her audacious experimentation and skillful storytelling. Three of her books, all of which won major literary awards in Japan, have been translated into English, all by Juliet Winters Carpenter: A True Novel (2013), The Fall of Language in the Age of English (Columbia, 2014; cotranslated with Mari Yoshihara), and Inheritance from Mother (2017). Juliet Winters Carpenter is a prolific translator of Japanese literature. She received the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature in 1980 for Abe Kobo's Secret Rendezvous and in 2014 for Mizumura's A True Novel.