After reading through several stories on there, this is one of the few that I really liked (this is one of the others), and I felt it would be a perfect candidate for an English translation. I wrote a message to the story’s author (Yuki Fujimura, 藤村由紀) and she gave me permission to translate and put the result on my blog. You can see her home page here, which contains many of her other stories.
This story takes place in a very unique society–where each citizen is legally obligated to write one, and only one book during their lifetime.
I hope you enjoy it!
Chapter 1: Saki Mitsumura
Saki Mitsumura was a special girl.
In the midst of her high school classroom’s constant commotion, the air around her seemed to exhibit a special type of tranquility.
Sitting by a window, her beautiful profile with long hair shining dark brown in the sun gave Saki appearance of a skillfully crafted doll.
She excelled academically. But it wasn’t like grades meant anything. No one ever bothered her or asked for her help.
Head always in a book, she hardly ever spoke with her classmates.
Everyone was conscious of her presence, and yet no one came into physical contact with her, as if she was enclosed within glass walls.
Saki Mitsumura was that type of person.
That’s why one day when she suddenly spoke to me, I thought to myself, “This girl is like a doll come to life!”
It was the same voice that had given the correct answer when called on by the teacher in class.
I was the only student who stayed behind in the classroom after school. At least that’s what I thought until now. I gazed at my sunlit desk for a moment and then raised my head to see the source of the voice.
Saki Mitsumura stood directly behind my desk, staring at me with her hair held back to keep it falling in her face.
“What’cha reading, Sakizaki?”
I hadn’t answered her question, so she repeated herself.
For the first time, I realized this girl–who was in the same class as me–was a living, breathing human being.
I hurriedly showed her the book which lie opened on my desk.
“It’s an atlas.”
Her well-formed eyebrows drew together in distrust.
The girl’s response was only natural. The atlas I had before me was published over 20 years ago.
Even the country names were considerably different. But I liked reading this atlas that I’d found at home.
Looking at it, my imagination would run wild and I’d think about using this country name or that location for the setting of my own novel when I got around to writing it.
But I didn’t say anything about that to her.
You see, I’m not very fond of talking about things that haven’t been directly asked of me.
Saki looked intently over my shoulder at the atlas, and then withdrew a step.
“You don’t read novels much, do you?”
In my elementary school days, I had heard that long ago there were career authors, and to be honest, I wish I had been born back then.
I’ve also heard that the obligation to publish, given to citizens as the final stage of compulsory education, was a symbol of our country’s high cultural level. But the reality was that there was a good and bad side to this practice.
I have no interest in reading novels written by students with the carelessness of a summer homework assignment.
Even assuming a book was written with heartfelt emotion, there is no guarantee that it will be a good fit for me.
Word of mouth or online review sites don’t help much. The way I see it, the act of reading a book essentially boils down to choosing a person.
That’s why I don’t read too many books. Even if by chance I do stumble upon a novel I really enjoy, that author’s second book will never exist.
By forcing everyone to write, the number of readers is decreased significantly. I sometimes wonder if the politicians back then had considered this.
Hearing my answer, Saki nodded.
“Did you write your book yet?”
“Have you found anything you want to write about?”
I stated the facts frankly and to the point.
What could this girl be planning? I wish she would just cut to the chase.
As if reading my mind, Saki smiled broadly.
Just as I was thinking, Wow, she’s as cute as a real girl, she spoke again.
“In that case, would you mind reading my book that I‘m about to start writing?“
I digested what she said for moment and then realized that this girl is crazy.
Despite looking very much like a doll, she was human enough to say some pretty crazy things.
But I’d never say something like that out loud. I refused her offer in a more socially appropriate manner to avoid hurting her feelings.
“But everyone will want to read your book.”
That was an undeniable truth. Whenever news got out that someone finished their book, all their classmates would rush to the bookstore.
By the same token, there were many who would keep quiet, wanting to avoid creating a big fuss when their book came out.
But to a large number of people, there wasn’t much difference between their personal book and a journal posted in the elementary school hallway at the end of summer break.
If the cutest girl in school was writing her book, I’m sure everyone would be interested.
That is why Saki should just pick whomever she likes from the crowd. Just don’t involve me.
I stood up, intending to go home, but Saki didn’t back down.
“But if everyone read my book there’d be no point.”
“Books are made for everyone to read. They are published, after all.”
“But I want someone to read mine before I publish it. Someone who will keep quiet about it and hasn’t written their own book yet.”
“Oh, you want someone to proofread your manuscript?”
For all of us who have been given the obligation to publish, the government has set up funds to assist with things like cover design, illustration, and revision.
Up to age 18, the author is responsible for ten percent of these costs. After that, the percentage changes based on age and income, but naturally there are those who want to create a book good enough that is worth spending money on, and well as those who are satisfied with a half-ass result if they can avoid spending money.
Getting detailed advice about things like plot structure will cost a certain amount of money.
And I guess asking a friend or classmate help out with proofreading is one option.
But count me out.
“You’d be better off asking someone else.”
Even if the author was a smart, beautiful girl, I don’t want to help read through a badly written novel.
And even assuming the book was well written, it will not necessarily mesh well with me.
If the book was something I bought, I could simply close it and never come back, but when proofreading a classmate’s book there is some level of responsibility.
I closed the atlas, packed it into my bag, and quickly left my desk.
As I headed for the door, I heard her voice from behind.
“Your presentation in last year’s language class…“
Startled, I quickly turned around to face her.
My reaction was because she had reminded me of a time I had “talked about things that haven’t been directly asked of me.”
Our eyes met.
Her brown-colored eyes reflected the evening sun, giving them a red tinge.
“I bought and read the book you presented in class: ‘Memories seen by a corpse.’ ”
“No, it’s ‘Memories traced by a corpse,’ ”
I said, and immediately realized I’d been tricked.
Saki grinned again. She had purposefully said the title incorrectly. I was sure of it.
She repeated the title, clearly enunciating it this time.
“I could really associate with ‘Memories traced by a corpse.’ So I became interested in the one who had recommended it, you.”
“That book didn’t sell at all. Its author has long since been forgotten.”
“I haven’t forgotten it. Neither have you.”
— I’m on the verge of saying something unnecessary, I thought to myself.
I don’t want to get involved. That’s not the type of thing I normally do.
For expressing the things deep inside of me using words, one book in a lifetime is enough.
Even for that single book, I want to reduce my words to the bare minimum, and not ruin it with unnecessary words.
Because when something is put into words, it changes irreversibly.
She spoke, and once again it was as if she saw right through me.
“Read my book, pretty please–just do that, and you’ll never have to write anything yourself.”
It was a beautiful declaration–one completely devoid of waste.
In response to her statement (which sounded more like an order than a plea) I frowned silently.
Now you have some idea what a weird person Saki Mitsumura is.
=== End of Chapter 1 ===
Note: While the author has completed this story in Japanese, it is quite long and will take a good amount of time and effort for me to translate all of it. So if you are interested, please consider liking this post, or even better leave a comment. Or if you found this from a site such as novelupdates.com, please consider leaving a rating or review on that site.
This will help me to make priorities as to what I should translate.