Lately, I’ve been trying out a bunch of random Japanese novels via the free samples available on the E-book site Booklive. I went through a few that were mediocre, after which I came across upon the 2014 novel『そして、星の輝く夜がくる』(Soshite, hoshi no kagayaku yoru ga kuru) by Jin Mayama. I got absorbed into it after only a few pages, and before I knew it I had bought the full version.
For those of you who don’t like to learn too much about a book ahead of time, I’ll just give you my one-line summary:
This book is really great–one of the best Japanese novels I have read in some time–and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to learn more about Japan’s culture.
Now for those of you who didn’t stop in the last paragraph to go and order the book somewhere (if you didn’t, no offense taken), I’ll go ahead and give some details about what makes it so great.
This novel, whose title can be roughly (and non-literally) translated as “And then, the star-filled night was upon them”, is about the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 (東日本大震災) where the main character, a teacher by the name of Teppei Onodera (小野寺徹平), is dispatched to help out in an elementary school in the fictional town of Toma. The book chronicles his challenges and successes through a handful of interconnected episodes.
What I really liked about this book was the realistic way it depicted several issues brought about by this terrible disaster. In particular, the psychological after-effects on children, as well as the complex relationships between survivors and volunteers who come to help them are brought to light in detail. Several times I caught myself thinking, “Is this really fiction?” since the emotions of the characters and the situations they were put in seemed so real. At some point I realized the author must have thoroughly researched these types of disasters and the emotions of those involved (for example those who have had to evacuate their homes due to the earthquake), and the several-page references section in the end of the book was a testament to that. The story doesn’t confine itself to only this recent earthquake–there are references to the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 and other historical events–and I feel that the story is general enough so that anyone who has been impacted by a natural disaster can empathize with the characters’ feelings.
In case you are the type of person to get turned off by grim subject matter, let me clarify that this book isn’t all about gloom and doom. It’s about how the efforts of Teppei and others help to bring needed sunlight back into these kids’ lives. And ultimately, I feel this book is really about the Japanese resilient spirit in the face of terrible catastrophes, and how the Japanese have evolved socially to better cope with situations like this. Unfortunately, due to Japan’s unique geography there is no telling when another earthquake will strike, and this is exemplified by the recent string of Earthquakes this year in Kumamoto prefecture on Kyushu island.
Stylistically, this book had the ring of authentic “文学” (literature) from the first few pages. This doesn’t just mean it takes itself seriously, but also that there is a fairly high level of vocabulary and grammar knowledge required to get through he book. On more than a few occasions I felt that the author seemed to go out of his way just to use some uncommon word for the sake of expression, but had I been a native Japanese person a bit more well-versed in literature I probably wouldn’t be bothered by this. In any case, because of its advanced Japanese those who have learned Japanese as a second language will likely find the book quite challenging and need to spend a good portion of time looking up unfamiliar words. You might want to consider getting the E-book version since it’s so easy to look up the meanings of words, especially if you don’t know the Kanji character(s) involved.
Fortunately, this book is relatively short, having under 300 pages in it’s paper format. Reading speed varies from person to person, but I was able to complete it in a little under a month, reading approximately one or two hours a day. I adjusted the font size to make reading complex kanji easier without having to squint, so the actual number of “E” pages I read was over 1000.
If you are the type of person who likes to study Japanese regional dialects, it’s useful to know there is a good amount of exposure to Osaka dialect, since Teppei comes from that area. Ironically, there isn’t very much North-Eastern dialect (東北弁) which is what the people near the accident would speak, probably because the students and teachers generally speak Tokyo-dialect when at school.
This book is available in both printed and E-book form from publisher Kodansha, from the usual places including Amazon and Booklive. Both of these sites have a sample you can read to get the feel for the book (look for 無料サンプル or 立ち読み).
After I finished this book I realized it is a little bit like the classic series Great Teacher Onizuka (available in many forms such as manga, anime, drama, and movies), so if you like that type of story then that’s another reason to check out 『そして、星の輝く夜がくる』.
On a final note–not only do I love this book’s title, but the author ties it in skillfully to the overall story. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!