Granta is a publisher of books as well as a literary magazine, each issue with a specific theme and included are a range of different authors as well as forms and mediums of writing. I had been interested in this magazine for a while so as soon as I saw the 127: Japan issue I knew I had to start there, with a theme close to my heart.
This magazine (or book; I’d say the format of the item is more book-like, and the quality of the paper and the physical execution is great) mostly includes Japanese authors (born in Japan, writing in Japanese), with a few pieces written by people who have lived there for periods of time or even to the occasional traveler. The issue, edited by Yuka Igarashi, is on the whole excellent! There are a few duds (any and all collections likely suffer from this problem; from my experience). Like Tao Lin’s “Final Fantasy III” that didn’t seem to have a point to it, in this collection or on its own. Pieces like Adam Johnson’s Scavengers and Andrés Felipe Solano’s Pig Skin – while interesting, didn’t seem to have a place in this particular issue. I didn’t much care for Yumiko Utsu’s photography – in fact I really disliked it but that’s more to do with taste than anything else (I do think it’s the type of art that people would either love or hate).
Although the collection as a whole had duds (in terms of their place in this issue and in terms of the pieces themselves) there were just so many wonderful pieces that they completely made up for it. The majority of the stories are weird – I mean odd, weird, and sometimes slightly twisted, even deformed. I can’t really describe it well – but to give an example, there’s one story (Spider Lilies by Hiroko Oyamada) were a grandmother tells her granddaughter-in-law that spilling a drop of breast milk into an eye can heal a stye. Or for instance there’s Toh Enjoe’s story that starts off fairly normal and then gets more and more deformed and weird and it’s hard to get a grasp of what’s real and not in the story (Printable – where people start printing things in 3d and change these printed versions for the real versions, a dystopian sort of society where you can eventually even print people). It’s bizarre, truly.
What I really liked about the stories were that they were weird and dared to push the limits, dared to go outside the box and because of that they really inspired my imagination and they made for some amazing reading experiences. My absolute favourite stories were probably The Dogs by Yukiko Motoya and Pink by Tomoyuki Hoshino – two of the last stories in the collection. Both are what I would class as magical realism; they’re weird, slightly magical or otherworldly, they are really atmospheric and to some extent, creepy – although for different reasons. I can’t wait to read more of these two authors work in the future!
Actually, that was one of my favourite things about reading this collection – I got to discover new to me authors, writers I had never read anything from before and even in the case of some – to read something quite different from an author I had read before, like Ruth Ozeki’s “Linked” or another one of my favourite (non-fiction) pieces – Blue Moon by Hiromi Kawakami. In Blue Moon, Kawakami discusses translations – the process, how language works and how it changes when a translation is done – she had some really interesting thoughts on the subject and it’s a subject I’m personally really interested in, so I found it very thought provoking.
All in all, I think the quality of the writing pieces included – the selection, and the many many wonderful sometimes breathtaking stories and always weird, was superb and I would highly recommend it to anyone. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this particular issue, if you’ve read it, or any other of Granta’s issues as I’m certainly interested to read more from them.
Until next time,