Tsundoku Reader

A blog on Japanese books, mostly untranslated, that deserve a wider audience outside of Japan

Japanese Booksellers Award 2016

A glance at the list of nominees for this year’s 本屋賞, or Booksellers Award, provides an interesting counterpoint to the books translated from Japanese to English, a disproportionate percentage of which seem to be mysteries (with many of the blurbs claiming that here is the next Stieg Larsonn).

The Booksellers Award is a fairly young prize, launched in 2004. Booksellers and bookstore staff nominate three books that they would recommend, with a list of nominees compiled from the results. Booksellers must read all ten of the nominated books to vote in the next round. Looking through lists of nominees from past years is one of the ways I choose what to read next, and I’ve yet to be disappointed.

You can read more about the prize and descriptions of the past winners (in English) here. The winner of this year’s award will be announced on April 12, 2016.

Books Nominated for the 2016 Booksellers Award

[None of these books have been translated into English yet.]

『朝が来る』Morning Will Come
辻村深月 Mizuki Tsujimura
文藝春秋 Bungeishunju

A couple raising their child suddenly get a phone call from that child’s biological mother, saying that she wants her child back. This is described as a mystery with social themes, dealing with motherhood and what it means to be a family.

『王とサーカス』King and Circus
米澤穂信 Honobu Yonezawa
東京創元社 Tokyo Sogensha

A former journalist, now working for a travel magazine, is visiting Nepal when the royal family is massacred in 2001 (a true event). She begins reporting on the event, and comes across a body with the word “informer” cut into the skin.

『君の膵臓をたべたい』”I Want to Eat Your Pancreas”
住野よる Yoru Sumino
双葉社 Futabasha

A boy finds a diary written by his classmate, who it turns out is suffering from a fatal disease of the pancreas and doesn’t have long to live.

『教団X』Cult X
中村文則 Fuminori Nakamura

集英社 Shueisha

In this story of cults, madness and global terrorism, the main character tries to find his girlfriend, only to discover that she belongs to a cult. In the process of his investigation, he is abducted and ordered to spy on another religious group. Meanwhile, the cult is planning an attack…

『世界の果てのこどもたち』The Children from the Other Side of the World
中脇初枝 Hatsue Nakawaki 
講談社 Kodansha

This novel tells the story of three little girls who meet in Manchuria during WWII and become close friends. Their lives take very different paths after the war, with one orphaned during China’s civil war, the Korean girl experiencing prejudice in Japan, and the third losing her family in air raids in Yokohama.

『戦場のコックたち』Battlefield Cooks
深緑野分 Nowaki Fukamidori
東京創元社 Tokyo Sogensha

Set during WWII, this is a series of linked stories about Tim, Ed and Diego, cooks in the military who also solve everyday mysteries, such as who stole 600 boxes of powdered eggs.

『永い言い訳』The Long Excuse
西川美和 Miwa Nishikawa
文藝春秋 Bungeishunju

This novel covers a year in the life of a successful author following the death of his wife in an accident, together with her friend. He copes with his guilt and his grief by helping the bereaved husband of his wife’s friend raise his children, with mixed results.

『羊と鋼の森』Forest of Sheep and Steel 
宮下奈都 Natsu Miyashita
文藝春秋 Bungeishunju

This is a coming-of-age story about a young man so fascinated by the piano that he trains to be a piano tuner. He learns as much from the customers as he does from his teachers.

『火花』 Sparks
又吉直樹 Naoki Matayoshi
文藝春秋 Bungeishunju

This novel tracks the careers of two struggling comedians, one of whom eventually gives up and gets a day job. However, he continues to follow his friend, whose absolute dedication to his craft leads him into a downward spiral. The author is himself a comedian, and won the 153rd Akutagawa Prize for this novel.

『流』  Flow
東山彰良 Akira Higashiyama
講談社 Kodansha

This novel, which won the 153rd Naoki Prize last year, is a coming-of-age story based on the author’s grandfather’s experiences during the Communist uprising in mainland China. The author was born in Taiwan and came to Japan when he was five, and he explores that search for a sense of identity in his writing.

 

4 Comments

  1. A lot of these stories sound very grim and very Brave New Worldish.
    Isn’t it very early in the year to award a prize for 2016?

    • Erika

      February 14, 2016 at 9:52 am

      Yes, all of these books were published in 2015 so it’s probably not accurate to call it the 2016 prize, unless you think of it as an award for the books that booksellers want to sell in 2016. There are some grim books on the list, but at least four of them seem to have a lighter touch, like “Forest of Sheep and Steel” (probably the book I’d most like to read–I wonder if it would be like “The Piano Shop on the Left Bank”?), “Battlefield Cooks,” “Sparks” (supposed to be very funny–after all, it’s about comedians) and “Flow”. In fact, one of the judges for the Naoki Prize said “Flow” was the kind of book you only see every 20 years, and another judge said (and this is more important for me) that he was constantly surprised by it and always happy, and couldn’t remember the last time he’d had such a “happy” reading experience. So I might try that one.

  2. Thanks, Erika. Initially I was interested in Battlefield Cooks, but now I’ll have another look at Flow. I’m always eager to find a happy book!

    • Erika

      February 14, 2016 at 2:32 pm

      I’m afraid none of these books have been translated into English yet (sorry, I should have been more clear about that!), but I’ll let you know if they are. Since Flow won the Naoki Prize, I’d think it has a higher chance than usual of getting translated.

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