domingo, 19 de novembro de 2006

Mais Banana, desta vez em inglês

Banana YoshimotoThe biographical blurb inside Yoshimoto' novel N.P. reads: "Banana Yoshimoto was born in 1964. She has won numerous prizes in her native Japan, and her first book, Kitchen, has sold millions of copies worldwide. She lives in Tokyo." Not exactly packed with detail. So who is Banana Yoshimoto?Yoshimoto Mahoko was born on July 24 1964, and is the daughter of Yoshimoto Takaaki, aka Ryumei, probably the most famous and influential Japanese philosopher and critic to emerge out of the 1960s New Left. (Ryumei's notoriety of late has mostly been due to his nearly drowning a couple of times in the last few years). In addition to having a famous father, Mahoko's sister, the cartoonist Haruno Yoiko, is also a public figure. Mahoko grew up in a leftist, liberal family with significantly more freedom than the typical Japanese teenager and, while she was still in high school, she moved in with her boyfriend. After graduating from the literature department of Nihon University's Art College, Mahoko took the deliberately androgynous pseudonym "Banana" and began to write seriously. One of the chief influences on her writing, both in terms of style and content, was the work of Steven King (particularly his non-horror stories), whom she still greatly admires. Later she developed less populist inspiration from the works of Truman Capote and Isaac Bashevis Singer.As it turned out, Banana was instantly successful.
Her story "Moonlight Shadow" won the Izumi Kyoka Prize in 1986 and she became a publishing sensation the next year with the release of her debut novella Kitchen (published in English with "Moonlight Shadow"). The two stories were written while she was working as a waitress in Tokyo - often she would write during her breaks and slack periods at work - and the book went on to win her the Umitsubame First Novel Prize. There have been two films made of the story, a Japanese TV movie and a more widely released version produced in Hong Kong by Yim Ho in 1997. So far the novel has had over sixty printings in Japan alone. At the 1993 G7 summit, the Foreign Ministry even handed out copies of Banana's book to foreign delegates. One wonders whether anyone at the ministry had read Kitchen, whose two stories concern a transsexual father and a boy who dresses up in his dead girlfriend's school uniform!Since Kitchen, Banana has sold in excess of six million books in Japan and become an internationally renowned author. She has produced eleven other novels and seven collections of essays, only a handful of which have so far been translated into English. Her most popular works include Sanctuary, Tsugumi (made into films by Ichikawa Kon in 1990), N.P., Lizard (a collection of short stories), Amrita (winner of the Murasakishikibu Prize), the novels Kanashii, Yokan, Honeymoon and SLY, and the collections of essays Pineapple Pudding and Song from Banana.Despite her phenomenal success, Banana has remained a somewhat enigmatic and down-to-earth figure. She usually appears without make-up and dresses simply. Despite a long-term relationship, and the fact that the characters in her last novel Honeymoon found redemption by marrying, she maintains that marriage is unnecessary. The fact that her own mother fell in love with her father when she was married to another man has undoubtedly influenced her view of relationships. Certainly the majority of her characters enjoy rather unconventional relationships and lead what most would consider atypical Japanese lives.
These days Banana has the security of success. "Banana Mania," it seems, is now impervious to bad reviews, with sales of the unremarkable and simplistic Amrita being largely unaffected by its critics. Now Banana writes to please herself, putting in at least thirty minutes at the keyboard every day, and says, "I tend to feel guilty because I write these stories almost for fun." Certainly her readers would agree that she offers escapism, fun, and a view of modern Japanese life still tinted with a touch of the traditional sense of mono no aware - the pathos of things.
Matt Wilce


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