26 Nov 2023
19th June 2023
Four Seasons in Japan book review and giveaway
Nick Bradley’s second book, Four Seasons in Japan, is a moving story covering a range of topics including grief, loss, relationships and seeking fulfilment, all with a beautiful backdrop of the country vividly described by the author. The structure of a book within a book is beautifully crafted, it pulls the reader into a novel difficult to put down after starting to read (in fact this reviewer read it in one sitting).
Flo is sick of Tokyo. Suffering from a crisis in confidence and feeling unfulfilled, Flo's translation work has dried up and she's in a relationship that's run its course. That's until she stumbles upon a mysterious book left by a fellow passenger on the Tokyo Subway. From the very first page, Flo is transformed and immediately feels compelled to translate this forgotten novel, a decision which sets her on a path that will change her life...
It is a story about Ayako, a fierce and strict old woman who runs a coffee shop in the small town of Onomichi, where she has just taken guardianship of her grandson, Kyo. Haunted by long-buried family tragedy, both have suffered extreme loss and feel unable to open up to each other. As Flo follows the characters across a year in rural Japan, through the ups and downs of the pair's burgeoning relationship, she quickly realises that she needs to venture outside the pages of the book to track down its elusive author. Her two protagonists reveal themselves to have more in common with her life than first meets the eye, the lines between text and translator converge. The journey is just beginning.
It’s a gently story with wonderful characterisation seeing individuals deal with and contemplate family and personal relationships. Grief, loss and the examination of how individuals are connected are vividly explored using Nick’s deep understanding of Japanese literature and film.
There are a few characters from Nick’s first book 'The Cat and the City' who make an appearance. They add a comforting continuity to his new novel, albeit appearing briefly, but contribute to the exploration of themes of self-doubt and being unsure about the future. These are universal themes which are particularly poignant for those leaving Japan and trying to find a new direction in life.
One of the lines in the opening chapters is “It’s a dangerous thing sometimes, achieving your dreams”, which stands out to resonate with the themes of change and impermanence which are touched on throughout the book.
There are interesting explorations contrasting life and surroundings between the city and the countryside, making the difference between generations more pronounced. This is reflected on by characters while seeing how the city turns into the country.
Cats make another important appearance in the book, although not central to the structure or the flow of the story as they were in 'The Cat and the City' they have an important role in the character's reflection on their life
The exploration of fear of and guilt from failure, especially leading to how different family generations deal with it, is particularly poignant where the novel deals with the difference between family members and loved ones in how to deal with the challenges life throws at them.
Speakers and students of Japanese will particularly enjoy the contemplation of how to translate authentically what the language is actually saying and the struggles to really express the original language in English. Particularly powerful are the contemplations of one of Japan’s most well-known haiku (you’ll have to read the book to find out which one).
JETAA UK has a copy of 'Four Seasons in Japan' to give away with another haiku competition! Head over to Twitter and tweet your four seasons haiku with the hashtag #FourSeasonsinJapan - the most liked haiku by the end of July will win a copy of the book (in the event of a tie, the haiku which was liked first will be the winner; the book can be posted to a UK address only).