Book Review – REVENGE by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese)
(English translation by Stephen Snyder)
Review by Renata Parvey
Yoko Ogawa is one of my favorite contemporary writers, and I love how her writing covers a range of genres, all brilliant works in their own way. Revenge is a peculiar book, written in the form of short stories, where each story connects to another – in no particular order – culminating into a larger tale somewhere down the line. More recently, Jane Borges’ Bombay Balchao was another book written in the experimental fiction format – a collection of seemingly unrelated short stories woven together to form a novel. Both Ogawa and Borges are a pure delight to readers with their literary prowess in taking writing – and reading – to a different level.
Coming back to Revenge, it can be termed as a series of dark tales, with sinister elements binding them to one another. The protagonist of one story can be a minor character in another, at times not even named – leaving the reader to decipher who we are reading about, what role they play in each story, are they even connected or does the reader feel so because we assume the stories are strung together. The eerie world created by Ogawa moves across generations, time spans, places – past, present, future, the real world and the supernatural, fact and fantasy all drawn in as well as apart from each other.
An aspiring writer, a murderous landlady, an obsessed bag maker, a singer, a surgeon, a Bengal tiger, a mother, strawberry cake – crossing paths and converging their fates in this dark web of vengefulness. Ogawa can be emotional and unsettling, impassive and heartbreaking, creepy and gentle. Her macabre take on relationships and emotions make this book effectively terrifying. Revenge is not horror in the traditional sense. A passenger train, a bakery, home gardening – the fact that her settings are so bland ups the ante of the terrors that lurk within. Ogawa’s writing can transform a normal scene next door to something downright horrifying – nothing seems out of the ordinary, and you can’t tell when and how the horror crept up on you. The best part is connecting the stories, navigating clues as you wander in this strange world.
Of course, Ogawa’s frequent English translation collaborator Stephen Snyder deserves as much of credit as the writer herself, for marvelously bringing life to her stories. Revenge is a disturbing collection for those who revel in the written word and the beauty she creates with literature.
My rating – 5/5
Renata Pavrey ~ December 2020