Lifestyle/Entertainment Editor, Asia, Tokyo
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Feb 2, 2012

Book Talk: Unlikely friendship shines light on persecution

TOKYO, Feb 2 (Reuters) – Lamont Williams is a hospital
janitor just out of jail, eager to get through probation at his
job and find the daughter he hasn’t seen for years. Adam
Zignelik is a university professor reeling from being denied
tenure and having his girlfriend dump him.

The two main characters in Elliot Perlman’s vast novel “The
Street Sweeper” are both jolted from their private miseries by
meeting a dying Auschwitz survivor and patient at the hospital,
whose stories about making it out of a Nazi death camp alive
feed into tales about the U.S. Civil Rights movement.

Jan 26, 2012

Book Talk: The fall and rise of a North Korean Everyman

TOKYO, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Pak Jun Do is a dutiful
North Korean. Raised in an orphanage, he follows orders to
become a soldier, a kidnapper of Japanese citizens and an
intelligence officer, once submitting to being bitten by a shark
to prove his loyalty.

But after Jun Do, hero of the novel “The Orphan Master’s
Son,” is sent to a brutal labour camp, he returns to life by
impersonating a powerful member of late leader Kim Jong-il’s
inner circle, trying to claw out an identity of his own in a
world of propaganda where only the state can win — or does it?

Jan 12, 2012

Book Talk: Maid’s tale of Catherine the Great

TOKYO (Reuters) – Before Catherine the Great became a powerful Russian ruler, she was a naive German princess invited to court in St. Petersburg by her aunt, the Empress Elizabeth.

Catherine’s early intrigues, her affairs, and her rise to power are narrated by servant and spy Varvara in “The Winter Palace” by Eva Stachniak, in the first of two books on the subject.

Jan 5, 2012

Book Talk: Quest for the story of an enigmatic model and lover

TOKYO (Reuters) – The dark-eyed, black haired woman with strong features and a blood-red mouth lies naked on a sofa, her sultry — and somewhat hurt — gaze locked on the viewer.

She is Rafaela, the subject of several paintings by Art Deco artist Tamara de Lempicka and the narrator of “The Last Nude,” a novel by Ellis Avery set mainly in 1920s Paris.

Dec 23, 2011

Ex-nun writes of life under Mother Teresa

TOKYO, Dec 23 (Reuters) – When she was 17 years old,
Mary Johnson saw a photograph of Mother Teresa in a magazine and
knew she had found her future. Within two years, she had become
a nun with the Missionaries of Charity, the order that Mother
Teresa founded.

But 20 years later she left, torn by a desire for greater
freedom than that offered by a life where writing poetry was
discouraged in favour of writing daily notes to help remember
her sins, physical touch was frowned on and members were not
allowed to stay in close contact with their families.

Dec 22, 2011

Soldier echoes Arabian Nights with Iraq novel

TOKYO (Reuters) – On Benjamin Buchholz’s second day in Iraq as a U.S. army officer, a young Iraqi girl was struck and killed by a military convoy while trying to catch a bottle of water thrown to children by the roadside as a gift.

The tragedy and its aftermath — wailing women, townspeople up in arms, the girl’s body on the road covered with a blanket — haunted him, eventually becoming the seed of a novel that helped him fulfill an old dream of becoming a writer.

Dec 15, 2011

Book Talk: Tales of moments when all changes

TOKYO (Reuters) – Two songwriters reunite at the request of a former associate, with unusual results. A single woman agrees to be named guardian for her widowed sister’s children. Dissatisfied with her job, a teacher seeks out the teacher she idolized as a schoolgirl.

Though the characters change, most of the stories in Alethea Black’s debut short story collection, “I Knew You’d Be Lovely” feature people at moments when they stand at crossroads, facing a change in their lives.

Dec 1, 2011

Book Talk: Speaking the language of flowers

TOKYO (Reuters) – Marigolds for grief, purple dahlias for dignity, periwinkle for tender reflections. Basil for hate.

The meanings attached to each flower underpin the life of Victoria Jones, the prickly and suspicious heroine of Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s “The Language of Flowers,” who uses blooms and bouquets to say what she cannot force herself to speak out loud.

Nov 24, 2011

Japan looks to future with earnest crown prince

TOKYO (Reuters) – Over the past few weeks, Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito has been in the public eye as rarely before, whether tipping a wine glass in toasts at a state banquet or conferring imperial decorations as he stands in for Emperor Akihito, who has been in hospital.

Naruhito’s prominence while his 77-year-old father recovers from what court officials say is a mild case of pneumonia has given Japan a fresh look at the scholarly, unassuming man who likes animals and watching sumo wrestling with his 9-year-old daughter, Aiko.

Nov 17, 2011

Book Talk: Gish Jen on identity, belonging and home

TOKYO (Reuters) – Into a traditional northern New England town under pressure from chain stores and cell phone towers, its old family farms struggling, comes Hattie Kong, half-Chinese and newly widowed.

Soon she is joined by the teenaged daughter of a Cambodian immigrant family on the run from their past, as well as a former love from her youth — all, in their own ways, seeking new lives in the novel “World and Town,” by Gish Jen.