I’ve seen his books in the shops and wondered why he’s so popular. It’s highly unusual for a Japanese author to be popular in English fiction. I don’t really like translated works, incase the translation does not do justice to the work.
I chanced upon this book at the library. It’s a great way to be introduced to the author. This book is actually a collection of short stories about birthdays, with an introduction and the last story written by HM.
The anthology of birthday stories were collected over the years when he was doing translation of the stories into Japanese. According to friends who have read his books, his novels often have strange or no endings, and are often very weird. Well, this aptly sums up what this book is like. Short stories with no ending or conclusion, and often weird.
One common fact all these stories have is – none is happy, which is not what one expects with birthday stories. He admitted as much as he conceded that most novelists are ‘by nature, incapable of taking the world at face value’ and would prefer to write about ‘un-Happy Birthday.’
I didn’t enjoy most of the stories, as they were mostly gloomy, but I did enjoy his introduction and what he wrote about birthdays. Do birthdays make HM happy? Just turning from 53 to 54: who is going to view that as a great accomplishment? That is, until he heard his name mentioned one morning over the radio (between 4 – 5 am) when the DJ listed the names of famous people celebrating birthdays that day. He imagined listeners going whoa! Today is HM’s burthday or HM is already ?? years old!
To side track onto the same topic by another writer, Nancy Gibbs wrote in Times magazine a few weeks ago about birthdays inspiring us to appreciate the little things that I just have to share with you. She writes about what she remembered feeling at every milestone birthdays like missing her party at 4 because of a surgery, 10 (double digit), 13 (PG-13), 16 (sweet), 18(freedom). At some point, all this change. How different is turning 27 from 26, or 42 from 41? She writes about middle age, which is where I am now.
Middle age is when we are suspended between twin poles: the needs of our own parents as they hang on to us tighter and the needs of our children as they push us away. Who in middle age has time to stop and look closely at the calendar (and remember their own bithdays)?
But when we do, when we gather with friends and count our blessigs, what i find I’m most grateful for, nestled so deeply here in middle age, is being able to watch the candles flicker, and marvel at how many birthday wishes past have already come true.
I just needed to remind myself that after reading HM’s gloomy Birthday Stories. You should too when you next celebrate your birthday.