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Fear and Trembling: A Novel [Paperback]

Amelie Nothomb , Adriana Hunter
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 18 2002
According to ancient Japanese protocol, foreigners deigning to approach the emperor did so only with fear and trembling. Terror and self-abasement conveyed respect. Amélie, our well-intentioned and eager young Western heroine, goes to Japan to spend a year working at the Yumimoto Corporation. Returning to the land where she was born is the fulfillment of a dream for Amélie; working there turns into comic nightmare.

Alternately disturbing and hilarious, unbelievable and shatteringly convincing, Fear and Trembling will keep readers clutching tight to the pages of this taut little novel, caught up in the throes of fear, trembling, and, ultimately, delight.

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Product Description

From Library Journal

Winner of many literary prizes in France, Nothomb (Loving Sabotage, Stranger Next Door) presents an utterly charming, humorous tale of East meets West in her newest novel about a young Belgian woman who works for a year in Japan, a country that she has revered and admired since childhood. At the Yumimoto Corporation, a huge export/import business, the chain of command is made very clear to her on a daily basis, and all initiative is snuffed out. After several crucial errors, our heroine's career ends up in the toilet, literally. Nothomb is a terrific writer whose writing style is simple, honest, and elegant. Very highly recommended for all libraries.DLisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

As if we needed more proof that our globe is shrinking, here is a novel set in Japan, translated from French, written by a Belgian who was born in Kobe and now lives in Paris. Our heroine, Amelie, gets a job in the import-export division of the huge Yumimoto Corporation, the only Westerner in sea of Japanese company men. There are also a very few women, the most prominent among them being the stunning and awe-inspiring Miss Mori, Amelie's immediate superior. Through no fault of her own, but only because no one who is not Japanese can possibly navigate through all the complex rituals and protocols that lie at the heart of Japanese corporate culture, Amelie-san finds herself falling down a rabbit hole of increasingly meaningless tasks--delivering the mail, photocopying an executive's golf club bylaws, finally cleaning the bathrooms. It is Fubuki Mori who presides over this spiral, bent on humiliation even as Amelie begins to understand and even sympathize with her plight as an unmarried Japanese woman trying to hold her own. Mary Ellen Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
MISTER HANEDA WAS senior to Mister Omochi, who was senior to Miss Mori, who was senior to me. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Worth the read July 1 2004
Format:Paperback
I found the novella (in the original French) an interesting read, but I had to ask myself why a girl who was partly raised in Japan would have made such astounding faux pas. For example, even in Western society, would it not be polite and politic to accept a piece of chocolate from your boss (even if it is water melon flavored)? I kept having to attribute her maladroitness and incompetence to her young age, but if you make such allowances for the narrator, can you trust the narrator's viewpoint? Some of the tirades against Japanese culture came across as almost vengeful. Also, I would have liked to see more of a context to this story. Again, I kept wondering; what did this girl do in her free time? Toward the end, the narrator explains why there is no mention of her home life, but I felt like this was more of an excuse than a reason. I did admire much of the writing, but the classical references (so many of them) and some of the allegories seemed pretentious and out of place. In summary, I would have preferred either a straightforward satirical/comical account of her experiences, without the personal commentary, or else a more rounded and balanced work.
For those who enjoy reading fiction in French, I recommend the novella "La Classe de neige" by Emmanuel Carrere (sp?), a grippingly disturbing story expertly told through an imaginative and intuitive nine-year-old boy.
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3.0 out of 5 stars This book is not a work of fiction! Jan. 30 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
As an American who worked in Japan in the 1980's, I read this book with a special sense of recognition. You may think that what the protagonist experiences in this book is highly exaggerated. Believe me, it is not! This is a very enjoyable read for those who can empathize with what it is like to be a foreign woman in Japan, and should be an amusing read for anyone else interested in modern Japan.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful entertainment demanding a cautious read Sept. 7 2003
Format:Paperback
I am usually well inclined to fiction which attempts to portray the journey of characters through several aspects of different cultures and have a large collection of such books from many countries. Reading this particular book by a Belgian writer who lived in Japan however reminded me that one enters into this genre of displacement and cross-cultural ventures with both promises of entertainment and insight and perils of reinforcing stereotypes.
I do not consider myself an expert on Japan, a country I have visited several times and several of whose novelists (Kawabata, Mishima, Endo, and others) I have read in translation. However, over the years I have followed in depth the experiences of many of my close non-Japanese friends who have carefully labored to study the language and culture, worked in similar Japanese organizations to the one described in this novel, and even married and settled in this land of persistently refractory attitudes to foreigners.
I thus read this novel (which is short and easily completed in an hour or two) with mixed feelings. The characters are vivid and the plot is entertaining. The scenes are both horrific and hilarious, partly because they are also caricatured. This includes the final scene where the protagonist is forced to grovel in submitting her resignation from a Japanese import-export firm, lamenting that her "Western brain is inferior to the Japanese brain" to the delight of her Japanese nemesis.
My dominant reaction was however one of horror with the stereotypes that the book simplistically designs and reinforces of Japanese attitudes toward women and foreigners. Like all stereotypes, there can always be an element of truth in them.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Funny yet disturbing! Aug. 26 2003
Format:Paperback
In Nothom's caricature of Japanese corporate life, Belgian national Amelie begins by taking a new job at the import-export division of the Yomimoto Corporation. In almost no time, she finds herself slipping down the corporate ladder.
Using an exaggerated sense of humor to poke fun at some of the absurdities of the Japanese work ethic, the author enlightens its readers to a Western mind's reaction to such a situation. What could be thought of by some as a scathing attack on Japanese corporate life seems to be just the author's examination of culture clash presented in a very entertaining manner.
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Format:Paperback
I have been living and working in Japan for almost 8 years, in Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe, for Japanese and foreign companies. Like so many foreign residents here, I was shocked by the simplistic way Ms. Nothomb looks at Japanese society and business environment. A reader wrote he/she was shocked by the way Japanese punished her just because she showed some initiative. Come on!!! In any of our Western countries, an intern making half of her mistakes and showing half of her stupidity would have been fired in a matter of days! Saying she admires Japanese housewives for not committing suicide just shows how much she does not understand the country. DO NOT BELIEVE HER!!! I honnestly have trouble believing she does speak Japanese because her "analysis" is one that could have been written by any tourist trying to work there for 5 weeks: superficial, frustrated by the culture gap and lack of proper communication. I know that because I used to think her way during my first two years in Japan! Ms. Nothomb has just written an extremely easy and commercial book which aim was to shock and astonish people not familiar with Japan. Her book comforts readers in what they may have thought Japan was like, it is in NO WAY to be taken as an analysis or testimony by someone reliable. Entertaining because of the sterotypes yes (hence one star), but please, do not believe what she writes. I invite readers to stop and think about the huge mistakes she made when trying to work in a Japanese company and ask to reconsider if this writer can be considered smart enough to give a faithful picture of what Japanese society may be. This book is only HER testimony, it would be a pitty to draw conclusions about Japan from this simplistic book.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Annoying, petty, and extremely insulting
This book hides a very strong punch behind a soft and vulnerable "heroine" who has been relegated to janotorial work after a series of "mistakes". Read more
Published on Nov. 10 2003 by "mani001"
5.0 out of 5 stars Tarnished picture.
This autobiographical novel gives us a very tarnished picture of the once so highly admired Japanese business culture and even of Japanese life in general. Read more
Published on Nov. 15 2002 by Luc REYNAERT
5.0 out of 5 stars Pearl of a book!
Amelie you may have had to eat crow in Japan, but you've spit out a pearl. I've been meaning to read this book for some time and regret it took me so long. Read more
Published on June 22 2002 by Beres
4.0 out of 5 stars A Charming, Witty Commentary on Cross-Cultural Communication
This charming and compelling novella was a huge hit in France, winning the prestigious Grand Prix de I'Academie Francaise and selling half a million copies, and while it's... Read more
Published on May 3 2002 by A. Ross
5.0 out of 5 stars Le choc des cultures
I had a shock reading that little book. I read the French version. I saw a lot of time this young autor from Belgium at TV. Read more
Published on March 10 2002 by Jacinthe Grandmont
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of _Fear and Trembling_
This is a first-person narrative about a young Belgian woman, raised in Japan and fluent in Japanese, who returns to Japan to work for a large Japanese company. Read more
Published on Jan. 2 2002 by A reader
5.0 out of 5 stars superb, japanese society seen through european female eyes
Beautifully written and funny. Amélie Nothomb has a wonderful way with words, too bad not more people are able to read it in french. Read more
Published on Nov. 30 2001 by Renee
5.0 out of 5 stars Curious perspective on Japanese working culture
Having just recently traveled to Japan for business, this book intrigued me as a view from the inside out, from a well-infiltrated Westerner's perspective. Read more
Published on Aug. 31 2001 by atmj
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